Part I ONTOLOGY explored the place of divinity and humanity in yogic and Christian philosophy.
Part II BREATH explored yoga and Christian spirituality within their creation narratives, including a brief look at breath or prana.
Part III LOVE turns attention to “what if” this is true. Traditionally, this has been the spark in creating an organization’s mission.
There is a close similarity between Christian and yoga spirituality in their most important spiritual aspect; it transforms everything, and this is love (see the July print issue of OM Yoga Magazine, “Yoga’s symphony of movement: The soulful urge to let love fall”). This is not part of a typical yoga class, but love is the dynamic ingredient to spiritual life in both yogic and Christian manifestations.
At a yoga festival this summer, following a session by world-renowned musician Krishna Das, I bought Flow of Grace. I asked him to autograph my copy, and he signed in all capital letters, “ALL LOVE” KD. Love is what yoga, chant, meditation, community, self-care, and spiritual encounters repeatedly put in our laps. The power of yoga is that it simultaneously teaches and offers a path to discover self-love and divine love.
Das’ two-word inscription left me thinking of an experience 44 years ago in India when a philosopher asked me, “Does love love the lover of love, or does love bow to the lover of love?”
The question is parabolic and instructive, but the answer, like a riddle, is elusive. Love is an ever-changing river; one we all navigate. During a lifetime we may flounder and drift in that river, and sometimes sail freely and joyously with its current. It’s the river of experience, a river that returns us to its source many times . . . only to begin again.
Yoga spirituality, love bows to the lover of love
After 44 years working on the riddle posed to me in India, I answer that yoga bows to the lover of love. It’s embodied by hands folded at the heart center with a gentle intonation of OM or namaste. The forward bow is the yogi’s sacred asana, a giving and receiving in an incarnational movement of truth force. The bow is a yogi’s response of love and gratefulness for life, for other people, for self, for the river, and it’s a bow to themselves for their radiant inner divinity.
The question arises, what if someone cannot physically bow forward? The answer is that the body is layers of divinity, emotion, intellect, consciousness, and physical attributes. If a physical bow is also spiritual (I believe it is) it’s true also that a mental intention to bow forward is also physical. The body is an interconnected mass of energy (yogis called these koshas), which is at once and always completing the cellular body, the energy body, and the spiritual body. While the yogi moves their physical self in asana, the physical move starts somewhere inside and that is the place from which both the able and not able bow.
A bow is a sacred asana and ignition of spiritual alchemy that animates the soul. It’s an internal liturgy of consequence, and like all asana, a giving and receiving in the flow of opposites. Over time, yoga creates space for the yogi to become an empty vessel and teaches yogis to release that which they no longer need. They receive love in the space opened by practice. It’s what Bhava Ram calls “extending the range.” When yogis release their stranglehold on the well-known, they extend their range and experience love. Yoga teachers often speak of love for self; it is the motherlode of self-realization and both the object and vehicle for grace.
How this works
In most yoga studios, during the practice of asana, yogis use a mirror for safe alignment. When we look in the mirror, we see an image of ourselves. This is the image of God (see part II), as it is the imprint of God’s divine creation in you. You are a manifestation of God consciousness and love right in front of yourself in the image you see. Grace is incarnated, and to it the yogi bows, which is an act of love for self. It’s different for everyone because the blueprint of yoga’s transformation is tailored by each yogi’s heart, body, mind, and spirit.
If you must name this divine essence, say God, or Brahman, Budha, Allah, Jesus, Oversoul, Elohim, or some other choice. The bottom line is that this essence is within, and it is the source. It’s like the Christian doctrine of Trinity, and the work of its three aspects forming One union (see part I).
I think of the yogi as a fluid body and everything surrounding them is a flowing ocean and running river. It’s as if the body needs replenishing, so the yogi bows forward in love and happens to catch a droplet of water on their tongue only to find that they are drenched by a waterfall. Yoga spirituality is like a nonsensical equation: subtract to add, let go to gather, let love bow, descend to ascend.
Yogis practice not because they must, but because they enjoy a mind, body, and spirit, event that is physical, visceral, spiritual, and emotional. They embody an internalized liturgy of love where the yogi positions themselves to receive all the love they can hold. Out of it, they create a life of love and grace that they learn to enjoy.
