Category Archives: Philosophy

The Ground of Yoga: Why is yoga different from everything else we do?

What is the ground of Yoga? What is it that makes yoga unique and special setting it apart from all the other activities we perform on the course of the day or throughout our lives?

According to Patanjali, Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.

yoga cittavrtti nirodaha

Thru tradition we are advises to ground ourselves in our practice in a similar way.

Om shree ganesha namaha

Any kind of spiritual exercise begins with supplication to Ganesha, famous as the remover of obstacles, and our mind being the biggest obstacle to spiritual realization. The little rat (rodent) he uses as a vehicle is always chewing like the mind. You’ll also see his image or some symbol relating to him at the entrance ways of temples and some homes.

 

A fairly famous way of opening into a spiritual practice like yoga and meditation goes like this:

Om shree ganesha namaha

Om aparvitro pavitrova sharva vashtang

gato o piva yashmaret pundari

kaksham asavantra suchii

Om madhai namaha

Om keshai namaha

Om Rishikeshai namaha

Om pundari kakshan punatu x 3

Om apsarpantu te bhuta, ye bhuta bhuvi sanshitas

ye bhuta vignakartarste nashyantu

Shiva jnana

Om namaha shivaya

After supplicating Ganesha, it goes on to purify the body internally and externally thru supplication to Vishnu the great preserver and operator of the three gunas within the main trinity of gods at the level of Ishwara. After the purification rights (pundari kakshan punatu), we insist that ghosts, latent desires (apsar) and mental impressions of the past be banished from disturbing us from our practice. This will happen by reaching the level of Shiva knowledge (Shivajnana); universal consciousness. So from this we want to practice from a ground of Shiva consciousness.

As we continue our contemplation of the earth tattva, we have to remember that Shiva descended as far as earth and then stopped. He could have descended further, he can do as he likes, thus they say, he likes earth the best. Shiva descends to the most impure gross dense point of earth before making the ascension back thru the tattva.

In this regards, I think of all these people who ask about past lives and such things. If we consider the tattva of tantra, the individual soul exists below the maya tattva, so even our soul is subject to time and the rest, which allows for linear progression and thus past lives. Time, of course takes on a different dimension relative to the birth and death of that soul so when we think about past lives we need to consider that that soul too will make a complete cycle from purity to impurity to purity once again. Such a realization might be the Sankya ideal of kaivalaya for the duality is still there, but Tantra advises to press on beyond the knots, otherwise known as the universal womb, that separate us from from the supreme consciousness, which is the realization of the non-difference between the universal and the individual: moksha; liberation in this life. Patanjali’s yoga cittavrttinirodha is both the the definition of yoga and the means to stopping the fluctuations. We stop (nirodha) the fluctuations (vrtti) of the mind (chitta) by bringing them together in union (yoga). You could say that the project of yoga is to harmonize the mental fluctuations; the cittavrtti.

Going back to the original question of this article, what makes yoga unique. Yoga shares many similarities to creative projects like dance and the arts which also seek a kind of harmony between the artist and the mythical spirits which moves his hand to draw of feet to dance. But there is a subtle. Of course, one could make arguments for dancers at the highest levels reaching a kind of samadhi; but this says little stress, tension and competition that mark the a climb. The truth is that dance very typically has numerous undesirable side effects related to vata and pitta excess and diminished kapha. This is the exact opposite of what yoga is trying to do: cool, calm, lubricate and nourish the body and ultimately the universe. Harmony is something we seek on all levels, but only when we act for something far greater than ourselves or our limited sphere of perception to we strive for yogic perfection: balanced body, balanced mind, balanced spirit.

Sankya will take you to a firm notion of duality, while Vedanta will soften that sense of duality with the Brahman, but will maintain some sense of maya, while Buddhism is said to take you to the void, Tantra is said to carry us beyond the void to the very source of the arising, sustenance, falling away of every mental impression, experience, and the whole universe. I suppose you could say that dance will allow one to harmonize with some few others, Sankya will aid in harmonizing with most others, but only Tantra seeks harmony with the entire universe.

