by Michael Ketterhagen
“Invite your body to relax…
Invite your mind to go inward.”
--Directions from the Vishoka Meditation Teacher Training Manual,
“Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty! I’m free at last.”
-Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr
In my last blog, I talked about the tyrannical power of our senses. They are always operating and making us pay attention to something, except when we sleep or drug them into stillness. They are always trying to control us. According to yoga, those senses are controlled by the desiring, searching, sensing part of our minds. This part of the mind is called the “manas.” The manas is focused in one direction at a time—either out into the visual, smelly, noisy, palpable, and tasty material world or into the many levels of our unconscious mind and its stored memories of past experiences. Yoga calls this part of our mind the “chitta.”
In the blog before that, I mentioned that this desiring mind (manas) needs to listen to our conscience. Swami Rama says that in order for us to find happiness and wholeness we need to always listen to and act on whatever our conscience, called the “buddhi,” says. “Otherwise, we will live a conflicted life and develop disease.” Yoga says that our conscience (buddhi) is connected to our highest good, the Divine Source of our Life.
One of the most challenging things for us to do is listen to our conscience (buddhi), especially when we have strong desires coming from the outside world through our senses or coming from the inside world of our unconscious memories. We are pulled often in two directions by two powerful mental forces, our senses (manas and its companion chitta) and our consciences (buddhi).
Now, let’s look at how Christianity, in my experience, and Yoga, again, in my experience, look upon these forces operating in our lives. I am doing this comparison so that even though each tradition uses very different language, they are really saying the same thing.
In Christianity, as I was growing up, this conflict was called dealing with temptation. They were labeled the source of sin. Sin was something we did that impeded our relationship and union with God or Christ. Being a sinner just meant that one was on the wrong path, the path that led away from God. In yoga, the temptation is called an obstacle (“klesha”) that hinders our spiritual journey. Like Christianity, yoga says that these temptations/kleshas need to be overcome because they obstruct our spiritual journey toward union with God. They draw us away from the experience of yoga (unity).
Also, in Christianity, I was taught also that it was the devil, or Satan, pulling me away from God. Yoga does not personify these obstacles (kleshas), but says they come from the desiring mind’s identification with the physical world and from the mind’s belief that the physical world of money, fame and power is the source of happiness and freedom.
Christianity taught me that I could overcome those temptations by calling on Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit or St Michael, my guardian angel, to take them away. God and the saints would be there to protect me and drive Satan, the Tempter, away. Yoga says that we can overcome these temptations by listening to and saying “Yes!” to the “invitation” of our conscience/buddhi. Yoga, like Christianity, reaches out to a divine power of goodness and joy—our conscience and in a sense Christ within us. That power lies within our conscience/buddhi because this discerning part of our mind is completely united with the Source of Life/God. In yoga, this Source of Life has many names—Buddha-consciousness, Ishvara, Jatevedas, Atman, Brahman, etc., and is even connected to the reality of the Divine Mother.
To overcome this obstacle/temptation, yoga says that we need to strengthen our buddhi/conscience. This is done through daily meditation and prayer/contemplation and participation in rituals, like fire offerings. Christianity says the same thing. It is through prayer, meditation, and participation in sacramental rituals, like Mass or Worship services, that we strengthen our connection with God/Christ/the Holy Spirit and develop our ability to overcome temptation. Each tradition has similar general practices for moving a person directly into union with Eternal Life/God/Brahman.
The fun thing for me is that this divine Source of Life, whatever we call it, always honors us. It always allows us to make the decision. It always respects our dignity as human beings by respecting our autonomy and free will. In the yoga tradition, the buddhi/conscience “invites” the sensing mind (manas) and the unconscious mind (chitta) to do what our conscience (buddhi) knows is best for us. Yoga believes that we are never forced to follow the invitation of the buddhi, just as Christianity says that we have the free will to listen to our conscience or not.
The Source of Life, whatever we call it, honors US as ITS CREATION with the highest form of respect; namely, our free will. We have the freedom to respond to our conscience/our buddhi in whatever way we wish. We have the freedom to choose and identify ourselves with the voices of our manas and chitta or the voice of our buddhi.
“Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty! [We’re] free at last!”
I pray to the Divinity within you!