Christian spirituality, love loves the lover of love
The cornerstone of Christian spirituality is that by faith, love loves the lover of love. Like the yogi and their journey, the Christian’s apprehension of love unfolds in unforeseen, sometimes unspectacular, and unexpected ways.
A yoga teacher once told me how yoga helped her see the Christian faith at a new and deeper level than she ever saw while growing up in the church. At the end of her practice in savasana pose, settled into a deep state of relaxation and peace, a realization came upon her, and she said to herself, “There is nobody on Earth I would not die for right now.”
In that moment, she said she experienced in her body not just Christ written of in scripture, but a very real manifestation of God’s love – taking place in her on the yoga mat – through an unexpected and unforeseen experience of the One who did die for others. And while she is not active in Christian faith communities, her perspective was opened through yoga.
Delivering the love of God in Christ to the world is at the heart of Christian spirituality, faith, and mission. How to do this is subject to variation and leads to varying strands and extremities in both Christian and yoga spiritualities. At the basic level, Christian spirituality is guided by a set of ethical principles that look very much like yogic principles: don’t steal, lie, cheat, act on impulse, or be greedy. These ethics can be summarized by the universal edicts to not harm others and do good. It’s simple, it only gets complicated when someone harms another in the community.
Christian spirituality is the devotional act of loving the lover of love. Loving the lover of love is sufficiently fulfilled in a private relationship to God; and for Christian spirituality, nothing else is required. Loving the lover of love is built on belief and faith in the God of Creation, God of the Christ, and God of the spirit. But from this posture, the Christians express their love for God by prayer, worship, and service.
In both traditions, some devotees or disciples will drive themselves to prove their devotion or to achieve worthiness by working to obliterate sin (what yogis call avidya) within themselves or sacrifice to achieve another level of self-development – even punishing themselves with self-flagellations and denials of an extreme nature. But a Christian spirituality that’s built on the love of God as filled in the New Covenant, means that the old rules about extreme laws for behavior or diet or practice are obsolete. This is the New Covenant, the promise God made in Christ to the Christian and the response by the Christian to love the lover of love. Christians will act on love first and in all things.
How this works
The most important way to love the lover of love is to live the faith by forgiving enemies (which means everyone), executing acts of charity and goodwill, and sharing the story of God’s love (the incarnation of Jesus and crucifixion of the Christ) for humanity. There are other aspects of faith in works of love too (social justice, self-development, nurturing community, worship, prayer, sacramental liturgy), but loving God is foremost.
When Christians embody their faith and the faith of Christ within, they live out the Gospel of love which creates the new being and motivates them to be the hands and feet of love in everything they do. Christian spirituality is an extension of the Christ on Earth which means in the Christian, the New Covenant of love moves forward into the world.
“Prayers are where the people of God fight,” one of my teachers said. Some will pray for rain and others will pray for sunny weather; some will pray for peace; others will pray for retribution. Take any issue, some will pray for it and others will pray against it. This is where Christian spirituality is tested.
- Prayers are important for both listening and expressing the full self before God.
- Liturgy is important for externalizing and ritualizing devotion.
- Executing charity, justice, and goodwill is important for serving God’s mission on Earth. All of this is important, but it is penultimate for Christian spirituality.
The New Covenant of Love is the wellspring of Christianity’s grace-filled river and the ultimate in Christian identity and spirituality, but its also true that Christian spirituality does not talk much about love for self; the orthodoxy and practice of love is directed outward to neighbor and enemy. Love by faith is Christian spirituality in this answer: love loves the lover of love.
Both yoga and Christian spirituality take us back to the river’s source as the place to start the journey. In both loving and bowing, spirituality sets the compass by the river’s rhythm and gives directions for the journey downriver. They are simple, “ALL LOVE.”
Das, Krishna. The Flow of Grace: Chanting the Hanuman Chalisa, entering into the presence of the powerful, compassionate being known as Hanuman. San Rafael, California.: Mandala Publishing, 2019.
Ram, Bava. Deep Yoga: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times. Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. Lotus Press, 2007.