Author: Mike Shreve
Though it may surprise you, the answer to this question is both “Yes” and “No.”
First, let’s define the word “Yoga.” It comes from an original Sanskrit word that means “yoke”or “union.”So the implied meaning is “to be yoked with God or in union with God.” In this sense, Yes, a person could say that Jesus taught “Yoga,” because His teachings emphasise how to be “yoked with God,” how to experience “oneness or union with God.” However, the methods employed in various schools of Yoga usually differ drastically from those espoused by the Lord Jesus.
Categories and Branches
In Hinduism especially, as well as some other Far Eastern worldviews, it is believed that union with God can be achieved through various means. According to the emphasis of a particular group, different categories of “Yoga,” such as the following, have emerged:
(1) Hatha Yoga (the path of physical disciplines, asanas and breath control);
(2) Karma Yoga (the yoga of action, good works or selfless service);
(3) Mantra Yoga (the path of chanting mantras);
(4) Bhakti Yoga (the path of devotion to God, a god or an individual guru or avatar);
(5) Jnana Yoga (the path of transcendental knowledge);
(6) Raja Yoga (the royal path of meditation and mind control);
(7) Tantra Yoga (the use of esoteric methods to obtain supernatural experiences, sometimes the harnessing of power through sexual experiences);
(8) Kundalini Yoga (a blend of Hatha, Mantra, Raja Yoga and sometimes Tantra Yoga aimed at the awakening of the “kundalini”- defined as a latent, divine power coiled like a serpent at the base of the spine).
Sometimes various branches of yoga incorporate several of the above types into one composite yogic system. Though each branch may promote a slightly different approach, the ultimate goal of all yoga practices is Enlightenment, oneness with the Divine, the awakening of the Higher Self, the attainment of God-consciousness, I was a teacher of Kundalini Yoga at four universities in Florida, so I am well aware of the various yogic practices designed to carry devotees to higher levels of consciousness. I am now a Christian minister, a believer in the Biblical worldview. So I have experienced both sides: theoretically, theologically and experientially. You can read my testimony, the story of my conversion to Christianity by clicking here.
Jesus and Yoga
The title question of this article is “Did Jesus Teach Yoga?” and my initial response was both “Yes” and “No.” Let me restate some important basic observations. When the meaning of the word “Yoga” is the emphasis, it would be logical to conclude, in a qualified sense, that Jesus did teach yoga – for He definitely taught men and women how to be “yoked with God,” how to experience “union with God.” This is reinforced by one of his most quoted invitations and promises:
“Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
When Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you” in essence, He was saying, “Come into union with Me – learn to think, feel, act and react just as I would.” He even prayed in John 17 that His disciples would be one with the Father, just as He was and is. So oneness of heart, union with the Almighty, was definitely an emphasis in Jesus’ preaching. This is the primary goal of yoga and the primary theme of Jesus’ message. However, the projected means of obtaining such oneness and the philosophy behind the practices and methods used are, at times, oceans apart. For instance, let’s inspect how the teachings of Jesus fit, or fail to fit, within the framework of the various yoga schools already mentioned:
(1) Hatha Yoga – Jesus never taught the necessity of physical exercises and breathing disciplines in order to open up the ‘chakras’ (spiritual energy centers) and achieve a state of inner harmony. Most teachers of New Age ideas or Far Eastern religions would readily label Jesus an Avatar (a manifestation of God on earth). If He did fill this role (of course, Christianity teaches that Jesus was the “only” incarnation of God to ever visit this world) and if Hatha Yoga is a valid methodology, why did He neglect such an important subject?
Of course, the logical answer is that He did not consider such methods necessary to man’s spiritual development. Years ago, I spent many hours doing yoga postures (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayama). Now I am convinced, they may help tone and oxygenate a person’s body, but they do not aid anyone in obtaining true experiences of the transcendent state. God is a personal God who is approached in a personal way, not by such structured, mechanical methods.
(2) Karma Yoga – This yogic system is based on the idea that every action causes either good or bad karma. Furthermore, the soul of a person remains locked in a series or rebirths (reincarnations) until all karmic debt is paid off. So the object of Karma Yoga is to live such a perfect life that there is no karmic indebtedness. At that time, release (moksha) from physical existence is achieved.
Jesus did not teach this. He taught one life and then a resurrection, not karma and reincarnation. However, He did teach a certain concept of cause and effect. He warned that the measure we deal out to others will also be dealt back to us. (See Matthew 7:2) Later on, Paul, the apostle, restated this concept with the words, “Whatever a man sows, that will he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)
These statements describe a general truth that is somewhat predictable concerning life and relationships in this world. For instance, if we show hatred toward others, they will normally respond with hatred toward us. If we express love toward others, they will usually react with love toward us. If we bless others selflessly, they will often bless us in return – and God Himself will often reward us with outpoured blessings for our generosity. If we drink or do drugs, we will end up destroying our bodies and minds. If we involve ourselves in sensuality and immorality, it will destroy family relationships. If we rebel against God’s laws, we will suffer the consequences. What we sow, we reap. That’s just the way things work in life.
