What do the Yoga Sutras teach us about Easter?
The Lenten Season ends to introduce a new period of life in the Easter Season. Each year we revisit the joys of Christ's resurrection, the commitment God promised to us. The resurrection is the epitome of Christianity because of this. The resurrection reflects the moment when spiritual surpasses the mental and physical. When we see Jesus resurrecting in his glory, we see our own souls rising to heaven with him.
Exactly a year ago I read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali while on Spring Break. Much like the Four Agreements, this is one of those books always spoken of in the realm of yoga. (The Sutras certainly influenced many of my previous blog posts which are linked as they are mentioned.) I originally bought the book as a part of my Yoga Teacher Training but I never cracked it open until months later because life just got in the way. It is incredibly short which left me no reason to put off reading it for so long. Obviously I was aware that this was not written for a Christian audience yet I began with a Christian armor, seeking wisdom from a different religious text to see how this faith could help me to dive deeper into understanding of my own. Here is what I received:
The concept of Union in this context is the connection between God and an individual, the meaning of yoga. Each line gives instructions on how to obtain Union. One of the first devices to achieve Union is meditation which is completed in four steps: examination, judgment, supreme joy, and a sense of Union. These steps are the basic framework for meditation defined by many religions. In Catholicism, Lectio Divina instructs similarly: read, reflect, pray, rest or listen.
This listening is reference later in Sutra 1.27, "God's voice is Om." God speaks to us by his "Amen" otherwise translated as "Om," as noted in a previous blog post. Ultimately, Union is transcending the physical to awaken the spiritual (just as Jesus did in his resurrection) and becoming aware that we can take part in his resurrection.
The next part provides the different ways one might practice this Union. This is where the eight limbs of ashtanga are introduced: "self-restraint in actions, fixed observance, posture, regulation of energy, mind-control in sense engagements, concentration, meditation, and realization" (2.29). Although I have completed a series on the eight limbs of ashtanga, there are a few aspects that need to be revisited. These limbs are devices to achieve enlightenment or union with God. The limbs are almost always depicted in a wheel as to not give hierarchy to any one limb over the other. The experience to each individual may be different. In other words, one may master posture before concentration or meditation before self-restraint. These limbs together create the perfect union with God, or more commonly known as the term yoga.
The focus here is the spiritual mastery. Let it be noted that these parts should be completed in succession, unlike the limbs. Mastery only comes with intense practice of the study. Mastery in this part is interpreted as self-control. By having the steady control of the aspects rising from us, we may have mastery of ourselves to then further our spiritual path beyond the worldly. This part touches vaguely on the areas of the chakras and its extensions in the body.
I found that the last line was the most powerful me: "liberation is attained when there is equal purity between vitality and the indweller" (3.54). The vitality is the lived person, the practitioner. The indweller is God who lives in us. The concept of liberation is highly sought at in Eastern traditions. As Christians, we can see this liberation as the liberation of worldly desires so that we may live a life intricately connected with God. If you are like me, having equal purity to God may seem like an impossible task. The only one who has met equality with God is Jesus, therefore we must strive to be as pure as Christ in every way possible.
This final part of the Sutras gets a little tricky. If you do decide to read the fourth part, read with caution and awareness. Like all yogic texts, this is from a separate tradition of our own, yet it is still a sacred text and should at least be respected even if at a distance. When reading, seek God's Truth and wisdom beyond what may be questionable.
With this being the shortest part of the four, it strikes directly to the core. Once one receives the mastery, the challenge is to remain in this state of consciousness. Mastery does not guarantee the "absolute freedom." Only through consistently fighting and neglecting the distractions, natural habits, and the external can we be in the presence of God fully. Reject sin and we may remain in communion with God.
Jesus' resurrection is this "absolute freedom" that we may one day receive. The resurrection lives in us every day. The Easter season is our reminder that he is here and has never left. We are a part of the mystical body of Christ mentioned by Paul. Our biggest challenge is overcoming the sins that Jesus died for so that we can strive for sainthood. Happy Easter, my brothers and sisters!
Peace and Namaste,