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YOGA: EXERCISE OR RELIGION?
By Brad Scott
Assume that an incomprehensible THAT, an invisible sub-stance, imminent
and transcendent, pervades, envelops, and underlies everything. Assume
that It is changeless, infinite, and eternal. Marvel, too, at the beauty
and magnificence of the natural order. But then notice that everything
is changeful, finite, and transitory. Although THAT is One, you see multiplicity
everywhere. Especially bewildering are the endlessly alternating extremes
of pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow, life and death.
How would a human, you might wonder, rise above the dualities of life
and realize this One alone? If you and your progeny were to seek this answer
for 3000 years, you would seek also the means by which you could transcend
worldly life and rest in this One. Even with all the theories the generations
might generate, they would long most for a practical system that might
relieve their distress and fulfill their quest.
Definition and Goal
The East-Indians, following this reasoning, developed such a practice for
natural man: yoga. To understand this yoga—not the "yoga" that Westerners
say "belongs to the whole world"—one first needs to define yoga as the
masters of India defined it. In doing so, one needs to return to its roots,
trunk, branches, and all. Only then will one be equipped to engage in apologetics
with those who practice yoga.
The "Yoga" of Tradition
||First, we must consult Patanjali, the systemizer of yoga (ca. A.D.
150), and other credible East-Indian teachers. Patanjali, in his Yoga
Sutras (I.2), says, "Yoga is the restraining of the mind-stuff (chitta)
from taking various forms (vrittis)." Swami Yogananda, one of the
most respected gurus to arrive in America (1920), termed yoga the "science
of mind control." "Yoga," he wrote, "is a method for restraining the natural
turbulence of thoughts, which otherwise impartially prevents all men, of
all lands, from glimpsing their true nature of Spirit." In the same book,
he further clarifies this definition: "yoga, 'union,' science of uniting
the individual soul with the Cosmic Spirit."1
Swami Vivekananda, the first bona fide swami to preach in the West
(1893), expands still further on this orthodox definition in his commentary
on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras: "The yogi proposes to himself no less
a task than to master the whole universe, to control the whole of nature."2
According to tradition, "yoga" means "union," the union—by means of
various time-tested practices—of the finite "jiva" (transitory self) with
the infinite "Atman" or "Brahman" (eternal Self).
The "Yoga" of the West
How, then, does hatha yoga—an "exercise program"—and other yogas fit into
the ancient system of yoga? Patanjali details eight progressive steps ("limbs").
Hatha yoga is a small part of the third step ("asana," posture)
and sometimes the fourth ("pranayama," as breathing exercises). The more
advanced steps include concentration ("dharana") and meditation ("dhyana").
Today, ironically, "yoga" teachers skip the first two fundamental steps
in the yoga system: "yama" (non-injury, truthfulness, chastity, etc.) and
"niyama" (moral purity, contentment, austerity, study, surrender to "God").
Today, drawing on "tantric" practices, yoga teachers also offer instructions
on the seven "chakras" ("spiritual centers") in the body and the techniques
for raising the "kundalini" (coiled serpent power) that allegedly lies
dormant at the base of the spine. Vivekananda speaks of the importance
of the "kundalini" to yogis: "When awakened through the practice of spiritual
disciplines, it rises through the spinal column, passes through the various
centres, and at last reaches the brain, whereupon the yogi experiences
samadhi, or total absorption in the Godhead."3
The eight limbs of yoga represent the stages leading to this end.
||If Vivekananda's claim that yogis propose to master nature sounds extravagant,
then the claims of modern gurus sound megalomaniac. For they promise that
yoga will completely alter "consciousness" and re-form "reality" (the yogi's
and everyone else's). On the Transcendental Meditation website, the Maharishi
proclaims, "I will fill the world with love and create Heaven on earth."
In the March/April 2000 Yoga Journal, Bikram Choudhury declares,
"My most cherished goal is to save America through my yoga."
