The Yoga Of the Sacraments
by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri)
Introduction to Yoga of the Sacraments
What is yoga (“union”)? It is union with God. For Christians it is union with God through Jesus Christ who said: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
Writing in the beginning of the third century, Origen was the most renowned Christian writer of the early church, often declared to be the greatest teacher since the original twelve apostles. He wrote over a thousand books and essays which were widely read, and was considered by many of the early Church Fathers to be a saint. Pope Saint Damasus I of Rome in the fourth century decreed that those who aspired to the priesthood must study all of Origen’s works in preparation.
Origen begins his book On the First Principles (De Principiis) with the statement that despite the proliferation of doctrines and wranglings over them, the holy Apostles taught in a straightforward and unphilosophical manner only a handful of teachings, and that anything else was personal opinion which held no binding authority on another. Further he urged that only those apostolic teachings should be considered essential to Christian belief and adherence. Those teachings–in the order he lists them–are, simply expressed:
In conclusion he said that each person is to formulate his understanding within the broad framework he has given.
Why did the apostles of Jesus–and therefore Jesus himself–teach such a few simple doctrines and leave their understanding (and the understanding of the scriptures which at that time had not been collected into the Bible) to each individual’s capacity? Obviously because Jesus and his original disciples considered those beliefs and scriptures merely a framework within which each Christian should develop his own insight, that it was the life in Christ which constituted true Christianity and not dogma. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:10). “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). “For we are made partakers of Christ” (Hebrews 3:14). “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things” (Psalms 119:18). This is why Jesus told the apostles regarding the Holy Spirit: “He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:17), that God shall dwell in each Christian just as He did in Jesus. (“For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” Colossians 2:9.)
Saint Paul was speaking completely literally when he wrote: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16). “Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (II Corinthians 6:16). “Ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).
Even more, Jesus said that “when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (John 15:26)–not an external church authority. Each true Christian is intended to attain communion with God directly. For Jesus further said: “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come” (John 16:13).
What contemporary “orthodox” church teaches this? Not one. Rather, it would be considered outrageous heresy. No wonder Jesus asked the apostles: “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). That is how far “Christians” have strayed from Christ.
The Holy Spirit–the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Truth–is the intermediary between man and Christ, working for their deification and revelation as sons of God. So it was only natural that Jesus and the apostles had but little regard for theological concepts. Their focus was on the life of Christ in the Holy Spirit within every individual Christian–and needing no supervision or authorization by an external religio-political structure called a Church. The Church–the Ecclesia, the called-forth ones–of Christ is the living body of his disciples, living in and by the Holy Spirit.
And how do Jesus’ disciples live in and by the Holy Spirit? Through the life-giving and life-sustaining Sacraments of Christ. The Christian life is a sacramental life, a life in Christ dependent on none but Christ and the good will of the disciple. The Sacraments themselves are original Christianity: Christian discipleship. The Lord Jesus came to earth to bring Life through the Sacraments. Those who live that life constitute his living Church. As Saint Peter assures us: “Ye also, as lively [living]stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” I Peter 2:5). This is the Church of Christ.
The Lord Jesus told his disciples–and through them all of us: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). This is not meant in an abstract way, but in a very concrete manner. He accomplishes this through the divine Sacraments, the rituals by means of which he infuses his Life and Consciousness into us as the leaven of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:33). For he is speaking literally when he says: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.“ (Revelation 3:20, 21). And: “I will love him, and will manifest myself to him…and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:21, 23), so that it can be said of us as it was said of him: “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). This is an ideal far beyond present-day “orthodox” Christianity, so much so that they denounce it as heresy and “of the devil.” But it is nonetheless the ideal and intention of Christ Jesus for us. No wonder that Saint Paul wrote: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (I Corinthians 2:9).
