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Theism, Atheism, Yoga and Fear

by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati

This article is written expressly for the benefit of
Yogis, Yoginis, or Mystics -- seekers of direct experience --
who find themselves at odds with either (or both) of the
two polarities of conservative religionists
or purely materialistic atheists.

The meaning of fear: Fear is defined as a feeling of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger. Though there may be many sources and effects of fear, there is a particular fear related specifically to practitioners of Yoga meditation, as well as other meditative and contemplative practices or traditions. Many sincere seekers of direct experience of subtler realities seem to have a pervasive fear stemming from the negative influences of two polar opposites: the Theists and Religionists, and the Atheists and Secularists.

Yoga is separate from both Theism and Atheism: In America, some Theists or Religionists view Yoga (as well as Mysticism and Gnosis) as being in opposition to their individual form of Theism, and hence, see it as in alignment with Atheism. Some Secular Atheists view the Yoga practices of meditation and contemplation as being part of Theism or Religion. At the same time, however, practitioners of authentic, traditional Yoga usually view both Theism and Atheism as separate from the direct experience sought through these practices.

An often imperceptible fear: The often imperceptible fear of the Theists, Religionists, Atheists, and Secularists can be a major obstacle in sadhana or spiritual practices by virtue of the fact that the sadhaka (practitioner) is "going against" the subtle pressures of the human environment. It is a fear of the people themselves (due to their pressures), not of their actual views, such as the fear of the retribution of "God". The effect of this fear can be an unconscious reticence to pursue the deeper teachings, or to explore and surrender into the subtler processes such as with advanced meditation or contemplation. Or, the fear may be strong enough to completely stop you on your inner journey of enlightenment, even though it may remain undetected by the conscious mind.

Non-harming towards Theists and Atheists: Now, it is important to note that these observations are not intended to make a sweeping generalization about all Theists or all Atheists, most of whom are likely very genuine and well-intentioned people. While there may be some who are individually quite aggressive and destructive in their belief based actions, most are probably just living day-to-day lives, only indirectly and unintentionally causing harm. In reflecting on the influences of other people, it is also important to remember the principle in Yoga of ahimhsa, non-harming, and the value of cultivating love for all, as we all arose from the same one source.

Swami Rama succinctly addresses the problem
of the two polarities when he writes:

"I have been facing a serious difficulty:
either I meet material scientists
or I meet religionists and philosophers,
but not aspirants who are prepared
to evaluate and verify
the effects of these practices."

1. Material scientists
2. Religionists
3. Philosophers
4. Aspirants prepared to evaluate and verify the effects of these [Yoga] practices.

The only valid views: Some Theists or Religionists have a world-view that theirs is the only valid way of living, that they are right and everybody else is wrong. If you do not see reality their way, then you are a sinner and are going to burn in hell. The fear being talked about here is not just the fear, for example, of what "God" may do to you for your failing to follow the rules of the religion (though that fear may have also been programmed into you at a deep level). Rather, it is a subtle, often unnoticed, ever present fear of the religious institutions and their human representatives and followers themselves who want you to follow them. It is a fear that creeps not only into your worldly activities with other people, but also into the recesses of your unconscious mind, where it can become a block to your spiritual life.

Growing Atheism and Secularism: As if that is not enough, there is a growing presence of Atheists or Secularists who decry all spiritual practices as being irrational and a waste of time. Some of these people are completely convinced that all nature of consciousness emerges solely from matter. If you are not a pure, one hundred percent materialist, you are perceived to be an ignorant Religionist of the most extreme fundamentalist type. The fear is not based on the atheistic possibility of there not being an afterlife, that you will finally, irreversibly no longer exist in any form. Rather, it is a fear of the people themselves, resulting from their rejection of both you and your views, along with an argument that you should disbelieve any metaphysical experiences you may have had, and abandon your seeking of anything higher or deeper.

Theists and Atheists in your family: If either of these types of people, Theist or Atheist, are present in your family, social and career worlds, the unspoken (or spoken) pressure to conform, follow, or convert to their views can be a tremendous threat to your sense of well being, both in terms of emotional response and the realities of functioning in a world of such people. This fear can have a devastating effect on ones feelings of safety in family, community, and professional life, and, in turn, on spiritual life. It can cause hesitancy, timidness, reluctance, mistrust, self-doubt, and other such emotions and reactions, which are often projections of an underlying fear. These, in turn, are antagonists to the tranquility or peace of mind consistent with meditation and other spiritual practices.

50 US states are red or blue: In America, the fifty states are spoken of as either red states or blue states, based on political party dominance. The two colors also represent religious polarities of conservative or liberal.

Imagine for a moment that there were a third category, which we can call violet states, which would be those where the Yogis and Mystics are in the majority. How many violet states are there? None. The balance of blue states and red states may shift slightly from time to time, but there remain no violet states. If you are red oriented you can easily visit or live in a red environment. If you are blue oriented you can easily visit or live in a blue environment. However, if you are violet oriented there is no state in the U.S. where you can go where you are anything other than a minority. As is often the case with minorities, the stage is set for fear.

You may be extrinsically and subliminally
pressured from two directions.
One is the Theistic Religionists who say
you are an evil or damned Atheist.
The other is the Atheistic Secularists who say
you are a misguided or confused Religionist.

