Tag Archives: shiva

Tattwa: A foundation of Indian Philosophy

“Detached from the outer show, he sees the inner essence and recognizes that life is merely the spontaneous acting out of the roll consciousness has assumed in the drama of universal manifestation.” — Aphorisms of Shiva; Dyczkowski

When we look into this philosophical or metaphysical questions of, “who am I?” or “what is knowledge?” and “How do I know what I know?,” or “What is reality?” we often turn towards categories to understand. We break the problem down and we look at ourselves from different perspectives. We see the typical parts of the self that we identify with: I am this body, these emotions, this intellect, this vital force, I am this breath; to say nothing of the host of external identifiers by family, nation, race, religion. Certainly we are all of these things and many more; but we’re much more even than that.

The tattva are a central component of the traditional sciences and philosophies of India. They are mentioned in the Yoga Suttras & the Bhagavad Gita, and one of the core differences between Tantra and Vedanta is the inclusion of 11 extra tattva in the former. It’s also a core concept for ayurvedic or jyotisha understanding of reality.

The tattva are components of reality and show us the course thru which each of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, ether) follows though our lives to unfold reality through each of our senses and inner faculties of the mind. The tattvas represent both subject and object as well as all of the elements that lie between the subject and object. In short, the tattva are the elements of existence.

Different schools of philosophy have different perspectives of how the tattva fit together and relate with each other but ultimately they all agree that there is a subject, and object, and something that connects the two, and that the tattva make up the basic components of that three part reality.

Two of the most popular grouping of tattva suggest that there are either 25 or 36 tattva though quite often they also refer to the five mahabhuta (earth, water, fire, air, ether)primary elements alone as the tattva.

From these five, they also list the organs of knowledge (the abilities of the senses) as well the elements of the senses. Hearing and sound, touch and feeling, seeing and form, tasting and flavour, smelling and odour. Each of these represent a certain aspect of reality. They also list five ways that our body interacts with the world are also considered elements of our existence: speaking, grabbing or holding, moving in space, procreating and excreting waste.

Raising our awareness to more subtle heights we find our sense of individuality and uniqueness (ahamkara), we can witness our mind weighing options as an indeterminate knower. Its from here that our sense typically reach out to the world in order to determine and define knowledge and our individuality. Many modern people call this “excersising our free will.”

It’s at this level of existence where we find out minds fluxuating, vibrating, moving and changing. The manas and the ahamkara are the areas Patanjali brings our awareness to. For meditation, and to still the vibtations of the mind we are advised to follow the inward course of the tattva rather than the normal outward course thru the senses.

As we continue moving our awarness inward we will come to the buddhi the highest faculty of knowledge that just seems to know things. This is the silent knower who doesn’t argue because it doesn’t have to; the buddhi just knows. The buddhi is always endowed with truth; not necessarily the highest truth, but certainly what is true for the individual soul.This is one of the key differences between the buddhi and the manas. The manas is always seeking truth, usually from the outside world, while the buddhi silently knows the truth emanating from the individual soul.

The individual soul is essentially a combination of the purusha and prakriti. The individual soul, purusha, differs from the individual ego, ahamkara, in that it recognizes the connection between our “thisness” (idam) and that’s “thatness” (aham). The individual ego is that which disconnects our thisness from thats thatness. So, as we continue on our inward journey we do not loose ourselves but rather reconnect to that greater self and the universal purpose for our existence.

However, even when we are living from our ego, blind to the inherent interconnectedness, we are none the less also completing our universal soul quest; nothing can ever knock us from this path. The difference being that the ego has to struggle greatly with the vibrations of the mind always seeking knowedge but never gaining satisfaction. The mind is just vibrating from one thing to the next, from subject to object and back again without finding the source from which both of these emanate.

Once we know we are connected, once we realize our true nature, there is no question, no vibration between this and that; there is just the free and natural flow of karma without trying to hold onto this karma or rejecting that karma.

You will find a list of the tattva with explanations below

36 Tattvas of Tantra
Macrocosmic Universe: ParamaShiva: the great ultimate is said to be beyond the tattva. Tantra specifically, and most other branches of Indian thought usually have some little bit left over in their accounting of reality. There is always some residue which cannot be explained; something which is beyond explanation.

