I have posted a variety of articles and books regarding Sadhana, primarily from the traditions of Yoga (both Hindu and Buddhist). Today I would like to provide some background and examples of Christian Sadhana along with full-text downloadable books written by some of the most revered Christian Mystics. Some of the background is from Wikipedia, identified by this color.
Christian meditation is often associated with prayer or scripture study. It is rooted in the Bible, which directs its readers to meditate. In Joshua 1:8, God commands his people to meditate on his word day and night to instill obedience and enhance relationship and fellowship. This brings us in close touch with God’s reality, power, grace, faith and miracles. The psalmist says that “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). The Bible mentions meditate or meditation twenty times.
In the Old Testament, there are two Hebrew words for meditation: hāgâ (Hebrew: הגה), which means to sigh or murmur, but also to meditate, and sîḥâ (Hebrew: שיחה), which means to muse, or rehearse in one’s mind.
Formal Christian meditation began with the early Christian monastic practice of reading the Bible slowly. Monks would carefully consider the deeper meaning of each verse as they read it. This slow and thoughtful reading of Scripture, and the ensuing pondering of its meaning, was their meditation. This spiritual practice is called “divine reading” or “sacred reading”, or lectio divina.
Sometimes the monks found themselves spontaneously praying as a result of their meditation on Scripture, and their prayer would in turn lead on to a simple, loving focus on God. This wordless love for God they called contemplation.
The progression from Bible reading, to meditation, to prayer, to loving regard for God, was first formally described by Guigo II, a Carthusian monk and prior of Grande Chartreuse in the 12th century. Guigo named the four steps of this “ladder” of prayer with the Latin terms lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio.
I have a few copies of The Cloud of Unknowing, in different formats and of varying quality. I’ll post a couple here- one PDF and one Word .doc.
If you read the Word document (a much older edition), you may want to skip the introduction and go straight to the book itself, which begins on page 11. The introduction, as is often the case with antique books containing archaic/ Victorian English introductions, is difficult to read and not especially enlightening.
Both versions are Public Domain (as are all book downloads available here), so share away if you desire. Here’s the Wikipedia description:
The Cloud of Unknowing (14th century)
The Cloud of Unknowing, an anonymous treatise written in England in the 14th century, is a concise and practical primer on contemplative prayer. The author’s premise is that, to experience God, one must strive for a “darkness about your mind, or as it were, a cloud of unknowing.” To do this, one must fix one’s heart on God, forgetting all else.
Word: The Cloud of Unknowing
St Ignatius of Loyola is another source for traditional Christian mystical literature. He was the founder of the Jesuits, living in the 16th century. A Spaniard, he was a soldier in his early life but his military career was interrupted by a bad experience with a cannon ball (including poor medical treatment) in a war with the French. While recovering from his wounds and his medical care he read about the lives of the Saints and determined to devote his life to service of the Catholic Church. He died at the age of 65 after creating one of the Church’s most successful orders. It is impressive to note that 38 members of the Society of Jesus have been canonized as Saints.
St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556)
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola contain numerous meditative exercises. For example, the practitioner is encouraged to visualize and meditate upon scenes from the life of Christ. His Contemplation to Attain Love (of God), is, in a sense, a method that combines intellectual meditation and more affective (emotional) contemplation.
Word document: The Spiritual Exercises of St
Another 16th century Catholic Saint credited with writing profound mystical literature was St. Theresa of Avila. Also a Spaniard, Theresa was born conveniently in the town of Avila. One of 10 children, she was orphaned at the age of 15. She had started down the road of saint-hood much earlier, however, when at age 7 she tried to travel into the Moorish territory “to be beheaded for Christ”. She was stopped by an uncle who apparently thought her too young to be making such an important life decision.
The sculptor Bernini created a very erotic looking portrayal of Theresa “in ecstasy”.
Here’s a quote from her autobiography:
“I did not know,” she said, “how to proceed in prayer or how to become recollected, and so I took much pleasure in it and decided to follow that path with all my strength“
In paintings she is often pictured with a dove at her shoulder-
St. Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
St. Teresa of Avila practiced contemplative prayer for periods of one hour at a time, twice a day. In her Life she recounts that she found this very difficult for the first several years. She had no one to teach her, and taught herself from the instructions given in a book, The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Francisco de Osuna. Her starting point was the practice of “recollection”. Recollection means an effort of the will to keep the senses and the intellect in check and not allow them to stray. One restricts the attention to a single subject, principally the love of God. “It is called recollection because the soul collects together all the faculties and enters within itself to be with God”, she says in The way of perfection. Because St Teresa found it difficult to concentrate, she would use devices such as short readings from an inspiring book, a scene of natural beauty or a religious statue or picture to remind her of her intended focus. In due course, the mind becomes effortlessly still. The initial practice St Teresa viewed as the voluntary effort of the individual, while the subsequent stillness and joy she saw as gifts from God.
Word document: TheInteriorCastle-StTheresaofAvila
On the other hand, I may as well include this book by Sri Swami Sivananda, titled Sadhana. You can find his Wikipedia page here. A 20th century Hindu Yogi, Sivananda spread Hatha Yoga teachings and meditation throughout the world through his “Divine Life Society” prior to his death in 1963.
Here’s the book in Word format: Sadhana-Sivananda
2 responses to “Sadhana, Mostly Western Style”
Simply beautiful. Thank you.
Hello! Thanks for that! I actually got here through a search for The Third Spiritual Alphabet. I’m trying to find a version I can read on my kindle, with no luck! I’m also wondering if it’s in the public domain or not…. might you know? Thanks!