The Yogi and the Shaman: Twin Sons of Different Mothers

"Twin sons of different mothers" is an expression used to describe two individuals from different families and backgrounds who share common interests, perspectives, and worldviews. At first blush, it may seem implausible to place a yogi from India and a Native American shaman in this category. But, over the years, I have learned that both share remarkably similar spiritual philosophies with ancient, common roots. And both provide wisdom teachings that are desperately needed today.

The beliefs and practices of two great men, Paramahansa Yogananda and Nicholas Black Elk, are a perfect example of the striking similarities between the spiritual foundations of yoga and shamanism.  

Paramahansa Yogananda (1893–1952) was an Indian yogi and guru, born in India near the Nepalese border. His book, Autobiography of a Yogi, was published in 1946 and is considered a spiritual classic. Yogananda’s teachings and writings have introduced millions of Indians and Westerners to meditation and Kriya Yoga.

Nicholas Black Elk (1863–1950) was an Oglala Lakota (Sioux) shaman, medicine man, and holy man, born along the Little Powder River at a site thought to be in the present-day state of Wyoming. His biography, Black Elk Speaks, was published in 1932 and his spiritual visions and insights have inspired millions around the world.

Yogananda and Black Elk were roughly contemporaries and, although born on opposite sides of the globe, into cultures that appear on the surface to be radically different, they were indeed spiritual twins of different mothers.

Yogananda and Black Elk both taught that our spiritual journey, our life’s work, is to seek oneness and unity with the Divine. When we are aligned and in balance with the Divine, our creations are able to manifest in their most perfect form.

Both the yogi and the shaman know that the Divine is transcendent and also imminent—in the world and available to us here and now. They know that we can experience the Divine in our daily lives, and it is possible to experience our oneness with the Divine directly in this lifetime.

Living in harmony and balance with the Divine restores us to our original state of grace and oneness and enables us to live in harmony with life and all creation. When we move toward, and achieve harmony with, the Divine we are able to receive help, insight, and understanding directly from Source.  

The culture of ancient India, as well as shamanic cultures around the world, have all recognized the Divine as having both male and female aspects. Early Indian art and the earliest Neolithic shamanic cave paintings depict the Divine Feminine as the Great Mother Goddess with great reverence. 

Yogananda knew Her as Bhumi-Devi, the Divine Mother Earth. Black Elk knew Her as Unci Maka, the Sacred Earth Mother

For both the yogi and the shaman, the Divine Feminine is not an ancient myth or spiritual icon. She is a vibrant, living presence in the world today. Her unconditional love and compassion comfort us during times of distress and despair. Her grace and forgiveness are a source of strength and courage.

Yogic and shamanic practices and ceremonies help us to turn to Her in our times of greatest need, with the assurance and confidence that She will provide for us. She will always hear our prayers and will embrace us as Her beloved children.

Most of us have been taught that the three-dimensional world we live in is all there is. Yet, for millennia, yogis and shamans have worked to master the unseen, higher spiritual realms that exist alongside our material world. They have long recognized that these realms have an immediate influence on our daily lives and hold the secrets to our health, fulfillment, and well-being.

In the yogic tradition, these realms are often referred to as the Astral and Causal planes. In the shamanic tradition, these realms are often referred to as the Dreamtime and the Upper World.

Yogis and shamans know that, by accessing these higher realms, we are able to move closer to the Divine as our limited, everyday sense of self expands and our self-imposed limits dissolve. From this higher state of consciousness, we are more open, aware, receptive, and able to experience greater self-realization and inner strength.

From this perspective, we are able to view our life with a pristine clarity, as if from a much higher vantage point. We are able to comprehend a higher and grander purpose that guides our destiny and leads us toward unity and oneness with the Divine. 

The World Tree, also known as the Tree of Life, is a fundamental concept in ancient spiritual traditions around the world, with artistic representations dating as far back as the fourth millennium BCE.  Both yogic and shamanic cultures recognized the World Tree as the symbolic bridge between the material world and the unseen spiritual realms.

Yogananda knew the World Tree as Ashvattha, The Yogic Tree of Life. Black Elk knew the World Tree as the Sun Dance Tree.

In the yogic tradition, the taproot of the World Tree connects directly to the Divine. In the shamanic tradition, the World Tree grows from the womb of the Sacred Earth Mother. The Tree’s roots, going deep underground, and its branches, reaching to the heavens, remind us that our world is a limited reflection of a much grander spiritual reality.

Connecting with the energy of the World Tree keeps us grounded, in touch with Source, and attuned to the subtle yet powerful unseen spiritual currents guiding our lives. With practice, we can use the Divine energy from the Tree to create greater health, happiness, and fulfillment.

The yogi and the shaman are truly twin sons of different mothers. Their respective paths to enlightenment, personal healing, and transformation rest on a common spiritual reality that all of us have the ability to experience. 

Find out about upcoming programs with Otto John Kralovec III at Kripalu.

This article is excerpted from a post on Otto's blog.

Otto John Kralovec III has 35 years’ experience studying and practicing with Native American and Maya spiritual leaders and shamans and is an accomplished teacher, healer, and author.

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