EAST & WEST
SHARE THE SAME MATH?
(mat). A monastery
From A Brief Dictionary of Hinduism
When yoga first began to penetrate the United States, people were shocked at the exotic and strangely fascinating religion. About a hundred years ago, the great Apostle of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, arrived on our shores with unusual wisdom, but little money. The custom in India was go door to door, where such souls are supported as an act of reverence. But someone called the police, and there, in that act, portrayed the difference in our thinking. Instead of a holy soul, the frightened lady saw a dark-skinned beggar (lots of prejudice on our part) in a Halloween suit, and instead of holiness and wisdom, she saw danger. It did get sorted out, and Vivekananda no doubt explained to the cops (in English not yet perfect) that he was there for the first World Congress of Religion (Chicago) and got short of funds, and was simply asking for a donation. (It annoys me that a rich Hindu, instead of suiting up Vivekananda with funds, just gave him a new suit for the monumental trip.)
VEDANTA COMES WEST
Eventually, Vivekanada managed to find a number of female devotees (many letters with Sister Christine extant) who supported his mission. Macho, zealous and wise, you could see a strength in photos with the arms folded over his torso. Victorian hearts must have fluttered at the handsome and exotic specimen, speaking of God in a new way. He had survived besotted Avatar Ramakrishna, saying to him something like,
"OK, I will return if there is no more of that!"
(Referring to the Saint touching him and knocking him into deep samadhi, right then and there where he remained unconscious for two hours.) This was a bit much for the teenager and he was willing to go along with Ramakrishna as long as conditions were a bit more normal.
Ramakrishna explained his relationship with then Narendra like this, (words approximate):
"I see a great sage in eternity, sitting with a little child in his lap, holding him lovingly...that sage is you, and the child is me."
Apparently, they both reincarnated to change the world, Ramakrishna as Avatar and Vivekananda the next best thing, Ishvarakoti.
Vivekananda and the other Heroes of Vedanta got yoga going in the West.
ARE WE EXPLOITING YOGA?
Many others followed. We all know the stories. Legendary yogis astounding us, beguiling us, fascinating us, until today, it is almost a part of the air we breathe. We have, on some level, integrated yoga into our culture. Some Hindus are screaming we have stolen and exploited it.
"You have to be a Hindu to teach yoga - to be a Guru!" one man wrote me.
He brought out the abuses of yoga we have wrought, like calling it "power yoga" and giving courses on things we know not of. Here is his letter, after a few sallies of his rage and my shock, it quieted down to:
For me, "tantra yoga" comes to mind, in how couples empower one another sexually, through yoga. Courses given at your local Church or YMCA. All totally against the real thing. I received the following letter - the first that made me laugh in months. The hilarity of it is that I am a staunch supporter of celibacy:
I can see why Orthodox, right-handed yogis would be pissed! But they are mad at me also - a woman of the west, anointed and chosen by great yogis - as I cannot represent the East, they say. I have stolen it, I do not know what it is about! I am misrepresenting it and myself, and by this man's definition, all Westerners are thieves and crooks off the Hindus.
NON-DUALITY IS NEW
But this is not exactly the subject of my article. The article is a bit more on the mystical/spiritual realm, and let me get to it. What is it that entranced us, sometimes frightened us, from yoga? It was a type of non-duality. OK, friend Haarvi, I admit it is not total non duality they brought, the kind where Ramakrishna goes into a six-month trance and no longer tastes sugar but becomes it. (A discipline put upon him by the wandering Advaita monk, Tota Puri.) Not quite that deep are we falling, but we are accepting a God like no other God we've had before, and that is the Atman. We always knew God was within, but we never worshipped God that way! (There are exceptions to this import of God - like the jubilant Hare Krishna's) - but the main thrust that I see, from Vivekananda, to Yogananda, to Nityananda, Muktananda and Maharshi Ramani, is the inner worship. Find God within through meditation and initiation from your Guru, and continue worshipping God as Self - the Atman.
There are many other ideas that seem new, and some, perhaps, are a little different than Christianity, but this Atman thing is the big standout. What is so bizarre to us is that WE ARE GOD! Holy Cow! We always saw God as separate, as either Jesus or Jehovah, and we also have many titles of God mostly from the Old Testament. But never, ever, did we actually see ourselves as part of the Eternal Stream, total Infinity and Light, part and parcel of God, and having all the same attributes and qualities of God. We always saw God as big, ourselves as tiny, and our job was to worship God in humility and respect. How could we be God ourselves? This mystery was the most frightening and beguiling one.
You sometimes wonder, how much of saint's lives is true. And this goes with the East as much as the West.
But let us look at perception. In the East, I have observed there is a certain way you check out if a saint is kosher or not. It comes to samadhi. That is it. The keynote, the measure and the brand of sainthood is samadhi. It is trance, absorption and abstraction. Saints all go into trance and some stay for abnormal lengths of time, and that shows, to the East, their spiritual strength. People begin to believe in them, and the rest follows. They are by no means judged by charity toward their neighbor. There is charity, but that is not the measure. All things but trance are suspect as manifestations of ego. You can watch a saint doing any number of charitable things, like writing, reading, speaking, giving money, spending time and energy on the needy - and all this is seen with a suspicious eye. After all, he is doing these things to get attention, to win applause and favor, to be loved. That ugly ego made him do it!
