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A Talk with Russill Paul about Jesus in the Lotus

By Russil Paul

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Why is Christianity in crisis today?

First, Christianity needs to become more inclusive and take more time to understand and appreciate the value other traditions. Second, it needs to provide more advanced forms of practice for those who want to go deeper into the tradition. There is no gradient for the inner, mystical life for mystically enthusiastic and the more educated practitioners. Third, it has to find optional ways to present its deepest truths and practices to other traditions without emphasizing conversion or acceptance of Jesus as a personal Savior to the other.

Why is Yoga so popular in the west?

First, because it provides tangible results, both immediate as well as long term. Second, because it is both practical and spiritual simultaneously. Third, it is answering a deep need that Christianity is not meeting: a need for the mystical dimension.

Can a Christian practice Yoga?

Absolutely! Yoga does not require a Christian to give up faith in Jesus as a personal savior nor compromise any core theological views, such as that of the Trinity. One can actually use the techniques of Yoga to develop concentration in prayer and deepen relationship with God.

Can Yoga help Christians?

Without any doubt Yoga can help anyone, and is of special help to Christians, showing them how the body can be actively involved in prayer, transformed into a living temple of the Holy Spirit, and become a tabernacle for Christ consciousness.

Why are Christians fearful of Yoga?

Christians are fearful because Christian leaders do not understand or appreciate Yoga; they are worried that it will take Christians away from their faith in Christ Jesus. These fears are unfounded and based on prejudice and lack of proper understanding.

Will the practice of Yoga take a Christian away from his or her faith?

Absolutely not! Once Christian practitioners are allowed to practice Yoga, it will only deepen their faith and experience of Christ.

Was Jesus influenced by Yoga?

Forms of thinking and sacred speech that developed in India found their through the caravans of the Silk road to Alexandria and Capernaum. Some of these ideas would have definitely influenced Jesus as evidenced in the Gnostic Gospel of St. John.

Did Jesus live in India?

I do not believe that he Jesus lived in India, either before or after his death. There is no substantial evidence, either direct or indirect that can positively authenticate this possibility yet.

Why do western yoga practitioners have such a hard time with Christianity?

It is Christianity’s exclusivist mentality and sense of superiority, that theirs is the only true way and the greater tradition. Second, the emphasis that yogis must accept the fact that Jesus died for their personal sins and that they should accept him as their Lord and Savior. Third, there is no allowance for the value of the spiritual culture of Yoga, which the yogi will need to abandon in favor of practices that do not really speak to or fulfill him or her.

What really is Yoga?

Yoga means “way” and “effort” and “union”. It is a way of life around channeling ones energies (efforts) spiritually towards union with source of life (God, if you will) and discovering one’s true self (the “image of God in which we are made) in the process

Is Yoga a religion?

No, Yoga is not a religion but it develops within the context of a religion, that is, Hinduism. Yoga takes the best of the Hindu religion and offers it in a manner that is, in essence, non-religious but certainly not non-spiritual. As a result, it has certain advantages and certain disadvantages.

Do you call yourself a Christian?

I like to feel that I belong to Christian tradition. However, the main denominations of Christianity understand, interpret, practice and express their beliefs in certain ways that do not speak to me. I do not think that they are wrong; but they might not consider me a Christian by their standards if I call myself one. Furthermore, I am not exclusively Christian, which is a problem for many Christians, and which is why the movement of interspirituality is so important. We have to rethink Christianity in inclusive terms if more people in the world are to participate meaningfully in the richness of the tradition and be inspired by it. I therefore like to say that I aspire towards the ideals of Christianity and seek to incorporate these ideals into my life as best as possible. From this perspective, I am simply a work in progress.

What is interspirituality?

Interspirituality is a sense of belonging to more than one tradition simultaneously and practicing these traditions in a manner that is authentic. This means avoiding syncretism, which is the view that they are all the same, that the differences don’t matter, and that we can mix and match them any which way we choose. Interspirituality, while acknowledging the similarities, looks more toward honoring differences and focuses on the specific challenges that world’s spiritual traditions present to one other by their emphasis. It means recognizing that spiritual traditions, because of their emphases, have their weak spots that are better developed in other traditions who have made those specific areas their emphasis and therefore serve as living models to inspire us in our spiritual practice.

What is the difference between religion and spirituality?

Religion, which stems from the Latin word religare, meaning “to bind”, are the belief structures that bind people together around certain central principles of faith. They are very important and serve as the muscular and skeletal structure for spirituality. Spirituality, on the other hand, is the living component and therefore, transformative process that is within and behind all religion. However, the binding structure of religion can often suppress this living and breathing element. The Buddha and Jesus are classic examples of individuals who come to revive the living spirit behind their birth religions. However, the religions that have formed around these reformers have become very restrictive and this is our challenge today, to discern these binding elements and while seeing their value also discover the living and breathing spirit of spirituality behind them. The important thing to recognize is that you can have religion without spirituality, but you cannot have spirituality without religion. This means that religion in the underlying structure for spirituality, meaning that it serves as the moral and elemental foundation that can never be completely dismissed if one is to fully express the inner spiritual element. This is why Jesus insightfully proclaimed that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.

Doesn’t the New Age system embody the element of spirituality?

We have to change our view of spirituality versus religion. The problem with the New Age spirituality is that in seeking the freedom that comes of spirit, they ignore or dismiss the fundamental moral compass that serves as the basis of the world’s religions. The idea that spirituality is ultimate freedom is often interpreted as anything goes and that everything can pass as spirituality. This is incorrect. All of our models of saints, mystics and founders of religions have demonstrated that they all did the hard work of religion, which is honoring the foundational moral compasses that they all teach, but then went beyond that to the heart and soul of the living breathing element. New Age spirituality wants freedom without responsibility or hard work and there is the problem. On the positive side, we have to see the value of the New Age movement that has taught us how to play with the spiritual traditions of the world. However, today, we have to see this as interspiritual preschool, and look to the more advanced forms of interspiritual understanding and practice for deeper and more value forms of challenge and relationship between the traditions. This is where the work of my mentor, Bede Griffiths, who you know, and our mutual friend, Wayne Teasdale, can serve as benchmarks, but we have to continue and advance beyond the foundation they have laid.

What is the relevance of this book to our times?

Western Christianity, especially here in America, is undergoing a crisis. Many are leaving the church, and many of those who leave have discovered a powerful and meaningful spiritual practice through Eastern spirituality, especially Yoga. Through this book, I try to show how Yoga is answering a deep need for certain spiritual components that Christianity, in its development of other emphases, has quite naturally failed to develop within itself. In acknowledging these components and through learning the Yoga tradition models them, Christianity can recover these within herself. However, this is only the starting point for a deeper and more extensive relationship that can take place between the two traditions, one through which both can benefit from one another. Yoga, too, can benefit from its relationship with Christianity, especially the transformative wisdom-based Christianity that characterized the early centuries of Christianity’s development in Asia Minor and before its movement westwards. Western Christianity, in recovering its early Eastern roots, can rediscover and reinvent itself, and learn to remodel itself in ways that more people, especially those influenced by Eastern spirituality can relate to it.  

Why should Christianity reinvent itself in a way that the East can relate to it?

Western Christianity, both Latin Christianity as well as Evangelical Christianity, is problematic for the East. In both instances there is neither real understanding nor any real appreciation for the depth of Eastern though and culture. In a divided world that is becoming more and more fragmented with each passing day, we have an urgent need toward unity. However, this unity cannot come about by honoring similarities, as we have sought to do in the past, but by learning to the honor differences. There lies our challenge and therein lies our transformation, as a species.