In the hands of modern gurus, the definition of yoga undergoes a good
deal of adjustment. Depending on the angle of approach, Atman and Brahman,
for example, may be replaced by Krishna, Shiva-Shakti, Divine Mother, Mother-Father
God, the Goddess, True Self, Higher Self, Higher Power, the All, the One,
the God Within, Cosmic Consciousness, and in some circles Christ-Consciousness.
The History of Yoga
The Yoga Sutras may mark the formal origin of yoga as a system.
But teachers within India's traditions—Vedantins, Vaishnavas, Shaivites—properly
cite more ancient texts as evidence that yoga existed before Patanjali
systematized the general principles into specific practices, which were
to yield often-extraordinary results. Once sufficiently advanced, yogis
can put an end to their hunger, walk on water, and soar through the skies
(Yoga Sutras, III.31, 40, 43).
The word "yoga" appears often in the Bhagavad Gita ("The Lord's
Song"), a section within the Hindu epic the Mahabharata (ca. 500-400
B.C.). In chapter 6, Krishna commends yoga: "To this yogi who is taintless
and free from desires, who is of a tranquil mind and identified with Brahman,
comes supreme bliss. The yogi, freed from blemish, thus fixing the mind
constantly [on the Self] attains easily the supreme bliss of union with
Brahman" (vv. 27-28).4
|Moreover, the practice—and goal, union with the Self—appears
in the teachings of the "seers," who after purportedly experiencing Brahman
firsthand composed the Upanishads, the final sections of four extant Vedas
(ca.1000-500 B.C.).5 The Svetasvatara Upanishad
advises results-oriented disciples to control the vital force ("prana"),
senses, and mind through austerities and meditation. "Be devoted to the
eternal Brahman," it says. "Unite the light within you with the light of
Brahman. Thus will the source of ignorance be destroyed, and you will rise
above karma." Further yogic instructions follow: "Sit upright . . . ";
"Turn the senses and the mind inward to the lotus of the heart"; "Meditate
on Brahman with the help of . . . OM"; "Retire to a solitary place"; etc.6
Because yoga's origin is ancient, one mustn't assume that the practice
is primitive. Nor considering the methods of some modern teachers, who
seem as slick as telemarketers, should one take the theological underpinnings
of yoga lightly. The Hindu scriptures demonstrate high philosophical and
esthetic achievement, easily rivaling the output of the ancient Greeks.
Succumbing to oversimplification, many underestimate the beauty, acuity,
and allurement of East-Indian philosophy. They focus on the grosser forms—the
plethora of gods; scores of Hindus, hip-deep, in the Ganges; clusters of
glassy-eyed Westerners locked in lotus postures—and dismiss the whole spectacle
as ridiculous. Hucksters may call it "bhava yoga," "sahaja yoga," "kriya
yoga," "kundalini yoga," but underneath the falderal is the same
old rigorous, high-minded yoga of the rishis.
The Theology of Yoga-Vedanta
Respecting this sophistication, we must understand that India has produced
six main philosophical systems dating back to the 6th century B.C. Three
remain fundamentally compatible with doctrines held today. The first, Samkhya,
founded by Kapila, draws elaborate distinctions between Prakriti (substance,
"the producer") in all its multifarious forms and Purusha (spirit, "the
person"). Yogis still use Kapila's terms: the "three gunas" (elemental
modes), "buddhi" (intellect, perception), and "manas" (mind, conception).
But they have rejected the rest of his philosophy. The second, the yoga
system of Patanjali, has already been described. The third, Vedanta, developed
by Badarayana (ca. 200 B.C.) but perfected by Shankara (ca. A.D. 800),
is the most formidable of the three.