Purpose and power of the Sacraments
Because the authentic teachings of Jesus in their original integrity have been progressively either lost or deliberately rejected by state-supported churches over the last eighteen centuries, the Sacraments of Christ have been reduced to “mysteries” that must be approached only by “faith” and “devotion.” But this approach cannot be supported by the apostolic teaching. Here is the original teaching regarding the purpose and power (effects) of the Sacraments:
The Sacraments recreate us, not merely purify or make us somehow acceptable to God. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17). “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” (Galatians 6:15). Ktisis, the word translated “creature,” in modern English should be “creation.”
The Sacraments are intended to transmute us from human into the sons of God, as the previous citation from Romans indicates. This is what it means to be a new creation. This cannot be done by “faith,” “obedience,” or anything on our side. Only God does this by means of the Sacraments when they are rightly administered by those with divine authority and empowerment to those who have made themselves worthy (i.e., capable) of their reception. The four essentials for effective reception of the Sacraments are: 1) a right administrator; 2) a right form of administration; 3) the right elements of which the Sacraments consist; 4) a right recipient.
Ktisis also means “building.” There is a lot of talk at this time about “genetic engineering,” but Jesus long ago engaged in the engineering of spiritual genetics and passed on to his disciples the “power to become the sons of God” in the Sacraments (John 1:12). Ktisis further means “institution” or “ordinance,” underlining the fact that the Sacraments are actions that occur on the physical as well as the spiritual level, as essential requirements for those who aspire to be true disciples of Jesus Christ.
Ktisis comes from the root words ktizdo and ktaomai which mean to make a thing one’s own, to claim or acquire something. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:10), as Saint Paul said. The idea is that through the Sacraments we become God’s living sons. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him” (I John 3:2), fully recreated through the Sacraments and sustained through continual participation in the sacramental life, the life in Christ. This has nothing to do with the feeble condition of being a Christian in the standard sense, including within the exoteric “sacramental” churches.
The Sacraments bring us into living, conscious contact with Christ Jesus to such a degree that we become identified with him and through him with God. “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High” (Psalms 82:6). “Ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us…. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one…that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:21-23, 26). I am the vine, ye are the branches” (John 15:5). The branches are the vine. A distinction can be made, but essentially they are the same. Only a yogi can understand this. “Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you?” (II Corinthians 13:5).
The Sacraments are the power of divine transmutation into “Other Christs,” for the word “Christian” literally means “little Christs.” Saint Paul refers to “them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30). “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26, 27). “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). We are intended to truthfully say with Saint Paul: “For to me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). Jesus proclaimed himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5), but he also said to his disciples: “Ye are the light of the world” (Matthew 4:14). Satan said: “Ye shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:5), but Jesus says: “Ye are gods” (John 10:34).
“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). “Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). “After God” means that God is the divine archetype whose image we are to bear as sons of God, having “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him,” for “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:10, 11). “For your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:10).
Who is Christ?
Throughout the various sacramental rites we encounter the words: “Through Christ our Lord.” Christos, the anointed one, is the Greek translation of “Messiah.” It refers to the “oil” of divine blessing and the radiance of one whose countenance has been so anointed. In Jewish mysticism, Messiah is the title of the highest level of consciousness. Anyone who has gone to that level and returned to the world is “Messiah.” So Christ has a twofold meaning: 1) the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, the personal, creator (Ishwara) aspect of God, and 2) one whose consciousness has been united to that Infinite Christ and become “a” Christ. This is very important, for just as there are many Buddhas there are many Christs. Within esoteric Christianity, by “Christ” we mean either God or Jesus of Nazareth who is totally one with God (Christ), and therefore himself a God, a Christ. But we also mean ourselves: we are all potential Christs, and the Sacraments of Christ impart the necessary elements for our Christing. “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).
The Aquarian Gospel
Because the four Gospels of the New Testament have been in use for two thousand years, often by great saints, they have a very real spiritual power. For that reason we read them in the Mass. But The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ by Levi Dowling–which I urge you to obtain and read carefully–presents a clear and exact picture of Jesus’ spiritual nature as an individual Christ within the Infinite Christ. There the important distinction between the Christ and a Christ is clearly set forth.
