After explaining to Arjuna the nature of the Self and why he need not fear death or defeat in battle, Krishna says:
You have heard the intellectual explanation of Sankhya, Arjuna; now listen to the principles of yoga. By practicing these you can break through the bonds of karma. On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear. (BG 2:39-40)
There is theory, and there is practice: putting ideas into action.
The word “yoga” is related to the word “yoke.” It means union or joining, and it is a path of practices designed to free the Self and help it discover its union with ultimate reality. When we hear “yoga” in the U.S., we typically think of hatha yoga, the physical practice of breathing, stretching, and meditation. Krishna will go on to describe several different forms of yoga
One etymology of “religion” is related to the Latin religare, “to bind fast,” as in the word “ligament.” Both point to the idea that there is a connection between the human and the divine, and that our practice involves some form of tying together or binding. (It is important to note, especially for anxious evangelical Christians, that hatha yoga is not a religion, any more than prayer or silence or exercise is a religion. It is a practice.)
The Jewish sages also referred to Torah teachings as a yoke. One “takes the yoke of the mitzvot [commandments]” by following them—by putting them into practice. The doctrines and metaphysics of the religion take a backseat to the practice.
One Jesus-saying in particular comes strongly to mind:
Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30, CEB)
What do we make of this? We generally praise heroic faith and people who do hard things for noble causes. After all, Jesus told us to “take up our cross” and follow him (Luke 9:23). At the same time, he says his yoke is not difficult.
It hearkens back to the Bible Jesus was raised on:
This commandment that I’m giving you right now is definitely not too difficult for you. It isn’t unreachable. It isn’t up in heaven somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will go up for us to heaven and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?” Nor is it across the ocean somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the ocean for us and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?” Not at all! The word is very close to you. It’s in your mouth and in your heart, waiting for you to do it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14, CEB)
The regular practice of doing something small, creating a habit that shapes the way we experience the world, is a light yoke that seems too simple to work. And when we fail at doing it, we feel guilty, or brow beat ourselves about what we “should” do. But on this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure.
Even a little effort begins huge transformations. This is the attitude that actually enables change. It is incredibly difficult to change the world, because it is incredibly difficult to change ourselves. But we can change one tiny thing: we can show up. We can listen. And when we do, we find that what we are seeking is much closer than we thought.
Breath Closer Than My Breath, I long to transform myself and the world. Help me to find that transformation in you. Put your light yoke upon me, so that I may breathe, rest, and change.