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Earth’s Atmosphere

Cambridge, MA. It is already nearly the middle of August, and soon the new academic year will be upon us. So it is time to finish the four-part series I began in May, based on my spring seminar at Harvard, on Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras, studied carefully but also read in light of Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. (Ardent readers can scroll down through past entries here to find the three earlier parts of the series, the recommended translations, etc.) The final question I wish to address has to do with the end of the two texts: if a person practices yoga as understood by Patañjali, or meditation as taught by Ignatius, and if she or he reaches a fairly advanced state (by effort, by grace) — then what kind of person is this, and how does she or he live? Do Ignatius and Patañjali produce very different kinds of persons?

   From two perspectives, the answer is relatively easy. First, if we step away from the practices actually recommended by Ignatius and Patañjali and think about Christian theology and Yogic theology (often allied with some Hindu tradition, or Buddhist) as general worldviews, we can quickly conclude to difference: since these Jesuit and yogic practices did not begin in the same place, and are clearly about different things, they could not possibly end in the same place. So, for better or worse, a person who practices yoga should in the end be very different from a person who lives by the Exercises. A variant on this judgment-from-principle would be to conclude that since all religions flow toward the same goal, then all credible spiritual paths, such as those announced here, must form persons with the same higher moral and spiritual values. Second, though, we could just as easily conclude that almost no one, perhaps no one at all, is in a position to decide whether yogic and Ignatian practices form persons very much alike or very different: any person wishing to offer an intelligent view of the matter would have to have wholeheartedly given herself to that practice and the world it entails, over a long period of time. But no one, this theory goes, actually does this with two traditions, and so none of us really has the insight on the basis of which to make such a decision. So the question of where these practices end up could never be answered.

   I take such views seriously, and do not wish to dismiss the value of deeply rooted beliefs in how things are, or ought to be. But I do wish to suggest, in light of the plea I have made that we read the texts and study what the authors are telling us, that it may be that the Yoga Sutras and the Exercises leave us with open possibilities that practitioners of both traditions can welcome, theological differences aside.

   At the end of the Exercises, Ignatius proposes to us a “contemplation to gain love,” which asks us to see the world as encompassed by God’s love. He tells the retreatant “to ask for interior knowledge of so great good received, in order that being entirely grateful, I may be able in all to love and serve His Divine Majesty.” (Mullan translation) In turn, then, the retreatant is guided to remember what God has done for her personally and in creation, to see how God dwells in all created things, how God works for us in all the things that comprise our world, and to see how everything descends into our world as a gift from God. In each of these four moments, Ignatius indicates that the retreatant should then offer herself to God in turn, with the well-known words, “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my intellect, and all my will—all that I have and possess. Thou gavest it to me: to Thee, Lord, I return it! All is Thine, dispose of it according to all Thy will. Give me Thy love and grace, for this is enough for me.” By tradition and in the experience of many, this offering is followed by a return to the world, to see God in all things, and to walk with Jesus in a life of service to our fellow sisters and brothers.

   Patañjali’s Sutras, even more laconic than the Exercises, end with verses that have challenged interpreters for millennia. I give them here without footnotes, and in a slightly loose rendering that makes them a bit clearer than is the Sanskrit by itself: “For the person who no longer has interest even in clarity in meditation, there is true discernment, whence arrives the cloud of dharma that is samadhi. With that, both affliction and karmic results cease. And then, because there is infinite knowledge free from the impurity that covers all things, what still remains unknown is but a trifle. The constituents of matter have now fulfilled their purpose, and so their evolutions are done. This inverse flow of the constituents (to a steady-state condition), without any further purpose for the individual, is utter simplicity — steadfastness in one’s own self, with the power that is being-conscious.” (Sutras 4.29-34)

   This is, to be sure, a very dense statement — that in many ways remains unclear to me too. But aspects stand out: advanced in yoga, this person is no longer attached even to meditation; with a clear eye, she or he sees the world as it is, and the integral state that has been sought (samadhi) comes of its own, like the gift of rain; all things are washed clean, and everything, as it were, is seen and known just as it is. Nature’s constituent elements are no longer in flux or turmoil, and so material things are no longer purposeful for this practitioner, who has everything, needs nothing. Her state is then “utter simplicity” (my latest effort to translate kaivalya), the true appropriation of self, a total awareness, consciousness.

   But what does this person do at this point? One view might be that she does nothing, cares for nothing, since nothing more is needed, all that needs to be known is known, and both body and soul are at peace — no contacts, no goals, no relations. But to be a person who sees the world as a whole, as it were as God sees it, who has received all by grace, who acts only in utter freedom — such a state could actually describe both this yogic practitioner and Ignatius’ ideal retreatant: detached, free, at peace, acting without need.

