Christianity and Yoga:  A Series of Studies – Niyamas Part II

The first two Niyamas, Saucha and Santosha, are fairly easy to both define and to see how they can fit within a Christian framework.  The final three Niyamas provide some difficulty partly due to translation issues and partly due to the ideas they represent being rather unique.  With only a very little effort, however, these difficulties are easily dismissed.

If asked, many would say that Brahmacharya is the most disagreed upon of the Yamas and Niyamas.  There is, however, little confusion as to the topic that Brahmacharya covers:  The sexual activity of any yogi.  The disagreement comes in determining what extent of restraint one should exercise from moderation to life long celibacy.  Personally, I would have to say that Tapas is truly the principle that is both most disagreed upon and the least understood.

Tapas – Endurance

Yoga Sutra 2.43 Through sanctification and the removal of impurities, there arise special powers in the body and senses.  Already there is a disparity, BonGiovanni translated Tapas as sanctification and the removal of impurities whereas I’ve listed Tapas as endurance.  Worse, other translations say that Tapas removes impurities rather than saying that the removal is part of Tapas.  Tapas is also translated as dedication, austerity, discipline, determination, desire and even as suffering.  The word Tapas is derived from the Sanskrit word for fire or burn but one thing we can all be sure of is that Patañjali did not intend for us to burn ourselves.  As already noted, I interpret Tapas to mean endurance meaning the power to withstand hardship or stress.  A refiner’s fire is used to illustrate the process God uses to purify His people.

9 And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.

Zechariah 13:9

2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:
3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.

Malachi 3:2-3

If we have no endurance then we will turn from God at the very time that He is purifying us because it is just too hard.  As we are purified, we will be able to learn and understand more.  This endurance cannot be a half-hearted affair or it just won’t carry us through.  The best way to garner Tapas is by making God the center of one’s life and the best way to do that is to study and then to do.  Such enduring power is evident in our daily actions:  Are we easily side tracked or do we stay a steady course until a task is complete?  Is my asana practice regular or does the simplest distraction cause me to abandon it for the day?  Do I pray morning and night no matter what or only when I feel like it?

5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Deuteronomy 6:5

23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

Colossians 3:23

Tapas then is a burning desire to endure whatever may come our way and to have the endurance to accomplish whatever task may be set before us.  Having such endurance bodes well for any person but is essential for a follower of Christ as He has set us no small task:

48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Matthew 5:48

Svaadhyaya – Study

Yoga Sutras 2.44 By study comes communion with the Lord in the Form most admired.  Obviously, this surta is going to cause some initial heartburn for many Christians although it shouldn’t.  Patañjali believed in a pantheon of deities (or at least likely did).  He didn’t care which deity a particular yogi worshipped but instructed that by studying about one’s chosen deity, one would gain communion (sharing thoughts and feelings) with that deity.  If I focus my study on Christ then where is the problem?  In fact, as the Savior prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane he said this:

3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

John 17:3

The more I can study about God and truth and righteousness, the more I will know the "only true God, and Jesus Christ" and the more my thoughts will become similar to God’s thoughts.

39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

John 5:39

13 Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.

1 Timothy 4:13

15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15

3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

2 Peter 1:3-7

Ishvara Pranidhana – Union with or Surrendering to God

Yoga Sutra 2.45 Realization is experienced by making the Lord the motive of all actions.  Surrendering to God is a more accurate interpretation of the words Ishvara Pranidhana.  This is the Niyama that will bring the most consternation to the most people.  The problem is that most of us are taught that we are basically evil and as such it is impossible to surrender to the nature of God within each of us.  If it is true that we are all basically evil, then the very purest form of evil must be a new born infant as a newborn has had no chance to begin changing from our base, evil, horrid nature.  Of course, that is simply not true.

14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19:14

Also, as noted above, Peter (2 Peter 1:6) instructed us to be godly.  We do this by making God the basic focus/motivation of all we do.  That sentence, taken alone and without considering Yoga in any way, fits perfectly within any Christian ideology.  Because the idea is being put forward by someone who has never heard of Christ, however, somehow makes it clear to some that Yoga cannot be practised by good Christians because Patañjali must have meant some Hindu deity or Samkhyan construct.  It is true that Patañjali was not referencing God the Father nor Jesus Christ when he identified Ishvara Pranidhana as one fo the Niyamas but does that truly matter?  Does that make having God as my motivation a bad thing just because a non-Christian said it is a good thing?  It most cerntainly does not.

31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

This single reference is clear enough.  All that we do should be to the glory of God.  Ishvara Pranidhana.