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    Tuesday, July 25, 2017

    ORTHODOX PERSPECTIVES ON YOGA

    Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? 1 Corinthians 6:14–18 NIV



    I was raised Roman Catholic. I loved prayer. Walks through woods, playing in creeks, running through the vast fields of the imagination. These were like prayer for me: the silence, the stillness, the hesychia children find themselves in almost by nature. I didn't always stay in this prayerful place. But I recognized it. And I took it for granted, as a simple activity within the heart.

    We all experience this to varying degrees. We use different words—or none at all, because they all seem so inadequate—to express the heart's movement toward God. It seems when we are innocent in heart, especially when we are very young, there is a tangible perception of two in these experiences. Lover and Beloved. The Someone Else. As I child, I didn't articulate this Presence as Christ—just as I never articulated my parents by their names. I just knew them.

    * * *

    As a high school student—my grandparents put me through an all-boy Roman Catholic high school—I wanted to be a Trappist monk. I attended services regularly and read the Bible often. Scripture really is like a door. You can enter through it and the Holy Spirit takes you places without ever really lifting your shoes off the ground. But I knew there was something more. A difference between reading about the experiences and the experience Himself.

    Dr. Harry Boosalis writes in Holy Tradition: "We are not called simply to 'follow' Tradition or 'mimic' Tradition. We are called to experience it...just as the Saints have and continue to do." We know something is missing in the world around us. Some richness, some depth we are vaguely aware of and long after. This is, of course, the richness of God's love, light, and grace. But, at that time of my life, I didn't have the language to express this. Like so many, I attributed this dissatisfaction, this unease, to other things.

    Then a psychology professor in high school guided my class through self-hypnosis. My intrigue with meditation followed quickly thereafter. I felt relaxed. I let my guard down to new experiences. I felt as if the back door of my heart opened permanently. I rejected God 'to go it alone on my own.' I experienced, very clearly, a light switching off inside me. The Presence, the Someone Else, the Friend respected this decision. It felt as if He quietly left. He respects freewill. He never forces Himself. He knocks on the door of the heart and waits.

    * * *

    So I started meditating regularly. Initially, especially as a teenager, it was really difficult: sitting for hours with old Tibetan Buddhists, completely still, bringing my thoughts back to the bare wall and bronze statue of the Buddha in front of me. I started studying reincarnation, karma, and samsara.[1] I wasn't yet aware of Tibetan Buddhism's origins in the shamanistic religion called Bon, nor its embrace of astrology, magic, and other occult practices.[2]

    I wanted to learn how to calm anxiety and depression, how to sweep scattered thoughts. Visiting Buddhist meditation halls and Hindu ashrams, I was intrigued by the 'spiritual fireworks:' the ecstasies, trances, feelings, and visions. These are associated with all levels of meditation and yoga and increase with practice. These experiences and more are sometimes referred to as siddhis, or powers acquired through sadhana (practice of meditation and yoga). Intrigue became fascination, and the fascinating became familiar. Without my noticing, my initial 'harmless' curiosity of the yoga and meditation hardened into habit. I spent more than a decade immersed in this spiritual sea.

    During these years, lots of questions were asked. For instance, do Roman Catholic priests and monks know whether early Christians believed in the pre-existence of souls and reincarnation? They said they didn't know. And besides, they asked, what does it matter? Reading further into the origins and meanings of Far East religions, and eager to experience the bardos—the intermediary dimensions of the material and spiritual worlds—I studied the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

    I read all the mystical or esoteric literature I could get my hands on and kept a copy of the Bhagavad Gita folded in my back pocket and read the writings of Paramahansa Yogananda. I immersed myself in the writings of Osho, read Ram Dass and Ramana Maharshi, convinced there was no being more divine than myself. It was up to me to shatter my illusory self. According to so much of what I read and heard there can be no personal relationship with the Divine and this conflicted me. The calm and peaceful nature of childhood was gone. The more I delved into the meat of meditation and yoga, the more sudden and unexplainable urges I experienced to hurt myself. My soul was under attack. This was a very dark and unfortunate period of my life.