||The Vedanta, as Will Durant puts it, has always "sought to give logical
structure and support to the essential doctrine of the Upanishads—the
organ-point that sounds throughout Indian thought—that God (Brahman)
and the soul (Atman) are one."7 Because
I concur with Durant, having practiced yoga for seven years under an orthodox
swami, I shall explain yoga doctrine by means of an overarching system
that may be termed "Yoga-Vedanta."8
Popular Hinduism, it's true, is known for its tangle of gods: Kali, Parvati
(feminine); Prajapati, Nataraja (male); and others like Ganesha, a deity
resembling an elephant-man. To some, Brahma (creator), Vishnu (sustainer),
and Shiva (destroyer) are three aspects of one Ishvara. To others, Rama
and Krishna, two "avatars" ("incarnations of God"), are worthy of worship
as god. The "Hari Krishnas," the Vaishnavas, form such a sect. To others
still, the intellectuals, "Brahman" and "Atman" are used interchangeably
to refer to one impersonal deity, affirmed to be the "same" as the God
of Judeo-Christian tradition.
|The Yoga-Vedantins divide all sects into three categories, according
to the way God is viewed. Interestingly, all three have sprung from the
same scriptures: the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita ("the Bible"
to Hindus), Puranas, and Bhagavatam. Each view may thus be
1. Dualism: Dualists ("dvaitists") preserve the distinction
between the worshipper and worshipped, lover ("bhakta") and beloved (the
deity). God and man never become one, just intimates, ecstatically united
in love. As these devotees progress spiritually, they may pass on after
death to a "loka" (a heaven), where they enjoy certain rewards before reincarnating.
In the end, they reach the highest heaven where they and their god may
together eternally "sport."
2. Qualified Nondualism: Qualified nondualists ("vashishtadvaitists")
hold that through spiritual practices, including devotion and meditation,
they may attain a kind of "oneness" with God. They too, life after
life, progress toward the highest "loka," between births eventually attaining
positions as demi-gods. Using an analogy, they say that God is like the
sun and souls are like separate rays of the sun. In the end, they experience
themselves as emanations of the Source but not the Source itself.
3. Nondualism (Monism): Nondualists ("advaitists") hold
that only through the practice of yoga, especially "jnana yoga" (union
through Knowledge) do the most advanced attain God-realization. To them,
each soul is like a clay jar at the bottom of the infinite ocean of Brahman.
The jar is "maya," a false appearance superimposed on the Atman within.
This "maya" isn't illusion, but ignorance of the Truth: that Atman and
Brahman are one. Once the yogi, through negation ("neti, neti")—"I'm not
the mind, not the senses"—shatters the jar, he experiences eternally his
true identity with the absolute Brahman. He then declares, "Aham Brahmasmi"
("I am Brahman"), the One Without a Second.9
The "yoga" of the West is mainly nondualistic, but when yoga apologists
find it convenient, they can, like shape-shifters, quickly sound like qualified
nondualists, even dualists if they wish to show special tolerance. Every
self-respecting yogi must affirm the Sanskrit dictum: Ekam sat vipra
bahudda vedanti ("as many faiths, so many paths"). All faiths lead
to God (even Christianity, my guru used to assure me).
Creation and Creatures
Put simply, all creation to the Yoga-Vedantin is comprised of the substance
of Brahman. Hence, yogis are pantheists, whether they preach nondualism
or qualified nondualism. Brahman created the universe out of Itself, as
a spider spins out a web. Nevertheless, Brahman while immanent in creation
remains forever transcendent—avangmanosagocharam: "beyond the reach
of mind and speech"
The law of karma. Essential to explaining how yogis may
achieve "perfection" and why souls eventually struggle to free themsleves
from maya is this law of cause and effect. Yogis know that none can attain
union with God in one lifetime, unless he has already striven for thousands
of lifetimes to realize his true nature. To achieve the end of yoga, one
must perforce become a yogi.
Every embodied soul, after all, has to deal daily with scores of unpleasant
"dualities": attraction-repulsion, pleasure-pain, good-evil. The yogi rebels
against this maya and his natural impulses. Often for every step forward,
the heroic yogi seems to take two steps backwards. He strives to conquer
the sexual impulse—for sex is thought to impede progress by wasting "ojas,"
power—but finds a year later that he is lusting after a woman, perhaps
longing to raise a family.
