Welcome to the Yoga Church Sunday Sermons.
January 27, 2019
This week we’re exploring the practice of Three Essential Things.
So obviously, I decided to cover 3 rocks in gold leaf.
Last week’s sermon was heavy AND optimistic. It reminded us that suffering is real, but we’re not stuck in our suffering. We can take steps to move our lives and our world in a different direction.
This week we explore those steps.
We’re diving into the practice of Kriya Yoga (yoga in action), which is a practice to help us weaken the causes of suffering (to weaken our ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, and fear).
Kriya Yoga is a 3-part practice and so I decided to weave in a bit of Celtic Spirituality (the practice of three essential things).
It’s a good one.
Once you’ve had a chance to watch, be sure to share your reflections with us in the comments below (specifically I’d like to know what 3 essential things you hold close. It would be amazing to see several lists in relationship to one another!).
To Weaken the Causes of Suffering (Kriya Yoga)
As we stand here, still at the beginning of a New Year, let’s take a moment to ponder how much energy we spend acting from our ego-self—how much energy we spend trying to control how the world perceives us. I invite you to notice how much energy you spend chasing after what your ego likes. And how much energy you spend avoiding what your ego doesn’t like. And, of course, to pay attention to how many of your actions are rooted in fear. When you add it all up, how much pain do we cause ourselves? How much of our personal suffering—our stuckness—is caused by our own habits of thought, feeling, and behavior? So what do we do?
I’ve recently been reading a book on Celtic spiritual practices. The last practice in the book is “The Practice of Three Essential Things.” Apparently the number three is sacred in the Celtic tradition and the Celtic saints would often express their desires and commitments in sets of three. For example Irish St. Ita was said to focus on faith, simplicity, and generosity. And when he was dying, dessert father Abba Benjamin said: Be joyful at all times, pray without ceasing, and give thanks for all things. And, of course, we know the trinity expresses three natures of God as Source, Incarnation, and Spirit.
The practice of three essential things can help us discern what’s most important as we work to move away from the habits that keep us stuck and in pain—as we work to move through life with a greater sense of intention. Of course, there’s no such thing as the perfect three things. It’s up to each one of us to craft our own list. But the number three is important. As the author of the book, Christine Valters Paintner, writes:
“I love that they come in threes as three is a number which helps us break past dualities. We tend to view life in either/or, black/white dichotomies. When the third possibility enters we are invited to hold the complexity and mystery of life and realize that life is so much vaster.”
Reading through this practice I pondered my own connection to sets of threes and a few things came to mind. First, one of my favorites biblical quotes from the prophet Micah:
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
And second, which will be the focus of our sermon this morning, is the practice of Kriya Yoga—or yoga in action. Kriya Yoga consists of (you guessed it) three parts! The yoga sutras teach us that these three essential things can weaken the causes of suffering in our lives—can weaken our ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, and fear.
The first aspect of kriya yoga is tapas, a sanskrit word that refers to heat. Tapas is the practice of self-discipline and effort. It’s the practice of building enough internal heat to burn off any impurities that exist within our system. It’s the practice of building enough internal power that we can stay strong in the commitments we make.
The second aspect is svadhyaya, which is a concept we explored in a sermon last month. It refers to study. Svadhyaya is the practice of self-study. It’s the practice of understanding where we come from and who we are. It’s the practice of working to see ourselves clearly and honestly.
The third aspect is Ishvara-pranidhana, which is actually two words—Lord and dedication. It’s important here to understand that yoga is not a religion and Ishvara is not a sectarian Creator God that you are being asked to believe in. Ishvara is said to be a special Self, one that exists beyond the bounds of space and time. Ishvara-pranidhana is the practice of trying to understand how we fit in the cosmos. It’s about surrendering our ego and understanding our self as part of a much larger Self. It’s the practice of dedicating all our actions to something higher than ourselves.
Taken together, these three essential things—self-discipline, self-study, and self-surrender—compose the practice of yoga in action.
Echoing the quote I read from Christine Valters Paintner about the power of three, I love that there are three aspects in Kriya Yoga. It’s a really important piece of why this practice is so powerful. Without all three aspects, we could easily fall out of balance. If it was only about self-study, we could become utterly self-absorbed and action-less. If it were all about self-discipline we could become dangerous, causing harm to ourselves and others through our extremism. If it were all about self-surrender we could become utter victims to life, taking zero responsibility for anything that happened to us. When we take two at a time, we still get into trouble. If it were only about self-study and discipline, we could fall into the trap of thinking we had to do everything on our own. If it were only about self-study and surrender, we could fall into the trap of thinking that everything should be done for us. The power of Kriya Yoga is found in its triune nature. These three things, practiced together, keep us equally balanced in responsibility, clarity, and humility.
What would happen if we made the commitment this year to remember our true identity—to remember that aspect of ourself that is so much greater than our ego, than our likes and dislikes, than our fear?
As we move deeper into the New Year, I invite you to take up this three part practice of kriya yoga—this practice said to weaken the causes of suffering in our lives. Be intentional. Pay attention. Notice the areas of your life that need more clarity. And through honest self-reflection, search out where self-discipline in needed and where self-surrender is needed.
We don’t have to remain stuck. We don’t have to live at the whims of our ego-self. We can decide to connect with, to remember—and to act from—what’s most essential in our lives.
- What do you think about the practice of three essential things? Can you think of a triad that helps you stay connected with what matters most to you?
- Do you see areas in your life where you’re living in an either/or, black/white dichotomy? How could the situation shift if you added a third option into the mix?
- What areas of your life need more reflection and awareness? More clarity? (svadhyaya)
- What areas of your life need more discipline and effort? (tapas)
- What areas of your life need more support, surrender, humility, and grace? (ishvarapranidhana)
- How many of your actions are rooted in ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, and fear?
We all benefit from the wisdom of spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation. What did this week’s sermon and reflection questions spark in you?