Freedom

I found predictive astrology while I was searching for freedom. As I came to better understand the limits to my freedom it just made sense that astrology would work. I was fortunate to have Sanjay close to give a demonstration and then, of course, to guide and teach me this fascinating science. There is nothing mystical about astrology except this view by even the most rational western scientists that it is indeed mystical. Science is observation and hypothesis for the purpose of prediction; astrology is no different. This is also how I came to astrology: I made a hypothesis that it should work, I tested this with Sanjay’s astrological knowledge, and now I am also capable of using astrological calculations myself for prediction – anyone who took the time to learn Astrology could too.

But astrology only shows how we are limited; it does not shoe us how be free. In regards to the tattva (the elements of existence), astrology represents the lower thirty one from kala to earth. This represents all of manifest existence within the realm of duality. In modern terms, this would include everything that is ruled by the natural laws of physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics and the rest. All this change and diversity we experience is a result of these natural laws.

According to materialist philosophy, this is all there is. And regarding most orthodox spiritual paths which take the tattva into account, this divisioin represents the separation of God and Man; spirit and matter.

Tantra takes us further. And truth be told, even the Upanishades take us deeper though it’s rarely discussed. Beyond the tattvas of material existence are the tattvas which connect us to divinity. But we should be clear that the lower tattva are not in any way disconnected from the divine. ALL OF THIS is the Brahman. “I am Shiva; I am all of this.” Nothing is really separate from the Brahmin. All of this matter, all of this activity that we carry out is all the activity of Brahmin.

The duality is not a true duality, but only apparent duality. It seems to be that way because the limited body provides a limited perspective, but if we take the time we can learn to view the world in a more expansive, holistic, inclusive way. (It might be more correct to say that we can unlearn this world of division that we have become so accustomed to).

What does Tantra teach?

I often refer to Tantra as the Science of Freedom. This is not a hedonistic sort of freedom as practiced by the neo-tantrics (India has it’s own version of materialistic hedonism called Charvak). The freedom we can gain thru Tantra is directly related to the level of personal responsibility we are prepared to take.

The only value that is really taught in Tantra is a deep love and respect for material existence. If we consider that everything arises from within, this becomes a quest for self love; the world is merely a reflection of what we have inside.

That we are Shiva and this world is merely Shiva’s play is a fairly famous concept. But this universal Shiva nature that is dancing creation, maintenance, and destruction is not dancing in this world but upon the stage of our inner selves. It’s not others who are watching the play but our own senses who are the spectators. This is clearly stated in the Siva Sutras.

Why is Tantra the science of freedom? Because it empowers us to take command of our lives and follow what is in our hearts rather than merely reacting to what the world throws at us. We can either be bound by material existence, or we can be set free by it. This may be the only real choice we ever face. Every moment the choice must be made again. Are we free humans capable of directing our own fate, or are we bound pashus (no different from a draft animal yoked to the plough)?

To be empowered thru Tantra does not make one the slave master profiting from the ignorance of others. Love is never greedy and selfish; love is giving and accepting. If Tantra could be measured, we would be advised to look at how much one is capable of giving rather than the modern measure of success which is accumulation.

As we begin to discover some kind of spiritual truth, the only fitting response is worship of that great Lord from whose body the entire universe arises, is sustained and then falls away. Only by grace will our own Shiva nature will be revealed.

So, we can be bound like a draft animal or we can be lord of the universe. If we wish to be lord of the universe we only have to give up the farm; give up everything we have in this life to worship and we will achieve the whole world.

Shiva is free; just as we are free. There is no bargain going on. Shiva is not bound by any agreement; Shiva is not bound by anything. This means that there is no one thing that can be done to coerce his grace to fall upon us. Shiva reveals and conceals out of freedom of the will. He needs no reason to reveal and he needs no reason to conceal.

This is the great play of Lord Shiva.