36. Shiva tattva: This is the entire universe in the form of illumination. In the process of manifestation of the world, Shiva performs five crutial functions. Since Shiva tattva is the tread that connects all the tattva, we could say that Shiva performs these five functions thru each tattva as well as to the whole system. Shiva is often identified as Prakash, the light of consciousness while Shakti is Vimarsha, cognitive awareness

  1. Nigraha: the act of self limitation or contraction. Concealment of his true nature.
  2. Srsti: Creation. The act of self manifestation as the world.
  3. Sthiti: Preservation of the manifest world.
  4. Samhara: Destruction, absorption or withdrawal of worldly manifestation
  5. Anugraha: Grace; revelation of his true nature

Pure Elements: the next four elements are elements of the Tantric goddess Usma, who is the embodiment of the internal heating and swelling of creativity.

35. Shakti: Shivas power which is not different from Shiva. This is Shivas power to conceal himself from himself. Shiva is the one who emanates and shakti is what is emanated; the being and the becoming. Shakti has 5 primary modes of expression. The first two are said to be his nature while the following three are the powers thru which he makes his nature known or manifest. Shakti has the experience of aham (thatness).

  1. Cit-shakti: conscious force
  2. Ananda-shakti: power as bliss
  3. Iccha-shakti: power as will
  4. Jnana-shakti: power as knowledge
  5. Kriya-shakti: spontaneous action as power

34. Sadashiva: the universe laying submerged and void within the self experience of the experiencer. Experience of aham (thatness)-idam (thisness)

33. Ishvara: self experience as “I” (aham) and an experience of the universe as a separate object with “thisness” (idam) shining unequally distinct within the self experience. Experience of idam-idam

32. Sadavidya: experience of aham-aham/idam-idam


Vidya Tattvas: these are the tattvas which bind us to our bodily existence.

31. Maya:
Three kinds of defilements:

  1. Aanava mala (mula mala: root impurity): The impurity of individuality, occurring at the first moment of manifestation of the universe as Shiva begins to contract. Shiva’s true power becomes “obscured by the notions of existence and non-existence…” (Aphorisms p15) This impurity begins to take hold as soon as he descends to sadashiva tattva. Two kinds of anavamala: a) veils knowledge of divine awareness, but freedom of action remains intact (for those existents which exist below prakriti) b) leaves knowledge of divine awareness, but veils ability to act freely (those staying above maya tattva).
  2. Maayiiya mala: maya and the five kanchukas. Makes oblivious to real nature. Robs all sign of divinity. Veils only those below Prakriti.
  3. Karma mala: Provides us with physical body. Collective residual impressions from past lives. Once karma mala defiles Shiva in his descent, embodies individuals are created, known as sakalas. There are four kinds of karma: a) Sanchita: accumulated over many lifetimes. b) Prarabha: Created in this current life c) Kriyamana: freedom to change our current life situation. d) Agama: free will to set an intention for future action.

Five Kanchukas:

The kanchukas are sometimes called the five sisters of Mayadevi are like five cloaks worn by Shiva in order to mask his true nature from himself. It’s essentially thru the kanchukas that the all powerful is capable of making a stone so large that even he cannot lift it. He does this by masking his true nature from himself. Once conscious force individualizes itself thru anavamala and maya, it takes on five more cloaks in order to transform each of the five divine powers into five limited individual powers belonging to the individual soul. From this perspective we could say that maya is actually the core of our innermost individual micro-soul; from her we seek out our mega-soul for redemption.

30. Kalaa: Contracted kriya shakti. Limits Shiva’s power and creative abilities so that one cannot do everything. Limits omnipotence and the power of agency.

29. Vidya: Contracted jnana shakti. Limits Shiva’s knowledge so that one cannot know everything. Limits omniscience.

28. Raga: Contracted iccha shakti. Limits Shiva’s sense of fullness and gives craving, desire and attachment.

27. Kaala: Contracted ananda shakti. Limits Shiva in time and space making us subject to change, death and decay.

26. Niyati: Contracted cit shakti. Limits Shiva thru cause and effect, the necessity that one thing follows another.

As Shiva makes himself into an individual in order to express his freedom, he scales back, contracts, or limits his universal power thru maya and the five kanchukas (Mayadevi and her five sisters). This leads to two main kinds of impurity (mala).

