Monthly Message 

Common Ground

YogaBetsy Yoga Center Discourse 25:
Brian Afton

  Today we celebrate  the re-opening of YogaBetsy Yoga at its new location in the Olean Meditation Center.  For some of us this will be their first circle meditation and for others their first introduction to people in other traditions of yoga and different religious backgrounds.  We do not ordinarily discuss religious traditions in our classes but today it is necessary so that the other groups here will understand how our tradition fits in with theirs.

   In fact, these traditions are not so different as most people seem to believe, and were perhaps taught to believe.    In all ages humankind has sought to come to grips with the mysteries of life and creation and the laws governing these things.  Consequently, different traditions from different ages are going to have a great deal in common if we are willing to see the similarities because they have each sought to unravel the same truth and that truth has not changed in all the intervening ages.

   The United States is a place where many traditions have melded in many different ways.  Today one of the traditions which is finding an ever widening acceptance here is Buddhism.  Aside from its inherent virtues this has often been a refuge for individuals who have been bruised by religious fundamentalism of one stripe or another.

   One of the great attractions of Buddhism is its inherent simplicity.  It is easy to understand and does not saddle you with the sins of your ancestors or other complications and immediately makes clear that you are responsible for your own life and destiny.  It begins with the 4 great truths: 1. Life in this world brings suffering.  2. The cause of suffering is attachment and the desire for things outside ourselves.  3. This suffering can be eliminated by eliminating these desires and attachments.  4. That the way to do this is by following the eightfold path which is remarkably similar to the 10 commandments.

   Buddhism varies from American style Christianity in that there is no deity involved in it.  You are responsible for your own karma and advancement in Buddhism and must learn to control your own mind and emotions to do so.  But, because it does not involve a deity,  many people are able use Buddhism in parallel with their old religions or that of their parents.  Hence you will find things like Jewish Buddhists in this country now because this gives them tools not easily found in their own traditions.

   Hinduism is much older and far more complicated than Buddhism.  In the first place westerners need to understand that there really isn't any such of a thing as Hinduism.  That name is a label applied to a family of religions by English colonialists and the word has found its way into our language and stuck.  The situation would be similar to an Asian giving one name to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  India is a big place which embraces a vast assortment of traditions having an extremely long history but, in general, the faiths we call Hinduism are devotional practices far more like Christianity than the Christians usually tend to believe.

   The typical American considers Hinduism to be a polytheistic idol worshiping religion, because most of us were taught that in school.  However, the reality of the situation is not so simple.  If the fundamentalist or parochial Catholic sees an Indian praying before a statue of Ganesha, the elephant headed god, they regard this as idol worship.  On the other hand, if one of them prays before a statue of Jesus on the cross or an icon of Mary or St. Michael, that is not.

   Christians pride themselves on worshiping the one true God.  Nevertheless it turns out that there are a plethora of other entities which work themselves into that religion: In addition to the various saints there are angels, archangels, nine orders of them in fact, and the confounding matter of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

   As it happens, these ideas and constructs are not peculiar to Christianity for the Hindu traditions also have a trinity and what may be impossible for most Christians to see is that it is the same trinity.

   Everyone but mainstream academia knows that the Creator had to exist before the world did for the simple reason that nothing cannot give rise to something.  The universe did not explode into nothing as we are told by proponents of the big bang theory because space is not nothing, a fact which has been long known and taught in the advanced lessons of yoga for thousands of years and is just beginning to be recognized in the field of quantum physics.

   The universe and our world was created and designed with infinite variety and intelligence and all people in all ages have sought to understand the laws and forces which drove that creation.  In every epoch they came up with the best understanding that they could and beneath the surface of those traditions is the same truth we still seek today if we are willing to see it.

   The Hindu God Shiva is what Christians call the Father Principle, pure consciousness and absolute being.  Christ, the logos and the word made flesh, Jesus,  corresponds to Vishnu and his son Krishna.  Brahma is what the Christian calls the Holy Spirit.  Additionally, they are the one who is three and the three who are one, a relationship which is also embedded in the vowel sound AUM.

   Christianity makes the assumption that Christ in the form of Jesus came to this world only once whereas Hinduism states that the son of God has come several times.  Christians may also be surprised to learn that many Hindus fully accept the idea that Jesus was an advanced Yogi, a Siddha and in many cases the Son of God, especially in the Southern or Tamil traditions.  It is also believed in certain traditions that Jesus came to India and taught there, too.

   It is usually missed by the westerner but the Father Principle includes the idea of a Mother Principle as well.  A concept which was also part of Christianity at one time.  This was removed by the council of Nicea during the 4th century along with the doctrine of reincarnation, also a common belief in all Eastern traditions.  In Hinduism the mother principle is called Shakti or Prakriti and the Father Principle is also known as Purusha.  So the Trinity has a dual male-female nature.  In Hinduism, this comes across as a God and His Wife but it is understood that they are one.

   Hinduism is actually a monotheistic religion and the followers of the various traditions are simply revering and calling upon that aspect of God which they can understand and identify with, moreover, if the Christian thinks they are doing otherwise they are mistaken.  We are incapable of understanding the true immensity of the creator.

   It is a fact that people have a habit of seeing what they expect to see and want to see, and perhaps I am no exception in this matter, but, in so far as the elephant headed God  Ganesha is concerned: he appears to bear a striking resemblance in his powers and functions to the Archangel Michael to me.  And it is a fact that there are plenty of people in our local churches around here who are petitioning the Archangel Michael for assistance, monotheists or not.

   We rarely discuss spiritual matters during our regular classes here both because of a lack of time and because it is a subject which could send beginning students streaming out the door.  However, we are mentioning it today so that it will be understood that we have a well studied position on these matters which is actually not so different from the other traditions in this area, when it comes right down to it.

   In so far as the spiritual yogic tradition here at YogaBetsy is concerned, it derives from the teachings of Sankhya Yoga which includes hatha yoga and Sri Vidya.  This includes the traditional yoga postures as well as an understanding of the breath and the body's energy system and requires a lifetime to understand at depth.

   Our regular yoga classes are primarily devoted to doing postures which help energize and build up our bodies and minds, for our tradition recognizes that it does little good to build the body up while letting our own minds tear it apart, and because it is here that most exercise systems fail.  We also recognize that gaining control of our breath is key to gaining control of our minds and bodies.

   Yoga and the martial arts have the same roots and both devote considerable attention to the breath.  Both teach that the life force, which is called Chi in the martial arts and Prana in yoga, rides in on the breath.  It is not simply or only the oxygen in the air which is revitalizing us.

   Prana or Chi rides the air into our bodies like electricity follows a wire.  Thus, our bodies are regenerated and recreated every time we breathe.  We are all that close to the Creator and all on different paths which lead to the same place.


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 Copyright 2001 Brian Afton 1234 Burnt Hill  Rd Olean, NY 14760