Sunday, July 5, 2020

Yoke - a

This week I am going to focus on the last 3 verses of the Gospel reading from Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

What is meant by “yoke” here?

As defined in various ways by Merriam-Webster Yoke means:

1a : a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (such as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together

b : an arched device formerly laid on the neck of a defeated person

c : a frame fitted to a person's shoulders to carry a load in two equal portions

d : a bar by which the end of the tongue of a wagon or carriage is suspended from the collars of the harness

e(1) : a crosspiece on the head of a boat's rudder

(2) : an airplane control operating the elevators and ailerons

f : a frame from which a bell is hung

g : a clamp or similar piece that embraces two parts to hold or unite them in position

2 plural usually yoke : two animals yoked or worked together

3a(1) : an oppressive agency

(2) : servitude, bondage

b : tie, link especially : marriage

4 : a fitted or shaped piece at the top of a skirt or at the shoulder of various garments

yoke as a verb yoked; yoking

1a(1) : to put a yoke on

(2) : to join in or with a yoke

b : to attach a draft animal to also : to attach (a draft animal) to something

2 : to join as if by a yoke

3 : to put to work

: to become joined or linked

As a yogini I am drawn to the word yoke as it comes up frequently in yoga. The definitions of yoga that I have heard over my time in this community include union and yoke.  I’ve even seen yokes as decorative additions to yoga studios.  In the yoga sutras we discussed last week Patanjali in sutra I.2 speaks of Yoga “yogah-citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ.”  As interpreted by BKS Iyengar:

Yogah means “union or integration from the outermost to the innermost self, that is, from the skin to the muscles, bone, nerves, mind, intellect, will, consciousness, and self.”

Citta means “Consciousness, which is made up of three factors: mind, intellect, and ego. Citta is the vehicle of observation, attention, aims and reason; it has three functions, cognition, conation or volition, and motion.”

Vrtti means “state of mind, fluctuations in mind, course of conduct, behavior, a state of being, mode of action, movement, function, operation.”

Nirodhah mean “obstruction, stoppage, opposition, annihilation, restraint control, cessation.”

Taken together as sutra I.2 one could think of it as the same thing Jesus is saying in Matthew 11:28-30.  Integrate your body at all levels (Koshas: physical, energetic, emotional, wisdom, spiritual) by stopping the fluctuations of the mind and body and rest or meditate in the stillness. Lighten the burden and the yoke becomes easy to hold. Yoke your body mind and spirit together. Moving your body physically in yoga simply prepares it for stillness, breath and meditation. That is all the physical practice does.  As Raffi likes to sing we have to “Shake our sillies out.” Then stillness can follow. We can move into the mind and spirit. One could say the movement (asana) can make us weary and ready for rest, as Jesus says.

This can happen in many ways.  One could hike, garden, do a hard workout, etc. When the physical work is done we need rest.  In that rest that follows hard work clarity can appear in the stillness.  Sometimes in that rest we just want to be held, Jesus offers to hold us in his gentleness and humble heart. What more do you need?  Mediation could be as simple as the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Jesus’ reply is to give us mercy and rest.



Image in public domain

Light on the Yoga Sutra by BKS Iyengar

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Patanjali's Righteous Dharma

I’d like to open by sharing the story of Patanjali as told by BKS Iyengar: “It is said that Lord Vishnu was once seated on his couch, Lord Adisesa (the Lord of Serpents) watching the enchanting dance (tandava nrtya)  of Lord Shiva. Lord Vishnu was so absorbed in the dance movements that His body began to vibrate to the rhythm of Lord Shiva. This vibration made him heavier and heavier causing a lot of discomfort to Lord Adisesa who was on the point of collapsing, gasping for breath. As soon as the dance came to end, Lord Vishnu's body became light again.

Lord Adisesa was amazed with this sudden transformation and asked his master about the cause of these stupendous changes. The Lord explained that grace, beauty, majesty and grandeur of Lord Shiva had created a corresponding graceful vibration in His own body. Amazed at this, Adisesa professed a desire to learn dancing to inspire his Lord.

Lord Vishnu predicted that soon Lord Shiva would grace Lord Adisesa to write a commentary on grammar and at that time he would also be able to devote himself to perfection in the art of dance (nrtya). Lord Adisesa was overjoyed by these words and looked forward to the grace of Lord Shiva. He then began to meditate to find out who would be his intended mother. While meditating, he had the vision of a female Yoga adept and an ascetic (a yogini and tapasvini), Gonika who was praying for a worthy son to whom she could impart her knowledge and wisdom. He realized that she would be a worthy mother for him and waited for an auspicious moment to become her son.

Gonika, thinking that her earthly life was approaching its end, had searched for a worthy son to whom she could transmit her knowledge. But she had found no one. When her penance (tapas) had come to an end, she looked to the Sun God and prayed to Him to fulfill her desire. She took a handful of water, as a final oblation to Him, closed her eyes and meditated on the Sun. She opened her eyes and looked at her palms as she was about to offer the water. To her surprise, she saw a tiny snake moving in her palms who soon took on a human form. This tiny male human prostrated to yogini Gonika and asked her to accept him as her son. Hence, she named him Patanjali. (Pata means fallen or falling and Anjali means palms folded in prayer).

