A Letter from Brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB:
Not infrequently I get letters from young people who, through Yoga, have somehow discovered or re-discovered Jesus. Now they are full of questions on the relationship between Yoga and the Christian message. These questions range from the most general to the most specific, and many of them are really well put and worth considering. Some are of such general interest that I thought of tackling them here. Swamiji [Swami Satchidanandaji] felt this was a good idea and encouraged me; so let me make a start today.
Here is one of the basic problems stated by various people in their own words:
“What I am trying to come to terms with is my life in the Integral Yoga Institute and my re-discovered surge towards Jesus. I am trying to integrate the two approaches so that each is enriched by the other—yet I keep coming up against the thought that I may have to make a choice.” For the past year and a half I have been involved with Yoga. A year ago I was given a mantra by my Guru, Swami Satchidananda. I have experienced feelings of peace in my newly-found integral world of the Spirit. However I have had strong doubts recently concerning the path that I am taking.
“Two months ago I began dating a steadfast Christian boy. We both shared the same light, but found ourselves having heated disagreements regarding philosophy. He does not recognize other paths and sees Jesus as the only way. It is my understanding that being a Christian demands the hearty and absolute acknowledgement that there is no other way but Jesus—this I cannot accept, Brother David, not yet. Jesus is my personal approach to God, but, how unloving it would be for me to impose my path on my brothers and sisters who feel the need to seek God in another way.”
The problem is well-stated by these voices. To answer is not easy, for to do justice to the many aspects of the basic problem would require a book. Here our task can only be to find the central question on which all others hinge.
And now I invite you to pay special attention, for what I am going to say may come as a surprise to you: the key question is not one concerning objective facts “out there,” but a deeply personal question addressed to the heart of each one of us. The question is: What is your attitude towards truth? When you think of truth, is your foremost desire to ”grasp” it, as one says? Are you convinced that the truth is something one can “have,” possess,” hold firmly in one’s hand, as it were? If the answer is more or less “yes”—that’s where your problems come from.
Try to look at it with fresh eyes. Remember your own deepest experiences. In your moments of truth, is it ever correct to say that you have the truth? Does that truly reflect your experience? Wouldn’t you rather say in those moments that the truth has you? You stand under it when you truly understand. But it is not a ”standing,” strictly speaking. It is a dynamic movement. St. Paul speaks of ”doing the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). That’s a far cry from ”grasping.” Truth is something we discover by carrying it out. It is not a list of statements, but a direction of life.
What we grasp of truth is necessarily always partial and limited; no matter how huge your hands and how firm your grip, you can only hold so much. The right inner attitude towards truth is not expressed by the grasping hand only, but by the open hand, capable of receiving what e. e. cummings calls ”illimitable” reality. The key word in the previous sentence is ”only.” If we leave this out, the statement becomes exclusive and, thus, untrue. Truth is always inclusive.
In our context this means that our intercourse with truth ought to be a give-and-take. Yes, there are many given facts that we have to grasp. But mere grasping of facts will lead us at best to the accumulation of knowledge. What our hearts really long for is wisdom. And wisdom is found when we not only grab and use reality, but when we let it grab us, savor it, let it speak to us and so reveal its deep meaning,
Those of you who have ever tried your hand at pottery will know what I mean. Surely you have to learn how to hold and handle your clay. But at the same time you must allow it to do its own thing. A pot which shows that the potter has overpowered the clay is a dead pot; if the clay has overpowered the potter it’s a sad lump. When the pot resulted from a genuine give-and-take it’s a masterpiece, resplendent with truth.
The moment we replace the notion of ”possessing the truth” with the notion of “doing the truth in love,” we will be more likely to avoid heated arguments that lead only to hurt, We will avoid them not because we care less for the truth, but because we care much more for it. We care for each other, not for scoring points in a right-and-wrong game. It is by caring for one another that we care for the truth.
There is life in truth. Therefore there is growth. Once we have gained an insight we must take it seriously—so seriously, in fact, that we’ll not stunt its growth. It is alive; it wants to grow. We speak of ”conceiving” an idea, an insight. This calls for a motherly attitude towards truth. We have to re-learn this attitude if we happen to live in a ”man’s world.” Hold fast with conviction to the insights you have gained, but like a mother holding her child, Allow your insights to grow.
Insights which seem contradictory now may simply represent different stages of development of the one truth. Give them time. Who would guess that a butterfly is merely a caterpillar that was given time? Let us give one another time as the greatest gift love can give, that love which does the truth.
Truth (like true love) is not exclusive but inclusive. To find the truth in the Bible does not mean finding it exclusively there and nowhere else. Yet if we have found the truth, in the Bible or somewhere else, we are put on the spot; we are called to respond to the particular way in which the truth confronts us. Truth is all-inclusive, but (again like true love) it is not promiscuous in its expressions. When we begin to realize that the truth reveals itself in many forms, we are tempted not to commit ourselves to it in any form. This is a danger, Yet the more sincerely we respond to our particular insights, say, to the Bible, the more naturally will they expand and open on to universal truth. There is always room for growth—not for new truth, but for the one truth to more fully take hold of us, revealing ever new and unexpected vistas.
Truth is like light: you can’t “have” it to store away. But you can walk by it, thereby truly having it. When Jesus says, ”I am the Light,” “I am the Way,” He interprets what He means when He says: ”I am the Truth.” There is no room here for grasping, but all the room in the world for responding. One of you writes: “I feel the pull towards the incredible enigma of Jesus, and yet I am in utter confusion as to the kind of response His presence in my life demands of me at this time. ” Painful as this situation is, its pain is genuine growing pain. St. Paul experienced it, I am sure, when he wrote to the Phillipians: “All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of His risen life …. I do not claim that I have already succeeded in this, or have already become perfect. I keep on trying to take hold of it, for Christ has already taken hold of me.” (Phil, 3:10 – 13). Any encounter with truth forces us to make a choice. But what kind of choice is it? A choice between different expressions of the truth? I would rather see it as a choice for or against opening myself to the particular form in which truth speaks to me here and now in this concrete situation. A choice between wanting to possess the truth, and consenting to do the truth in love. What we possess gives us the illusion of security. Wanting to possess the truth springs from fear. Fear and faith are incompatible. It takes the courage of trust (or call it faith) to do the truth in love.
Obviously this leaves many questions open, In fact, these basic considerations seem necessary before we can even ask more particular questions in the right way. If this proves helpful, I will gladly tackle some of the more specific problems springing from the confrontation between Hindu and Christian traditions in subsequent issues of this magazine.
Your brother David
Reprinted from Integral Yoga Magazine archives, 1971 issue
For more information about Br. David Steindl-Rast, please visit the beautiful website he inspired: gratefulness.org