1. Paurusa ajnana: innate ignorance regarding the self. We dont know who we really are.

2. Bauddha ajnana: Ignorance of buddhi. We don’t even don’t know that this knowledge is actually inside of ourselves.

Asuddha vikalpas are the ideas, thought constructs, irrational psychological responses that make us think we are this body. Replacing ajnana (incorrect knowledge) with jnana (pure knowledge) is one of the main goals of Kashmiri Shaivism & philosophical and spiritual practice generally.


Atma Tattvas: The microcosmic mirror of the subtle macrocosm described above begins here. What follows are the traits of individuals with limited powers who are distinct from other individuals with limited powers.

25. Purusha: This is the individual soul; the individual subject mirroring the universal subject.

24. Prakriti: Prakriti provides Purusha with everything he needs for enjoyment. The physical body, karmendriyas, jnanaindriyas and the rest of the next 23 tattva. The three gunas (sattvic, tamas, rajas) constitute prakriti. Possessing gunas is a property of being the object of experience which depends on an experiencer. Three modes of activity of shakti are mirrored in prakriti in their limited form: will, knowledge & activity (iccha, governed by rajas; jnana, governed by sattva; and kriya, governed by tamas).
Instruments of cognition:

Also called the Antarkarana/Inner Instrument or Chitta/consciousness of the individual

23. Buddhi – Intelligence/Discrimination. Sattvic
Buddhi is the abode of prana-shakti. From here it flows thru the different parts of the body via the nadis. Locus of every experience. It is considered the contracted power of jnana shakti and thus it’s a sattvic element. Righteousness is said to reside here in the form of our conscious

Five kinds of pranavayu: 1. Prana (moves outward as do the sense organs) 2. Aapana (moves downward as with elimination) 3. Udaana (upwards as with speech) 4. Vyaana (expansion in all directions as does the movement of our limbs), 5. Samaana: (Inwards as when we meditation turning our awareness inward to a center point).

22. Ahamkara – Ego/ I-maker. Rajas.

This is where the ego connects with objective activity attributing the source of thoughts and actions to oneself (ones own limited being). This is the principle of individuality cut off from the higher tattva

21. Manas – Mind. Tamas. This is the place where thoughts are created and weighed against each other. Instrument of rationality. Supervises and controls the karmindriya, jnanendriyas, and tanmatras.
Jnana Indriyas 16 – 20: the sense faculties for knowledge. Representing the sattvic functions of the mind (manas).

20. Sense of hearing: function of the ear.

19. Sense of touch: function of the skin.

18. Sense of seeing: function of the eyes.

17. Sense of taste: Function of the tongue.

16. Sense of smell: Function of the nose.
Karma Indriyas 11 – 15: Organs of action. Representing the rajasic functions of the mind (manas).

15. Power of speech: Functions thru the mouth and vocal cords

14. Power to grasp objects: Functions thru the hands, arms and fingers

13. Locomotion: functions thru the legs and feet.

12. Power of procreation: functions thru internal and external sex organs.

11. Excretion: functions thru the excretory organs of the pelvic bowl especially the anus.
Tanmatras 6 – 10: the five subtle elements. Representing the tamasic functions of the mind (manas).

These are the objects of the sense. The sound itself. The feel of what is touched, the form of what is seen, the flavor of what is tasted, and the odour that is smelled. Tantra suggests that sounds evolves from hearing, and form evolves from sight. This is how the world is projected from within.

10. Sound:

9. Touch/Feel

8. Form

7. Taste/Flavour

6. Odour
Mahabhuta 1 – 5: the primary elements

5. Ether: Expansive, space, emptiness, vacuum. This tattva is not itself manifest, but is the supports the other tattva by providing space for their existence. Symbolized the unseeable, unknowable spirit which both transcends reality and is immanent in reality; permeating every aspect of all that is knowable and not. Relates with the vissudhi chakra.