Om namah shivaya

 

Yoga Therapy Client Relations: Homework

  1. What does it mean to create a safe container?

Every sort of therapy, regardless of the intensity requires the client to feel a sense of safety and security in the space and in the presence of the therapist. W

One of the main roles we play as yoga teachers and traditional therapists is just to see people for who they really are; which from my perspective is Shiva; lord of the universe. The truth being that everyone is filled with divine beauty. Darshan is the Hindu expression for divine vision: they go to the temple to both give darshan and to receive darshan; to see god and be seen by god.

Darshan involves seeing without judgment; acceptance without condition. People can feel this and they generally feel safe in such an atmosphere. This sort of attitude of acceptance also involves ensuring that our expectations are balanced so that the client may feel empowered to take control of their own lives and be successful on their own terms.

I think it’s equally important for students and clients to understand that they are the ones doing the work and that healing will arise from within. It certainly is not the role of the yoga instructor to take any credit for any changes (or healing) that takes place. People who praise us for our helping hand would be better to direct their praise to that Shankara who is lord of the wheel of energies. This is just our luck to be present and to be used as a instrument for healing.

  1. Telling a student what is best for them vs encouraging them to find out for themselves?

This issue has been raised many times in different ways throughout the workshops I have been attending at Ajna. On the one hand, the body is incredibly strong and can handle almost any posture that we enter into voluntarily, on the other hand, the body is an incredibly fragile thing that can be injured for almost no apparent reason.

Yoga relies on several forms of knowledge including scriptural (knowledge of the experts) and experiential (knowledge gained thru our own experience). As yoga teachers’ people come to us because we have prior experience and study of a practice they would like to incorporate into their lives. From this perspective, it’s our job to advise them based on our own experience or personal study of the scriptures (modern scientific research on yoga could be considered scriptural knowledge in the modern context since modern scientist often play the role of guru these days).

However, telling people what we have learned thru experience or scripture is only half of our job. We must also inform students that if they have any doubt about our teachings, they should discover it for themselves either thru their own personal experience contemplative meditation.

The examples from Patanjali emphasis surrender to that divine will which is always guiding our material being, but there is another side of yoga that emphasizes personal responsibility. If everything is arising from within then the truth is that we cannot blame any of our injuries on our yoga teacher; we have to take responsibility for that. (We cannot blame anything on anyone else for the events of our lives or the way we perceive them). We cannot expect to be healed by our yoga teacher, as this is also our own responsibility.

…. This will be continued in the answer to question #4: “owning” ones own practice.

  1. How does my awareness of privilege (or lack of privilege) affect my actions?

By all appearances I am a middle aged white male; top of the heap.

I’ve spent considerable time traveling places like India where my white skin quickly distinguishes me as a wealthy and privileged person of this world. Add this to a society where the “guest is god,” then I most certainly take a privileged position in Indian society. In Canada, this travel is seen as leisure, which also creates an appearance privilege (how many times have I heard: “You’re so lucky.”)

On the other hand, I’m hard of hearing, metis, forest loving traveler following some foreign beliefs. I can let my appearance get pretty rough, and of course isolation has it’s own effects. Other than being a white male, whatever privileges society offers are swept away in the way marginalized people get swept away in almost any society.

Perhaps I’m especially privileged that I can choose one appearance over the other. Knowing I can choose, I generally prefer to choose the role of marginalized. It’s part of the lesson for people to look beyond appearances. On the other hand, it can be very useful to play into these appearances, polish myself up and assert my privilege to get what I want from society.

The important thing is to recognize that the world of appearance does not change what we have inside, which is where our true strengths and weaksnesses lie. We cannot take it personally when someone gives way to our privilege, nor should we take it personally when someone takes advantage of theirs. It’s always give and take and it all arises from within.

  1. How to empower our students to “own” their practice?

I often tell my students that my role is only to teach them yoga so that they can go back home and make their own practice in the bedrooms and private spaces. I teach pretty close to the same routine every class and try to remind them (and myself) that it’s their class; I can adjust to what they want. I often tell them that listening to me is actually taking away from a much greater inward experience that they could have at home. I ask them about their own practice (yogic or otherwise) and encourage them to follow that and perhaps discover the yoga in it even if it doesn’t seem at all like a yogic activity. I try to inform clients on the various kinds of yoga that are not necessarily asana based and encourage them to connect with those things that bring them a clean and clear sense of joy. It’s also not uncommon for me to go to people’s homes and practice (or teach) yoga with them there. And of course always trying to direct their awareness inward where they can experience their power and realize their own personal responsibility.