This is how Sage Patanjali is said to have come into this mortal world.” 1

Patanjali is thought to go on to write the yoga sutras which is a foundational text in yoga today.  This text only contains a few verses that are about the physical practice of yoga. It mainly concerns itself with the lifestyle and philosophy of yoga. Patanjali’s story shares a few qualities with the story of Jesus and Isaac (in Genesis).  He descended to a human form to a mother thought to be too old for children.  His father is not mentioned here, but in descending to earth it is clear he did not come in the traditional way. The Yoga sutras put together much of the philosophy of yoga that is in separate texts.  I am honestly not sure which came first.

In addition to the similarities between Biblical figures and Patanjali there is also the use of the word righteous(ness) in today’s Biblical reading.  Righteous, as defined by Webster, is “acting in accord with divine or moral law.”  In Paul’s letter to the Romans he talks of righteousness as the thing we turn toward when we turn away from sin.  In both cases we are a slave, either to sin or righteousness.  Turning to the divine or moral law would appear to be the better choice. In Matthew’s gospel we are encouraged to make this better choice to receive the reward of the kingdom of heaven.

In yoga sutras righteousness might be interpreted as Dharma. “The Sanskrit word “dharma” has joined “yoga” and “karma” in common English usage. Dharma is often taken to mean “duty.” However, it is a whole lot more than this. The Sanskrit word Dharma comes from the root “dhri” which means to uplift or uphold. Dharma literally refers to “that which upholds righteousness.” A sense of righteousness, of purpose and inspiration is extremely significant on the spiritual path.” 2

Dharma is implied throughout the yoga sutras of Patanjali. When he talks of the ethics of yoga in the yamas and niyamas (10 commandments of yoga) and in the gunas (energy states) Dharma is there. In Yoga Sutra IV.34 dharma is referenced within the Purusartha or the “fourfold aims of man; discharging one’s duties and obligations to oneself, one’s family, society, and country (dharma); pursuit of vocation or profession, following one’s means of livelihood and acquisition of wealth (artha); cultured and artistic pursuits, love, and gratification of desires (kama); emancipation or liberation from worldly life (moksa).”1  Part of the idea of the dharma wheel, a symbol in Indian religions, refers to the cyclical nature of life.  As stated in the Purusartha, and in Paul’s letter, life is not all righteous, but the hope is that each turn of the wheel brings us closer to righteous liberation and further from sin.


Genesis 22:1-14

God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your

son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a

burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the

morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut

the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had

shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said

to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship,

and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on

his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.

Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire

and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself

will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the

wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then

Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to

him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay

your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not

withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a

thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead

of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the

mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”


Romans 6:12-23

Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No

longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as

those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments

of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under


What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you

not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one

whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the

heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from

sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural

limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and

greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you

then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But

now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is

sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is

eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Matthew 10:40-42

Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one

who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's

reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive

the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones

in the name of a disciple-- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”


1 BKS Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


Photo: Prismatic Dharma Wheel Public Domain



Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Fire of Change - Tapas

Today’s lessons have a common theme of change running through them. 

In Genesis 21 Abraham is asked to send away his first-born son and to trust the process that would eventually lead to two great nations.  Although distressed, a fire burns in Abraham to do the right thing, to trust the process, and put forward the spiritual effort necessary to bring forth change.

In Matthew 10 Jesus is preparing his disciples for the life they will have should they continue to answer his call.  The picture is not pretty.  He tells them to go forward fearlessly and with self-discipline to heal and tell truths that could end in their death.  But that God loves them beyond all.  This preparation for change ignites a fire in their hearts. This unexpected way in which Jesus lights a fire under the disciples is like the Niyama (observance) of Tapas.

According to Deborah Adele “Tapas literally means “heat” and can be translated as catharsis, austerities, self-discipline, spiritual effort, change, tolerance, or transformation. Tapas has the sense of “cooking” ourselves in the fire of discipline to transform ourselves into something else. It is our determined effort to become someone of character and strength. Much like cooking and egg denatures the egg, changing it into a different structure, Tapas eventually changes our nature, turning us into a cauldron that can withstand any of life’s challenges. Tapas is the day to day choice to burn non-supportive habits of the body and mind, choosing to forsake momentary pleasures for future rewards.” *

Often change in our lives happens after an awakening.  Some might even go so far as to say a fire was lit under them to change. This fire is tapas. Keeping it going requires self-discipline, this too is tapas.  None of this is easy.  But having the self-discipline, putting in the spiritual effort, finding that thing that makes you feel a fire in your heart, acting on it, keeping it up, transforming. Again, and again, and again. This is the real work of tapas.  This is the real work of the disciples, even to the end.

We can learn from their example.  Taking care of our selves physically and mentally. Finding our own fire or calling. Having the discipline to do or change. And keeping that fire, or tapas, lit in our hearts.

Genesis 21:8-21

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was

weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing

with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son

of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to

Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the

boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is

through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make

a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and

took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the

child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went

and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not

let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and

wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and

said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy

where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation

of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with

water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the

bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of



Matthew 10:24-39

Jesus said to the twelve disciples, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;

it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called

the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret

that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear

whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the

soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a

penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of

your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my

Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in


“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a


For I have come to set a man against his father,

and a daughter against her mother,

and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or

daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow

me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my

sake will find it.”

*The Yamas and Niyamas by Deborah Adele (c) 2009

Photo from