Driven by revered yogic practitioners such as Swami Vivekananda and Paramahansa Yogananda, the conversation on was Jesus a yogi sparks a curious exploration of the overlap between yogic philosophy and mystical Christianity.
Nowadays, there is a popularized and commonly used definition of yogi: those who practice yoga consistently with great effort, with a focus on asanas.
In casual settings, we also tend to use ‘yogi’ as a term of endearment or respect for individuals involved in spirituality or advanced in asana practice.
However, while important, asana practice is just one aspect of the ancient yogic path, which covers an entire way of life.
Jesus, although surely very friendly and respected by millions, hasn’t been recognized biblically for asana practice. So could he really be a yogi?
To correctly enquire was Jesus a yogi, we need to know the deeper, spiritual meaning behind the title. Understanding the hallmarks of a true yogi in their internal state, and external action at the level of body, mind and soul will help us answer the question.
So in this article, we’ll take a look at:
- What is a yogi
- The yogic path
- Samadhi and Christianity
- Qualities of a yogi: karma, jnana, bhakti
- Jesus as a yogi
- Jesus as a Messenger
What Is A Yogi?
So firstly, what is a true practicing yogi?
B.K.S. Iyengar tells us that “Yoga means union. The union of the individual soul with the Universal Spirit is yoga.”Paramhansa Yogananda stated that a yogi follows a precise, incremental process to cultivate discipline in both the body and mind, with the ultimate goal of freeing the soul.
Similarly, Sadhguru tells us: “To be a yogi means to live without the coffins that people build around themselves. Yoga means union. It means you have breached the boundaries of the physical and have the ability to touch and experience everything in the universe.”
And according to Swami Kriyananda, the difference between a yogi and an ordinary person is accepting with equanimity all circumstances.
With Jesus Christ in mind, let’s take a look at some perspectives.
What Is A Yogi Through The Vedic Perspective?
Through a Vedic lens, a true yogi walks a path that manifests a deepening of an introspective lifestyle, moving through the stages of a beginner, householder, hermit, and then monk.
On top of this, the Yoga-Bhashya (the oldest commentary on the Yoga Sutras) explains a similar 4 stages of a true yogi: beginner, honeyed, illuminated, and transcended.
We can see the first lens is applicable to a yogi’s lifestyle, and the second is applicable to the yogi’s state.
Interestingly, we could say that all true yogis are en route to or have transcended, however not all yogis go more hermit-like and introverted as an absolute.
Ramana Maharshi for example, in his self-realization and experience of the ultimate reality, spent a lot of time mute. However, he also wrote poems, held lectures on self-enquiry, and at times in his life entertained devotees.
Jesus Christ too, of course, has been labeled as a Messenger, which we’ll touch upon below. Not exactly a hermit-like title!
What Is A Yogi Through The Bhagavad Gita Perspective?
The Bhagavad Gita gives us a comprehensive view on the liberated state of a true yogi.
The Yoga Sutras Perspective: The Path and Goal of a Yogi
An ancient core text of the yogic path the ‘Yoga Sutras’ was written by Patanjali, a Hindu scholar shrouded in mystery.
The Yoga Sutras act as a framework of bodily, mental and spiritual action for a yogi. Out of the 5 volumes, here are 3 that resonate with Jesus Christ:
#1: Samadhi Pada – Contemplation:
In contemplation of the reality within, a yogi is one who manifests intellectual perception of the truth – and with this understanding of the truth develops non-attachment to worldly desire.
#2: Sadhana Pada – Practice:
In practice of the yogic path, Patanjali outlined practical instruction, in which a mastery of the mind, body and soul takes place for someone to become a yogi. This practice entails comprehensive purification and divine attunement.
Specifically, the Yoga Sutras here established the Eight Limbs of Yoga, a prescription of practice.
An omission of the New Testament was what Jesus got up to generally between 12-30, known as the unknown years. For this reason, unlike modern yogis, there is minimal documentation on what Jesus’ private practice for self-realization and samadhi may have been.
We can certainly infer though that he meditated (limbs 5-8). One of the stories in the Bible tells us of when he went into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights and prayed. Could this prayer be a Christian description of meditation? A form of bhakti yoga?
#3: Vibhuti Pada: Supernatural Ability:
Through contemplation and practice, the Sutras say a yogi attains supernatural abilities. When we think of Christ, this is certainly familiar. The yogic literature translates to supernatural ability – in the Bible it is read as miracles.
This yogic path has an ultimate goal: the 8th limb of samadhi. Through these disciplines, with a culmination in meditation (sense withdrawal, concentration, and absorption), the omniscience of cosmic awareness may become known.
Samadhi (Divine Union) Through A Christian Lens
A widely accepted view of finding God animate in Jesus, or more specifically, finding the manifestation of God in humanity, is that he was an incarnation of a divine sentience that resembled human form. He acted as a conduit or transmitter of the actual voice and word of God.
However, a deeper alternate view suggests that a holy person, such as Christ, is actually someone with enlightened self-knowledge. He has obtained clarity of the inner God-consciousness, divine consciousness, or Great Reality that is already within him and within all of us.
