Part 7: How do we prevail?
“Aath pinde, tat brahmade
[As the world is inside, so it is outside.]”
Self knowledge, the equal of universal knowledge in most of India, is one of the most prized areas of knowledge. Various sciences and systems have been created just for this purpose. One of the oldest branches of knowledge in India is called Samkya. This is a dualist and materialistic branch of knowledge that sought to map out and categorize the various elements of existence that allow us to have this human experience. After some time, many of the philosophers and rishis began to understand that there was more to life than meets the eye. The material designations of Sankya are fine they said, but something was clearly missing since all this matter is inert, insentient and incapable of the complexity that we see in life. So, the rishis and philosopher looked deeper and eventually expanded the categories of tattvas to include several higher elements that connect us to a divine well-spring of power that infuses matter with sentience.
So, anyone wishing to follow the philosophical schools of India should have some cursory knowledge of the tattwas as outlined by Sankya as well as the more subtle tattwas as outlined in Tantra. In this section I wish to share some of the notes I have made regarding the tattwas. I cannot claim this as original work, but since it’s an area of study that I find myself continuously coming back to, I’ve come to believe that a basis in this knowledge is necessary for the more intellectually minded self seeker.
The Bhagavad Gita has said that there are four kinds of people who worship god: 1. the distressed, 2. seekers of knowledge, 3. seekers of wealth, 4. people of knowledge. In his summary of Chapter 7 of the Gita, Abhinavagupta wrote that, “Pure devotion is the wish fulfilling tree by means of which one may fulfill hopes proper to be desired by the sadhaka.” (p186) And elsewhere it has been said that knowledge is better than practice, meditation is better than knowledge, but renunciation of the fruits of action is better than meditation.
Spiritual inclination is grace! Spiritual effort is grace!
Tantric Upayas: Mean of Liberation
“Whatever act I may have performed without knowing its good or bad consequences or knowing the proper order of its performances; whatever act I may have performed without concentration or with any other lapse of my intellect; all of that, O Shambhu, you who are compassionate, forgive me, your miserable and ignorant devotee. Through this strota I surrender myself to you and let me never again become the abode of misery for no good reason.” (Abhinavagupta p264)
So with all of this in mind we can then then use these clues about our true nature to help lend us the faith and knowledge that we all need to begin or continue our spiritual practice. In tantra the means to self-recognition are said to be four-fold; these can be understood as both different stages of practice, as well as different means that can be used in different circumstances. The point of any Tantric sadhana is to efface the ego while cultivating a sense of universal love and oneness with those (and that which is) around you.
Ultimately we all have to accept that this comes only by grace, but a touch of that grace seem to already apply to those whose aim in life is spiritual. In any case these are the four means of liberation.
- Shambhav-upaaya: Philosophical and mental means of liberation. Iccha-shakti; method of will. Theory of reflection. A kind of direct perception or pure understanding that form is merely a reflection of the Supreme. There is no method here other than being established in your own will; seated in the self; seated in the heart or however you want to put it. Matrkachakra: this is the awareness of pure thought without constructs; in other words sound. Pratyahara: this is spontaneous absorption which comes only by grace. When one is established in the self what need to be done. Abhinavagupta described pratyahara as, “When, like a turtle which withdraws its limbs on all sides, the yogi withdraws his senses from the sense objects, then his wisdom becomes steady.” (Gita 2/58) We expect our saints to be living at this level of awareness. Accords with the dream sleep when the mind dwells in the throat.
- Shakt-upaaya: Contemplative concentration of void. (ex. Gap between two thoughts) Jnana-shakti. Uninterrupted awareness. Discovery of reality of void thru subtle means of conscious awareness. Practices that involve the mind and various higher levels of consciousness. Spiritual teachers are perhaps expected to be practising here. Accords with the dreamless sleeping state when the mind dwells in the heart.