   But surely, one might object: Ignatius’ retreatant does not have complete awareness; Patañjali’s practitioner does not act out of love. Surely different states! This may be so, I do not dismiss the possibility. Or, the problem may be rather that since the Ignatian and yogic vocabularies are rightly and genuinely rooted in specific traditions, each fails to do just to what the other tradition is about, in its positive reality. It may be unfair to characterize the retreatant as deficient in awareness, or the practitioner as lacking in love. I suggest that we err on the side of generosity, and allow that these individuals, at this advanced stage, might recognize and welcome one another — integral persons, selfless, at peace, approaching the world without wanting something, with eyes open, in touch with Reality. Perhaps the two ideals might complement each other, as the Ignatian ideal infuses yoga with a language of love, and Patañjali’s ideal infuses the Exercises with a fuller sense of the utter simplicity and freedom of seeing the world serenely, all at once. (And still, a simpler possibility remains: yoga can teach a practitioner of the Exercises how to give herself in love more serenely and freely, while the Exercises can teach yoga practitioners how to imagine a person, the Person, in whom the world reaches peace and becomes a gift again.)

   Were all this the case, at least possibly so, we could imagine a more constructive and friendly conversation — speaking together, practicing together, studying together — among those who have inculcated the Ignatian ideal and those who live yogic simplicity. This would not be a way to prove which view of the world is better, and the competition of religions might have to stop for a moment — but it might make for a better world.

   I conclude here this set of reflections on yoga and the Exercises, my excursion into “Jesuit yoga.”  I really do welcome the input of readers, regarding what I’ve written, or (even better) from your own experience of how these traditions do or don’t come together, in the end. Please comment!



