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"Christian Yoga"

Hindu yoga has been known in the West for many decades, and especially in America it has given rise to innumerable cults and also to a popular form of physical therapy which is supposedly non-religious in its aims. Nearly twenty years ago a French Benedictine monk wrote of his experiences in making Yoga a "Christian" discipline; the description that follows is taken from his book.

Hindu Yoga is a discipline that presupposes a rather abstemious, disciplined life, and is composed of breath control and certain physical postures which produce a state of relaxation in which one meditates, usually with the help of a mantra or sacred utterance which aids concentration. The essence of Yoga is not the discipline itself, but the meditation which is its end. The author is correct when he writes: "The aims of Hindu Yoga are spiritual. It is tantamount to treason to forget this and retain only the purely physical side of this ancient discipline, to see in it no more than a means towards bodily health or beauty." To this it should be added that the person who uses Yoga only for physical well-being is already disposing himself towards certain spiritual attitudes and even experiences of which he is undoubtedly unaware; of this more will be said below.

The same author then continues: "The art of the yogi is to establish himself in a complete silence, to empty himself of all thoughts and illusions, to discard and forget everything but this one idea: man's true self is divine; it is God, and the rest is silence."

This idea, of course, is not Christian but pagan, but the aim of "Christian Yoga" is to use the technique of Yoga for a different spiritual end, for a "Christian" meditation. The object of the Yoga technique, in this view, is to make one relaxed, content unthinking, and passive or receptive to spiritual ideas and experiences. "As soon as you have taken up the posture, you will feel your body relaxing and a feeling of general well-being will establish itself in you." The exercises produce an "extraordinary sense of calm." "To begin with, one gets the feeling of a general unwinding, of a well-being taking hold, of a euphoria that will, and in fact does, last. If one's nerves have been tense and overstrung, the exercises calm them, and fatigue disappears in a little time." "The goal of all his [the yogi's] efforts is to silence the thinking self in him by shutting his eyes to every kind of enticement." The euphoria which Yoga brings "could well be called a 'state of health' that allows us to do more and do it better on the human plane to begin with, and on the Christian religious, spiritual plane afterwards. The most apt word to describe it is contentedness, a contentedness that inhabits body and soul and predisposes us... toward the spiritual life." One's whole personality can be changed by it: "Hatha Yoga influences character to the good. One man, after some weeks of practice, admits he no longer knows himself, and everyone notices a change in his bearing and reaction. He is gentler and more understanding. He faces experience calmly. He is content... His whole personality has been altered and he himself feels it steadying and opening out; from this there arises an almost permanent condition of euphoria, of 'contentedness.'"

But all of this is only a preparation for a "spiritual" aim, which begins to make itself felt in a very short time: "By becoming contemplative in a matter of weeks, my prayer had been given a particular and novel cast." Becoming extraordinarily calm, the author notices "the ease I felt in entering into prayer, in concentrating on a subject." One becomes "more receptive to impulses and promptings from heaven." "The practice of Yoga makes for increased suppleness and receptivity, and thus for openness to those personal exchanges between God and the soul that mark the way of the mystical life." Even for the "apprentice yogi" prayer becomes "sweet" and "embraces the whole of man." One is relaxed and "ready to tremble at the touch of the Holy Ghost, to receive and welcome what God in his Goodness thinks fit to let us experience." "We shall be making our being ready to be taken, to be seized and this is surely one of the forms, in fact the highest of Christian contemplation." "Every day the exercises, and indeed the whole ascetic discipline of my Yoga, make it easier for the grace of Christ to flow in me. I feel my hunger for God growing, and my thirst for righteousness, and my desire to be a Christian in the full strength of the word."

Anyone who understands the nature of prelest or spiritual deception will recognize in this description of "Christian Yoga" precisely the characteristics of those who have gone spiritually astray, whether into pagan religious experiences or sectarian "Christian" experiences. The same striving for "holy and divine feelings," the same openness and willingness to be "seized" by a spirit, the same seeking not for God but for "spiritual consolations," the same self-intoxication which is mistaken for a "state of grace," the same incredible ease with which one becomes "contemplative" or "mystical," the same "mystical revelations" and pseudospiritual states. These are the common characteristics of all who are in this particular state of spiritual deception. But the author of Christian Yoga, being a Benedictine monk, adds some particular "meditations" which reveal him as fully in the spirit of the Roman Catholic "meditation" of recent centuries, with its free play of fantasies on Christian themes. Thus for example, having meditated on a theme of the Christmas Eve mass, he begins to see the Child in the arms of His Mother: "I gaze; nothing more. Pictures, ideas (associations of ideas: Saviour-King-Light-Halo-Shepherd-Child-Light again) come one after the other, march past... All these pieces of a sacred puzzle taken together arouse one idea in me.. a silent vision of the whole mystery of Christmas." Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Orthodox spiritual discipline will see that this pitiable "Christian yogi" has fallen handily into a trap set by one of the lesser demons that lie in wait for the seeker of "spiritual experiences:" he has not even seen an "angel of light," but has only given way to his own "religious fancies," the product of a heart and mind totally unprepared for spiritual warfare and the deceptions of the demons. Such "meditation" is being practiced today in a number of Roman Catholic convents and monasteries.

The fact that the book concludes with an article by the French translator of the Philokalia, together with excerpts from the Philokalia, only reveals the abyss that separates these dilettantes from the true spirituality of Orthodoxy, which is totally inaccessible to the modern "wise men" who no longer understand its language. A sufficient indication of the author's incompetence in understanding the Philokalia is the fact that he gives the name "prayer of the heart" (which in Orthodox tradition is the highest mental prayer, acquired by very few only after many years of ascetic struggle and being humbled by a true God-bearing Elder) to the easy trick of reciting syllables in rhythm with the heartbeat.

We shall comment more fully below on the dangers of this "Christian Yoga" when noting what it possesses in common with other forms of "Eastern meditation" which are being offered to Christians today.

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