Human beings have an innate desire and perhaps need of ritual. I provide ritual in my yoga class-outside of any religious context-and sate my own need for ritual in the Catholic Mass. Yes, this article is about religion, so if you are offended in any way please stop reading. I won’t hold it against you. I intend this to be the first article in a series.
In the mass, according to the Vatican II Council Fathers, Christ is present in four ways, as this article so articulately states it (I highly recommend both of Louie Verecchio’s articles on St. John Chrysostom’s Homily on the Holy Pentacost for any Catholics interested in learning more about the liturgy and the upcoming changes). He is present in the scriptures, congregation, in the priest, who acts in persona Christi at the consecration, and of course, in a very special way, in the Eucharist itself. During the Mass at key moments the priest will say “the Lord be with you,” to which the faithful reply “and also with you” or “and with your spirit,” more accurately. Beginning in 2011 or 2012, congregations in the United States will go back to saying “and with your spirit.” The congregation and the priest acknowledge that the same Spirit (as noted in the linked article, St. John Chrysostom plays with the relationship between “spirit,” lower case, and “Spirit,” as in the Holy Spirit) is in all present.
This reminds me very much of the Indian word Namaste, which I find myself saying often in my yoga classes. It means “the spirit in me bows to the spirit in you,” or “the Divine in me acknowledges the Divine in you.” Yoga sprang up in the Indus Valley millennia ago in an essentially Hindu context, but it can be seen as the philosophy that underpins Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism-to varying degrees respectively, of course. To the Hindu, all beings share the same Spirit-Atman, and at Enlightenment the individual soul is reunited to the universal Atman. The “divine” that is meant in the term Namaste refers to Brahman, a concept that is too overwhelming to dive into in this brief article. Suffice it to say Brahman, in simplest terms, can be called “God.” The profound truth one supposedly understands at Enlightenment is that Atman is Brahman.
Now, of course, I’ve already declared myself a Catholic and as such do not subscribe to the belief in Atman, at least as Hindus understand it. Even as a yoga teacher, I do not feel the need to believe this, even if many of my students do. As a Catholic, I can see similarities and parallels between my religion and Hinduism that make me feel that yoga can be a philosophy for people like me as well. For instance, at the Eucharist, God joins himself physically to me. I can in a real sense say that “God is in me.” Any yogi, regardless of religion, would say the same thing. When I say “Namaste” to my class, I do not mean that I acknowledge that my students and I in any sense “share” a soul, but I acknowledge that they, like me, have a soul. We’re made of the same “stuff.” I acknowledge that there is something divine in them (a “divine spark” if you want to bring Kabbalah into this) that my own soul can see, and I bow before that divine spark in awe and humility. Namaste.