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The Teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda and Wallace Black Elk

Expository critical essays in literary, political, historical, philosophical, and spiritual topics remain part of my literary toolkit.

Paramahansa Yogananda

Introduction: Yoga Is Science Based

Paramahansa Yogananda tells us to make our meditation seats our scientific laboratories. He demonstrates time and again that the yoga techniques he teaches are based on science, not wishful thinking, and not imagination. The late Wallace Black Elk was a spiritual leader of the Lakotas. In The Sacred Ways of the Lakota, Wallace Black Elk explains the nature of his religious practices. The remarkable parallels between Chanunpa, as Wallace refers to his spirituality, and yoga, the scientific techniques offered by Paramahansa Yogananda, demonstrate the universal bond that ties all authentic religions together. The five great world religions all have common features, designating that the purpose of all religions remains the same.

Paramahansa Yogananda and Wallace Black Elk have explained in modern terms basic spiritual concepts that have greatly enlightened many students intellectually. However, those great spiritual leaders have also provided spiritual hope in a world that in its post-Darwinian state has been designated a spiritual waste land by many thinkers, poets and other artists, and even fundamentalist religionists.

Wallace Black Elk

Yoga and Chanunpa: Spiritual Similarities

Wallace Black Elk and Paramahansa Yogananda have contributed to contemporary understanding of their own cultures and religious philosophies, and their explanations reveal their similarities. Spiritual concepts are always made specific by use of metaphor, and as in understanding poetry, to understand religious concepts, one must understand the metaphor.

According to Paramahansa Yogananda, all religions serve the same purpose—to lead one back to one's Divine Origin through soul awareness. The differences that seem to split religions from one another lie in the use of different metaphors that portray concepts and the different names for the Divine.

A common misunderstanding of Hinduism emerges from the many Hindu names for the Deity. But instead of actually signifying different Gods, the names merely signify different aspects of the one God. Hinduism is monotheistic, as Christianity, Islam, and all other authentic religions are.

Altar as Metaphor

The central metaphor of all religions is the altar, the place of worship. In yoga, the altar is the spine, which is the original altar. In Lakota, the altar is also the spine, which is represented metaphorically by the sacred pipe, or peace pipe. Lame Deer, Lakota holy man, in Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions avers: "The pipe—that's us. Its stem is our body, our spine."

The purpose of yoga practice is to magnetize the spine; Paramahansa Yogananda says, "In deep meditation, the first experience of Spirit is on the altar of the spine." (my emphasis)

Body Purification

Another similarity that yoga shares with Chanunpa is the purification of the body. The yoga techniques taught by Paramahansa Yogananda begin with exercises, "Energization Exercises," to help purify and recharge the body:

The Energization Exercises induce calmness and health and energy. They purify the blood stream and recharge every cell with cosmic energy.

The ceremony of the sweat lodge of the Lakota serves to help the body rid itself of poisons, just as the exercises of yoga also help purify the body:

[The sweat lodge] is a place of purification, the place where the Indians meet to express their deepest hearts in prayer. And at the same time, it’s a place of bodily purification, a Native American sauna. So the purification is both bodily and spiritual.

Both procedures have the same purpose, to get the body ready for more advanced spiritual practices. Brother Ritananda has explained the purpose of those exercises:

The Energization Exercises help us get conscious control over the life force. They also harmonize the life force and undo any energy knots in the body. They help us identify with who we truly are - the soul. In working with will and energy in the exercises it helps us realize we are them - not the body.

Honoring the Spiritual Leader

About the yogic techniques taught by Paramahansa Yogananda, Sri Daya Mata, who served a president of Self-Realization Fellowship for over 50 years, has remarked: "The greatest way to honour the Guru is to practice his techniques."

Before each yogic technique, the devotee is reminded to begin each practice with a prayer. The sacred pipe ceremony of Chanunpa also includes prayer at each step.

Paramahansa Yogananda's Teachings Complete

The yoga techniques of Paramahansa Yogananda offer a complete program for purifying body and mind, preparing them to enter the higher states of meditation. And while Wallace Black Elk does not offer publicly a complete, scientific program, he does offer the world much information about his spiritual practices that can be easily compared to the yogic science.

When thinkers find two seemingly disparate spiritual leaders expounding ideas that are similar, they likely become more convinced of the efficacy of both. Those thinkers are also more likely to understand that it is the use of different metaphors that has, from the beginning, continued to split religions off from one another.

(Note: Readers who are interested in learning more about the teachings of Wallace Black Elk may find this volume useful: Wallace Black: The Sacred Ways of the Lakota. And for a useful introduction to the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, see his world-renowned Autobiography of a Yogi.)


© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes

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