APRIL 22, 2005
CHRISTIANITY & YOGA
WHY THEY BELONG TOGETHER
Christianity and Yoga - can they be One? Can they, in any way, be united? What stands them apart, and what makes them the same? Are they totally different or not? In what way are they different, in what way similar? Is there anything they both agree on completely?
It all comes down to one word: suffering. The religion of Jesus has a profound theology on suffering, yoga has not. (When I use the word Christian and Jesus, I refer mostly to the theology of Catholicism.) Contemplation belongs to both. Renunciation is the same. But Suffering is not something yogis recommend, - they seem to abhor it and teach us how to rise above it. Not that it stops suffering! The world is full of it!
Life is full of it!
Contemplation is in both. This is the vision of God. Both religions teach that to find God, we must pray. To yogis it's Mantra or Japa and chanting. To Christians it's all kinds. There are litanies, prayers of praise, petition, and thanksgiving, personal and public prayers. Prayer, including silent prayer, along with other practices, leads to contemplation, or the vision of God. For yogis, meditation and mantra, along with other things, leads to Nirvikalpa Samadhi, Nirvana, and Bliss. Here, Christian and Yoga are the same.
Renunciation is also the same. You must not have ego. Christians call it pride and selfishness; the opposite is humility and the virtues of poverty, chastity and obedience. The East calls our ego the big delusion, where we set apart a world that doesn't exist, a framework or domain that we create in our minds. We have a fantasy of who we are, but we are not that. Break that delusion of a separate self, and ego disappears. For Christians, it takes a lot to break us of pride and selfishness. We must be humbled time and time again before we are humble.
In the area of sin there is a slight difference. The East sees sin more like darkness and delusion which cause one to stumble and make mistakes, while Christianity sees sin as deliberate acts. (In fact, a rule is that if you don't know it's sin, it is not. You have to understand what you are doing, on some level at least.) The Eastern way is that we must live again and again to evolve to a place where our sinful nature disappears, while the West is we have one chance at it, and what we do in this lifetime is it. It's either Heaven, Hell or Purgatory (Protestants don't believe in Purgatory,) thereafter. At one time, Christians believed in reincarnation, then they voted against it at one of the councils.
Christians say "we are all sinners." But yogis don't think that way. They do not have our heavy burden of "guilt trips." We are taught that we all come short of the glory of God, and even the saintliest of souls had the "devil's advocate" accuse them before they were declared fit for veneration. Yogis are supposed to worship and imitate "living saints," but to Catholics and Protestants, that is a no-no. With Catholics, you only honor them when they're dead, to Protestants, never. (Only Jesus, they say.) They have no registry of saints, and they do not systematically praise their dead saints.
East and West both believe in Paradise or Heaven, as well as Hell and demons, and Purgatory. But Hell and Purgatory is different to yogis, since they believe in reincarnation, and so, it seems to me, punishment is a temporary place of various degrees, where they reside until they are born in another body.
I personally believe that Jesus was teaching Yoga when He ministered. He taught seeing the guru as God, identification with the guru (guru-bhava) and becoming him, transference of the power and identity of the guru (initiation and shaktipat) through Holy Communion, and other types of transmission. He was not a higher form of Judaism, it was another religion altogether - yoga. (With a Matriarchal stamp.) He was probably in India during the "lost years" (twelve to thirty) and there is evidence of that. (Check Vedanta Press in Hollywood.) Of course, Jewish men had no idea what He was talking about, and turned Jesus into the One and Only Incarnation of God - and no one comes to salvation but by Jesus. Jesus taught and said many things that so-called Christians misunderstood. But the thing I want to emphasize most here is the difference - the absolute difference - between yoga and the understanding on Jesus and suffering as it developed after Our Lord died.
In our theology of Jesus, suffering plays an important part. Because of this "dispensation", if you will, we have a sacred place for suffering, and so, for us, suffering is a part of life that has great utility and purpose. I like this point of view because I can use my sufferings as ministry, and help others as well through it. We suffer anyway - why not put it to good use? When I suffer, in any way, be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, it all goes first, to help souls in Purgatory. This is called "reparation for sin." I unite myself with my Spouse, Jesus Christ, and receive his infinite merits, joined to my limited merits. Then the reparation carries infinite power, and souls are delivered. My suffering cleanses me and gives me spiritual medals (Lights) which can be seen upon my soul. The Divine Stigmata is the biggest one. It is seen as rose Light coming out of the Heart Chakra. The terrible sufferings caused by love cause the Heart Chakra to dilate, and make it a giant. The big heart then has something most people do not have - compassion. Our heart has to be awakened and enlarged before we can have sensitivity to the pain of others, and truly have charity for them.
