Is there any fundamental conflict between the teachings of Yoga and Christianity ?6 min read

It must be confessed that the answer to this question depends on the meaning we attach to the term “ Christianity.”

Yoga is a practical science leading to the discovery that man’s real self is identical with God. As such, it is the friend and ally of every religious worshipper in the world, for it seeks to bring him into direct contact with the object of his worship. We base this statement on the testimony of yogis and mystics who have had direct experience of the nature of God as their own Self or Atman, and who have also declared that Buddha, Krishna, Rama and Christ are manifestations of one and the same Being. They emphasize that this statement can be verified by anyone who is willing to undertake the discipline of yoga, because God is ultimately to be found, not as an external Being belonging to the world of time and space, but as the Dweller in the human soul, who controls the great drama of life from within, and illumines every phase of it by His divine light as pure Consciousness.

Their teachings point to the need for a wider interpretation of Christianity and a more direct approach to Christ than the churches provide. The God discovered by the yogis is a universal Being, and no student of yoga believes that any single institution can claim to be the sole mediator between God and man, and thus exclude all those outside its limits as infidels. Time and again in the history of Christianity, long-cherished dogmas have had to be discarded because they proved too narrow to contain the full range of facts that were gradually being forced on man’s attention. For example, in the time of Louis XIV, it became impossible for Cardinal Bossuet to uphold the orthodox thesis that the world had been created in 4004 b.c., because chronologists were already investigating the written records of the Egyptians which extended back far beyond that date, while travellers to China were bringing back evidence of the existence of ancient civilisations far beyond the range of the Christian historical scheme.

It became clear that the conception of universal history as a Judaic- Christian drama, beginning with the Creation, centred on the establishment of the Christian Church, and destined to end with the resurrection of the favoured Christian section of the world’s population on the Day of Judgement, was too parochial to fit the facts, and certain individuals at least, began to feel the manifest injustice of the old outlook, and to search for a wider belief which would embrace every religion and civilisation as a distinctive but valid expression of the spiritual aspirations of mankind.

Again, many examples from the history of dogma might be cited to show that the forms in which we clothe our religious belief have, so to speak, a relative and temporary significance rather than an absolute one. For example, many modern Christians would be profoundly surprised if confronted with some of the beliefs of their earlier coreligionists, particularly their belief in the soul as a palpable material entity, while, to go back no further than the 17th Century, few people nowadays can believe in a heaven and hell of the kind described by Milton in Paradise Lost, yet to him they were by no means allegories.

If the beliefs of Christians have thus continually been changing, it is surely possible, without in any way denying the historical existence of Christ or the status of the Bible as a revealed scripture, to adopt a wider outlook than is at present sanctioned in the Christian Churches, without fundamental disloyalty to the religion into which we were born. Indeed, it is rapidly becoming clear that the whole basis of Christianity must be widened and deepened if it is to survive as a living faith.

The rationalist and scientific critics have exposed the narrowness and deficiency of many Christian dogmas, but their criticism has been purely negative and destructive, because, with their gaze fixed on matter, they have been unable to throw fresh light on the positive doctrine that Christ was born to establish. Those who have mastered yoga, on the other hand, speak from direct intuitive knowledge of God.

The sceptical Westerner may at first think this is impossible, but if he studies their lives in an impartial spirit, he is likely to feel that their common-sense and universal friendliness, their humility and practical wisdom, suggest that they were neither fools nor liars, and that they were indeed blessed with insight into the nature of the divine, as well as into the problems of practical living. We must confess that the great traditional doctrines that they teach conflict with orthodox theology on certain points ; but we contend that it is these doctrines that more clearly reveal the significance of the mystic utterances of Christ.

Our traditions of Christ’s teachings are fragmentary and perhaps distorted, and we cannot state with certainty what His metaphysical teachings were, though it is probable they varied according to the capacity of His hearers. What is certain is that to the man who sincerely wishes to practice the imitation of Christ, Adhyatma Yoga offers help in the form of a tried and tested technique of devotion and meditation which will lead him closer to the ideal of his choice, as well as a background of spiritual philosophy which has stood the test of time, which is universal in its bearing, and which recognises the right of every religious worshipper to aspire to the highest spiritual knowledge, whatever the form of his belief.

The basic postulate of Vedanta, that God and the human soul are identical, throws light on those passages of the Fourth Gospel in which Christ explains to his inner disciples the deeper aspects of the truth, and enables us to attach a profound meaning to the great Christian doctrine of the universal brotherhood of man and of the union of every individual man in God.

A study of the writings of the Christian mystics and of the great mediaeval philosophers confirms our belief in the yogic interpretation of Christ’s teaching. They also taught one great tenet of Christianity and of Adhyatma Yoga which is today too often forgotten, namely that man is not merely a perpetual sinner requiring purification through sacraments, but a being who can acquire perfection and direct knowledge of God through his own efforts and the grace of the Lord. Each of us can help to keep the flame of Christianity burning and unfold the true meaning of Christ’s descent and teaching, by attempting to resurrect Him in our hearts through a life lived according to the light of the traditional wisdom.