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14 years 6 months ago
Thank you for this interesting exploration of which I have only read this 4th section posted here. My question would turn around your (by effort, by grace) parenthesis. It seems that Ignatius by effort and with grace realized the procedure of the Ignatian Exercises. However, he did this/was done to him not from scratch or from a vacuum, but within the Catholic Christian Church which is imbued with divine revelation and tradition. Can the same be said of Patanjali's Yoga. Could the same be said of a ''natural theology'' and practice not influenced by any outside civilization and developed by sincere seekers of truth? Would this ''natural theology'' include or be part of yoga? Could there then be a convergence with the what Ignatius taught? Is this what you intimate as a possibility?
14 years 6 months ago
Jesuit Hinduism? Please. Hindu Mass? True unity in diversity is appreciating similarities in the various religions of the world but repsecting their specifics. Though condemned by the Pope, by exploring Hinduism/Yoga, some Catholics are obviously (and refreshingly) getting away from the basic Christian theology of having "The Only Way."
14 years 6 months ago
The sanskrit for dharmamegha is troublesome, but I feel that unless that is understood one will lose the meaning of those final verses of Yoga Sutras. Here is an excerpt from my translation and commentary. That book is available at http://www.lulu.com/content/2112537 . Verse 29 prasa?khy?ne api akus?dasya sarvath? vivekakhy?te? dharmamegha? sam?dhi? prasa?khy?na – in the abstract meditation; api – even so; akus?dasya – of one who has no interest or sees no gain in material nature; sarvath? – in all ways; vivekakhy?te? – with super discrimination; dharmamegha? = dharma – nature’s way of acting for beneficial results + megha? – mento-emotional clouds of energy; sam?dhi – continuous effortless linkage of the attention to higher reality. Translation: For one who sees no gains in material nature,even while perceiving it in abstract meditation, he has the super discrimination.He attained the continuous effortless linkage of the attention to higher reality which is described as knowing the mento-emotional clouds of energy which compel a person to perform according to nature’s way of acting for beneficial results. Commentary: ....... dharma-megha? sam?dhi, means the final sam?dhi in which the yogi shakes himself free from the world of Dharmas which obscure reality like a cloud. He is perhaps, the first commentator who understood this particular verse of ?r? Patañjali. That is to be regretted. The key to the meaning of this verse lies in the terms akus?dasya. This is because kusida means a moneylender, or any money lent at a rate exceeding 5%. When "a” is added as a prefix, it means not having any desire to gain anything. Verse 30 tata? kle?a karma niv?tti? Translation: Subsequently there is stoppage of the operation of the mento-emotional energy in terms of generation of cultural activities and their resulting afflictions.
14 years 6 months ago
Patanjali's practices assume the existence of a subsistent conscious ''self'' that has the same connection to both body and mind as the platinum in a catalytic converter. The goal is the release of this self--ultimate non-action. Ignatian meditation aims at the type of identification with Christ that leads to a definite type of activity. The goals, then, are quite different, but the point at which the techniques converge is in setting oneself at a distance from completely self-centered concerns--the creation of a liberating state of ''indifference.'' Arguably, this state of mind may be a common result of all meditative techniques. The question is whether we should see this state of mind as an end in itself, and I would suggest that neither Patanjali nor Ignatius would accept this.
14 years 6 months ago
Very nice! “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8, NASB).
14 years 6 months ago
To Swami Param: There is nothing refreshing at all about Christians denying that Christ alone is the way to God, as He Himself revealed in the Gospels. While it is true that other religions, by nature of the fact that they represent the intrinsic human quest for truth and thus for God, can pave the way for one to come to Christ and understand that He alone is ''the Way, the Truth, and the Life,'' a Christian should never understand all religious paths to be equal ways of approaching God, or that a person must choose ''the way that works best for them.'' That is a denial of Christ, and must always be recognized as such. I strongly recommend the excellent work by our current pope, written as Cardinal Ratzinger, "Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions."
14 years 6 months ago
I also cannot gain access to the previous 3 articles in this series; can you put them with this last one as suggested at the start ....if we scroll down? Thank you Maura
14 years 5 months ago
A colleague here at Canisius HS in Buffalo brought this series of blogs to my attention and I have greatly enjoyed them! As a teacher at a Jesuit HS and a certified yoga instructor (and practioner for many years) I am intrigued not only by the resonance of the Sutras (Christoher Isherwood's "How to Know God" is my fave translation) and the Exercises (which I have not - yet - done), but also the ways in which yoga might have a place in the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm (which we talk so much about at the secondary school level!). In any case, it would be fascinating to hear more about your experience practicing asana and pranayama (in addition to your illuminating textual analysis...) For me, my yoga practice has only deepened and expanded my Christian faith life. The many, many Bible references Paramhansa Yogananda's "Autobiography of a Yogi" ended up sending me back to Gospels for the first time since Theology 101 in undergrad! I've never been one to skip the kneeling at mass - the meditative, "stripping away" quality of the physical aspect of the yoga practice readies me for prayer like nothing else. One interesting thing I've noticed in my work as a yoga teacher: while I've felt relatively comfortable introducing some yoga to my students at Canisius (for example, a breathing exercise before a test, say) I am MUCH more wary of incorporating my Christianity into yoga classes at the local studio where I teach. While I think chanting/ signing, say, Philippians 4:4-7 would be an amazing way to start a class, I am so afraid my students will think I'm evangelizing! It's ultimately safer to stick with "yoga chitta vritti nirodaha"... This has been a very exciting and inspiring read and I sincerely hope this conversation continues!
14 years 6 months ago
Dear Mr. Clooney I too, am finishing study of the YS of Patanjali (a Saivite Hindu Guru teaching Hinduism to his Sishyas) soon to complete the Kailvalya Pada. As a Hindu,or even just a student,it appears evident that yoga(s) and the YS are Hinduism. It would be a pleasure to further discuss some of the insightful points raised in your articles, however, I was unable to find the others on the site...perhaps you could email or instruct how to retreive them. In the interim, some definitions are attached concerning the basis of some confusion I have with your statements. Sincerely, Yati Deva Sivam ------------------- ~Sanskrit: The ancient language of the Hindus [Webster's] Note: all subsequent terms are Sanskrit (Skr.) and thus Hindu ~Aum/Om: The most sacred syllable in Hinduism [Oxford World Religions] ~yoga: Skr. ''Hinduism'' [Webster's] ~yoga: Oneness of Atmana and Brahman [Dict. of Skr. Names] ~yogi/yogini: (male/female) Hindu Ascetic [Oxford World Rel.] ~Atmana: Skr. Self/Spirit; Hinduism [Webster's] ~Brahman: Skr. Hindu Religion [Webster's] ~yoga: Skr. A Hindu discipline [Oxford Am. Dict.] ~ yoga: Skr. A system of Hindu religious philosophy [Thorndike Barnhardt] ~yoga: Skr. general term for spiritual disciplines in Hinduism [Columbia Encyclopedia] ~Swami: Skr. Title of respect of a (Hindu) Holy man or teacher. [Oxford World Religions] ~Guru: Skr. A teacher of worldly skills...more often of religious knowledge...liberation (Moksa). [Oxford World religions] ~Moksa: Release/liberation - the fourth and ultimate goal of Hinduism. [Oxf. World Religion] ~The first recorded evidence of the Skr. word ''yoga'' is found in the Vedas. ~Veda Skr. The most ancient sacred literature of the Hindus. [Webster's] ~Upanishads: Text in Hinduism which ends or completes the Vedic corpus (body of [Hindu] laws)

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