  1. Strengths based practice: how does this intersect with how I’ve been taught to teach yoga?

This field is perhaps one of the main ways that yoga and other forms of traditional healing differ from healing in the west. The experience of most traditional healers that we are not really healers at all; but perhaps, at best, we are instruments of healing in the same way almost anything can act as such an instrument when the time for healing comes. The true healing, of course, comes from within the individual. I have often been taught that my job is just to do my job to the best of my ability and not worry about results. Not everyone will get the same results and certainly not everyone is looking for the same results; they will get from me whatever they have in them to get and I will get the same from them.

This is traditional ways: give up seeking results, give up your attractions and repulsions, forget your prejudices, be aware and see people deeply for who they really are which in yoga essentially means to see ourselves deeply for who we really are: we are that shiva nature, that consciousness permeating everything, that joy and freedom that underlies everything. Be aware of who you really are and then express that in the therapeutic model that resonates with you, master your own practice (whatever that is) and share it with others, it will resonate with some people and others will be repulsed by it. This is not personal.

Yoga talks about the different kinds of students, this relates also with healing: some will be healed miraculously from the slightest hint, some will need some explanation, some will need practice and explanation, some will need even more work for just the slightest understanding, others will never get anything from us; some might get a small token, others a fortune. These things are not for us to be concerned with; this is all karma. By some combination of their luck and our luck things will happen. However, we are still very much personally responsible, so, in the context of yoga therapy our job is twofold: 1. to keep up to date with the latest therapeutic models; and 2. to cultivate inner yogic awareness. Put another way, we must be aware of all the tattva (which is all this science and nature we are studying from this guruji who has so many impressive years of experience); know them by scripture (specialists) and know them by personal experience. These classes are modern form scripture, however life experience is always the highest knowledge.

We will heal to that tattva for which we have awareness. The more pervasive our awareness the deeper is our ability to heal… ourselves….. and then we see that we are not different from those who come in front of us.

Our job is not to heal, but to be ourselves to the greatest possible degree. If our dharma is too heal, then we have a particular responsibility to be the absolute best version of that healers self we can be. If we want to teach empowerment we have to realize it in ourselves. Prove that the method works on your self and then teach that method to others.

I would love to hear your comments.

Tantra Series: Part I: What is Tantra?

 

For most of the past 10 years I’ve been searching for an answer to the question: What is Tantra?

How does one write about a secret without spoiling the whole thing? It’s nothing! It’s everything! It’s the yin of the yang. It’s the inner reality beyond the five senses. Tanta is intuitive and emotional. The heart is an infamous symbol of Tantra. Tantra is the mystery of a mystery.

To say someone knows Tantra suggests only that they know a mystery; and how much can anyone know a mystery? Tantra is the secret of a secret: ones own hidden knowledge and hidden potential, which, once released to the light and shared with others looses some of it’s power and potency. Everything about Tantra is subtle. Tantra is often portrayed as a dark goddess who can be the epitome of a woman scorned. Tantra teaches us that all of our relationships are about give and take; nothing comes for free. If we want something from Tantra then we will surely have to give something up. If we do not give appropriate gift, Tantra will make us pay in her own way. Everything can be seen in this light of relationships and it’s that power of our relationships with things that Tantra seeks to harness. Things in themselves have no power and it’s the strength of our relationship with things that allows us to harness their power. This is why Osho can say that the measure of our spiritual progress can be seen in the quality of our relationships.

Tantra is about getting what we want. This is one of the very difficult prerequisites for Tantra; we have to know what we want. To know what we want we have to also know who we are. As long as there is any confusion about these things, then there is very good chance that we will eventually meet a wrathful, vengeful Tantra. She has many names: Tara, Kubjika, Kali, Tripura Sundari; in the west she would be some aspect or other of Mather nature. She has a face for every person, but no matter how nice she comes to you, she’s always incredibly dangerous and can turn on a person for the slightest infraction.