The yogi smitten by human love, overcome by any "worldly desire," isn't
yet ready, say the gurus, for the high road. Obviously, he is still burning
off karma from his past lives, reaping karma from his present life, or
creating karma for his next turn on the wheel of pleasure and pain. As
he reaps, he sows, inexorably, with nothing like grace to catch him when
||Although a seeker constantly generates new karma, he ardently practices
yoga—through self-sacrificial work, devotion, mental control, and/or the
quest for "true knowledge." Still, unless he is sufficiently advanced,
he must proceed slowly. He must heed the gurus and seers to test the validity
of his "spiritual experiences." On this lower road, he learns that he occupies
a body, as Shankara puts it, comprised of filth, pus, bile, and so on.
In time, the good karma will outweigh the bad. Until then, he trusts "Self-realized
gurus"—the "avatars," especially, serving as guides and authorities.
Reincarnation. Thus assisted, the yogi eventually renounces the
fickle world that tempts him and the vile body that imprisons him. Disenchanted
with "the dualities of life," he yearns for freedom and devotes himself
to God-realization—without wavering, it's said, like the flame of a candle
set in a windless place. Therefore, every seeker must pass through lifetimes
of experiences, donning and shedding bodies, as the only way to taste the
world and "get over it." The cycles of birth and death won't cease for
the yogi until he desires Self-realization as intensely as a drowning man
The concepts of karma and reincarnation thus dovetail. Together, they
help explain "fate," good and evil, and the appeal of the yogi's goal:
union with God. Everything that happens to him is his doing solely. It's
his karma. As the Gita says, he alone is his own friend, and he
alone is his own enemy.
Thus, despite popular re-adjustments by humanistic psychology, yogis advance
not by transformation but by conquest, renunciation, retrieval. The figure
in the Bhagavad Gita is that of a charioteer, the soul being the
rider, the body the chariot, a discardable vehicle. The yogi masters mind,
senses, and body to transcend them, blasting upward through the topmost
chakra, the "thousand-petaled lotus," on his way to Cosmic Consciousness.
The caterpillar doesn't transform into a butterfly. The transitory and
impure can't transform into the Eternal and Pure. The Brahman that the
yogi enters isn't like the self he has discarded. It's "satchitananda":
existence, consciousness, and bliss.
|The soul is liberated, not transformed. Once the yogi has overcome
the delusion of separateness (the false "I"), he discovers what he really
IS: Brahman (or a ray of Brahman). Then for him there are no more
rebirths, only union with the One. Through arduous work over aeons, the
yogi transcends the dualities of life, including "good" and "evil," and
renounces his ignorance of his True Self. The rope that at dusk seemed
to be a snake appears now as it really is, a harmless rope. The little
self is dead, and so too are all its petty griefs, desires, and dreams.
Thus the yogi achieves his own liberation, reaching the finish line alone,
like a long-distance runner having just crossed the Kalahari Desert.
He knows that he possesses true spiritual knowledge because,
well, he knows. The Reality is too "real" to mistake for anything
else. The "experience" is so stunningly brilliant that it serves as its
own proof that he has "arrived." Now he can disregard all authorities,
for he has become THAT which everyone else is seeking.
This is yoga.
As a former yogi who felt the "kundalini" rise numerous times and experienced
"savikalpa samadhi" three times, I know that I have accurately characterized
the practice of yoga because, well, I just know that I know. Besides, my
guru called me Yogiraj ("king of the yogis").
The Response of the Evangelist
A reasonableness attentive to verbal abuses lies at the core of any loving
confrontation with the exponents of yoga. Because yoga teachers have been
casually quoting scripture and equivocating in their terminology ever since
they arrived as "missionaries" on our shores, we should challenge any blatant
proof-texting and word warping in theological discussions.
We must affirm that words do have meaning, and do still matter,
whether one is typing an email or following the doctor's orders. Just as
our Bible serves as our primary authority, so also our English dictionary
may serve as, at least, a secondary authority when the fog-index in an
exchange begins to rise. As faithful exegetes, we refer to the Bible, first,
but we may also keep an English dictionary, an objective cultural reference
point, at our elbow.
Having made this foundational case for clarity, I shall outline the
primary distinctives of biblical Christianity over and against the Yoga-Vedanta
According to Christianity, God didn't create the universe out of himself,
as a spider might, but "out of nothing" (ex nihilo). God merely
said, "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3), and there was light. He "made
the earth and heavens," we are told (Gen. 2:4). Grounded in the Bible,
Christian tradition has never held otherwise: God spoke His creation
into existence. And Jesus himself confirmed the authority and veracity
of every "jot" and "tittle" of the Old Testament (Matt. 5:18), including
the matter of creation. As Jesus declared elsewhere, "It is easier for
heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop
out of the Law" (Luke 16:17), the Law being the first five books of the
Although God is everywhere (see Ps.139), he isn't everything, nor is
he a substance that comprises everything. If he were a substance, or life
force, resident in bees, birds, and trees, he would be limited by every
form He inhabited, or He would be like some pitchy syrup that anyone who
wished to "strive for perfection" might tap into. How could this god be
sovereign if a person, by will alone, could draw upon his "Power" and then,
if he wished, soar through the air? If such a god has no say, unless "man"
wills it so, he becomes not only impotent but redundant. Who would need
a god who can be defined or "used" in any way one wants. What would he
be? Who would care?
According to Christianity, God resides as the Holy Spirit in those who
believe in His Son Jesus Christ and receive him as their Lord and Savior.
God remains sovereign. He oversees and controls, yes, but He also provides,
guides, comforts, forgives, answers prayer, and loves each person individually,
as an eternally existent individual (even having numbered the very hairs
of our heads). He doesn't regard souls to be wayward rays of sunlight or
trapped pools of God-consciousness too dense to grasp the truth—without
a lot of karmic drubbing. Christians know that God cares as a Father does
because Jesus Christ bore visible witness to the nature, attributes, and
purpose of the one true God.
The yogi, unless he is schizophrenic, enamored by self-contradictory
beliefs, can't have it both ways, regarding God as personal and impersonal.
If God is love, as many yogis would agree, He is also personal, for "love"
would be meaningless without at least two, one to love and one to
be loved, a subject and object. Even if the yogi retorts, "Well, I love
my True Self," he is still assuming the existence of two: the one loving,
the other being loved.
Creation and Creatures
By no means does a belief in karma and reincarnation resolve the moral
dilemmas and "inequities of life," as yogis insist. If karma begets karma,
none escapes karma, malignant or benign. If the yogi cares about other
creatures, about the impact his thoughts, words, and deeds might have on
others, he will soon realize how helpless he really is as he tries to control
the wayward impulses that pour into and out of his mind, over which he
alone is responsible. Faced with this dilemma—that he must transcend karma
but can't—he learns not to care about his thoughts, words, and deeds—and
their impact on others. He will have to "renounce the fruits of his actions,"
"kill desire," and negate the world—mind, body, soul, all that generates
karma. He faces two choices: cling to the wheel (the endless loop of karma)
or let go of it.
The resulting state of mind is disengagement not just from karma, the
"bondage of the world," but also from all relationships and goals. The
yogi must call human caring "ignorance." To care—to be "attached" to anything
or anyone—is to create karma. If attachment is the fruit of ignorance,
ignorance of the "truth" of nonduality, then the yogi who cares and hurts
for others can't realize the nondual Truth: All is one—Aham Brahmasmi—"I
am God." But even thinking like a yogi creates karmic results: detachment,
How far does the yogi want to follow this path of indifference, as far
as the "masters"? If one carefully studies the eyes, in person or in portraiture,
of "masters," one glimpses the "end" of yoga. A "no vacancy" sign may be
posted on the "vehicle" of the master. Inside, there is no one behind the
eyes, no person who cares. If the disciple comes or goes, it's all the
same to the egoless master. Because the law of karma explains everything,
masters remain blissfully unmoved by the woes of others. But in history
one Master did care that we receive the truth, that we reconcile
with God. And he was Jesus Christ, who unlike any other "master" in history,
cared enough to die that we might know the truth that sets us free.