4. Air: Movement and mobility, dry subtle, rising. It can easily penetrate everywhere (filling the void of space). We recognize it most distinctly in our breath and it is the vehicle for prana, vital energy. Relates with the Anahata chakra.

3. Fire: Transformation, hot, sharp, dynamic. Represents the masculine principle of dynamism, extroversion, passion and aggression. Also relates to the digestive fire and the intellectual fire. Relates with the Manipura chakra and thus with prakash, divine illumination.

2. Water: Fluid, liquid, cool. Represents the feminine principle and is passive and can assume any form. Water purifies and dissolves, and it relates with sexuality and birth. Relates to Svadhisthana chakra and thus represents the flow of linear time.

1. Earth: All of the tattva are fully manifest in earth. It is the most dense, the heaviest, the most solid and grounded of the tattva. Related with Mother Earth principle of patience, creativity, sustenance; as well as the lunar principle of progression, rhythm and change. It’s often said that Shiva loves this tattva the most because this is the limit of his contraction. In it’s relationship with muladhara chakra this is the residence of kundalini.


The connection between the primary elements and the tattva looks something like this.

Ether – Sound – Speech – Hearing — Jupiter — Prana — HAM — Crystal Clear disk — Eyebrows to top of head — Cit — Om hraum sadashivaya akashadhipataye shantyateetakalatmane, hum fhut swaha

Air – Touch – Grasping – Touch — Saturn –– Apana YAM — Six sided/six circles smokey grey or grey blue — Heart to Eyebrows — Ananda — Om hraim ishanaya vayuvydhipataye shantikalatmane, hum fhut swaha

Fire – Form – Locomotion – Sight — Mars — Vyana RAM — Red Triangle — Navel to Heart — Iccha — Om hrum rudrya tejodhipataye vidyakalatmane, hum fhut swaha

Water – Taste – Procreation – Taste — Venus — Udana– VAM — White Crescent moon — knees to navel — Jnana — Om hrim vishnave jaladhipataye pratisthakalatmane, hum fhut swaha

Earth – Odour – Excretion – Smell — Mercury — Samana — Anus — Dhananjaaya: remains in the corpse until it’s burned — LAM — Yellow Square — Feet to knees — Kriya — Om hraum brahmane prithvidhipataye nivrittikalatmane, hum fhut swaha

Photo from Tantra Illuminated by Christopher Wallis

The Shaivist conception of these tattva has Shiva constantly evolving and devolving thru the tattva. Shiva is the eternal subject, the first illuminator, the first enjoyer. His movement thru the tattva an expression of his joy. This movement has many names (spanda, wave, force and it shows his movement from Shiva tattva to earth and back to Shiva tattva. The process of creation and destruction going on continually. But even this is not as it seems. Most of us would assume destruction is happening as Shiva makes his way back to himself, but actually earth will be the first to die. Being fully manifest puts us most solidly in the world of death, sorrow and suffering. This is where all this fire and brimstone of kali and Shiva’s burning ghats comes from.

So, when we turn our attention, thus identifying with the body (the earth), we will surely only know suffering, change, confusion and lack of control. When we turn our attention, and thus our personal identification inwards we limit that suffering step by step. Getting past the mind and the emotional being is one of the greatest hurdles. Only matched by the struggle a young yogi will go thru to get past their ego (ahamkara).

The ego is an important topic for discussion in tantra. Shiva is essentially a supreme egoity; the self of all selves. The purusha is ones individual soul; this is certainly a big part of who we are. And then we have the ahamkara which is who we think we are. These are like three levels of ego: The ahamkara is the ego which is cut off from inner truths; it only sees what is on the surface. The purusha is that ego which understands our connection to the universal. People who strongly identify with their individual soul approach life as an instrument of the divine. This is the beginning of saintliness. But only one who has fully realized their divine nature as all of this whole universe will experience Shiva’s true freedom (svatantriya).

This is a little like saying that there is more than one truth, though they might each seem to be incompatible with the other truths. A big part of our job as yogis is to assimilate such contradictory truths and ultimately experience the illumination of this world thru each lens. It’s not that the world of this body and these sensual desires is not true, but it represents a limited truth; a tamasic, impure truth. The truth of our individual soul is quite another level of truth which represents a rajasic truth, which manages to be both pure and impure. Only the highest truth is truly pure and sattvic, but this does not negate the others. Shiva is fully present in each of the tattva. His illumination shines from everywhere. From whichever perspective we take, we can recognize Shiva and realize ourselves as that infinite being of all being.