When Jesus was taken into Egypt to escape Herod, so was Saint John the Baptist. They lived in a settlement of the Essenes where Mary and Elizabeth were instructed in the teachings they were to give their sons later on when they would be old enough to comprehend them. They were told: “Your sons are set apart to lead men up to righteous thoughts, and words, and deeds; to make men know the sinfulness of sin; to lead them from the adoration of the lower self, and all illusive things, and make them conscious of the self that lives with Christ in God” (Aquarian Gospel 12:15, 16). Every one of us is a spark of divine light in the Ocean of Light that is Ishwara, the Lord, the Christ of God the Absolute, known in India as Brahman. Those who perfectly reflect the being and consciousness of Ishwara, the “Son of God,” are themselves Christs and sons of God.
Christ is said to be love for a very practical reason. The emotion we human beings call love is only a glimmer of that great force that is Universal Love: God. In The Holy Science, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri says that love is really the positive cosmic force or magnetic pull that draws all sentient beings upward on the evolutionary path to union with God. “The universal Love of which the sages speak is Christ. The greatest mystery of all times lies in the way that Christ lives in the heart. Christ cannot live in clammy dens of carnal things. The seven battles must be fought, the seven victories won before the carnal things, like fear, and self, emotions and desire, are put away. When this is done the Christ will take possession of the soul; the work is done, and man and God are one” (Aquarian Gospel 59:9-12). That is how Christ is the mediator, the reconciler, between God and humanity. Jesus, being a Christ, fills the same office, but we must not confuse the two. It does not honor Jesus to claim he is something he is not and to deny that he is what he is. In the Mass we must be aware which Christ is being spoken of in the prayers–and sometimes it is both together in spiritual union.
Regarding himself, Jesus said to Saint John the Baptist: “The multitudes are ready for the words of life, and I come to be made known by you to all the world, as prophet of the Triune God, and as the chosen one to manifest the Christ to men” (Aquarian Gospel 64:10). And later to a large group of people: “Men call me Christ, and God has recognized the name; but Christ is not a man. The Christ is universal love, and Love is king. This Jesus is but man who has been fitted by temptations overcome, by trials multiform, to be the temple through which Christ can manifest to men. Then hear, you men of Israel, hear! Look not upon the flesh; it is not king. Look to the Christ within, who shall be formed in every one of you, as he is formed in me” (Aquarian Gospel 68:11-13). “God has christed me to manifest eternal love” (Aquarian Gospel 69:13). “Every one may have this Christ dwell in his soul, as Christ dwells in my soul.…The man of God is pure in heart; he sees the king; he sees with eyes of soul: and when he rises to the plane of Christine consciousness, he knows that he himself is king, is love, is Christ, and so is son of God” (Aquarian Gospel 71:7, 15, 16). We are Christians for this very purpose: to become Christs exactly as did Jesus.
Saint John the Baptist said this about Christ and Jesus: “Christ is the king of righteousness; Christ is the love of God; yea, he is God; one of the holy persons of the Triune God. Christ lives in every heart of purity. Now, Jesus who is preaching at the Jordan ford, has been subjected to the hardest tests of human life, and he has conquered all the appetites and passions of the carnal man, and by the highest court of heaven, has been declared a man of such superior purity and holiness that he can demonstrate the presence of the Christ on earth. Lo, love divine, which is the Christ, abides in him, and he is pattern for the race. And every man can see in him what every man will be when he has conquered all the passions of the selfish self. In water I have washed the bodies of the people who have turned from sin, symbolic of the cleansing of the soul; but Jesus bathes for ever in the living waters of the Holy Breath [Holy Spirit]. And Jesus comes to bring the savior of the world to men; Love is the savior of the world. And all who put their trust in Christ, and follow Jesus as a pattern and a guide, have everlasting life. But they who do not trust the Christ, and will not purify their hearts so that the Christ can dwell within, can never enter life” (Aquarian Gospel 79:8-18).
