Yoga can be defined many ways. The essential definition is to yoke one's self close to God. When Christ said, "My yoke is easy," he was speaking of an ever-increasing closeness with God.
Another definition of yoga is to progress (or yoke) stage by stage toward perfection, toward union with the Divine. Sri Ramakrishna said, "Through Yoga a Hindu becomes a better Hindu, a Christian a better Christian, a Mohammedan a better Mohammedan and a Jew a better Jew."
Furthermore, an essential part of the yogic process involves love for the Divine and service to humanity, calling to mind the words of Mother Teresa: "Christians, Muslims, Hindus, believers and non-believers have the opportunity with us to do works of love, have the opportunity to share the joy of loving and come to realize God's presence. Hindus become better Hindus, Catholics become better Catholics, Muslims become better Muslims."
"Different" religious teachings have yoked its peoples closer to God within the context of various cultures. For example, within the Judeo-Christian traditions there was a time when the law was "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." Later we were advised to "turn the other cheek."
Many of the laws regarding food in the time of Moses were different in the time of Jesus, and for the people of Muhammad there was yet another code regarding diet.
In other words, the social laws among various religious cultures were often changed from Prophet to Avatar according to conditions of time and place. But if you look with an eye for unity you'll see that the spiritual teachings have always been essentially the same: to pray and meditate and to love and serve one another.
The world is growing smaller day by day. Age-old traditions and geography can no longer draw the lines between the cultures, and so people are trying to do it. Many enlightened souls and a few religious communities such as the Integral Yoga Ashram and the Baha'i Faith, however, are now promoting religious unity. They realize our false divisions can no longer be ignored and that our spiritual unity must be recognized beneath the illusions of difference. Political and economic unity, even if possible, can't establish it. Only spiritual unity can bring about spiritual peace.
Some people would rise up while reading this, intent to show me the many differences, to make me eat my words. But I'd like to save them some time, particularly because there's no time to waste. People fight and die daily over these supposed differences, so please just take a chance to consider another way. Consider the wisdom of a dichotomy. Herein lies a great opportunity!
A dichotomy is a catalyst for growth. In the struggle to see through it we hit upon a much greater, and multifaceted, unity. Some things are just too awesome, beautiful and complex to be understood as my way and your way, as this or that.
The world is both round and flat, for example. Both statements are true, but a third perspective from up above is altogether transcendent.
As one searches to see the underlying unity of religion, he begins a mind transcending yoga practice — which is essential to experiencing the spiritual unity of humanity, not just contemplating it. It not only heals the painful divisions among mankind but also removes many of the spiritually disorganizing ideas that man traditionally or pridefully clings to. When man achieves the yoga of religion within himself, his mind becomes more spiritually organized and so does his contribution to humanity.
WILLIAM BRASHEAR, owner of Cincinnati Yoga School in Blue Ash, is a Thai Yoga Masseur who has practiced Vipassana Meditation for 18 years. Contact him at [email protected].