Short Bibliography

The Advaita Saiva Philosophy of Kashmir, by Debarata Sensharma

The Philosophical and Practical Aspects of Kashmiri Saivism, By Pandit

Tantra Illuminated, by Christopher Wallis

Aphorisms of Shiva, translated by Mark Dyczkowski

Tattwa Shuddhi, by S. Saraswati (Bihar School)

Vedic Remedies in Astrology, Sanjay Rath

Painting of “Sri Yantra” by Tania Satori (used with permission) see tania_vaculty on Instagram.

I am Shiva this world is Shakti

When we say that our true self is Shiva, we are not talking about this self that is body, mind; limiter and ceaselessly changing. This I who is Shiva is the unchanging universal soul which is being expressed not just in this body, but in all bodies as an individual soul. This “I” is the eternal subject. We cannot change what is not subject to change; we cannot purify that which is already pure. There is light, we can see, we are and we exist; this is only subject to acceptance, not change. This topic is hardly even amenable to contemplation. If we can’t even imagine it, it’s best we don’t even consider changing it.

Everything outside of the scope of the Shiva soul is Shakti: our mind and body and all that can be perceived by the senses at any moment. This is the eternal other. Many of us would like to change this. We think we are the body and have control over our body and mind and seek to make changes here, but the truth is that we are all fools. This coming together of soul (Shiva), body and mind (Shakti) is the divine play that we are advised to approach as a witness. This is the field of karma; the interplay between subject and object. We have no freedom here.

But where are we free? Where can we affect change?

In our relationship between the subject and object; in the way we relate not only to the world, but to our own bodies. How do we use what we have to reach out to the world?! This starts with how we relate without own body, our own mind.

We are born from a mother and a father. We had and have no control over this time and place we find ourselves. Even our will is the will of god. If I trace back the origin of this yoga or astrology I practice, or even this writing I am doing now, it all comes back to a will, an innate propensity towards these things. In other words, I didn’t do anything to have any of this; it was freely given to me at birth (all the benefits and all the defects).

This is one of the primary mistakes that most western yogis are making. They think they are the yogi and they pat themselves on the back for the good job they are doing. They do not accept the gift of their body and physical conditioning; they think they are the architect. Small “i” with small minds; they have not even begun to imagine what truth might be. They go around saying how blessed they are without recognizing that every sentient being is equally blessed. They base their blessing on the ever changing material reality; their blessing is not likely to get them thru bad weather as they begin to ask why such a curse. ‘To be’ is to be blessed; to not recognize this is the curse.

When we focus on our relationships with things there is little outward change to be recognized, but inside we will feel it just like we feel anger or sadness or frustration; we will feel peace; we will feel the blessing of existence in every moment thru good times and bad. And this is the sort of change people are really looking for; this is the sort of change that changes everything.

 

 

Pilgrimage to the Heart of India 2018

(In February 2020 a trip similar to this is being arranged. Contact me for details.)

19 day pilgrimage to Varanasi, Omkareshwar, Ellora & Ajanta Caves, Maheshwar, Mandu and Indore

20 November – 8 December 2018

Dear Friends,

It’s about time I bring a group of friends to see some of my favorite pilgrimage places in India: Varanasi, Shiva city, the spiritual centre of India famous for tantra and pilgrimage; Omkareshwar and Maheshwar on the Narmada river are major centres of the 3.5 year pilgrimage that sees a steady stream of devotion. Ellora and Ajanta are both ancient monuments of devotion and wonder. We will make a stop by Mandu for a day of cycling, frivolity and wandering thru villages and Mugul ruins scattered across the country side. The final stop will be in Indore to visit a couple important tantric temples and enjoy the comforts of the city before going our separate ways.

