By Michael Ketterhagen
“Yoga in action is composed of austerity, self-study, and trustful surrender to Ishvara.”
Yoga Sutra 2:1, The Practice of the Yoga Sutra:Sadhana Pada,
translated by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
However high be your endeavors, unless you renounce and subjugate your own will … not one step will you advance on the road to perfection.
-John of the Cross
-Ancient Greek aphorism
“Oh God,…may I always allow myself to be guided by you,
always follow your plans…”
-Teresa of Avila
Spiritual Growth Prerequisites
As you may know, the Yoga Sutra is a guidebook for the spiritual journey, the journey that leads to union with God. John of the Cross says that the way to God is “the road to perfection.” According to Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and even Socrates’ world of Greek gods, there are some very specific first steps in achieving total joy and happiness for all eternity.
In our culture today, Yoga isn’t understood as “union with the Divine.” It is usually seen as the path to physical “fulfillment and freedom” through health. The spiritual aspect of the yoga tradition is generally ignored.
However, to fulfill the purpose and goal of yoga, like fulfilling Christianity’s goal of union with God, three very important elements are involved: self-disciple which yoga calls “tapas,” knowing and understanding one’s true self which yoga call “svadhyaya,” and total surrender to the highest goal (Ishvara/God) which yoga calls “Ishvara pranidhana.”
These are the pre-requisites for becoming a happy, fulfilled person. These are the stepping stones of the spiritual journey.
When I was younger, I wanted to be holy. I wanted to be a saint. I even read books about saints with I was 9 and 10 years old. I think I was trying to take after my mother, because she always wanted to be holy and do what God wanted. However, the path to holiness or union with God in heaven, as I was taught then, was quite a negative path. Developing willpower and self-discipline really meant being austere and hard on myself.
When I began to learn that tapas (yoga’s word for self-discipline, austerity) meant working hard at developing the positive, strong, loving part of myself through the yamas, niyamas, asanas and meditative practices, I realized that I could do this without hating myself every time I would do something contrary to my desire for fulfillment.
I also learned through the yoga tradition that I was a beautiful, child of the Divine Mother. Studying myself (svadhyaya) and studying the scriptures (also svadhyaya) of the yoga tradition taught me that I was not just a terrible sinner, which happened to be the main focus of the Catholic and Protestant Christian tradition at the time, but a spiritual being whose purpose is to become fully human, loving and divine.
My early life teaching, that I was to become another Christ and that that was the purpose of the initiation rite of Baptism, now made sense. I now knew what I was supposed to do to become another Christ, a person one with God. Yoga now gave me the tools—tapas, svadhyaya, Ishvara pranidhana—self-discipline (austerity), self-study, and surrender to Ishvara, the highest goal.
Through my study and work with yoga I now have the tools I need to fulfill my childhood dreams—holiness, sainthood and union with God.
I pray to the divinity in you!