- Anava-upaaya: Depends on breathing (uccaara), sense organs (karana), and mental concentration (dhyana). Concentrate on space between inhale and exhale. One pointed concentration with any sense organ (ex. Trataka). Dyana without form like mantra. Dyana with form like yantra. Devote yourself to God thru puja, japa, homa, study of the scriptures. All the practices that make use of the organs of sense and action. This of course is where most of us are trying to practice and learn. Accords with the waking state when your mind dwells in the navel.
- An-upaaya: No method. Only remain aware that nothing has to be done. Abide in one’s own self. Surrender your actions to God. This is the back up plan. This is perhaps the practice of the average person. Accords with the 4th state when the mind dwells in the head.
All of the methods we use for self-recognition and self-improvement will fit into one of these categories. For most of us we can only apply an-upaaya. We’re busy completing our karma, we’re engrossed in what we’re doing and that’s ok. We just have to remember that nothing truly needs to be done; we just have to be. For many people, this isn’t enough, we want to go deeper and try to understand and perhaps perceive the subtler aspects that are indeed ensuring that everything will be ok in the end (or it won’t and that’s ok too). We want to apply some upaaya, some means for greater self awareness; we want to apply ourselves and improve our organs of sense and action (anava-upaaya); we want to use study scripture, practice various forms of meditation and yoga that can help get us or keep us in touch with some divine that we all sense is a part of our lives. We generally feel pretty good about ourselves doing all of this until someone reminds us that nothing really needs to be done. At which point we stop doing so much and sit and do it all in our minds: conscious awareness; subtle awareness; shakt-upaaya. We have to do something so we continue, but we try to keep in mind that the doing doesn’t really matter so much; it’s not really part of the job profile of the individual self the individual soul that is still a part of the universal self that we’re all trying to get in touch with has made many of those decisions (after all, astrology clearly teaches us that the universal self is taking care of most of the doing down here on earth). The individual self can, however, move it’s awareness around and put it where ever it likes. (The oldest texts on yoga talk about entering other bodies.) Some say we are to put our awareness on prayer, others say to look for pleasure and satisfaction in life, a few other dare to claim we should focus on combining the two. All would perhaps agree that we should first have some idea who we really are. In the end, grace is our only hope. By grace some people become seated in themselves and there is nothing more to be done (shambhav-upaya). When we withdraw our senses from the objects of sense we experience the pure taste of whatever flavour we have inside of us; we get that pure flavour we crave on account of the wheels of energies that are operating inside of us.
“The withdrawal of the vital channels (pranayama), the conquest of the elements (dharana), freedom from the elements (pratyahara) and the separation of the elements (Svachinanda).”
(Shiva Sutra 3/5)
“…he who constantly tries to discern the spanda (vibration) principle rapidly attains his own true state of being….” (Stanzas)
Vijnanabhairava it the classical text outlining 112 methods of Tantric and Yogic methods of union or self-realization. Some suttras give very specific instruction, others leave the door wide open for you to follow what comes natural to you: a word, an object, a thought, anything at all; fix your mind on it and don’t let it waver. “The expansion of consciousness that takes place when one is engaged in a single thought should be known as the source from whence another arises. One should experience that for oneself.” (Stanzas 41) Or find that point between two breaths, two thoughts, or two actions and try to rest your mind there. Meditate on being both the perceiver and perceived (the subject and the object). Then establish a state of awareness of that which links the two. Become fully aware of the state of perceiving, free from both subject and object. Abhinavagupta has described it as a bird swooping down upon it’s prey. That moment moves fast and we must be swift.
