Another Christmas… it is often represented by children’s faces glowing with wonder and anticipation as the presents start to pile up under the tree… followed soon by the predictable gripes about the commercialisation of Christmas.
I don’t remember it exactly like that. The presents might have been a big feature of my childhood Christmases, but actually, my memories are quite as much about a sense of pleasure in Jesus and his birth. I loved him. I still do. I see him in my mind as reperesented in my favourite “holy picture”, a man in his prime with blond hair to his shoulders, looking to the beyond, with an expression that seemed both humorous and peaceful. My mind now says, “No, no, he would have looked much more Middle Eastern, swarthy, with black hair curled close to his head…” No matter, I love him, blond or dark.
” But Swami dear,” I hear you say patiently, ” you’re a yogi, and you’ve been consecrated into an order of sannyas. Don’t you know you are now beyond the pale? Lucky for you we Christians don’t persecute infidels any more.”
Well, yes, it is – I still meet prejudice, here and there, even so. Yet there are similarities between my two paths, and major differences, too.
In the Beginning
The Homeostatic Union – do you know what it is? It is when the theology gets interesting. How many years did I spend rote learning, Who made the World? God made the world. Who made me? God made me. Why did God make me? God made me to know him, love him and serve him, and to be happy with him forever in heaven. This was third grade catechism. It wasn’t till Year 12 that we got a taste of something a little more stimulating. The Homeostatic Union describes the universal Being in its natural state, formless and with no second or other being anywhere. While formless Being has no attributes, it is self-knowing, boundless, ie infinite, and its very nature is creative and loving. Infinitely creative love naturally wants a reciprocal object, as only infinite love can satisfy infinite love, and so the Son becomes manifest from the Father. The breath of love between these mutually suited lovers is the Holy Spirit, and they are perfectly balanced and united, a perfect stasis of likeness.
And the Father creates the entire manifest world out of himself, including you and me. There is no “other” resource that it can come from.
This is almost identical to Yoga, in the stream that I am immersed in, anyway. Its origins are much, much older. Yoga would have it that in its original state, Universal Consciousness is formless and attributeless. It is self-knowing, self-willing and self-pleased. Its nature is creative, playful and powerful – omnipotent, to use the Christian term. It wishes to have experience, and again, the only experience that can satisfy infinite playfulness is infinite experience. Its infinite nature begins to devolve, at first into Shiva and Shakti (ie the creator and the power of creating), and then into the entire universe with all its diversity, including you and me.
Quite similar. But there’s a difference. In one version, the creator is always pleased with his creation, as it is himself, after all, and he sports in his infinite delight. In the other, God is very upset with what he made and blames the creatures.
How did the world become Other?
I must have missed the part where we learnt how the world, created out of divine being, becomes other and separate from him, and to this day, I can’t see how. The wave is nothing other than the movement of the ocean. It can’t be other. The angel sculpted out of ice is only ice, its angelic form is not its substance. When I see you, I see God revelling in the experience of being human, and when I experience myself, God experiences himself, too. In my Christian youth, I learnt that there is only one God. In my yogic life, I find that there is only God.
What about Jesus and Yoga?
It really appealed to me that Jesus was fully human, fully divine – and aware of himself in the wholeness of it. I was never much inspired by Peter or James or John, nor by Mary or any of the saints. My inspiration was Jesus himself. There was something gripping about his self-realisation. Imagine my suprise to find that in another older and more vast tradition, such self-realisation is regarded as the natural state, and recovering it is the work of spiritual life. Yoga would have it that Jesus was profoundly enlightened, his mind was unencumbered of the baggage of conditioning and convention and identification with personal history- all the Gospel stories bear that out, readily enough. It seems that he lived in the experience of the boundless and infinite, while at the same time experiencing the pleasures and pains of the human and corporeal. Likewise with the Buddha, Shankaracarya, Abhinavagupta, Eckhart, Mansour, Ramana, Nisargadatta, Nityananda and many, many others whose self-realisations have been recorded, and undoubted millions who have lived unremarked in their self-realised state.
So Jesus, fully human and fully divine, and fully aware of it – and not the only one. Truly, I suspect the God the Father of the homeostatic union, in his state of infinite and endless delight and love, simply could not be the same character who said, Only one human can reach this state. He couldn’t be the one who created the universe out of himself and then fell out of his delight into being displeased and blaming the creatures that were formed out his very self. Rather small-minded of him! It does sound like a couple of people I know, but then, their minds are conditioned by memory and fear and projection. Perhaps some others similarly disposed inflicted a tyrant of their imagining onto the rest of us.
Jesus taught love
Sometimes Yoga is criticised for not directly teaching love of neighbour. Compassion may figure more prominently in Buddhist teachings. However, it is not quite true that Yoga doesn’t. The Buddhist word for compassion, “metta”, is a corruption of the Sanskrit word “maitri”, compassion, a Yogic term that precedes both the Buddha and Jesus.
Love with your whole self, not just a bit of you
The teaching that I loved most from my Gospel studies was where Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment. Jesus replied (Matthew 22:37-39):
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.
This is the pinnacle of Christian teaching, to my view. There is no room for the petty ego with its restrictions and self-serving reservations. All your heart. All your soul. All your mind. Where is there any space for a mind-constructed idea of “me” in that? What can I keep back for my ego?
And your neighbour, not with a ration or a portion, but as he is your very self. If you love your neighbour absolutely, you love God absolutely. If you love God absolutely, you find him as your neighbour.
The outrageous daring of it. If you love properly, there is no neighbour plus you, there is only oneness absorbed into love. If you love the divine source properly, there is no God and me, there is only God. Better still, there is Only ONE. Give yourself up absolutely. Eckhart (read his sermon On Poverty) scaled the heights of this outrageous demand – and found that “God”, as you usually consider him, wouldn’t satisfy the spirituality of a fly.
And this is the great difference, as I find it, between the path of my youth and the path of my maturity. Jesus said it, but somehow people seemed to miss it. In Yoga, it is the whole adventure.
Don’t expect everyone to have it all at once. Yet the attainment is certain, as love is the substance of our being. Yoga doesn’t care much for theology and eschatology, it is experience that counts.
Experience, not theory
As a Yogi, I don’t ask, “What do you believe?” but rather, “What is your experience?”
- Do you experience satisfaction with yourself and those around you, or do you experience resentment sometimes, or maybe often?
- Is your life an experience of limitation or expansiveness?
- Do you feel loved uncritically and unconditionally, or do you feel that you have to be a little self-censoring or stroke people’s egos to keep getting love?
- Do you love, without restriction or conditions, or do others have to please you before you can love them?
- Do you say what you mean, and mean what you say?
- Do you feel ego neediness?
- Are you the product of conditioning by others, no matter how well intentioned? When you say “I”, who do you mean?
- Have you discovered the little bundle of tensions and strategies that is the personal “I”, or have you never even searched around to see what it is?
- Or is “I” an unbounded sense of Being, that is not restricted to thought-constructs and reactions?
Your answers to these questions point to your deepest issues, and they are issues of spirituality and freedom. And there is work to do there, work that only an individual can do.
So Happy Christmas, and I for one celebrate the birth of the great Jesus of Nazareth. I am glad he walked the earth, or more particularly, the streets of Jerusalem and the shores of Galilee, that he was hungry and tired and peaceful and angry and happy and sad, and that he lived and died with love and tolerance. He gave me my first inkling of how life might be lived in fearlessness and freedom. He is a living presence for me, and I love him.