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Yoga and Christianity - Differences

By: Michael Ketterhagen

In my continuing effort to show the similarities between Yoga and Christianity, I have focused on the common aspects/dimensions of each of those traditions. That commonality comes from the fact that both of these are spiritual traditions. However, when one believes that they are religious traditions, there is a dramatic difference between the two. Christianity is a religion because it includes the four basic components of a religion, according to academic scholars; namely each religion has a creed (a set of beliefs that all must agree to), a code (a set of laws and rules that one must abide by), a cultus (a particular set of worship or ritual services), and a community (a group of people who follow the creed, code and cultus). Yoga does not have nor comply with those four basic dimensions of a religion. Therefore, it is not a religion.

Yoga and Christianity are both spiritual traditions. Therefore, we can find many similarities between them. Each of them focuses on how one can become one with God. Christianity calls this union with God going to heaven and experiencing salvation. Yoga calls this union with the Divine Source of Life within us an experience of immortality and an experience of “freedom and fulfillment.”

One very significant difference between the spiritual traditions is the way each explains a human’s difficulties in truly experiencing “salvation” or “freedom and fulfillment.” Christianity states that it is unforgiven sin that would stop our salvation, while Yoga states that it is the human afflictions (kleshas) that are the obstacles to our freedom and fulfillment.

Christianity believes that the only way a person gets to “heaven” is through faith in Jesus, the Christ, and the belief that he is one’s personal Lord and Savior because he died for our sins.  Yoga believes that the way to freedom from suffering and death and to the experience of immortal fulfillment is faith, not just in the grace-filled of a savior. Freedom and fulfillment in an everlasting life comes from faith and commitment to certain practices that overcome the obstacles of our ignorance (avidya), our trivial sense of identity (asmita), our attractions (raga), our aversions (dvesha), and our fear of death (abhinivesha).

Faith is the important first step in each of the traditions. In Christianity, faith is in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection and asking for the forgiveness of our sinful actions. In Yoga, faith is believing that one must overcome the “kleshas,” the condition of living in a physically-oriented world. The Yoga tradition says that there is more personal effort involved. Yoga calls this effort “abhyasa” (practice) and “vairagya” (detachment) and following the 8 limbs (ashtanga) of yoga.

Christianity labels all humans as “sinners,” people separated from God because of our sins; Yoga labels all humans as “spiritual beings,” people separated from God because of our clinging to all the aspects of living in a physical world. These are the obstacles in our journey toward union with the Divine, even before we physically die.

For the next few blogs, I will unpack the Yoga Tradition’s spiritual path to freedom and fulfillment, the path to union with God.

I bow to the divinity within you!

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