Blog Post

Hindu Activist Wants Irish Bishop to "Educate Himself" About Yoga

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

Rajan Zed, a Hindu activist who promotes yoga and Hinduism, issued a statement calling upon Irish Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan to “seriously look” at all the benefits of yoga before banning it from Catholic schools.

Last month, Bishop Cullinan sent a letter to all of the schools in his diocese of Waterford and Lismore stating that yoga and mindfulness are “not suitable for our parish school setting.” Zed, a controversial activist and Nevada resident who heads the Universal Society of Hinduism and who wants to see yoga “introduced in all the schools of the world,” accused the bishop of doing a disservice to students by banning yoga. He  urged the Irish Catholic Bishop’s Conference to “immediately intervene to stop Cullinan from snatching the valuable opportunity of highly beneficial yoga from the lives of about 28,500 pupils.”

Zed also urged Leo Varadkar an Irish Fine Gael politician who has served as Taoiseach, Minister for Defence and Leader of Fine Gael, to look into the matter as schools are “reportedly publicly funded,” Zed said.

This is not the first time Zed called for a prelate to be corrected after speaking about the dangers of yoga. A few years ago he wrote to the Vatican asking that retired Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz of Lincoln (Nebraska, USA), be disciplined for calling yoga a “serious sin.”

Perhaps it is because of Zed’s background as a fierce defender and promoter of Hinduism that his strident response to prelates who are exercising the same right to defend and promote Catholicism appears so duplicitous.

For example, last year, he condemned the Tollgate Brewery for using an image of the Hindu goddess Kalika on the label of its Kalika beer. He rightly claimed that using the likeness “of the highly revered” goddess “hurts” the religion’s followers.

When the image of the Hindu deity, Ganesha, began appearing on commercial items such as toilet seats, shoes, dog tags, leggings, and bath mats, he condemned these depictions as “inappropriate” and “offensive to devotees.”

In 2017, he went after the video game “Uncharted: The Lost Legacy” because its focus was on the tusk of the Hindu deity Lord Ganesh. Instead of showing this in a way that trivializes it, he asked that it showcase the authentic “concepts, traditions, objects and deities” of Hinduism.

In 2016, he went after the makers of the first-person shooter game “Overwatch” because it gave players the option to alter a character that Zed claimed resembled the Hindu goddess Devi. He claimed it was an inaccurate portrayal because “in reality, the devotees put the destinies of themselves in the hands of their goddesses.”

While Zed has every right to speak out against these violations, it raises the question about why he is so unwilling to afford Bishops the same right to defend their beliefs as he regularly enjoys.

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that Zed is not just about defending Hinduism. He’s also very interested in promoting it.

For example, earlier this year he asked the Florida House to expand a bill known as HB195, which called for establishing a high school Bible class elective, to also include the sacred texts known as Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad-Gita in the bill.

Zed is also on a campaign to visit state Capitols across the country to deliver Hindu prayers before legislative bodies.

Particularly where the controversial subject of yoga is concerned, Catholic leaders have both the authority and the right to direct the religious formation of their flock and the best way for leaders of other faiths to show respect to their counterparts is by minding their own faith.

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