Much of the Vijnanabhairava teaches a kind of concentration or focus, when we can take this power of focus and put it where we like, then we can do what we want. Of course we also have to have he self knowledge to know if we have the various abilities of mind sense and action to get that thing. This is why yoga seems to focus so heavily on health, exercise, learning and study; because if we’re strong healthy, flexible and knowledgeable we will be able to access and heighten all of our natural abilities. If we have looked at and studied the self merely by observing the various faculties of the self we will be more comfortable in our bodies, our minds, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. This comfort allows us to take our awareness away from the body, mind and circumstances and focus instead on those higher aspects of ourself that reach throughout the cosmos rather than remaining trapped in our tiny worlds of suffering and woes. Contemplate each tattva respectively and disattach from it: from least pervasive to most pervasive; from the elements, up thru the senses, mind, intellect, maya and consciousness itself. (See chapter on tattva’s.)
Anything that brings us closer to recognizing and realizing that we are that universe can be considered a means to liberation. Many of the Indian sciences have their own upayas depending on which parts of us we are focused on healing and getting into touch with. But every upaya also affects the whole. So if you’re following Ayurvedic diet to heal your body, that healing is also bringing more awareness of your soul. But of course everything must be followed in balance or you get some excess or deficiency.
In regards to healing, we can often look at to the activity of the senses to see if what is happening on the inside is the same as what is happening on the outside. Food, acupuncture, the clothes and ornaments we wear, the the people we associate with and the activities we perform can all be used to heal. It’s all a kind of worship and ritual. Swami Laxmanjoo made a point when he said that worldly life is pragmatic, worship should be appreciated as theater: art for arts sake. In the Stanzas on Vibration it says: “Constantly attentive and perceiving the entire universe as play, he who has this awareness is undoubtedly liberated in this very life.” With equal gusto it has been advised to ignore the cycle of birth and death; the cycle of life is higher, only it is eternal. If we live for an eternity there is always time and reason for healing and self recognition. It’s cautioned, however, that while participating in sense enjoyment, we are to be enjoying the bliss of self, not the pleasure of the sense object.
“The subject is said to be the lord when, in the midst of phenomena, (he experiences them) as his own body. (But he is) a fettered soul when, sullied by karma etc., (he experiences) conflicts (klesha) in the midst of diversity generated by maya.
Jyotish Astrology Upayas
“the City of Eight consists of the inner mental organ along with the senses of knowledge and action. Others say that it is [also] made up of the five breaths, the five subtle elements, desire, karma and ignorance.” (Tattvaprakasha)
Jyotish astrology, as the science of light, also seeks to engage the subtler perspectives and provide upayas for self recognition. Astrology acts as the mirror of the individual self and suggest remedial measures for helping you to realize your connection with the universal self. For anyone with any experience with Jyotish astrology, we often find that our limits in the material world are much greater that we at first suspected. The extent of our fettered is almost unimaginable, but still we get this wonderful experience of free will. So how do we explain this contradiction between our experience and the knowledge.
Astrology is of course an ocean of a science, and the astrologer merely a pearl diver. The ocean is vast, and the diver is just one small simple man. The client has his or her chart (the ocean) and the astrologer also has his own chart, which is but a wet-suit compared to the ocean. If both charts are favorable, the client will receive a good reading and go away happy and receive the fruits he or she expects to receive. Perhaps the person will even get a glimmer of the divine forces to which are inseparably linked. If, however, just one chart is not favorable, many things can easily go awry. The astrologer can have a bad day and miss something, or the data might not be quite right, or the client might not understand correctly. In any case, it’s always our own fate, we cannot blame others for our misery.
Traditional healers generally maintain that they do not actually perform any healing. The client comes (we always hope) with that healing already inside of them. The healers job is merely to point them in the direction of healing. The healer is just an instrument of healing. This is why such a variety of scientific and non-scientific methods all work to heal; because it’s not the method which is providing healing, but the patients own life force. Astrologers need to impress upon people that what they generally decoding for them is what they have inside of themselves; and not necessarily some outside force. There are no upayas that can bring you anything you don’t already have inside, all they can do is help you to reach the highest and best potential of what you already have.
From an astrological perspective, what is outside of us and outside of us are merely reflected versions of each other that are constantly acting and interacting together. We get a combined effect of the reactions that are produced. We often say that an astrology chart is like a pathology report. The astrologer is like the doctor who interprets that report. The client doesn’t really need to know the details of the report, what the client needs is the remedial measures.