Admittedly, this danger is the attraction; the risk is the romance. People who are stable and content in life have no attraction to Tantra, because Tantra is change and volatility. This is why she stays underground, in the shadows and depths of the heart. Tantra is about transformation. We have to die before we can be reborn. Tantra is a death cult, a secret society that turns everything on it’s head; countering even intuition.

When we talk about Tantra, western people think of sex and the chakras, while people from the east think of black magic. Tantra is all of this. Purity is internalized to overcome physical impurity. All is one but we see it and understand it as two; a world of multiplicity. Fear and taboo become some of the most powerful tools of Tantra. Sex and fear becomes means of transformation and catalysts of higher knowledge.

Like the great Ravana, we must cut off our own heads and offer it to the gods in order to understand Tantra. Tantra is part of the mystic traditions; it’s broad and mysterious, operating at an energetic level, permeating all things. Some say that Tantra deals with how we use things; it’s that relationship between us and things. Tantra is about Devi worship; worship of the divine feminine, Mother Nature in all her aspects. Desire to gain power or overcome fear are perhaps the most popular paths of Tantra.

Tantra is dangerous for too many reasons. All of which can be summed up as ignorance. The primary ignorance is that we do not know who we really are. As long as a person thinks they are an individual, then Tantra cannot be effectively learned or practiced. As long as we think we are separate and free we will remain forever bound. As soon as we relinquish our freedom to Devi, then we become truly free.

In many way’s Tantra looks at the world in a very pragmatic way in which everything is merely an instrument for us to fulfill our desires and our life’s path. However, this is speaking from a universal perspective rather than a subjective perspective for we too are an instrument of divine order. As many advaitans will point out, there is only we in this universe, there is no ‘I’ or ‘you.’ Those who do not understand this spread terror around the world in the name of their faiths. From a mystic perspective, duality is the original sin; division is the world of demons while everything that supports union is of the heavens. Truth, of course is one. Ultimately, God is one, though there are many names; but nature too is singular, though there be many names and many objects. The universe and the purpose is singular, everything is dependent on everything. The whole world exists and comes into being thru the mystic energy of our own hearts; there is no division.

Mysticism and Science: Radical Reason

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Sometimes inspiration can come from the most uninspiring source. I was given a Bible a few days ago. He was a nice Christian Baba in Port Hardy. His talk of spirit and divine powers of healing along with the wild look in his eye has led me to the conclusion that he was a kind of Christian mystic. I wasn’t prepared to be rebuked for following the devils path when it came out that I followed yoga and Indian philosophy. The last thing I expected was to be told to believe what he believes because he is right and the rest of us are wrong. At the heart of his argument, of course, was great ignorance not only about what I believe, but what Hindus and Muslims believe (for it seemed to me that he initially equated yoga with Islam). In any case, he at least correctly identified me as a seeker of spirit.

He spoke about a few of his own moments of doubt, which of course reminded me that Jesus also had his doubts as he was spread out on the cross wondering why his father had forsaken him. Perhaps I’ve also asked this questions a few times recently. How is it that someone with such great blessings is forced by the hand of fate to live hand to mouth in some of the most isolated backwards parts of this earth. Of course as I write this I also have to acknowledge that I quite like such places, but I’m rarely there for the joy of being there; and perhaps I have on occasion chosen the place, this does not mean I have chosen the circumstance. In honesty, however, we have to accept that even our choies are guided by that same powerful hand of fate since the place from which the choice initially arises is that same place from where the most unexpected occurrences of destiny arise.

Doubt is generally a result of not receiving the fruits that we think are our due. “I’ve done what you’ve asked,” we cry out to the heavens, “why have I not received the fruits of that activity?” We doubt because suddenly cause and effect doesn’t seem to be working how we think it should. It’s like expecting that when we germinate a whole bag of seeds that every one of them will sprout to give equal fruit, when what we actually find is that each seed is slightly different in itself as well as finding a slightly unique piece of ground to inhabit. It’s like a fallacy of the sun which we see rise every day taking this as proof that it will rise again tomorrow. Meanwhile it’s postulated that sometime before sunrise of some long distant tomorrow the sun is likely to either explode of burn itself out. What happened yesterday cannot be proof of what will happen today.