Christ leads us to Jesus and Jesus leads us to Christ. So when we pray: “Through Christ our Lord,” we mean both the eternal Christ and Jesus the Christ. For they cannot be separated, just as we and God are one, though there is a distinction between us.
Dare to be a Christian–a Christ
When we read all the foregoing, how can we help but wonder where all the much-vaunted “literal interpretation of scripture” is to be found in the various churches? For these citations are to be taken literally, not in some feeble interpretation that is nothing more than an excuse or a refusal to dare to be a Christian–a Christ. It is pointless to “believe in” Christ and not in what he says. God draws us into union with Him through the Sacraments of Christ, for “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). The Sacraments have two purposes: Life and Living. They impart to us the Life of Christ and they enable us to live that Life.
The errors of exoteric Christianity have many roots, one of which is complete ignorance of how human beings are constituted. Western Christianity believes that a human being consists of a completely non-material immortal spirit in a totally material mortal body, and that they constantly fight with one another, implacably, just as in their mythology God and his supposed nemesis, the Devil, are in perpetual conflict. Since their God is never at peace, it is no wonder that they never are, either. Actually the defects of exoteric Christians are attributed to their God–for after all, are they not created in his image?
The authentic Christian teaching is that humans are threefold, being images of the Trinity. A human being is made up of a spirit and a body, certainly, but there is a third component that is of paramount significance: a psychic level that links the material and the spiritual and enables the material and the spiritual to communicate. This psyche includes the mind, intellect and will, and is formed of subtle astral and causal energies. If a religion does not directly deal with all three levels it is incompetent and can do no lasting good, much less lead to the divination of the individual unless they have been greatly evolved in previous lives in traditions that had knowledge of these things.
The Yogic Sacraments
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant” said Saint Paul (I Corinthians 12:1). Unfortunately, this is not the perspective of modern Churchianity which either claims they are nothing more than symbols or that the Sacraments are mysteries that cannot be fathomed, and that it is wrong to try to understand them. Long before horror movies ground out the cliché about “there are some things man is not meant to know…” in various permutations, official theology did the same in relation to just about every aspect of Jesus’ teachings and their distortion of those teachings. Certainly they “held the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18), to serve their own ends, one of which was to keep people ignorant, unquestioning and obedient. Consequently every aspect of Christianity was deformed to conform with their aberrant outlook. Although in some churches the Apostolic Succession was mechanically preserved, the sacramental forms were also deformed, sometimes almost rendering them inoperative (invalid) and almost always implying erroneous understanding of their nature and purpose. In this way truth was mixed with error. The fundamental cause of this was the loss of contact with the roots of Jesus’ Gospel: the wisdom of the Far East.
It is a historically proven fact that Jesus spent most of his life in India before beginning his ministry in Israel as a teacher of the Eternal Dharma, that he returned to India after his resurrection and lived the rest of his life in the Himalayan regions except for a few visits to the Apostle Thomas in the south of India. (See The Christ of India.) As a priest of the Saint Thomas Christian (Malankara Orthodox) Church of India once remarked to me: “You cannot understand the teachings of Jesus if you do not know the scriptures of India.”
The Yoga of the Sacraments
As said in the beginning of this chapter, Yoga is anything that joins or unites. In this sense the Christian sacramental system is perhaps the only real yoga indigenous to the West. Its purpose is the uniting of human consciousness with Divine Consciousness. This is possible because rightly constructed rituals can be mechanisms or devices for the production and imparting of spiritual energies–not in a hit or miss manner or dependent on either emotional or intellectual factors, but precisely as tools of spiritual science. The Sacraments are rituals that powerfully affect the participants and recipients, moving them into a completely other psychic dimension, restoring their inner bodies to the original pattern and infusing them with the highest consciousness to “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). The Sacraments, especially the Mass, when supported and furthered by the practice of meditation, open unlimited possibilities in the spirit, for they open the door to Christhood.
Chapters in Yoga of the Sacraments
~God Is Love~