By Monette Chilson
In her inspiring new book, Sophia Rising, Monette Chilson, uses Sophia (Greek for wisdom)—the iconic face of the feminine divine found in both Jewish and Christian traditions—as a guide. The book explores the spiritual foundations of Yoga in a way that makes the deeper soul-level benefits of the practice available to anyone. In this excerpt from her book, Monette takes a multifaith view of the five niyamas. (See our Spring 2013 issue for her article on the five yamas.)
While the yamas tell us what to avoid, the niyamas are designed to tell us which spiritual observances to pursue. We need both. A spirituality that gives rules without illuminating the path that draws closer to God is an empty vessel. The niyamas undertake this sacred task with a beautiful congruity to other sacred traditions.
Ephesians 4:28 captures this key concept perfectly saying, “But it is not enough to shake off corrupt principles; we must have gracious ones.” The niyamas, as found in the Vedas and as lived out in Christ’s life, are the gracious principles we must espouse to live a truly spiritual life.
Niyamic guidance exists within the Judeo-Christian tradition, in the commandments in which God sets forth specific spiritual observances: “Honor your parents” and “Observe the Sabbath” rather than issuing commandments which shape our behavior through prohibitions. On a larger scale, much of the New Testament is a living niyama communicated through Jesus’ life. As we will see, every one of the niyamas—purity, contentment, austerity, study and surrender to God—is found within the character of Jesus Christ.
Niyama of Purity (saucha):
To put it in Taoist terminology, the public outreach, the healing of others, is the yang, while the inner seeking, the soul work, is the yin. The beauty of the yin-yang concept lies in the absolute intertwining of the two. One is not meant to exist without the other. This interdependence is a difficult concept to grasp and live out in a world so infused with yang and devoid of yin. James 2:20 speaks of faith without deeds being useless.
Of course, the reverse is also true—deeds born out of impure motive, not rooted in fertile soil of faith, are equally useless. The Message translation of James 2:19-20 provide some vivid imagery for this concept: “Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?”
These powerful images communicate to us the extent to which the impure motives underlying a life of hypocrisy are absolutely incompatible with a spiritually healthy existence. As is the case with much spiritual grappling, the key is finding the balance between the motives (the yin) and the action (the yang).
Purity is to be lived, not earned or achieved. It is important to remember that just as religion itself is not truth, but a system meant to point us to the truth, our rituals and our symbols are also signposts, not destinations. Indeed, our divine selves, the very best we are capable of, always surfaces when we are able to act with the purest of motives, becoming mere vessels through which God’s plans can unfold.
Niyama of Contentment (santosha):
“The better part of happiness is to wish to be what you are.” ~Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536)
It is no coincidence that God delivers the same sense of divinely sourced contentment through Christianity as through other religions. Consider the niyama of contentment, the healing balm of the Psalms, the gentle reminder each time the word shalom passes over Jewish lips on its way to a friend’s ear, and the Muslim belief that the heart is the center of all God-consciousness and, therefore, of contentment. Listen closely and hear the multi-lingual voice of God speaking to all the inhabitants of the world in these ways and others.
God speaks contentment whether invited, acknowledged, embraced or ignored. Blessedly, God’s behavior, character and message are not dependent upon our human perceptions or reactions. God speaks when we call out to Our Father, Our Mother, Our Savior or Our Breath of Life and just about any other moniker we could come up with.
Non-theistic religions like Buddhism are just as strongly rooted in contentment as a spiritual principle. The Buddha addresses contentment directly in his Second Noble Truth, concluding that wanting deprives us of contentment and happiness. How closely his words resonate with Paul’s in Philippians 4:10-12:
“. . . for whatever the situation I find myself in, I have learned to be self-sufficient. I know what it is to be brought low, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret: whether on a full stomach or an empty one, in poverty or plenty, I can do all things through the One who gives me strength. . . ”
Read the rest of this article in the Summer 2013 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.