However, Jesus never intended to convey the karmic concept that every action MUST result in an exactly matched counteraction. Neither did he teach that souls get ‘locked’ into samsara (the cycle of rebirths) because of karmic debt. Believing this doctrine leaves no room for forgiveness coming from God, which was a major emphasis in Jesus’ teachings. Man instead is required to work out his own destiny by the strength of his own choices.
(3) Mantra Yoga – Jesus never taught the use of mantras. Quite the opposite, he warned against this method, describing the practice as “vain repetitions.” (See Matthew 6:7) The Bible advocates confessing the promises of God’s Word. It also encourages us to use certain words and phrases in prayer that can sometimes get somewhat repetitive (like “Praise the Lord” or “Hallelujah”). However, it never instructs Christians to chant these words or some magical phrases over and over in a monotone way, in order to manipulate some kind of inner cosmic power. God is a personal God, to be approached in a personal way, and these praise words are a means of celebration for those who have already established a relationship with Him.
(4) Bhakti Yoga – Of course, Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God with all the heart, mind, soul and strength. However, to actually do this, a person must know and correctly define the name and nature of the true God.
Not all names and personalities ascribed to God are correct. Bhakti Yoga would advocate devotion to any god as being legitimate. However, if one expresses love and devotion to a god that is actually non-existent, there is no value to the soul. A deity that is the product of human imagination is a deity that cannot deliver its devotees from sin and deception, for the very worship of that deity is itself sinful and deceptive.
(5) Jnana Yoga – Bible believers are encouraged to grow in the knowledge of God and we are taught that “in Christ” are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Gaining greater knowledge of God through prayer (revelation knowledge) and through the study of God’s Word (intellectual knowledge) does heighten one’s awareness of God and increase intimacy with God. And Jesus did explain to His disciples, “This is life eternal, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3) So knowing God is far more important than knowing about God. The problem is this. Much of that which is promoted in Jnana Yoga as the “Path of Knowledge” would not be in harmony with what Jesus taught. Just learning theories and ideas about God is not enough; we must learn the truth for it to be effective in our lives. Reading all the Scriptures of all world religions is not enough; we must discover what is actually inspired of God.
(6) Raja Yoga – This group emphasises meditation. Well, Christians are taught to “meditate” on God and on His Word. Biblically, the word “meditation” simply means a private and focused time of devotion, which often involves prayerful study of God’s Word. Many of the meditation practices encouraged in Raja Yoga are much different that the methods Christians would employ. The use of mechanical, esoteric, or magical methods is not a part of the biblical approach to God. The Bible teaches that a spiritual regeneration is necessary in order to know God. This can only happen through the soul being cleansed by the blood Jesus shed on the cross. Any other method aimed at penetrating a supernatural world will fall short of its goal.
(7) Tantra Yoga – No true Christian would EVER be involved in the pursuit of enlightenment through sexual practices. Quite the contrary, the Bible teaches against fornication, adultery, incest, homosexuality, lesbianism and any other aberrant sexual behaviour. Sexual involvement is only allowed within the confines of marriage and is never projected as being a means of obtaining enlightenment. Any supernatural experience coming from this method involving partners other than a spouse actually bring a person into a demonic experience.
(8) Kundalini Yoga – Jesus never taught his disciples methods aimed at awakening some inward, latent, coiled energy at the base of the spine, bringing on enlightenment. Neither did He portray God as an impersonal cosmic energy that permeates all things, to be discovered by meditating within. He rather taught an external, transcendent God who is personal and accessible only through the atoning death Jesus died on the cross. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) In order to enter a relationship with God, the heart must first be cleansed by the blood of Jesus from all sin. This takes place when a seeker asks Jesus to come into his heart and be Lord of his life. The Holy Spirit will then enter that heart from without, thus effecting a spiritual regeneration. This is the experience Jesus referred to as being “born again,” an experience far different than any experience provided through yogic disciplines. (John 3:1-6) Jesus clearly informed that this experience is necessary to enter the Kingdom of God.
If the Spirit of God has not yet entered a person from without, any attempt to awaken some divine presence within is in vain. Furthermore, the awakening of the kundalini is supposed to bring a person to the awareness of his own divinity, an understanding that we are all God. Jesus never taught such a concept. We are called to be children of God and servants of God, but we will never actually become God Himself.
SO, DID JESUS TEACH HIS DISCIPLES YOGA?
If that statement means being “yoked” with the true God, one with the Holy Spirit and lovingly submitted to His will, the answer is a qualified “Yes.” If that statement means that acceptance of all the yogic methods, practices and beliefs taught by the groups listed above, the answer is a definite “No.”
HOWEVER, JESUS DID TEACH US HOW TO BE IN UNION WITH GOD… AND THAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT DISCOVERY TO BE MADE IN LIFE. SEEK IT WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND YOU WILL FIND A TREASURE:
“…THE TRUE LIGHT which gives light to every man coming into the world.” (John 1:9)
© Mike Shreve.
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A further article on yoga is available here.