I treasure my sufferings as some of the most important things in my life, as they unified me with my first guru, Jesus Christ. We say, to love him, and him CRUCIFIED is the mark of perfection. To love him crucified, means we, as individuals, are also crucified! How else could we be ONE with him? There, on the cross of our unbearable pain, we are helpless, and we absolutely know we are with him - the one we love. The worship of Jesus' wounds has the most bittersweet quality. We learn to identify with each and every wound, from his Crown of Thorns, to his nailed hands and feet, the secret wound on his shoulder where He carried the wood, the terrible Stripes which could have killed him, the Agony in the Garden before his Passion, and last of all, the crem-de-la-crem of all suffering, Divine Stigmata, which is martyrdom. I have found no teaching like this in yoga. No theology of suffering, and no praise of martyrdom. Perhaps it is there, but I have not seen it.
What is there, and extremely powerful, is the thesis of abstraction, that place where one goes to be alone with God. Here yoga is profound, (when I say yoga I include Buddhism, because after all, it came from yoga and India) having points in theology not found in the same depth and detail for Christians. The Atman being worshipped frees a person from all outer forms of religions. Here, Christians admit God is within us fully and completely, yet no one is encouraged to worship the God Within. The Witness Consciousness also explains, to Eastern practitioners, that bonding with the Spirit, not the flesh, lets one see things objectively and truthfully and gives one a great vantage point on life. Equality of Consciousness - where all things are equal in God's mind - I cannot find in Christianity. Man is always on top to Christianity, with animals and others far below, where we humans, as "stewards" have a wide berth with them. That we are the Spirit, not the body is in both disciplines. Both Yoga and Buddhism agree that earthly desires cause suffering, and suffering can and should be stopped. Christianity believes that desires not of God are suspect, and pursuing the things of the world and flesh should be put aside for the Highest: "Only one thing is necessary..." (Magdalene at the feet of Jesus) and "Put first the Kingdom of God, and all things shall be added unto you." And then again, "What profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul? For what shall he exchange for his soul?" It is agreed in both that God is first, and all other things second.
NOW TO THE SUBJECT OF SUFFERING
Why are yogis and Buddhist so against it, while Catholicism holds it sacred, when united with Christ? How could these two great religions disagree so strongly on a point that affects everyone? In Catholicism, it is said that a mark of perfection is to be totally one with the will of God, that whatever happens we must accept, good or bad. The bad things - even attacks of the devil - God allows for a reason. So all that happens, all calamities, accidents, sicknesses, deaths and so on, must be accepted as the will of God. This is called "uniformity with the will of God."
Yoga deplores suffering so much, that some yogis laugh at social work, saying basically, that let people meet their own karma, you have better things to do. Is this callousness, or are they putting first the Kingdom of God, who is above the human condition, and pursuing it? There is an argument on both sides. On the side of suffering and the Mother Theresa's of the world, there is this:
Without suffering, compassion is not developed. How can you understand the pain of another if you have not experienced it yourself? And if you bore distress with love (not with hate) then it gave you strength and wisdom. There is nothing more terrible than the person on a cushion, who cares only for his own pleasure. The one in the gutter is more likely to save another soul.
Which is right? Should we accept suffering or should we strive to end it and reach Nirvana at all costs? The answer is that both are right. Here is what I have found:
We humans are composed of two things, humanity and Divinity. Our humanity is felt, primarily, in the Heart Chakra, or feeling part. Our Divinity is present mostly in the Sahasrara, the illuminated mind. When we go off to pray, and abstract ourselves, and fully receive the vision of God, we are not suffering. In order to have this vision, in fact, we have to leave behind the things which make us suffer - all attachments and distractions. It is EXTREMELY difficult to receive Enlightenment unless one goes off from family, friends, and all ties. One must be alone with the Alone, for some time, even if it is, like St. Catherine of Sienna, staying in her room at home (meals being brought to her) FOR TWO FULL YEARS BEFORE ENLIGHTENMENT! After the first great experience of God, one continues the pursuit, and growth never stops. At this time, you are above it all. In various states of contemplation, Nirvana, Samadhi, you are to some degree, abstracted from all the cares of the world. The world spins around you and everyone is suffering to various degrees, but you don't feel it. You are FAR AWAY. You are intimate, cocooned and embraced by God and you want and need for nothing else. (I've been there, more than once, for months at a time.) This cannot go on indefinitely. Why? Because, what are we living for? Only ourselves? Does not God want to save everyone? After being with God, we must come down from the mountain, in order to bring this Light and Truth to others.
