Starting his spiritual journey on the path of Yoga, Bhaktan Eberle grew frustrated with the state of his on-and-off again practice. He came to realize that trying harder was never going to work and took refuge in Jesus, who became Bhaktan’s door to an ever-deepening experience of Isvara, God with form, as well as a firm foundation for asana and pranayama practice.
“The restraint of the modifications of the mindstuff is Yoga.” —Yoga Sutra 1.2.
When I first came to Yoga in 1972 I thought this meant, “Learn to stop thinking.” I figured that if I stopped thinking, the world would vanish and I would experience Yoga. Since then I’ve learned how to get by without thinking for some time, and can testify that the world definitely does not vanish just because I stop talking to myself. What happens is, life is always fresh; but we have to go quite a bit farther than just not talking to ourselves in our heads for the manifest creation to resolve itself into the higher Self. How far?
In Yoga terminology, “chitta,” the mindstuff, is everything seen, heard or otherwise experienced on every level, past, present and future. True Yoga is experienced when a person loses interest in all of it; Yoga is experienced when we get absorbed in something beyond creation. The beauty of nature, a great work of art, a sunset, the atmosphere of a church or temple, great music or the presence of a loved one or someone great can capture the attention of the mind for a time. We usually attribute the sense of peace or joy we feel at those times to the artwork or the sunset or the person. What actually happens is that we get quiet inside so that we can absorb as much as possible of the event that has captured our interest. If I am to take a photo, the camera has to be still before it can be focused. The same applies to the mind.
A quick trip through the supermarket checkout should prove that among all the things that get our attention, “me” and other people are first on the list. Meditating on a divine being puts our fascination with other people to good use. The Divine Being, Isvara (sutra 1.23-30), is God with form. Many will try to convince you that the personal God, Isvara, has only one name and one form. They are wrong. As the Sufi poet Hafiz says: “Beware the tiny gods that small men make to bring an anesthetic relief to their sad days.” On the other hand, some will try to convince you that God is only nameless and formless. They are also wrong; they don’t know Isvara.
Isvara has many faces—Shiva, Quan Yin, the Guru, Krishna, Jesus . . . When you get to know Krishna well enough you know Isvara, which means that you also know Shiva and Quan Yin—from the inside. To me, God’s name is Jesus. My focus is Jesus; for me there is really no one but Jesus, but it’s not the narrow religion of the fanatic. Rasakhan, the Krishna devotee, wrote: “The moment I first beheld the son of Nanda [Krishna], I have abandoned every rule and severed all ties with my clan.” As I listen to his words, I become a Krishna devotee. But, as soon as I put Rasakhan’s poetry down, Jesus is the only one again. Does this bother either Jesus nor Krishna? No. They are perfectly one, and each of them knows it.
I came to Jesus when I was at the low point of my life, ten years into an endless self-improvement project. I was completely stressed out and exhausted by trying to make myself healthy and control my mind by trying to do what I thought was Yoga. It was just beginning to dawn on me that I was the problem, not the solution. One day I heard this message from Kenneth Copeland
on TV: “The work is finished in Christ Jesus. Receive him and you receive the kingdom of heaven.” At this point I was so desperate that I was willing to try anything. So I opened my life to Jesus in the year 1983, making him the Lord of my life. I’ve been meditating on Jesus ever since. I’m so glad that by this time I was far beyond the point of no return in my Yoga practice, not only because it saved me from descending into fanaticism, but also because regularity and success in my Yoga practice began that day in 1983.
Swami Satchidananda (Sri Gurudev) was of enormous help to me in this process; when he was present in my life, his tremendous consciousness and presence made it nearly impossible to keep my attention on myself. He initiated me into spiritual life. He also set up the situation for me to turn to Jesus: “See, I give you all these practices so that you will become completely exhausted and give your lives to God.”
For me, meditating on Jesus began with finding out everything he said about himself and everything that was said about him in scripture. It involved sorting out the true from the false. In this process I had to learn from other people and their writings, but I also learned that, if I trust other people to do my thinking for me, I’m headed for confusion. For example, nearly every Christian will tell you that no one is saved except through Jesus. When I probed, asking honestly, “What is salvation?” or “Who is Jesus, really?” I found very, very few who could give me a good answer—an answer based on personal knowledge instead of theology or a quote from the Bible. As Sri Gurudev said, “I have many followers but few swallowers.”
In the course of thinking about and discussing Jesus, I eventually fell in with a small group of people who knew how to consistently enter into his presence through worship; I learned to live in his presence and discovered that it is the same presence as the presence of Swami Satchidananda, with a slightly different flavor. Today I enjoy Hafiz (with his ecstatic poetry of Allah) or Mirabai (whose devotion overflowed in verse to Krishna) because it’s obvious that they are all speaking of the same divine person.
I found that Jesus is the door to a far greater reality, the presence of God, the Father; I believe that this is the entire objective of his coming. Imagine yourself in Jesus’ position. As the Word of God, you have personally created everything you see, and you see it all in the context of infinity, the beginningless and endless reality both you and your creation came from, your Father. Never for a fraction of a second do you get wrapped up in changing things. You love everything unconditionally, with an unlimited, total commitment and undivided attention—but with the knowledge that it is all transient, unreal, changing. This knowledge is your last and best gift to your friends.
Bringing such a person into one’s interior conversation changes everything. We learn a lot. The first thing we learn is that this divine person is interested in improving our lives on earth. To shift from one level to the next we have to invest in the level we are on. If we want steam, we need to put the heat into the water, not try to conjure up some steam.
So to bring our lives to the next level, we have to invest in our lives on this level. As Jesus takes us from poverty to generosity, binds up our broken hearts, restores our sight and gets us out of whatever prison we’re in (Luke 4:18)—as we begin to taste heaven on earth—we begin to stop wishing we were somewhere else. This is most helpful for success in one’s spiritual practice—and in everything else one does in life. Being present takes the pressure out of practice; we practice because we enjoy it, not because it’s something we have to do to keep God happy or to get healthy or to make progress. Then we really begin to enjoy the benefits.
Next we experience unconditional love. Jesus came to get us out of the mess we made of ourselves, not to be one more thing for us to deal with in life. When I understand that he accepts me as I am I get a sense of freedom; in this freedom I gradually come to know and accept myself as I am, and to know him and accept him as he is, now. Only then am I in position to become aware of what he experienced: the presence of God, and to see and know, firsthand, that everything is continuously coming out of and returning to that unchanging reality. In other words, if I keep looking at Jesus long enough I begin to notice what Jesus is seeing.
So deeply considering Jesus took me directly to the end and purpose of the practice of the limbs of Yoga, “discriminative discernment,” (Yoga Sutra 2.28) distinguishing the real while still in the unreal. Living in his presence caused me to become aware of a great silence around and within. If and when that silence becomes more interesting than the world, the whole world, along with that “me” that is a part of it, resolves itself into that pool of silence. That’s Yoga.
Bhaktan Eberle, a disciple of Swami Satchidananda since 1972, has been meditating on Jesus since 1983. He has been teaching Yoga for 35 years and lives at Yogaville with his wife Prema, their four children and two grandmothers. The book of his epic poem, “Spirit of Fire: The Power of Jesus’ Name,” and the CD, “Spirit of Fire One,” combined with music, are both available from SpiritOfFire.com.