Friday, June 29, 2007

Some Reflections on Yoga and Jesus.

The "Yoga of Jesus"

I have tried to understand the final journey of Jesus to his death, carrying the Cross, as related to the “Surya Namashkar”.

The Surya Namashkar is a series of yogic poses.

The word "Yoga" comes from the Sanskrit root "Yuj", which means to join. This root term can be traced back to an Indo-European word, which appears also in the Latin "Jug", as found in Conjugal, Conjugate etc. It is also said to link with the word "Yoke". It is in this context that some Indian thinkers, like Vandana Mataji, have spoken of the ancient concept of yoking to be found in the Biblical tradition, as linked to Yoga. So when Jesus said to his disciples "Come to me, all you who are burdened, for my yoke is easy…" one could render this as "Come to me you who are burdened, because my yoga is easy".

The concept of yoking in the Bible is somehow linked to work. Take for example the text:
"lighten the hard service of your father, and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you" ( 1 kgs 12:4)

Other similar passages can be found where yoke is linked to burden and work. In Indian thought, there is the notion of Karma Yoga, or the yoga of work ,which is discussed at great length in the Bhagvad Gita. I find it interesting that the ancient idea of the work of Adam was that he was a tiller of the soil, and that Justin in the second Century said that Joseph, the Father of Jesus, was a maker of ploughs and yokes. In the early Church, I believe, the Cross was related to the plough, and Jesus carrying the cross, was in a sense represented as the archetypal tiller of the soil, yoked to the cross, as an animal that ploughs a field. It is images such as these that inspired me when I started work on Jesus the Yogi.

There was a monk with Dom Bede Griffiths, in his Ashram in South India, called Amalados. He was very interested in yoga, and gained many ideas on the importance of a spiritual yoga from Fr. Bede who was interested in the ideas of Sri Aurobindo, who had established an Ashram in Pondicherry, and had written extensively on the subject of what he called "integral yoga" As I mentioned earlier,the word yoga means to bring together, and in that sense can be related to the Jungian idea of the "integration of the Self". In fact one of the great labours of Sri Aurobindo was to create an epic type poem on the myth of 'Savithri'.

I will come back to the theme of Savithri later,because it provides the link, between what Sri Aurobindo understood as 'Integral Yoga', and the journey of the sun, as it travels across the sky, and then seems to descend into the earth at sunset, beginning a journey through the dark underworld.

Returning to Brother Amaladas, and his yoga practice at Shantivanam Ashram, he was in the habit of doing the 'Surya Namashkar' on the banks of the Kaveri river near to the Ashram; one day I sketched him doing these different "asanas" or body postures, and I asked him what he thought about when he was doing this morning greeting to the Sun. He told me that he thought about the journey of Jesus to the Cross, which presumably took place in the morning, as he was judged very early in the morning before dawn (Peter denied him thrice when the cock crew), and he died on the cross at noon, if I remember rightly, and was taken down from the cross before the end of the day. So in that sense even from early times there is a link between the journey of Christ to the Cross, and the hours of the day. Also, from early times the day of the Sun was taken to be the day of the Resurrection, and Jesus was thought to be the "sun of Justice". It is clear that ancient sun worship did get incorporated into the Christian Liturgy, as we see also in the feasts. The feast of John the Baptist on Mid summer's day replaced an ancient Celtic feast in honour to the sun, and six months later Jesus is born in mid winter, on the feast of the ancient 'Sol Niger' (Dec. 25), or the dark aspect of the sun, when it goes down into the underworld. I believe it is this movement of the sun that also lies behind many symbols related to the Trinity, or the "Three steps of the sun". Jesus descending into Hell is also the sun going down into the underworld, which we find in the myth of Savithri, that I mentioned earlier. The three steps of Jesus is to be found in the ancient formula which we find in the Liturgy, that Christ lived, died and was born again in the Resurrection. This pattern of three steps (Tripadam in Indian mythology) is also basic to dance movement.


The greeting to the morning sun, obviously goes back to very ancient sun worship. At the beginning of the Bhagvad Gita, Krishna teaches Arjuna:

"I revealed this everlasting yoga to Vivasvan, the sun, the father of light. He in turn revealed it to Manu, his son, the father of man. And Manu taught his son, King Ikshvaku, the saint.
Then, it was taught from father to son in the line of kings who were saints; but in the revolutions of times immemorial this doctrine was forgotten by men.
Today I am revealing to thee this Yoga eternal, this secret supreme: because of thy love for me, and because I am thy friend.
Bhagvad Gita 4. 1-3

The Gayathri Mantra

It this link between yoga and the sun that is also to be found in the concept underlying what is thought by Hindus to be their greatest Mantra, known as the 'Gayathri Mantra', which is taught to the young aspirant at the time of the thread giving ceremony, when he comes of age, and which the devout are supposed to recite daily in the morning.