    Seeking calm, I took the Bodhisattva vow and sought a contemplative and peaceful lay monastic order within Buddhism in an effort to ground myself somewhere, with something. After an initial period of relative peace, boldness developed, even recklessness, concerning spiritual activities. I was going through a sort of spiritual alcoholism. But I didn’t know it.

    * * *

    The Prodigal Son ate the food of pigs in a far country. But he returned home when he remembered the taste of the Bread of his Father's house. For more than a decade I lived in this far country, eating its food.

    I saw so many people—some friends, many strangers—seeking the dissolution of self. They had an insatiable desire to lose themselves, not in the life and light of God but in the darkness of the void, in a separation from the Love Who Transcends Everything. This separation is hell. Many men, women and children seek this hell, spinning through promiscuous relationships and leaping out of the windows of drugs, through which so many fall.

    But I studied and practiced Kundalini Yoga and shamanism, learning the presence of fear and coldness.[3]

    I grew a reputation for reading the tarot, an occult method of divination. I taught yoga and instructed groups through guided meditations and chanting in sage deserts. We experimented with astral projection – guided out-of-body experiences through the bardos described in the Tibetan books. I carried not only underlined copies of the Bhagavad Gita, but of the Upanishads and sutras of the buddhas everywhere I went.[4] Every one of these pursuits was a swim stroke away from the holy mountain of Christ. Drop water on stone long enough and you'll whither it away. Swabbing orange paste across my forehead, I rang bells offering fruit and fire while worshipping Krishna, wandering barefoot the streets of Eugene, Portland, Seattle and finally Rishikesh, Haridwar and Dharamsala in north India.

    "Separated from God Who is the source of Life," writes Archimandrite Zacharias in his book Hidden Man of the Heart, "man can only withdraw into himself.... Gradually he is left desolate and dissolute."

    Buddhism rejects the self, the soul, and the person. It folds its arms in silence against God. Suffering is never transfigured. There are crosses in Buddhism but there is never resurrection. One could say that Buddhism finds the empty tomb and declares this emptiness the natural state of things, even the goal. In Buddhism everything—heaven, hell, God, the self, the soul, the person—is an illusion waiting to be overcome, discarded, destroyed. This is the goal. Total obliteration. In this 9th-century axiom, the essence of Buddhism is summed: 'If you see the Buddha, kill him.'

    Buddhism does not profess to—nor can it—heal soul and body. Both soul and body are to be overcome and discarded. In the Orthodox Church, however, the soul and body are meant to be healed. Buddhism teaches that nothing has intrinsic value. The Church teaches that everything God makes has intrinsic value. This includes the human body. We are complex beings. The actions of our body, mind and soul are linked. And these linked actions are directly related to our relationship with God and the spiritual realm.

    For Orthodox Christians, everything—even suffering—is a hidden door through which we meet Christ, whereby we embrace one another.

    * * *

    One autumn, I traveled to Rishikesh, India. This city is named after the pagan god Vishnu, ‘the lord of the senses.’ Rishikesh is the 'yoga capital of the world.' It is generally accepted to be the place on earth where yoga originated from. For 40 days I studied and practiced the so-called secret spiritual path of integral yoga in the foothills of the Himalayas.[5] This covered not only the gym yoga of America; each class began and ended with a prayer to ‘the god of the roaring storm,’ Shiva.

    This is while I was teaching English to Tibetan refugees and working for the Tibetan National Government as an editor. Yoga is historically rooted in Hinduism. Curious, I spoke with a rinpoche at the Dalai Lama's monastery in Dharamsala.[6] I asked him who or what these Hindu gods are according to Buddhist cosmology. His answer is alarming: “They are created beings, with an ego...they are spirits trapped in the air."[7]

    * * *

    Read more at pravoslavie.ru

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