November 12, 2010

Jesus wouldn’t do that.

Note: This article was inspired by my recent blog about John Lennon and the subsequent comments made by a Christian reader.

Authentic yoga is an innately spiritual practice, a prayer in motion..

Religion involves ritualistic, organized worship a deity or a gaggle of deities.

Yoga has no requisite god.

The fact that yoga grew up intertwined with Hinduism in ancient India leads some to believe that it is a religion. Though yoga shares similarities with Tao and other Eastern thought, it is its own unique science. Religious believers and non-believers alike can freely practice yoga without risking damnation of any kind.

At this point on my personal spiritual path, it is not helpful for me to believe or disbelieve in God.

Over the past decade, I’ve deepened my practice by becoming a spiritual seeker, yoga and mindfulness teacher, creative writer. I’ve thought lots about Jesus, his teachings and his divinity or lack thereof. I’ve ruminated about atheism.

My mom is devoutly Catholic and my dad is open-minded. I wore a frilly white dress for first holy communion. I refused Confession at age 10, because I didn’t think I needed to tell my sins to a priest. I’ve visited a variety of congregations over the years. Southern Baptist. Disciples of Christ. Unity Church.

Dating a fundamentalist Christian several years ago led me to question every aspect of my belief system. It, among other things, also led me to a total nervous breakdown for ten days in 2005. (But that’s another story.)

I learned a bit of Judaism by teaching Sunday School at a heretical Unitarian Universalist church in Austin. I made pilgrimages to Barsana Dham, a Hindu temple in central Texas and meditated on Hare Krishna. I practiced zazen and Vipassana at silent Buddhist meditation retreats in California, Texas, India. I’ve dabbled in every major religion except Islam.

I learned that, for Christian Fundamentalists, the Bible is without a single error and is read as a book of history, law and faith. If you ask me, when Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life,” he did not mean, “I am the ONLY way.”

Obviously, we don’t know exactly what Jesus said. The Bible is an ancient document that has been translated many times over. We can only feel for ourselves which of his teachings resonate most deeply in our own lives, moment to moment. It is through this common bond, love of Jesus, that liberal and conservative Christians can live together in harmony.

I am not Christian by definition, but I do love Jesus.

I do not practice Catholicism, but I have a tattoo of Mother Mary (the Virgin of Guadalupe) hovering over my left shoulder and a Buddha on my right. I go to extremes; I strive for the middle way.

I am not religious, and I have morals.

Just because I don’t believe in the Bible literally doesn’t mean I will murder, slander and cheat at the first opportunity. I’m not an atheist, though I tried to be. I read The God Delusion. According to smarmy, smart Richard Dawkins, “Faith (belief without evidence) is a virtue. The more your beliefs defy the evidence, the more virtuous you are. There are some weird things (such as the Trinity) that we are not meant to understand. Don’t even try to understand one of these, for the attempt might destroy it. Learn how to gain fulfillment in calling it a mystery.”

The existence of God is unknowable. And irrelevant, if you think about it.

I have faith in nature. In the sun rising and setting. I salute the sun and contort my body into ancient yoga poses from India. Does that mean I am worshiping Hindu gods? Does it mean I’m damned to hell? I worship false idols; John Lennon was right, the Beatles are bigger than Jesus. Words are just fingers pointing at the moon.

Concepts are constantly oversimplified. The universe is paradoxical.

What matters to me is living in the present with compassion. “My religion is kindness,” as the Dalai Lama says. Jesus is God as much as every living being is God. (Most of us are not a whole lot like Jesus though. He was enlightened; we are still seekers on the path.) Buddha attained enlightenment, just as each of us could, with practice and perseverance.

My disdain for fundamentalist Christianity (fundamentalist anything, really) reminds me of what I love about yoga and Buddhism.

No dogma. Just experience.

The truth in the breath, in the present moment, in learning to quit beating ourselves up — because we are not broken, sinful, lowly beings, we are children of the universe, with hearts like Jesus, regardless of whether we have “accepted Jesus” into our hearts. We are perfect in our imperfections. We are all on the path to balance, peace and enlightenment in our own ways. Religious or not, these beliefs continue to sustain me.

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