Now there are two ways of bringing this Light to others. There is the way some yogis prefer, and that is, to remain abstracted as much as possible, keeping some sort of a shield around them, be it physical or emotional, and not letting others get under their skin. This works for some people. They bring what they have to others but refuse to get down "into the dirt and dirty". They might have a few in the circle who protect them from the mob, they might work through writing books. But then there are those who lower themselves to the needy, in a way that by the nature of the job, requires suffering. Jesus went to the people - with no curtain or shield - deliberately seeking out sinners and outcasts - and Jesus LOVED. Is it right to love? Not just in a supernatural way, but in a human way, so that ones loves one's family and pets, and friends? And if they suffer, you suffer? Of course it's right! Jesus loved his Holy Mother, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, all his friends and disciples, and every sinner there ever was. He loved them enough to suffer for them. Yes, he went to the wilderness to pray and touch base with "Father," but He always came back to love and suffer. Eventually, it cost him his life, paving the way for all martyrs that went after him. You do not have to be abstracted when you are saving souls. An anointing works through whatever state you are in as an individual. The anointing (shaktipat, power, gifts) is given not for your pleasure, but for the sake of others, and it EVEN WORKS IF YOU FALL FROM PERFECTION IN YOUR OWN PERSONAL SANCTITY!
In order to be fully developed, the human must taste both worlds. When you enter samadhi, you must break attachments and be fully absorbed in God. Later, you must descend into the lower world, through compassion, and touch others. In my experience, both disciplines, samadhi and bhakti, (abstraction and love) work one at a time. If you are abstracted, your love is fully absorbed in God. When you love others, that love flows horizontally to them, and then, by the very nature of the act, your mind has to descend - as mind follows action and focus. (Here again, there are variations. Your mind does not descend when giving supernatural love, like shaktipat or faith healing, but it does go lower to give natural love, that which is given in compassion.) Now the vision of God can be lost in pain, even the pain of saving souls. Indeed, the greatest pain I know is fighting to lift souls out of darkness who resist the love of God. If you want to be fully, absolutely and perfectly developed, you must let God steer you to one state, then another, from season to season. In Springtime, your heart grows, and that means suffering. TO LOVE IS TO SUFFER. Then, in winter, your mind grows, and that's by perfect contact with God. These work in symbiosis. The vision of God dilates the heart. Then, charity being given, opens up the mind. I have experienced time and again that after forgiveness and charity, I have had revelation.
I might add one more thing. Nobody, not even Buddha or Ramakrishna, could stay in a trance all the time. Reading Ramakrishna's life I noted that he suffered agonies. Once he was going to kill himself if God didn't reveal Herself to him. Another time, he was going mad with desire to see the tarrying Vivekananda. Bhagwan Nityananda got so angry at devotees, he used to beat them. If you look at all the lives of the yogis, you have to read between the lines. Their legends have made them seem above human life. I believe these legends give a false impression, that their humanity was asleep. These saints, Avatars and Incarnations of God, suffered. They had people they loved. They grieved, they toiled, they cried. They were not spirits or angels, they were flesh. Flesh feels, and therefore, it suffers. For us to think that in order to imitate, say, the Krishnas, the Chaitanyas, the Nityanandas that we must be fully in samadhi all the time is a mistake. No, indeed, I tell you, life is composed of two things. Yes, we try to stay on the upper levels WHENEVER POSSIBLE. It is possible for short lengths of time - for days, weeks or months. Years? I don't think so. You see, this is not Heaven. In Heaven, all sufferings end, but not here. You can reach Nirvana, but world comes back, feelings come back. Then you must work with these feelings to grow a great soul's heart; at the core, forgiveness, mercy and love. To live, to have association with others, means suffering.
Here I have explained the two disciplines I practice, East and West. I am closer to Jesus when I suffer, but when I must escape pain, yoga is my best friend. That is why, to me, both religions merge. I have incorporated into myself the principles of both.
Rasa Von Werder
April 21, 2005