In truth, most people know themselves fairly well. They don’t really need an astrologer to tell them about themselves, what they need are ways which will help them understand the interconnectedness of everything. Giving specific selfless service is said to be one of the best ways of overcoming or understanding our suffering. When we serve those who share our suffering or represent our fears then we dissipate that negative quality; life become just a little bit lighter.
Meditation and any spiritual practice in general can been good, but even these things can be fine tuned with astrology. Of course gemstones are easiest for most people with a few extra dollars, but without grace, I can’t imagine the effect to be as strong as with some practice which can include service and ritual, but also tapas, worship, mantra, the study of scriptures and other such engaging practices.
What is important to remember is that “Identification with the City of Eight is bondage.” This may come as a surprise to many people who have been taught to identify with their own inner soul, rather than with their body, but these lessons of the City of Eight suggest that even the deepest essence of our individual soul is binding, as of course it must be, since freedom is not an individual experience but rather a universal one.
Part 10: The Goal
Somewhere within all of this is supposed to be some goal. We want something for all of this work performed. What exactly we want is not easy to describe. Many words get used such as enlightenment, self-recognition, self-empowerment, freedom, liberation. Many other describe as self-improvement or self-betterment. We are not, after all, merely doing this for our health. So what should we expect? The truth is that we should not expect anything. Of course everything is always changing so there will be change, but fundamentally nothing will change. You will still have the same fate and karmas to perform. As Krishna said in the Gita: “we cannot avoid action, not even thru non-action.”
What changes is our awareness? By gaining deeper more focused awareness we are able to recognize how we are ourselves the universe. This is self-recognition. We come to recognize the eternal subject which is ourselves, as well as the relationships of that subject with the various objects of the world beginning without own body. We are not this limited individual self, we are the universal self in part and in whole.
Some beliefs bring people to an emptiness once the individual self has been over come, Tantra promises a fullness like a pot boiling over. The fullness is the dynamic interplay between subject and object, the movement and change of the world. To be aware of this is said to be freedom. The practice of yoga is the practice of being aware of all those things that connect us with ourselves and the other (which is who all the gods essentially represent) We should be aware of consciousness, breath, energy levels, rituals, mantra and worship. Expanded awareness is the only goal and these are the tools (our body and this world) This is the same awareness which shows us that there really is no distinction between fate and free will.
This is a big concern for many people who feel as though they are being led thru life like a draft animal. Many people who hear about astrology feel like this whole concept of astrology somehow interferes with their free will. Most people is this world are very attached to the ignorance they call free will. This common idea that we are the body and thru the body we can do what we like thru free will is a very narrow and ignorant perception of freedom and will. If we start to recognize that we are all of this, only then will we recognize the place from where that freedom and will arise.
We recognize our free will when we are aware of that all of this is emanating from the free will of that Shiva which is inside of us; that which which is us. Freedom is exercised on the levels between Shiva and maya, not on the level of our minds, bodies and senses. These things are merely the tools for exercising that freedom. Of course once a choice is made, we have to live by the karma of that choice. As soon as an individual soul takes a body, the time and place of that activity becomes crucial for the rest of ones life. This is of course the time and place of our birth and first breath, and whatever karma is given to us at that precious moment will determine the extent of the work to be do in this life. The trick is to recognize all of this and maintain that awareness that we are Shiva, we are the chooser, and have chosen to experience all of this. What is inside is outside so we have as much power inside of ourselves to affect events in our lives and this world as the Sun and the Moon have to affect the life cycles of this universe. It’s a fully reciprocal relationship between ourselves and the world. The more we recognize this, the more harmony comes into our lives and the world. The truth to life and freedom are vast; they range far beyond the mundane details of life. We can be sure, however, that everyone will play their role and each of us will get that taste we most crave; the quality of that flavour will be up to us.