Usually I hear Isvara pranidhana, dedication to God, presented as one of the paths, an option that one might choose according to his or her temperament. My reading of the Yoga Sutras and my personal experience indicate that Isvara pranidhana, along with the other yamas and niyamas, is more a prerequisite than an option.
Let me not mince words: Whoever owns the hand that is there when you’re going down for the last time is the one your life belongs to. Isvara means personal God. Isvara has many faces — Siva, Quan Yin, Krishna. When you get to know Krishna well enough you know Isvara, which means that you also know Siva and Quan Yin from the inside. To me, his name is Jesus. So even though I appreciate and love Krishna and know who he is, for me there is really no one but Jesus. Krishna has no problem with this.
One of the last things Jesus prayed before his passion was,
“I have given them [the disciples] the glory you gave me,
that they may be one as we are one:
I in them and you in me.
May they be brought into complete unity to let the world know you sent me
and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
This is one of the all-time great descriptions of Yoga, union. As long as I carry the slightest grudge or resentment against even one person, as long as I look to another human being as the source of my happiness or suffering, I’m refusing the answer to Jesus’ prayer. The door to unity—to Yoga, God-realization— stays closed.
If I drop all that stuff–if I have decided to forgive that old hurt as many times as it comes up, if I stop demanding that other people help me fulfill my desires and instead, just let them be—the door to the knowledge of God opens as if by magic. Jesus is one of the all-time champions of forgiveness. After three years of healing and setting thousands free in body and mind, Jesus was tried, tortured and executed with the utmost brutality. His crime: making the religious people look bad. Jesus forgave it all. Probably none of us can boast of a life as good as Jesus’. And, probably none of us can claim to have been treated with greater injustice. If he forgave, we can forgive. Why should we forgive? Because we are trying to be good people and good people are supposed to forgive? No, because we are tired of rowing the boat of our Yoga practice while tied to the dock. Because we want to be free. What is binding us is our opinions of ourselves and others. What loosens the knots is forgiveness. As yogis we all believe God is in us. I seem to hear Jesus saying, “It’s time to let him out. It’s time to be like me, like my Father — big enough to get above likes and dislikes and love everyone no matter what they do.”
Now I wouldn’t be a good Christian if I didn’t tell what Jesus has done for me. Book I, verse 2 of the Yoga Sutras says, Yogas chitta vritti nirodha. Yoga is the restraint of the mind-stuff from taking forms. I used to work very hard trying to manage my thoughts, like stuffing down the jack-in-the-box; as soon as I stopped stuffing—SPROING!—the thoughts were all over the place again. I gave six years or so of my life to this kind of hard, frustrating work—and another three or four years after that trying to come to grips with the obvious fact that with this approach, defeat was inevitable. Then I heard the message, “The work is finished in Christ Jesus. Accept him and you accept the kingdom of heaven.” By this point I was desperate enough to try anything, so I accepted Jesus as my Lord.
Having turned my life over to him I figured I had better get to know something about him, so I began studying the Bible for hours every day and listening to tapes from the best Christian teachers I could find. After some time I began to notice that if I contemplated Jesus, especially his death, my mind would go on overload and stop working. Voila! Chitta vritti nirodha. I didn’t have to control my mind; all I had to do was think deeply about Jesus and it would shut itself off. (It should be needless to say that contemplating Siva has the same effect on a Siva devotee as Jesus has on me.)
Challenges that face the devotee along the way include learning to feel okay with being rejected by the world, dealing with life-threatening bliss (hint: ask for more), and living in the light with a silent mind. Living in the light is not as easy as it may sound: the light exposes all our faults, sometimes long before they get fixed.Face to face with your faults in the presence of God, the silence can be deafening, but Jesus really helped me: In his presence I learned that because Jesus died for my sins (my faults), not his own, if I am in him (consciously abiding in his presence) I also died with him (in him).
When he rose to life, I rose to a new life in him, in his presence. In Jesus there are no faults, no sins, so I can live in the light of the presence of God with no sense of guilt or shame. (If this sounds too easy, you haven’t tried to put it into practice.) Another benefit: in the early years of my sadhana a lingering sense of guilt told me that I was unworthy to feel so good, so I would practice on and off. I was in a double-bind: I felt I had to practice Yoga to feel good, but also felt I had to quit when I started feeling good.
In Jesus my worthiness or unworthiness is irrelevant. He is worthy; that’s enough. With the issue of my unworthiness dead, I simply ignore the invalidators within and without, practice regularly and feel very, very good. In my late fifties I feel incomparably better than I did in my youth. In him I can go deep within without fear and just watch life get better and better forever.
So, if you’ve tried to practice Yoga as hard as you can and gotten nowhere, or if you can only manage an on-and-off practice, face it: trying harder isn’t working and it isn’t going to work. Maybe you tried to get into the so-called higher classes without the prerequisites. Do you need a personal God? Do you need someone to take disease, doubt, carelessness, laziness and the other obstacles out of your life? Consider Jesus. Gaze into his sacrifice without wavering. Get Krishna off the altar and into your heart once and for all. Hear his flute calling you … Join the devotees that follow Siva around. Get serious about Yoga Sutras, Book 1: sutras 23-30. Your life and Yoga practice will bear fruit in his presence. The success that eluded you will fall into your lap.
Bhaktan Eberle is a mystic Christian who lives in the presence of God; pranayama is his main Yoga practice. A disciple of Swami Satchidananda since 1972 and Yoga teacher for 35 years, he has a thorough knowledge of the Bible, the Tao Te Ching, the I Ching, principal Upanishads and Yoga Sutras. Bhaktan is also the husband of Prema for 30 years, father of five, extreme skier, blues harp player, and master builder.
(by Bhaktan Eberle, from the May 2011, IYTA Newsletter)