This is the kind of hard logic that is followed by mystics! We’re often considered unreasonable when in fact it’s often the most reasonable people who have built up their knowledge upon a most unreasonable basis. I can hear the choir of reason singing out for me to be more reasonable as it’s unlikely the sun will disappear before tomorrow. But if we follow this logic thru to tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow, then tomorrow will certainly come someday. So, we get “primitive” people worshiping the rising sun; ushering a new day with praise for the elements of fire, earth, air, and water while those who are being more “reasonable” in following modern customs are waking up to go to work, worshiping their bodies with various chemicals and synthetics before heading out the door to consciously pollute the elements of our existence for some “higher cause” of “managing the unmanageable” as they seek to save the world by using the very reason which is destroying it.

But I suppose if’ we’re truly reasonable then we cannot condemn people for their karma and before the end of the day we have to accept that even this earth which seems to be condemned by our karma has it’s own karma. Of course there is nothing wrong with suggesting that people be the change they wish to see in the world, nor do I wish to discourage those environmental crusaders from their fight, but we should not have great expectations from our activities. Some fights will be won while others will be lost, we will not get one thing that we don’t have coming to us, nor will we lose anything that is not owed by us. The job of a crusader is to crusade; the job of a protector is to protect, the job of a writer is to write; it is not our job to expect results from these activities.

It’s seems that the older I get, the more I get this sense that I am the centre of the universe. Of course it doesn’t help that everything seems to arise from from within myself, even those holes that seems to come over me like a storm have obviously been dug by me very slowly over a longer period of time than the ones I can easily recognize to have dug myself. If karma were instantaneous I don’t suppose it would take long before it took care of itself and washed the world clear of it’s toxicity; but then there would be nothing and since I cannot even contemplate such a fate, I have to assume it would be a bad thing though I doubt anyone would notice. As barber shop philosopher recently said, it’s not illegal if you don’t get caught. Such logic, which, if followed, suggests that the tree does not in fact make a noise if there is no one there to hear it.

This is kinda how magic works. Magic and miracle are not opposed to reason, they merely follow a more radical reason then most “reasonable” people follow.

The fellow who gave me the bible spoke of listening to spirit and doing it’s bidding as a way of discovering the truth of the what he described as the conduit to the father which was left by the son (Jesus) when he died on the cross. This conduit is the holy spirit. The father, the son and the holy ghost all seemed to out there somewhere in the air perhaps and it spoke to him directly telling him what to do. He didn’t seem to think that there should be anything between this voice of god and himself. He criticized my use of astrology for discovering the future despite our discussion the day before about various means of coming to the same place and the various paths taken by the many great men who have walked this earth before us. Since he follows the Christian path I was not surprised to hear that he believed love to be the only true path to god; but since I thought him a mystic, I was surprised to hear that he believed all the other paths (science, breathing, activity) to be paths to hell.

We often seek to contrast spirit and reason but there is no true distinction. Spirit perhaps delves a little deeper and doubts a little more leaving behind the many “reasonable” assumptions (like the rising sun) that allow us to take the very world we depend on for granted while we get on with the practical activity of getting by in this world, but the truth is that no true scientist can ignore these things any more than the mystic. The profound sense of doubt drives both to go in their respective directions and in the end they come to the same sense of awe that can’t be named or categorized or described to anyone who has not witnessed such awesomeness. Both will agree that at the heart of this universe is a mystery that can only be experienced thru that sixth sense that was once described to me as sentiment.

Of course every path has a language of it’s own. Every culture has it’s own word for god just as every culture has it’s own word for people. How many times have I read some account of traditional people whose word for themselves means, quite simply, “the people.” If we go back into history far enough there is little need to distinguish these people from those people because it’s unlikely there were any other people. People are people where ever you go. This is a kind of radical reason that few can follow. Instead they see these people as being different from those people, and suddenly all people are not created equal so that it seems other people are not people at all. This is another misuse of reason if it can still be called reason at all.