In other words, Jesus achieved samadhi.
Let’s take a look at what Christian saints have to say about this enlightened yogi state:
- “The soul, when purified, abides entirely in God; its being is God.” – St. Catherine of Genoa
- “The soul must wholly lose all human knowledge and all human feelings, in order to receive in fullness divine knowledge and divine feelings.” – St. John of the Cross
- “I am That I am; thou art that which is not.” – St. Catherine of Sienna
- “Outside of God nothing has any existence at all.” – St. Veronica Giuliani
- “The soul is entirely transformed into the likeness of its Creator – it seems more God than soul.” – St. Teresa of Avila
These saintly people sincerely suggest a oneness with God, which has deep connotations with the highest samadhi, as known by true yogis:
“Thou art That,” say the Indian scriptures – “Aham brahm asmi (I am Brahman).”
Fascinatingly, you can also ascribe this common theme to other spiritual masters, be it Muhammed, Ramana Maharshi or The Buddha. Yogis in their own sense, in their own traditions and terminology.
So, with the myriad descriptions of a true yogi, with these actions culminating in a state of samadhi and Christ-consciousness, what output does a yogi generate? How do they exist in the world?
Qualities Of A Yogi According to the Bhagavad Gita
In the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna describes the yogi as renunciant – someone living without desire or intention. With their union with the divine, it’s outlined that a yogi’s output in the world is as such:
- In samadhi, they are free from excitement, impatience, fear and distress and cultivate equanimity (jnana yogi)
- They live without judgment in devotion to God (bhakti yogi)
- They help others without expectation, and they teach others religious knowledge out of compassion and love (karma yogi)
Now let’s take a look at whether Jesus held these yogic qualities.
Was Jesus A Yogi According to Jnana, Bhakti, & Karma yoga
Was Jesus A Jnana Yogi?
“I and my Father are One.” (John 10:30). We can interpret here Jesus’ recognition of the non-dual nature of reality, and the divine union with God, or infinite consciousness. A jnana yogi says “I am He”, “I am Brahman”.
By the actions laid out by the Yoga Sutras: contemplation, practice, restraint, observance and meditation, it’s possible Jesus Christ was a yogi in the sense of jnana.
Was Jesus A Bhakti Yogi?
We have all heard of Christ’s crucifixion. In extreme pain, Jesus cried out “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
By this, Jesus proved that like other yogis, his spirit was completely emancipated from the bondage of self. This sorrow and agony at the time of his death, paired with self-surrender and compassion could be seen as conclusive proof that he was a human being with the divine qualities of a true bhakti yogi.
S. N. Goenka made a beautiful statement on Jesus Christ, explaining that the true testament of his divine state during his crucifixion was that he was only full of love and compassion in spite of receiving only hatred and violence.
“Is there any doubt he was the son of God? Of course he was the son of God. After all, what is God? Truth is God. Love is God. Compassion is God. Purity is God.”S.N. Goenka
Was Jesus A Karma Yogi?
Jesus Christ devoted his entire life, and death to help others. He labored neither with desire for fame, or worldly prosperity. Unattached to the fruit of his actions and laying out spiritual realization for the betterment of humankind, we can certainly qualify him as a karma yogi.
Jesus Christ himself imparted the knowledge of karma: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
So, with everything we’ve discussed, Jesus Christ as a human being can be seen as a transcended yogi with a message.
Not Just A Yogi, But A Messenger
Yogis, with their full enlightenment, tend to pass us teachings. Instructions for union with God.
To draw a parallel, The Buddha could also be seen as a yogi, who with full enlightenment also had a message to deliver to humanity. Both the Buddha and Jesus Christ, with their yogic observances, taught a prescription of self-enquiry, and design for living that was moral, compassionate, and pure.
Interestingly though, there is a significant difference between these two spiritual yogis.
Osho lectured that fully enlightened souls have an arc in their paths in which their early stage of life is like a fiery flame, where they first enter that inner dimension of realization. This makes their words and impact revolutionary. As the fully enlightened soul grows, there is an inner cooling and their revolutionary fervor is lost.
The Buddha, with his contemplation and practice had his full integration with the divine at 35, and then went on to teach others the path for 45 years.
Osho: “Jesus did not have this opportunity. He was crucified while he was still a revolutionary and he died, as far as Christianity is concerned, at the age of thirty-three. If you compare Buddha’s sayings with those of Jesus there is a clearcut difference. Jesus’ sayings look like those of a young man — hot. Buddha’s early sayings were also like this, but he was not crucified for them.”
In Summary- Was Jesus A Yogi?
In summary, using the fundamental principle of a yogi as ‘one who has had union with the divine’, you could certainly maintain that Jesus was a yogi. And ultimately, divine truth is divine truth, no matter its name or the religious packaging it’s delivered in.
And to great saints and yogis, the yogic expounding of Jesus Christ was perfectly clear:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
If you’re interested in learning more about other yogis and their qualities, why not read these articles: