Jesus Christ and Yoga

1. Q: How do you experience Christ through your yogic path?

Sharon: Yoga is a spiritual practice, which recognizes that we have five bodies and each of these bodies from gross to subtle can be purified of avidya, or mis-knowing, which means being ignorant of your Divine Nature as well as your connection to Mother Nature. Through the practice of yoga I can feel closer to the truth expressed in the ideology found in the gospels, as well as the teaching of Patanjali in the yoga sutras. They become real rather than merely intellectual ideas to be accepted or rejected.

The goal of the yoga practices is to realize the Oneness of Being. We could say the goal is God-realization, but I think it is better to refer to the Divine in a more all-inclusive way. Perhaps we could use the term Sacred Unity to express what we seek spiritually. The word, "god" comes from a Germanic root, which means "good". I feel that God means more than what can be defined as good. The Aramaic word Alaha refers to the Divine; it means Oneness. The Hebrew word for god is Elohim which shares the same root: 'al or el. It means 'All". Looking deeply into the words of the gospels as well as any scripture can give us a clue as to how we are to relate to ourselves, to god, to nature to all. These are the great questions of life.

Yoga gives very practical methods for overcoming the greatest obstacle to the realization of oneness. One of those methods is Ahimsa. As long as you perceive others and not the One then do not cause them harm in the process; your vision or perception of reality will be purified by this practice of non-harming. Jesus could have given the same message. He said, "I and my father are one." If we also desire to know that truth of unity then "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" The theme common in both the sutras and the Gospels is Love. Love not violence is the way to Truth. It is the medicine, which purifies and makes one whole as it cleans away all delusions and the true perception of the Self is revealed.

Through breath we access the Spirit. The gospels refer to spirit over one hundred times. Yoga practices utilize conscious breathing in order to rise above the divisions in the mind. Life is synonymous with Breath. If there is no breathing there is no life. The Holy Ghost or Spirit must be honored. I think we find that advice in Matthew 12:23.

There are atoms of air that were once in the lungs of everyone who has ever lived and is living now: we are breathing each other. It is through this conscious feeling of the breath that we come to know our unity with all of creation and through creation we come to know our unity with the Divine Creator.

The Christ Consciousness is the feeling or experiential realization of the living wholeness which is our essential nature. This comes from the heart it is the innate nature of the heart. The Christ Consciousness is revealed in us as compassion. To see ourselves as the other and then to go even beyond seeing so as to Be ourselves in the other until there is no other. This wholeness will dispel the cultural disease of dis-connect, which we all suffer from to some extent, in our attempts to separate ourselves from the Divine and from Nature.

2. Q: Are yoga students and teachers anxious for Christian spirituality as a compliment to their yoga practice?

Sharon: Many yogic students in the West have been brought up with a Christian background. It is good for them to feel they can embrace the teachings of yoga and not have to reject their religion. I think many people are turning to yoga for spiritual guidance because they are dissatisfied with the inverted teachings they are receiving by many Christian organizations. The yogic practices create Self-confidence and independence in the individual, True self confidence, a confidence which arises from connecting to the Higher Self, the capital 'S' self. Independence means depending inward.

3. Q: Where do you see conflicts between Yoga teaching and Christian teaching?

Sharon: It appears to me that there are fundamental conflicts between yogic teachings and Christian teachings, but NO conflicts between yogic teachings and the teachings of Jesus.

If there was a movement to save Jesus from the Christians, I might join it! (Ha ha, I guess internally I already have joined it.)

Jesus was a yogi: He lived the yogic life. Through acting in a way which was harmonious with the creation, He felt the presence of God within His own being and was not only able to identify with it but to exemplify it so as to inspire others to remember their own True nature.

I and my father are one. -John chapter 10 - this is Yoga! Could have come straight from Patanjali. Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodha: Yoga sutra chapter1:2 which translates as: When you cease to identify with the fluctuations of the mind then there is yoga; identity with Self.

During his time Jesus was giving some pretty radical teaching. "I and my father are one" is radical because it cites our true identity with the Divine (the Sacred Unity, Alaha), which means all that is. That which is seen and not seen. That sacred unity has to include all, so it even implies nature. This is radical because if we could identify with the Divine in this sense, then what would happen to our guilt or our anxiety or our insecurities and fear of losing? If we knew ourselves to be connected with the All how could we enslave others or exploit them or see Mother Nature as belonging to us and existing for our benefit alone? How could culture survive? Without fear to plague us we may not need the heavy -handed control of the state. We would recognize the entire world as a Divine expression of our own greater heart.

