Training the Ego and Releasing the Spirit

David Rush


There is a dancing tension in every discipline of awareness, regardless of the tradition from which it arises. It came to my attention most vividly recently as I was contemplating some of the differences I felt between practicing Protestant dharma and western Yoga dharma. To be sure, both practices incorporate both endpoints of the tension, but the way I have experiencd them shows a contrast that I think is noteworthy.

Protestant dharma is deeply invested in training the ego (in all of its manifestations). This is easily seen in its most common and recognized practice: church attendance. Exactly what Chrisitans are doing when they go to church is a large topic, but the centerpiece is generally teaching, be it factual, doctrinal, moral, social, or political. The sermon is essentially an appeal to the mind, with the implicit assumption that the spiritual ideas presented are keys to action that will establish a better world. Membership in the community is determined by how well you implement that “christian” action.

Western Yoga dharma is different in almost every way. Its most common practice is asana, and joining the community really just means that you pay (or not) and show up. In much the same way that pastors and church leaders speculate and argue about what they are doinng when they do “church”, yoga teachers argue about the purpose of asana. However, they nearly all agree that, somehow, this physical training of the body will magically release people into a better understanding of the spiritual world.

Anyone who has read this far will recognize that I have only presented thumbnail sketches of the contrasting practices and their goals. But notice that both practices incorporate the notion of an inner and outer life. Both practices view the process of change as an essential part of life. Both practices assume a connection between the inner and outer life as essential to the process of change. But we see them working from opposite directions: the Protestant practice works from the inside, outwards; while the Yoga practice works from the outside, inwards.

I am not going to advocate one way as better than another. I have encountered these practices in a particular order in time and space, which makes it impossible to judge. But I have noticed that problems for the ego give rise to solutions in the spirit, just as much as spiritual connection leads to actions in the world. It is like the dance of yin and yang - each contains the seed of the other and cannot reach fulfillment without releasing its counterpart to new growth.

Om. Shanti.

This document was translated from LATEX by HEVEA.