The Gayathri mantra, which has been adopted for use in meditation, by some Indian Christians, comes from the Rig Veda(III, 62, 10)and has in fact a very special meter, which is supposed to have a great energy. The following is the Mantra:

OM :- Pranava - The word that is God
BHUH :- God who is eternal
BHUVAHA :- God who is the creator
SVAHA :- God who is Independent
OM TAT :- That eternal God
SAVITHUR :- That creative principle of light manifested through Sun
VARENYAM :- That Supreme God propiated by the highest Gods
BHARGO :- That light that bestows wisdom, bliss and everlasting life
DHEVASYA :- The light of that effulgent God
DHEEMAHI :- we mediate
DHIYO :- May our intellect
YO NAHA :- Be directed by that lord
PRACHODAYAT :- Towards Illumination

In a sense, these words can also be linked to the different postures of the Surya Namashkar.

The Story of Savithri.

The ancient story of Savithri, daughter of the Sun, is found in the Epics, but seems to draw on much more ancient sources. The childless king who prayed for an offspring, along with his wife, was taught the Gayathri Mantra. As a result the queen conceived. But the Sun told the king, that he would have a daughter, and not a son. But the king was told that the child girl, who is to be called Savithri (Savitr is the Sun, thought of as masculine, though in many tribal cultures the Sun is pictured as feminine, whereas the moon, Chandra, is masculine), is to be treated in every way as equal to any male. As a result, when she is born, she is treated like a son, and taught the Vedas. But when she grows up,nobody wants to marry her,as they are afraid of a woman who is so wise. Finally, she goes out in search of a husband, in her chariot, and finds in a forest a young man who is the son of a blind hermit (who later on turns out to be a king). This boy is called Satyavan, meaning the true one. She decides to marry him, but it is later found out that one year after their marriage, he will die. So on their first wedding anniversary, when he is preparing to light the sacrificial fire, she goes with him into the forest where he is cutting wood for the fire. He feels tired, and comes to rest his head in her lap. There he dies, cradled in the lap of his wife. (The figure of Satyavan lying in the lap of his bride reminds one of the Pieta).

Death comes to fetch him, and Savithri hands him over to death, but insists on following Death to the underworld. Death repeatedly tries to persuade Savithri to go back to life, but she will not leave Satyavan. Finally when death reaches the lowest hell of his kingdom, he turns round to find Savithri there, and says to her that she is a very remarkable woman, and she should ask of him whatever boon she wants, as she is his honoured guest. She asks for a child. He is delighted, and says that her wish is granted. But then she says she cannot have a child without her husband. So reluctantly death returns Satyavan to her, and she brings him back to life.

Holy Wisdom in the Song of Songs.

This Indian myth about Savithri, which is spelt out in great detail by Sri Aurobindo in his epic poem, represents Holy Wisdom, who is Daughter of the Sun, and who goes down to the underworld, to recover her dead lover, who like Manu, is a manifestation of primal man (Adam). It is in a way like the harrowing of Hell, but here by a feminine figure. She is Shakti, or the primal energy of light, which goes down into the underworld, to recover the seed of life which has been buried. That, anyway is how I understood it in a series of paintings which I did relating this myth to the Song of Songs;

Under the apple tree I awakened you
There your mother was to travail with you,
There she who bore you was to travail.
Set me as a seal upon your heat,
As a seal upon your arm;
For love is strong as death,
Jealousy is cruel as the grave,
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
A most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love
Neither can floods drown it.
Song of songs. 8.5, 6

For Aurobindo, this journey downwards is the Integral Yoga, which is different from an ascent into spiritual wisdom. Rather it is a descent into the unconscious. It recovers wisdom from the depths.

These are some thoughts that underlie my treatment of the Yoga of Christ, which is characterized by a Kenosis. In one series of pictures, I even went so far as representing Jesus as a woman who suffers in the way that a woman travails in order to give birth.

Namashkar: In the Franciscan Spirit.

Jesus greets creation. There are the opposites of water, and earth, and the tree of life connecting the two. Jesus the man, is judged not only by Pilate, but the whole of Creation, which groans with him. The gesture of joining the hands together is to say "namashkar", meaning : "I bow to you"

In connection with Yoga, the 14 stations of the Cross, and a spiritual journey that tries to tread in the footsteps of Jesus, it is interesting to note that it originated in a Franciscan spirituality. It was the Franciscans who were assigned the task of looking after the holy places in Jerusalem. I have thought about the relation between the famous Canticle of Brother Sun, and the Greeting to the Morning Sun. But this is another subject that could be expanded on later.

No comments: