Worship for Sceptics
The steps in yoga, says Patajali’s Yoga Sütra, are:
That rules me out’, replies the sceptic; ‘one cannot believe to order. I don’t accept these things in the first place.
You are not asked to believe’, replies yoga, ‘it is suggested only that you experiment.’
Yoga makes its own experiments. It investigates consciousness directly, and does not depend on inferences from experiments on material events. It gives methods which can, and must, be tried. Without actual trial, yoga would be no more than a rather unlikely theory. A few things are assumed for a time, as working ideas, but they have to be experienced directly before they are finally taken as true.
One such assumption is that there is an all-powerful, unlimited, creator and controller, who projects himself in limited forms to help seekers to realize him. The forms may be human, such as the traditional forms of Kṛṣṇa, Christ, the Buddhas; or abstract, such as the order and upward progress in nature including human nature.
‘Yes, yes, yes’, interrupts the critic, ‘we have all heard this sort of thing. But where is the direct experimental evidence you promised?’
Yoga continues: ‘Here is the setting for one definite experiment. First, the principle. The supreme Spirit is all-pervading, and therefore also present in the depths of the heart and mind of man. While the heart is full of conflicting desires, hopes and fears and so on, the light of the Spirit within is obscured, as the bright sky is obscured by masses of storm clouds. Devotion and meditation directed to one of the divine forms will thin the veils, outer and inner. They become in places like the thin white clouds, and the supreme Spirit begins to be seen in the outer world, and finally within also. The yogin becomes more and more aware of the divine purpose, and the role he can play as part of it.
‘Now, the actual practice. It depends on the fact of resonance between the external forms of the Lord, and the Lord seated within the heart, as the texts say. The experimenter is asked to study a traditional text on one of the traditional forms. He should undertake to read it with attention at least 20 minutes every morning, in a quiet place.’
Let us suppose for instance, that the form chosen is Jesus, and the experimenter is reading the Fourth Gospel. If he is attentive, some unusual point in the text will strike him. The holy texts are full of such small riddles, as they seem. He must not pass over them: they are openings.
Take it that he has come to John 7.53: an incident in the Temple. The popular memory of this story is that the young woman was accused before Jesus of an offence punishable by stoning. He invented the inspired answer: ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’ And the accusers went away.
But that is only a part of the story. Here it is in the New English Bible translation:
At daybreak he appeared again in the temple, and all the people gathered round him. He had taken his seat and was engaged in teaching them when the doctors of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught committing adultery. Making her stand in the middle, they said to him, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. In the Law, Moses has laid down that such women are to be stoned. What do you say about it?’ They put the question as a test, hoping to frame a charge against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they continued to press their question, he sat up straight and said, ‘That one of you who is faultless shall throw the first stone.’ Then once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard what he said, one by one they went away, the eldest first; and Jesus was left alone with the woman still standing there. Jesus again sat up and said to the woman, ‘Where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She answered, ‘No one, sir.’ Jesus said, ‘Nor do I condemn you. You may go, and do not sin again.’
The practice would be to read this passage, visualizing the scene, and memorizing a sentence from the teaching given. He should look for the deeper meaning. Often when a holy text is read, a supposedly pious reader gives up thinking. ‘It is all very holy and doubtless means something exalting, but it is not for us to pry.’ In yoga however equal attention is focussed on just such things.
With this in mind, let us look at the story. Scholarship can tell us a few extra points, though not the central meaning. It can tell us for instance that Jesus would have been teaching in one of the courtyards of the Temple, quite likely in Solomon’s Portico, which is later named in John’s Gospel as a place where he taught. It also tells us that at this time of Passover, more than a quarter of a million pilgrims came to the Temple to make offerings. Their feet would have brought in a good deal of sand from the roads, so the ground of such courtyards would have been sandy
Again it tells us that this woman would have been a newly betrothed girl caught with a man, in violation of her solemn vows. He could make a break for it, but she had nowhere to go. She was brought before Jesus, apparently in the hope of trapping him with an awkward choice: ‘The Law of Moses says that such should be killed by stoning.’ Such a punishment was not too rare; Jesus himself was later saved from it only by a miracle.
Scholarship also tells us that the sentence: ‘That one of you who is faultless shall throw the first stone’, was not an invention of Jesus. If it had been, the effect might not have been so immediate. He was in this case, as in some others, skilfully putting together two texts from the Law. The accusers were quoting the Law to support their case, and now that very Law was turned on them. The two texts state, that the witnesses must be ‘of good character’, and ‘one of the witnesses shall throw the first stone’. Both come from Deuteronomy, the same book the accusers were quoting.
However all this does not explain the central point. What is that point?
Jesus, who was sitting, bent forward and wrote with his finger on the ground. This is the only place when the Gospels describe him as writing. Getting no reply, they pressed forward and asked him again. He straightened up, looked at them, and said, ‘That one of you who is faultless shall throw the first stone.’ Then he bent forward and wrote on the ground again.
These were scholars, and they are described as pressing forward round Jesus, so they would instinctively read what he had written in the sand of the Temple court. After the second writing, our text says only that they went out, the eldest first.
The rest of the story is well-known.
Now as an example of the yogic method of thinking about a text as well as just reading it: what did he write? He wrote twice, and after the second writing they went out. What was it in the sand, that made them go out, the eldest first?
And why did he not speak it? He did speak the words about the one without sin. So why did he not speak this too, whatever it was?
The Gospels have a number of such riddles; the sceptic is asked to notice them, and then try to solve them. A keen reader will have a little illumination when he solves one. To do so will produce a resonance from the Jesus in his own heart.
There have been a few attempts to solve this one, some of them trivial. For instance, it has been suggested that he was simply doodling on the ground, to show complete lack of interest in the proceedings. But he was not disinterested, for he spoke the two texts from the Law.
At the risk of weakening the force of inquiry, it may be mentioned that St Jerome proposed a much deeper solution. Even this explains only a part of the riddle. He says that Jesus listed their sins, point by point, on the ground. We know from several incidents in the Gospels that he could look at people and see their inmost heart. But in that case, why write it? Why not look at each one and say. ‘You have done this, and you have done that. So you are no true witnesses of good character. You cannot stone another when you are sinners yourselves’?
Why did he write, and why did he write twice, and why did the eldest go out first?
One who reads attentively the life of an avatar will come across such places. When one catches his mind, he should think about it. He should stop reading and think about it. Then he should re-read it slowly, visualize the scene, filling in the details sentence by sentence. He will find it easy to think about it in spare moments during the day. If after a week he has no answer, he goes on with the text, till another incident catches his attention.
After a month, the whole text may be changed. The Rāmāyana, the Bhagavad Gītā, some of the spiritual stories in the Masnavi of Rumi or the collections of Zen stories, are suitable texts for striking a spark.
If he persists, with the same interest that a short-wave enthusiast seeks for a distant station, there will be a stir within him. His experiment is beginning to give confirmation