Reincarnation, once karma is understood, is cruel. Ultimately I suffer
life after life not so much for my specific misdeeds but for my "own good"
so that I will stop caring about all that is in the world. After all, I
can't know specifically why I am suffering at the moment, for the
causes are hidden in a cloud of unknowing of past lives. Speculating about
these lives offers no permanent relief either. So what is the lesson to
be gleaned from this inexplicable suffering? Chuck it all with a mighty
exertion of the will, say the gurus, and think only of the True Self. No
better example of the callousness engendered by "the law of karma" exists
than India, where poverty and pain are more intractably present per square
inch than in any other country.
Only by putting a face on this cruel, inexorable law can we grasp its
devastating effects on people. Having traveled to India, I saw firsthand
the misery in the faces of those I passed. But since then, I found most
moving the testimony of a former Hindu, now a Christian leader. That he
was born into a wealthy, educated family of high-caste Brahmins should
betoken good karma. Unfortunately, because he was handicapped, confined
today to a wheelchair, he in fact was thought by his parents to have bad
karma. From an early age, he would be carried around by servants, those
of a "lower caste." He recalls the way he would be whisked off to another
room whenever guests arrived, lest his "bad" karma somehow upset or infect
them. The "bad karma," remember, was his doing, so whether the many rejections
hurt him or not would be irrelevant to his family. And yet a child wouldn't
understand that he is responsible for his "own karma" or that others would
feel the need to protect themselves from his "bad vibes." Indeed, helping
or loving someone with bad karma might actually be tampering with his karma
and incurring bad karma for oneself.
In the West, many believers in karma and reincarnation do so not because
they really want to lose all identity in blissful union with Brahman but
because they find comfort in the idea that they will live on, in body after
body, for as many lives as they "need." Convinced that they will always
possess ever-new bodies as they learn their "karmic lessons," they have
no need to fear either of two other possible ends to their mortality—empty
nonexistence or eternal existence in hell—neither of which thoughts produces
much satisfaction in those already crying, "I can't get no satisfaction."
Salvation: Faith Through Grace
But even a serious seeker, who believes he will achieve Godhood over many
lifetimes, won't feel overanxious about the present or future status of
his soul. Nor will he feel inclined to ponder his inadequacies before a
perfect sovereign God. He knows that he is the master of his fate and that
real self-esteem is Self-esteem. For these reasons, yogis can't understand,
or refuse to understand, the Christian meanings of words like "sin," "salvation,"
and "redemption." As I once did, they scratch their heads and ask, "Saved
from what?" Liberation from ignorance, they believe, is the end; progress
toward God-consciousness, the measure of perfection. And Truth is subjective,
not objective. Experience is the sole test. Anything that they "feel" is
leading them toward their goal is "good." The orthodox are more cautious
in this regard; the more numerous unorthodox are often reckless, for they
can rationalize nearly any "path."
But "self-effort" may result in apparent "progress," material but not
spiritual. Practicing hatha yoga to obtain a healthy body or practicing
meditation to handle stress better prove nothing about one's spiritual
standing before God. Even feeling that one is progressing toward
God is no guarantee that one is drawing closer to God. Thus the yogi, in
trusting subjectivity, can never really know where he stands in relation
to God or the goal, no matter how often he tells himself that he
is more "advanced" than the common folk. Without objective truth, truth
may be anything one wants it to be, including nothing at all.