There might be anarchy- oh my! Self-rule. Can't have that for a society based on the exploitation of others. When one is governed by Love, one tends to see through the motives of man-made selfish laws. One can only be controlled through their anxiety, which is why culture is so keen on keeping us in a state of anxiety. My teacher Shri Brahmananda Saraswati often said: "Yoga is the state where you are missing nothing."

Jesus taught love and non-violence. The social-political forces were threatened by his teachings, so they did what they had to do to maintain control. They turned His message upside down, by inverting the good news that the kingdom of heaven was within, and Love is the way to enter this Kingdom. The cultural powers focused on deifying Him, creating more separation. Separation or disconnection was what Jesus was trying to heal. After devaluing His teachings in lieu of his deification the church became busy pointing an accusatory finger at pagans (worshipers of mother earth) and other savages who did not bow down to the One True Way. The Church switched the focus from realization of the true nature of the soul to the worship of One Man. The Church has been marching their armies over His message of love thy neighbor as thyself, in a frenzy to search, convert and/or destroy.

There is indeed a basic difference between the Yogic teachings and the Bible in how the teachings are communicated. The yogic way does not emphasize proselytizing. It is thought that one cannot be made to accept the teachings. One must instead already have the inclination inside of them and from that a person is able to hear the teachings. Isn't that what Jesus may have meant when he said, "He who has ears let them hear."

4. Q. : What kind of practical future do you see for the intertwining of Patanjali’s Sutras and the Christian Gospels?

Sharon: I like envisioning a world where all seekers of truth are united by their Love of the ONE. I like envisioning this Universal Love extending to embrace the feminine which refers to all of creation. I like envisioning this Divine Love healing our disconnect with the Planet and with God.

To me the two most important teachings of Jesus found in the gospels are Love God and love thy neighbor as thy self. The latter will automatically lead to the former. When we love our neighbor the divisions in the manifest world dissolve and we come to know that what we do to the soil, the water, the air, the plants, and the animals we do to ourselves. When we can live in harmony with nature we can then love God and through this love His grace will reveal the Truth.

How are we to study the scriptures so that we may find relevance? Perhaps the best way of understanding what someone said is to learn the language that they spoke. Jesus was, after all, a Middle Eastern person. He spoke in Aramaic, Palestinian Aramaic. His words have been translated into Greek and from Greek into English and we have the King James version of the Bible. If we take the time to learn Sanskrit we can look into Patanjali’s sutras in a way that bypasses present-day translators' biases. Every translation is colored by the limits of the translators' understanding. Also there is a cultural influence. Everyone hears something according the time and place in which they live. Look at the Hollywood film representations of biblical stories. It is difficult not to ‘see’ Moses as Charleston Heston.

We could remember an ancient Middle Eastern practice of translation/interpretation where the words of a holy person are embraced or contemplated, in order to find ways to incorporate their message into a living practice that has relevance in one’s own life now.

If one is devoted to spiritual practice than all mystical words will inspire you. The root of the word mystic is mui, which means to shut up and listen. And listening is the ultimate spiritual practice, isn’t it? As Jesus says, “Be still and know that I-AM.” So it starts by quieting your mind, by meditation.

Sharon Gannon is a 21st-century Renaissance woman, an animal rights and vegan activist and a world-renowned yogini, perhaps best known as the founder, along with David Life, of the Jivamukti Yoga Method. She is also an accomplished writer, dancer, painter, musician and chef. Sharon has devoted many years exploring the role of diet in promoting physical, emotional and mental well-being as well as spiritual development. She lives in a 125-acre wild forest sanctuary in Woodstock, NY.

A student of Brahmananda Sarasvati, Swami Nirmalananda, K. Pattabhi Jois, and Shyam das, she is a pioneer in teaching yoga as spiritual activism and is credited for making yoga cool and hip—relating ancient teachings of yoga to the modern world. Sharon's book Yoga and Vegetarianism has been called the "seminal" work on the subject, exploring the relationship of veganism to the teachings of yoga.

Sharon is a musician and is a featured vocalist on many CDs including Sharanam, which is her 2010 solo album, produced by Frenz Kallos. She has produced numerous yoga-related DVDs and is the author of several books, including Jivamukti Yoga: Practices for Liberating Body & SoulThe Art of Yoga, Cats and Dogs are People Too!, and Yoga Assists. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Toward 2012, Arcana V: Music, Magic and Mysticism, What comes after Money, Semiotexte, Yoga Journal, Mantra, and Origin. She writes a monthly essay called the Focus of the Month.