The trip will include:

  • Land travel within India, most meals, room, guided tours, yoga & astrology
  • Traditional Hatha Yoga practice including asana, pranayama, mantra, meditation. Bhakti, Raja, Hatha, Jnana, Tantra and Kundalini yogas will all find expression over the course of this trip.
  • A detailed Vedic Astrology reading and remedy coaching.
  • Six nights in a simple, traditional forest ashram over-looking the holy Narmada river
  • Five nights in Varanasi over looking the Holy Ganges river
  • A small group of six allows for deep integration of the practices and teachings.
  • Excellent introduction to India for those who wish to continue traveling the country
  • A unique yoga pilgrimage
  • Deep introduction to yogic philosophy and Vedic way of life.
  • Suitable for anyone who is a pilgrim at heart. No prior knowledge or experience is necessary. Sincerity towards the method is the most important attribute.

Basic Itinerary

20 November – 8 December 2018

20 November 2018: Arrival in Varanasi, rest, short evening yoga and meditation next to the river.

While in Varanasi: Morning yoga, site-seeing tours, boat rides, lots of free time, meeting Shiva devotees, astrology charts will be completed for each person.

25 November: Train to Khandwa; bus to Omkareshwar, take rest and get settled at the Gayatri Forest Ashram, easy evening yoga and meditation.

While in Omkareshwar: Two yoga classes per day. Learning traditional stories, parikrama (walk) around the island, visiting important pilgrimage sites, pilgrims and sadhus. Spending time in nature, swimming, enjoying.

02 December: Jeep to Ajanta. While in Ellora/Ajanta trip we will take our yoga where we can get it. There is often an opportunity to practice among the caves.

03 December: Jeep to Ellora and then to Maheshwar, take rest, get settled in the guest house.

While in Maheshwar: One to two yoga classes per day, visiting special holy sites, boating, swimming, meeting pilgrims, singing, & enjoying nature.

07 December: Jeep to Mandu, cycling/site-seeing, and then jeep to Indore.

08 December: Visit Mahakala and Bhairava temple before departure. The tour will end on this day and departures will go from Indore.

  • Note: let us know if we can help to arrange transport and lodging before and after the trip.

By the end of this trip participants will have gained deep knowledge of Yogic, Vedic and Tantric practice and lifestyle. One will have gained an appreciation for simple, prayerful living and will have a good foundation to continue a personal sadhana (spiritual practice). You will also gain valuable travel experience and a deep humanistic education as we travel on and off the tourist trail thru the heart of India.

Anyone with a sincere desire for self knowledge thru yoga and traditional knowledge are welcome. Yoga classes are easily modified to be accessible to everyone as well as challenging for every level of fitness and concentration. Much of the philosophical content will be organic (arising from the circumstances and questions) so this too will be both accessible and challenging for most anyone.

India can be a challenging country and we will be living very simply as pilgrims ourselves for parts of trip. This simplicity of nature will hopefully counterbalance the sensory and emotional over-load that Delhi and Varanasi are known for in different ways. Travel can be slow and frustrating (most times) and there will a few arduous days of travel, lots of walking, and a group of eight people traveling and living together for 19 days (18 nights). We hope that lots of free time, optional tours and practices, and flexibility by everyone, will allow everyone to get the flavour they are seeking from life.


This package tour includes:

  1. 19 days/18 nights in various guest houses and ashrams may be shared occupancy
  2. Many meals, lots of chai and snacks
  3. Transportation
  4. Vedic Astrology consultation.
  5. Classical Hatha Yoga classes
  6. Guide fees
  7. Additional administrative fees, organization costs, booking fees, travel expenses, baksheesh & diksha donations to temples, pilgrims and ashrams in the name of the group

Total cost:

  • $1950. A $600 deposit will hold this space for you

Stipulations

  • Limited to six people. Must have at least 4 people signed up by October 1 for the trip to proceed. Full refunds will be given if it’s cancelled for this reason. I expect it will sell out fast.
  • One place will have preference for someone with knowledge in Ayurveda and/or Jyotish and would like to do a mentorship in astrology over the 19 days of this pilgrimage.
  • Unless your seat can be sold to someone else we may only be able to refund 50% of the fee in case of cancellation. There will be an administrative fee retained in any case, but we look vary favorably upon those who find someone to fill their place for them.
  • Bring a friend and save $100 each (not available for early bird pricing). Bring two or more friends and save $200 while each of them save $100.