But Christ said that we can know the truth—with certainty. To receive
and follow him is to know the truth objectively. He said that if we would
believe in him alone he would give us eternal life: "My sheep listen to
my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and
they shall never perish . . ." (John 10:27-28). Let a yogi consider this
puzzle: If each soul already has eternal life (because he is "God" already),
what is "the eternal life" that Jesus promises to give? How can he give
what one already possesses? Unless he is a liar, he must be capable of
giving life that people don't possess. In fact, it's Jesus who is the light
of the world and the life of humans, so to receive him is to receive his
light and life—and hence, to know the truth. He claimed, "I am the way
and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me" (John
||Who are the "me" and "I" to whom Jesus refers? Is it Krishna? Is it
Mother? Is it Buddha? Is it an "avatar"? Is it some generic, impersonal
"Christ-consciousness"? Obviously, not. For Jesus, although God incarnate,
was a real man who lived in a specific cultural setting and preached specific
doctrines, most of which contradict the "truths" of Yoga-Vedanta. He forgave
sinners but said, "Go and sin no more." He loved the world enough to heal
the sick yet sacrifice his life, and yet he held that a Judgment Day was
to come and that he would return to administer judgment. He also believed
in the words of Moses and the prophets of Israel. He believed that Satan
exists, and he held that souls who reject him, the only Son of God, as
savior will be condemned to eternal hell.
It's dishonest therefore for yogis to purloin the terms "Jesus" and
"Christ" and make of Jesus whatever they will, for the only way to know
the real Jesus is first to encounter him in the Gospels. If a yogi finds
Jesus Christ repugnant or inconvenient because he makes pronounce ments
with which the yogi can't agree, then the yogi, rejecting the Christian
Scriptures, should reject Jesus too. For this Jesus, the only one who can
be known, would then be a liar and father of lies, and the yogi should
flee from him, lest Jesus impede his progress toward God-consciousness.
But if a yogi believes that Jesus was all that he said he was, he should
seek to know Jesus, humbly approaching him. This yogi must stop seeing
Christians as strange benighted "baby" souls and allow a mature Christian
to open the scriptures for him. Then the yogi may discover, as followers
of Christ do, that a human isn't "set free" by works—by virtue of personal
merits and attainments—but by faith through grace (Eph. 2:8-10). Christianity
isn't about detachment from the world but relationships—the abundant life
lived in but not of the world. If the yogi has saving faith in the words
of the living Christ, the grace of God shall pour into him, purging him
of all concerns about "karma" and the rounds of births and deaths. And
this grace shall make him a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
Who then needs yoga when Jesus Christ—having lived, died, and risen—stands
knocking at the door, bearing the gift of eternal life? He alone can make
the seeker's burdens light and grant him rest.
1 Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi.
12th ed. (Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1990), 261, 592.
2 Swami Vivekananda, Raja Yoga (New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda
Center, 1970), 16.
3 Ibid., 289.
4 Bhagavad-gita, with commentaries of Shankara,
Anandagiri, Madhusudana, Sridhara, et al. 2nd ed. (Bombay: Nirnaya Sagar
Press, 1936), as cited in Swami Satprakashananda, The Goal and the Way
(St. Louis: The Vedanta Society of St. Louis, 1977), 238.
5 Will Durant, The Story of Civilization: Part I,
Our Oriental Heritage (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954), 389-583,
used as the source for all dates of composition.
6 Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester, The
Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal (New York: New American Library,
7 Durant, 546.
8 I studied under Swami Shraddhananda, former private
secretary to the president of the Ramakrishna Order, Swami Shivananda,
one of twelve disciples chosen by Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) to carry
on his work. All these disciples embraced Shankara's monism. Swami Shraddhananda
was invited in his 70's to return to India to become president of the Ramakrishna
Order. In 1978 before I converted to Christianity, he told me that I would
eventually be his successor at the center I attended after becoming a monk.
For details, consult Brad Scott, Embraced by the Darkness: Exposing
New Age Theology from the Inside Out (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1996).
9 The classic work on nondualistic Vedanta is Shankara's
(published in English as The Crest Jewel of Discrimination).
10 For this claim and others about yoga, I have provided
ample citations in Embraced by the Darkness: Exposing New Age Theology
from the Inside Out.
11 I use "biblical Christianity" to distinguish it
from certain "Christian" ideas seemingly compatible with Yoga-Vedanta:
e.g., Paul Tillich's "ground of being" (panentheism), Cobb and Griffin's
"process theology" (Process Theology, 1976) and Rudolf Bultmann's
"demythologization" of Scripture.
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