Tag Archives: kashmiri shaivism

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.

Limitation and Identification: who are we really?

I’ve been quiet with my writing. I’m back in Canada where I have other duties to preform; writing looses it’s place on my priority list. But my mind is still working, learning and churning out ideas. The topics are simple on one hand but suddenly as I begin to explain things, I find I have to start from the beginning and the complexity grinds my writing to a halt.

Take identification for instance: how we identify ourselves, how other identify us. Our identity is huge, but as soon as we put our mind and language to identifying ourselves we fall back on a few words: our occupation perhaps, or our studies, maybe even our passions. If we’re having a bad day we’ll identify with our faults and limitations; on a good day with our successes. We’re furious when other identify us in such narrow ways. I suspect this is part of what makes marriage in the 21st century such a daunting prospect. To be narrowed into the role of husband or wife is simply intolerable to many people these days. For many people this is natural, and all of us do it to one degree or other. This is how we understand and share our understanding; but taking vast amounts of information and putting it into bite sized compartments. Understanding is beyond us and most certainly beyond the constraints of our language and the limitations of the senses. Knowing full well that we are burdened with numerous constraints, we forge ahead creating identities for ourselves and imposing them on others. It’s all just more limitation; necessary though it may be.

And this is why they say silence is best.

But language isn’t just limitation, it’s also power (shakti). All of our actions are essentially different shaktis; powers we use to achieve certain goals. Our goals can be long term or short term. What do you want? A glass of water? To be a respected philosopher? To fly airplanes? For these things we have to resort to language, to narrowing ourselves, and, at least externally, identifying ourselves as this or that.

Often times, our goals will conflict. Lust, which arises in a moment, if followed, could jeopardize more long term goals. Knowing what you want in life is central to self knowledge, along with knowing where your talents can take you. Don’t expect yourself to pin down what you want from life, any word you put to your desires is only symbol for some more true desire that cannot be articulated. It’s perfectly acceptable to know what you want but be unable to articulate it; in fact such self knowledge is possibly preferable.

Of course, it’s much more common to identify with our bodies and minds. In this social world we live in it’s almost as unavoidable as actually believing in such limited identifications. Repulsion is unlikely to work for us here; we can’t just push our minds and bodies away and expect them to sit silently on the side as some deeper, truer us emerges and begins directing our life. Rudimentary desires ensure that we cannot just embrace some spiritual explanation of life and move on. We’re sure to get hungery and we’re sure to want to know something that we don’t already know.

Within the tradition I study under (Kashmiri Shaivism), it’s common information that as individuals we are all of the same substance as God. We call that highest God Parama-Shiva; a transcendental god consciousness that we cannot even imagine. But being of the same substance as god (Shiva) is not the same as being gods ourselves. We certainly have creative potential beyond our wildest imaginations, but as long as we rest in these human bodies we must also embrace the many limitations that make such existence possible. Time, space, knowledge, longing, and of course, cause and effect are the natural laws that limit us from becoming gods ourselves. So although we may be made of the same stuff as god, we have both a different form and a different function as god.

This doesn’t mean that we cannot perform miracles in defy these limitations in some cases, but generally miracles follow natural laws that we merely don’t understand. Our inner experience may also be very different from our outer experience since our inner experience, being more recognizable as consciousness (as opposed to material) is closer to god than the world of matter in which we perform most of our action. But even that inner experience has various stages of consciousness that we must be aware of. This awareness is perhaps the crux of the issue. We can identify ourselves as narrowly as we like, as long as we are fully aware that it’s a limited identification. We need to be aware of and appreciate all levels of consciousness from the physical, thru the mental to the spiritual. Revulsion is just as much of an attachment as desire. Awareness must permeate all levels of consciousness.

This is why I believe an understanding of the various Tattvas is so important. The tattvas are the elements that represent all the levels of consciousness starting with earth air fire water and ether and culminating to pure consciousness. Our bodies and senses and various levels of conscious experiences are are represented by the tattvas. I suspect that it’s been since the very beginning of mysticism that people began highlighting the importance of understanding the 5 basic elements. Time and time again I read of their importance. Yoga teachers all over the world talk about grounding to the earth element, The doshas and qualities derived by Ayurveda are merely mixtures of the basic elements ( way to break the fives basics down to three). It’s common knowledge that even the most modern scientist will not argue with when we say that we matter is all made up of the basic five elements, but as we move up the chain of elemental metaphysical existence we run into more and more controversy and all we can really rely on is our own experience of things both physical and metaphysical.

This experiential knowledge is the main way mystics get around the limitations of the senses. Instead of just 5 senses from which to collect information and understanding of the ourselves and the world around us, mystics have elevated a 6th sense to primacy. Tantrics call it Agama knowledge. That 6th sense is not really as out of this world as the reputation that precedes it. The 6th sense is merely experiential knowledge; the knowledge we gather that cannot be readily explained but is undeniably felt and understood thru feeling.

This is the best method of understanding ourselves, who we are and what we want. And it’s the self that we understand in this way that we have to learn to identify with. This is the self beyond limitation, the self beyond the senses and beyond the lower minds. This inexplicable self is the Self that is the same everywhere without distinction. This is the self we want to identify with. This is who we truly are.

Om namah shivaya