“Show me” is what the scientists and the mystics say while those trumpeting the supremacy of “reason” are busy telling them how things are. When I talk about mysticism, magic, miracle, spirit or the gods of this or that many people think I’m speaking a language other than reason. Many of these stories are descriptions of how people experience the world, facts are something else entirely. The only true facts are actually tautologies; most of what we consider facts are merely probabilities, hypothesis’, or agreements about the way things are when in fact, even the facts are in a state of flux making them capable of contradicting even themselves.

I never felt any competition of beliefs between myself and the fellow who gave me the bible. It never occurred to me that his belief or description of his experience of this life might be wrong, but I did feel disrespected. I felt like he saw me as less of a person than himself which suggest that perhaps I wasn’t a person at all in his eyes but rather some object top be conquered in brought into the kingdom of Christ. It’s these sorts of beliefs that I find completely unreasonable; contrary to anything I’ve ever experienced and contrary to the doctrine of love so much touted by the followers of Christ. So for the sake of love, for the sake of all that is good and holy and true in this world, let us all try to be just a little more reasonable, perhaps then some space will open up for true magic to happen.

Tantric and Astrological means to Self-Relaization

Part 7: How do we prevail?

Aath pinde, tat brahmade

[As the world is inside, so it is outside.]”

(Manduka Upanishad)

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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!

Part 8:

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)

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

(Ishvarapratyabhijna)

Part 9:

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)

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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

Meheshwar

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.

Arjuna’s Doubt

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Doubt is a big part of all of our lives. This can be especially so in regards to our spiritual lives. The scriptures abound with stories of our most revered saints doubting their path. The Bhagavad Gita can be said to be a story of how Arjuna overcomes his doubt.

These doubts of Arjuna are not the doubts of someone just coming to yoga like most of us here in the west as something separate from our culture. Arjuna had been trained and lived with the highest masters of yoga his whole life. He was a follower of dharma; an exemplar of moral living. Compared to most of us he’d be a god. When he had to face his family and kinsmen in war; when he had to face some decisive action of magnitude like we all do a various times of our life — you know, those times when we have to make a choice between two (or more) unfavourable action – he cracked; this god of man lost his composure. He doubted everything he knew and felt inside. He doubted his dharma, the whole tide of his life that had brought him to that moment was questioned in every way. He became like a child again. Fearful of making a choice. His mind wavered incessantly. He tried to cling to universal rules instead of following his individual path for dealing with the difficult situation in which he found himself.

He was born a warrior king and knew deep inside what he had to do. As readers, we all knew what had to be done. It’s hard to imagine the kind of disappointment reader would have felt if Arjuna would have dropped his bow and refused to fight. His brothers would most certainly have killed him without ceremony or remorse. The lesson of the Gita would have then perhaps been to follow the rules and do as your told; don’t think for yourself even if you’re faced with tyranny. But Arjuna rose above even the most sacred of the universal laws that states we should not kill our own family and gave us the lesson of looking within and following our own path; that each and every moment and choice is unique and cannot be legislated universally as one set of laws for all times. We cannot discount universal law altogether, but we must know that as individuals, each of us gods unto ourselves, are capable of rising above the universal. I’n fact, it’s our duty to do so.

Arjuna was in a unique position in that he had a god as a chariot driver and counsellor. It would have been easy for Krishna to just give him a smack and tell him to snap out of it and fight, but he never does this because he knows that it’s up to each of us to decide for ourselves. Krishna merely answers his questions and tells him to choose. Like the sun, he illuminates the way but he does not force anything upon him.

Arjuna is free to choose, just as we are all free to choose. Of course fate and circumstance and our own inner fires often makes choices for us leaving us with but one path to follow; but it’s still up to us to choose that path and often times struggle with the choice even if fate has already decried what is to happen. Unfortunately we cannot stop time as Arjuna and Krishna seem to do in order to make our choices, but the pain of indecision can most certainly be lessened by having faith that our inner chariot driver knows the way.