In the West, it is the opposite. Indeed, we have trance. This is called Contemplation, and we had a big fad for contemplation and the "interior life" in the medieval days. It has fallen off now, but perhaps returned, strangely, through yoga and it's meditation. All the great saints of the medieval days were famous for the results of their contemplation or union with God - for the gifts of God, the "kriyas." They had visions, voices, dreams, intimations, psychic awareness or knowledge and wisdom, they had bilocation. They could do healings and miracles. But these manifestations, although they are marks of God, are not the true measure of a saint so sayeth the Catholic Magisterium. They make a saint inspiring and colorful, but to "them who know", are not the measure of holiness. The absolute measure of sainthood is charity toward the neighbor. The more stories you can tell of how a saint heroically sacrificed for a neighbor, the more likely he or she will enter the portals of canonization. Along with this goes humility, obedience, chastity and other moral virtues. Also, our saints are not allowed to be eccentric - they must conform. They must obey the Rule or rules. This is the OPPOSITE in the East. Saints, gurus and holy souls walk by a different vina. They can be as weird as weird can be - because they are considered above and beyond the pale of mortal existence. (not a bad idea) Rules and regulations put aside, they are free.
Here, we are not allowed the luxury of samadhi for extended periods of time. We are expected to "work." True, contemplation and prayer are work! Jesus said, it is "the better part", and it will not be taken away from us. When a soul is absorbed in God to some degree - not in a total non- dualistic trance, but in the interior life - that soul has more power with God than a thousand lukewarm fellows. In his prayer, the holy soul does magic for others.....but these are rare birds. Most people can't stand to be alone for one hour, much less a lifetime. They need action, and so the tendency is for "social work." I read Muktananda many times laugh at "social work," because it is not considered the activity of the most advanced souls.
THE LIVES OF
Where does all this come together? It is my guess that the interior lives of more recent Western saints have been passed over, ignored, in favor of their active labor. They probably had some of the experiences of the medievals, but the promotion of this is not pursued. Psychology has told us that EVERYTHING IS THE MIND and so, all krijas, mystical experiences, are suspect. (Psychology is saying that we have built the image of God in our heads, and there it stays. There is no EMPIRICAL evidence of anything beyond that, so this is our imagination, our doing. And experiences of God? Voices, visions, krijas? HYSTERIA!) Academics don't want the readers to think a saint was wacky, so maybe they leave out the visions. Could this be happening? But on the other hand, charity is acceptable in all circles, a sign of health, so you push that out. The inner absorption, then, for the West, has gone into decline, at best, considered somewhat irrelevant. Even in our involvement with yoga, we do not emphasize the supernatural. It brings peace of mind, we say, stillness. No "peculiar" experiences need be confessed.
Putting street wisdom and shallow culture aside, the great souls all know the truth, about both yoga and Christianity. They know, as in the Song of Songs, that Intimacy, Oneness with God is the Highest Favor of God. When prejudice against the supernatural in the West subsides, you will see more of an emphasis on absorption or contemplation. On the other hand, we might also be influencing the Hindus toward more action.
India has now given us absorption. Yes, we once had it, but they are reviving it. India has given us forms of non-dualism. Can we give something to India? Can we give it action? Can we give it,
"Love thy neighbor as thyself?"
Of course, charity has always been in India just as contemplation has always been with us, but in a recessive way on both counts. Can we strengthen India by encouraging yogis to more good works?
Although Jesus said to Martha,
"Martha, you are concerned about a number of things, but Mary (Magdalene at His feet) has THE BETTER PART, and it shall not be taken away from her."
Yes, Jesus taught that contemplation is superior. But yet, He is remembered for His ACTION, especially His self-sacrificing action. And all the Christian saints, walking in His Bloody footsteps, have vied for the opportunity to be martyrs. You will have none of that in India. No Martyrdom, no Stigmata. That just ain't kosher. You have the "I am the Spirit, not the body," mantra.
You have the road of abstraction, where the world fades away and the pain of the neighbor is to be ignored - just as the body is ignored. Here, with God, you have the better part. You partake of neither the sweet, nor the bitter fruit of life, here in this samadhi or Nirvana, where only God is real.
(To be honest, I am not talking about all individuals on both sides. I am speaking of the example of saints, generalizing. In fact there are as many a--hole's on both sides, who do neither action nor contemplation, and just may be on the broad highway to Hell... please bear with me that I speak of saints and the trends they teach.)
If we can influence the East by the example of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, we have helped. Mother did not quibble about karma. She saw a woman dying in the street, whose wounds the dogs were licking. She picked her up and took her to her tiny apartment, placing the victim on the bed and herself on the floor. This was the beginning. I heard one man say the difference between normal and "the saint" is action. The normal does nothing, the saint takes action. Our self-giving saint said she was not helping people FOR Jesus. They ARE Jesus! I believe this is the highest form of God realization.
To me, the most perfect Math, the one I'd like to have, is that which combines East and West. I want souls willing to practice meditation, leading to Enlightenment. I want them also to understand that their good works, although they are not yet perfect, will lead them to the heights. "Heard say" you have to be perfect to teach. Yes, to teach absolute perfection, it helps to have it. But you can demonstrate and teach goodness on various levels. Always share what you know with those who know less. You can give love, after all, even when you know nothing except that GOD IS LOVE. If everyone has to reach Enlightenment before doing good.....you understand.
I would like to thank Haarvi and Harvey Erickson for discussing these issues with me and sharing their valuable comments.