I refer to the Irish Examiner article of Friday October 18, 2019, re: Bishop Cullinan.
I attended his talk on ‘commitment’ during the Youth2000 Roman Catholic retreat on August 17 this year, and very much appreciated both your association and the entire retreat itself.
It was refreshing to see many hundreds of Irish young people meditating on the rosary, attending enlivening lectures, and forming close loving bonds within the spiritual family of Christ.
My own wife, Yen, is a Roman Catholic from the Philippines, and she relished the entire event from beginning to end, as did I.
Referring to his recent comments on yoga and mindfulness suggesting they should not be taught in Catholic schools, we’d like to make some comments.
Of course, we respect that if the Church is the independent owner of a school (and paying the wages of the staff), you have a right to design your own curriculum.
For example in a recent issue (April 2019) of the Catholic Alive newspaper an article on page 13 mentioned that there are a growing number of successful, independent Catholic schools in France who do not get State funding, and so have much more freedom.
Perhaps this could be a way forward in Ireland? Our comments here are just on the general issue of yoga.
The essence of yoga is to “connect” with the supreme being.
From the Sanskrit root, “yuj” we have words like yoga and this has ended up in the English language as “yoke” and conjugal”. There are two primary yoga texts, the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga-sutras of Patanjali.
Yoga is a very generic term, as Krishna demonstrates in the Gita. Scholars comment that Krishna is aware that we all have different motivations and desires, so he keeps the teachings general.
The end goal of yoga is to develop pure love of God, bhakti (BG 6.47). God in the Sanskrit texts is shown in three features: Brahman, Param-atma and Bhagavan (Bhagavat Purana 1.2.11) Brahman is the divine as seen in the all-pervading energy and in Nature. This is the divine that one experiences in mindfulness.
Param-atma is the divine as seen by yogis. The yogis meditate on the divine accompanying each soul which is located —in a subtle sense — in the region of the heart.
And Bhagavan refers to the divine in a personal feature. For example, Jesus referred to “my father in heaven” and a “father” is person with whom one can have a personal loving relationship.
Krishna is a personal name, like Abba, Rama or Yahweh.
All three ways of seeing the Divine are valid, according to the Vedas (these are the texts of the “Hindus” although ‘Hindu’ itself is simply a new word — a new designation).
Sometimes in history supposed followers of God, whether in this religion or that religion, have done unholy things.
So there are other ways to connect with the Divine if our local “religion” seems to let us down, for the moment. Throughout history there have been many pretenders dressed up in robes, whether in saffron, crimson, black, or white colours.
For example, in 1870 a bogus yogi called Bishkishan was exposed by a predecessor guru of the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
This bhogi yogi was displaying tricks to get money, and having intimate relations with the wives of numerous followers.
But just because there are pretenders in one Faith path doesn’t necessarily mean we reject everything in that culture.
Modern yoga is a simplified version of one yoga path called hatha-yoga.
There are modern yogis like Radhanath Swami (India/USA), Sacinandana Swami (Germany) and Sivarama Swami (Canada/Hungary) who are teachers of the philosophy of yoga. Some people would say that many practitioners in the local gym or Parish hall are doing a basic type of hatha yoga with more of a focus on the physical than was traditionally explained, but it could be seen as good start in the right direction. We all have bodies, so appreciating and being mindful of our bodies, and watching what we put into our bodies (for example, wholesome vegetarian food) are aspects of sattva-guna, or the Mode of Goodness: a stepping stone towards the spiritual end-goal.
Mindfulness can be a useful tool for any spiritual practise. I’m personally using tips from the secular book Search Inside Yourself by Chade Meng-Tan in my own personal practise of chanting the Hare Krishna mantra.
And I share some of these tips on our spiritual retreats in County Fermanagh with the general public.
I would like to conclude in appreciation of the bishop’s sincere service to Lord Jesus Christ, and pray that I have not said any offending words here.
If it is permissible, a few of us would love to attend the wonderful Youth2000 event next year in order to be inspired by his association.
While writing these few words I tried to locate the notes I made during his lecture last August, but, sadly I couldn’t find them.
But the teachings and mood of the entire event went into my heart, and I appreciate that very much.
Hare Krishna Temple
Lake Isle Retreats
This reader's opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on 16 October 2019.