Feeling in a miniscule minority: So, if you think of yourself as a Yogi, Mystic, or Gnostic seeker, you are extrinsically and subliminally pressured from two directions. One is the Theistic Religionists who say you are evil or damned Atheists, and the other is the Atheistic Secularists who say you are misguided or confused Religionists. You may intuit the all-pervading Reality rather than only some one, single overseer ("God") of the world, contrary to the Religious Theist. You may intuit that matter manifests from consciousness, rather than vice versa as seen by the Secular Atheist. In either case, you may find yourself feeling alone, confused and suffering deeply, or at best, feeling yourself to be in a miniscule minority.

Speaking in hushed tones: In response to this unnoticed fear, you may find yourself speaking in hushed tones when talking with others about subjects like meditation. If a conservative Religious Theist walks in the room, you may lower your voice or change the subject of conversation. You may look around to see who is watching or listening before starting a conversation about the inner contemplative journey. Similarly, you may find yourself suddenly become either very quiet or verbally evasive in the presence of a self-declared Secular Atheist. You may have learned over many years that it is safer to just remain silent, to keep your experiences and perspectives to yourself.

Pervasive fear leading to seeking "community": The fear we are talking about here is not a clinical paranoia, but a low level, pervasive fear that may otherwise be having little effect on your daily life, as might be the case with a medically diagnosable paranoia. However, you may find yourself longing for a "community" of "like minded" people, while often feeling alone and not having such a close network of friends and fellow seekers. You may read books, but never have anybody to talk with about them, or with whom you can share your insights or ask your questions. You may meditate or do other practices, but still feel a vague sense of incompleteness that you do not understand.

Labeled as a "cult": Theistic Religionists can be quick to label Yogis and other Mystic seekers and organizations as cult followers or cult organizations. They describe the methods of cults as including being emotionally and financially exploitive, psychologically manipulative, demanding of unquestioning dedication or devotion, requiring suspension of critical thinking, and other such means of control. Ironically, it is these very kinds of practices that the Yogi or Mystic may see in the Theists and their organizations. Not knowing quite how to deal with this in work or social settings, the Yogi or Mystic may end up with an internalized fear which may not be recognized as having an unconscious influence over one's own spiritual practices and life.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, you may be carrying around this kind of inner baggage of fear and having it negatively impact your spiritual practices and life. It often manifests as feeling you "do not have time" to meditate or do other practices, as if some invisible force is blocking the path in front of you. It can manifest as feeling you are "not ready" to go ahead on the journey. It can feel like you are "not worthy" to have the joy of direct experience of your own true nature. It can leave you "deciding" to follow the inner journey later in life, maybe after you have a different circle of friends, after you have moved to a different city, after your children are grown, after your relationship with your spouse has changed, or after you retire from your job.

Commitment to exploring fear: No teacher, no method, no class can deal effectively with this, without seeing clearly the nature of this pervasive fear-filled obstacle, and without having a resolute commitment to see it, explore it, accept it, and not let it prevent you from doing your meditations, contemplations, or other spiritual practices. The suggestion of Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras that these obstacles be dealt with by one-pointed training of mind may lead to feeling even more hopeless because of feeling you "cannot do it," although this ability to stay focused is ultimately seen to be extremely important and useful.

Finding community: The Theists or Religionists have found or created a very broad range of communities of peers with whom they can relate and provide support for one another. So too, the Atheists and Secularists have increasingly found or built communities for supportive relationships. Surely, some practitioners of Yoga and Mysticism have found or have formed small, supportive communities. Of those, some have encountered and dealt with the fear being talked about here. However, there are many, possibly millions of sincere seekers with lesser experience and exposure who have neither discovered and dealt with the fear, nor found any supportive community where they can openly explore and transcend this very subtle, powerful obstacle. They are quietly suffering alone in an unseen fear of both the Theists and Religionists, and the Atheists and Secularists, who are by far in the majority amongst their neighbors, coworkers and family members.

Imperative to see the nature of this fear: If you are a sincere seeker of direct experience, it is imperative to see the nature of this fear so that you can develop the will power, the sankalpa shakti, the determination to move forward, right through the middle of these obstacles, regardless of the opinions and actions of your fellow humans, whether Theists or Atheists. This is done by cultivating an active, passionate conviction to seek that for which your heart longs. With this awareness and commitment, and an attitude of loving perseverance, the fear is ultimately seen as a phantom and gradually dissolves into just one more past habit that no longer binds, or blocks the finer realization being sought.




This site is devoted to presenting the ancient Self-Realization path of the Tradition of the Himalayan masters in simple, understandable and beneficial ways, while not compromising quality or depth. The goal of our sadhana or practices is the highest Joy that comes from the Realization in direct experience of the center of consciousness, the Self, the Atman or Purusha, which is one and the same with the Absolute Reality. This Self-Realization comes through Yoga meditation of the Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra, the three of which complement one another like fingers on a hand. We employ the classical approaches of Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti Yoga, as well as Hatha, Kriya, Kundalini, Laya, Mantra, Nada, Siddha, and Tantra Yoga. Meditation, contemplation, mantra and prayer finally converge into a unified force directed towards the final stage, piercing the pearl of wisdom called bindu, leading to the Absolute.



Yoga Nidra Meditation CD by Swami Jnaneshvara
Yoga Nidra CD
Swami Jnaneshvara