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Jesus in the Lotus

by Russill Paul

Many of us feel a deep loyalty to the traditions in which we grew up. Even after we perceive dysfunction in a tradition, we feel it is still our family. If you have felt a call to open up to another tradition, you may be unsure how to respond to the call, or you may have responded in a way that has failed to bring the desired results.

Twenty-five years ago I heard the call. In responding to it, I became a bridge between traditions, starting by becoming a Benedictine monk in a monastery that fully expressed itself in the culture of Yoga. I lived and studied under a gurulike figure, Bede Griffiths, who was also the abbot of a Christian monastery. Interestingly, my own ancestry is both Hindu and Christian, and through my life as a monk in this Hindu-Christian monastery, I discovered that Yoga and Christianity can benefit each other, and that both offer the spiritual seeker important insights. This does not mean seekers must convert to another tradition or otherwise compromise the core values of their own. Instead, one can live the best of both authentically and simultaneously. At the very least, one may choose to embrace the parts of another tradition that are most appealing, perhaps even most challenging, in order to evolve and enrich one’s own tradition. This is our future: interspirituality.

Please note that I am not talking about syncretism here, which is based on the idea that all traditions are the same, and that it does not matter which one you choose. Bede Griffiths, my mentor, spoke strongly against syncretism, as do I. Syncretism blurs the differences between, and dishonors the uniqueness of, traditions, and therefore it impairs the unique challenges for growth that the emphasis of each tradition offers us. Followers of any given tradition can always point and say, oh, but we too have that aspect! But the important question is, how much is it emphasized, and, if it’s emphasized, how effective is that emphasis — how is it affecting the world today? This brings up the subjects of form and expression. Christianity, we know, is in crisis; and form and expression are crucial to that crisis. This is where Yoga can help, and it can do so by contributing to Christianity without taking away from it.

Many Christians are discomforted by Yoga and are worried about any relationship that develops between it and Christianity. These Christians accuse the Hindu tradition of converting Christians to nonreligious yoga. While it is true that, in its integration into Western culture, Yoga stripped itself of all religious and cultural associations with Hinduism in order to gain credibility in Western society, the motive was never to convert others to Hinduism or to wean them away from their Christian faith. It is also important to bear in mind that Yoga, as a tradition within Hinduism, historically rejected many institutional and superficial aspects of its own mother tradition. Many of these rejected aspects are the same issues that Christians have objected to: the caste system, or external religious observances devoid of inner understanding, or superstitions, to name a few. However, these rejections do not undermine the depth and power of the Hindu tradition any more than the Protestant reformation did to Christianity. Of equal note is the fact that many practitioners of the Yogic and Hindu traditions, in turn, harbor an understandable distrust of and prejudice against Christians and Christianity. In this work, I try to soften these strong views in the hope that they will give way to a better appreciation of what is worthy in Christianity.

Yoga is the fastest-growing spiritual phenomenon in the United States and internationally, and many celebrities have embraced its powerful techniques. Christians, even if grudgingly, have to come to terms with the fact that Yoga is here to stay, and that the influence of Yoga is destined to have long-lasting and far-reaching consequences for the development of consciousness in the West and, in all likelihood, the world at large.

Would it not be wonderful if practitioners of Yoga could connect to what is deep and good and powerful in Christianity, in a way that complements the deepest aspects of Yoga practice? And wouldn’t it be equally wonderful for Christians to embrace the fullness of Yoga practice without feeling they are betraying their faith and tradition? The sooner we can heal this divide, the better for our world. It will be a great day when the spiritual leaders of the world can join hands and proclaim that a saved Christian, an enlightened Buddhist, and a self-realized Hindu are equally good, and that a deluded Hindu and a Christian who has not awakened to the core of Jesus’s message are equally lost.

Russill Paul trained as both a Christian monk and yogi under the direction of Bede Griffiths and is the author of Jesus in the Lotus and The Yoga of Sound. A faculty member at Wisdom University in San Francisco, he blends Indian and contemporary music in his recordings and performances. He lives in Austin, Texas, and teaches throughout the world.

Based on the book Jesus in the Lotus: The Mystical Doorway Between Christianity & Yogic Spirituality. © 2009 by Russill Paul. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com <http://www.newworldlibrary.com/> or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.

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