Learning From Other Traditions While Staying Within Your Own

A Christian asks if studying yoga is against her religious beliefs.

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After years of ongoing stomach problems, including major surgery for an ulcer, his health and digestion were better than they had been since he was a teenager. He needed less sleep, yet had more energy. He also felt more comfortable with himself. Without any particular effort, he became attracted to a simpler way of living. It was also easier to keep up a regular practice of Christian prayer and meditation.



Contrary to what you might fear about the perils of integrating Eastern disciplines and attitudes, this priest never once wandered from his Christian foundation. He discovered what you're seeking--centeredness. The various Hindu and Buddhist practices gave him very basic and effective ways to quiet agitation in his body and mind. In turn, that tranquility allowed a deeper kind of awareness to surface and awakened a natural sense of love and compassion. Stilling the mind never drew him away from Jesus Christ; it drew him closer.

Across the country, people are going on spiritual retreats at Christian centers that include some ecumenical sharing. But it's true that other people are highly suspicious of such activities. One Catholic sister, who entered a Midwestern convent when she was 13, told me that because she taught yoga at the Himalayan Institute and a Montessori school, some women in her parish wouldn't attend a talk she gave. They considered yoga the work of the devil. Ironically, it was yoga that led her to do healing work inspired by Christ's laying on of hands.

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When I attended my first 10-day Buddhist meditation retreat in India 20 years ago, the hall was filled with people representing a wide variety of both Eastern and Western religions. The first thing the teacher did was reassure everyone. The practice we were about to learn was nonsectarian, and no one was expected to give up the tradition he or she already followed.

The teacher himself had been raised in a Hindu family that had emigrated from India to Burma. A highly successful businessman, he had suffered severe migraine headaches for years and sought relief by traveling to Europe and America for the best medical help. When someone recommended that he try Vipassana meditation, he hesitated at first, afraid to offend his family's traditional beliefs. But once he overcame the initial obstacles, his healing and transformation were so dramatic that he has devoted his life to teaching this meditation method to others. He knows that it has nothing to do with religion per se and everything to do with attaining peace and happiness.

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Mirka Knaster
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