January 10, 2018
Alan C. Haras
Originally published: http://alanharas.blogspot.com/
“For what fills and satisfies the soul consists, not in knowing much, but in our understanding the realities profoundly and in savoring them interiorly.”~St. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises  translated by George Ganss, SJ
“The idea of jnana centers on a cognitive event which is recognized when experienced. It is knowledge inseparable from the total experience of reality, especially a total or divine reality.” ~Wikipedia
When I first encountered Ignatian Spirituality, I had already been steeped in yoga philosophy for about a decade. The more I learned about Ignatius’ worldview, the more resonances I felt with what I loved most about all of the various yogas I had studied. Since that initial meeting, these two systems have lived within me and have been dialoguing. Some days I look at Yoga through Ignatius’ eyes, other days I look at the Spiritual Exercises through the lens of Yoga. For me, making the Spiritual Exercises made “Yoga” real for me – meaning, the Spiritual Exercises gave me a personal experience of “union” with God. Each week that went by I was amazed at the genius of Ignatius’ pedagogy and the dynamic of the exercises that came to life – week by week, grace by grace. It gave me a framework that allowed me to move from information about God to an experience of God. In the Upanishads, this is known as apara-vidya and para-vidya – lower knowledge and higher knowledge, or jnana.
One of my favorite stories comes from the Chandogya Upanishad where a seeker approaches a sage asking to be taught this true knowledge. Before instructing him, the sage asks the seeker what he already knows. The man then gives an exhaustive list of arts and sciences that he has mastered, to which the sage replies, “It appears that you have learned all there is to know!” The man then responds by saying, “But, I have gained no peace of mind.” The sage then agrees to teach this man, saying that he has known all of these things in “name” only, and now he was going to guide him in understanding their “meaning.”
For Ignatius, the Spiritual Exercises is not an intellectual event, but a process and set of practices and meditations (yoga) designed to transform the human person in a total way. The Spiritual Exercises are deeply informed by Ignatius’ own transformational experience on the banks of the Cardoner river, where,
“…the eyes of his understanding began to open; not that he saw a vision, but he came to know many things, matters spiritual and those pertaining to faith and learning. This took place with such great clarity that everything appeared to him to be something new. And it happened to enlighten his understanding in such a manner that he thought of himself as if he were another man…”
Later he said that on that single occasion he “knew more” than if you gathered together everything he had learned in his sixty two years of living. So great, and so transforming was that experience that he felt as though he was an entirely new person. It was a knowledge that illumined the mind, touched the heart and inspired him to loving service – and to this day, the Spiritual Exercises continue to offer access to this transforming knowledge. When we get a taste of it, Ignatius encourages us to “savor” it – to go back and linger awhile in those places in our meditation where we found fruit and to relish what has been given to us. It is in this way that we learn to discover and enjoy what fills and truly satisfies the soul.