What is not included, and why?

  • Many meals, snacks and chai throughout the day since you will be on your own.
  • Baksheesh, diksha payments, tips to temples monks, sadhus and service people which are best given by your own heart & hand
  • Flight to India, travel insurance, immunizations are all your responsibility.
  • Souvenirs, personal items, personal travel or personal entertainment.
  • No certificates will be available as this pilgrimage is meant to be a personal healing, learning & potentially transformational journey. If you want a certificate, go to Rishikesh.
  • If you are unsure about what may or may not be included, please ask before departure.

Your host and guide:

Mike Holliday has had a deep spiritual and personal connection with Varanasi, Ganga & Narmada since 2007. He has been teaching yoga around the world for almost ten years and offering philosophical/spiritual coaching and counsel for over half that time. He has guided many people thru Varanasi and well as thru Indian culture and a few have even come to experience the magic of the Narmada river with him. He is an engaging teacher and story teller; a very knowledgeable guide thru the unknown; a sincere, grounded friend and adviser & he has a strong passion for sharing traditional knowledge. He is an off the beaten path teacher who mostly follows orthodoxy but does not not believe it is necessary.

For more information:

  • holliday.michael@gmail.com

Healing from Within

I was about 9 years old when I was walking thru a frozen forest, shouldered my pellet gun, and discovered the great transformative silence of death as a chickadee fell from the branch.  In 2003, my father was killed in a work accident. Later in life I came to live and practice in a holy place between the cremation grounds of Varanasi, India; the chosen abode of Lord Shiva. When my grandfather passed away, we shared our fear of death and brought peace to the whole family. That light and purity of a new born baby also shines in the eyes of those who burn for that final release from the wheels of time. All of our lives we seek the flavour that will quench our thirst, but eventually, we thirst for the most unthinkable mystery; death.

The movement of the breath is controlled by the Great Spirit in the Sky of Consciousness and it comes and goes; starts and stops only by that ultimate grace. The power of Great Spirit is raw and pure when we go thru the great transformations of birth and death. Between these two great moments lie all the smaller cycles of the breath and the days and the seasons and so much more that we can experience fully and deeply as we experience that great birth and death of the body. This is the experience of reality.

Yoga and spirituality suggest we can experience a deeper reality  if we look at life beyond our individual experience and experience life in relation to the universal expression of consciousness; of spirit; of spanda; Shiva’s self expression thru his powers; his Shaktis. We are so much more than these limited bodies and the experiences we have in this lifetime; we are intimately connected to the whole span of time and everything that has and will exist. We are not just a part of this universe, we are this universe. The truth is so mindbogglingly beautiful and wonderful that we can only experience it as that…… astonishing beauty, dazzling amazement and wonder. We’ve all felt this as some time in our lives. This is the experience of reality,

There is little difference between letting go of our egos so that we can transform ourselves in this life, or doing so so that we can prepare for the next life. In either case, we want to turn our awareness towards the truth of who we really are here and now releasing ourselves from the past and the future; releasing ourselves from our own stories. Each time we transform ourselves we seek to reach a higher consciousness; we want that positive growth which which will benefit not only ourselves, but our families and communities and the universe as a whole. It’s that universal connection and experience of non-difference that we seek, but which remains, for most of us, just out of reach. Like a shy damsel, ultimate reality casts only the most fleeting glimpse from the corner of her eye. And this is were we must also seek out that ultimate reality: in those dark corners of our mind and along the edges of our breath and our thoughts and between all things which seem distinct.

Between you and me is some chemistry which brings us into perfect and blissful union because it allows both of us to taste the ripened fruits of our individual karma while contributing, each in our own special way, to the collective karma that ties us all together. We call activity karma when we experience it a force of limitation that separates; but when we experience activity as a force of freedom and play arising and falling away from the same place, bringing everything together, activity is then called Kriya (the spontaneous activity of one who experiences life as universal agency (the actor) and preceiving subjectivity (the witness)).  This is the experience of life; reality; divinity.  ​

We are all on this path of healing together. Together we will grow and evolve; find the courage to face our fears and overcome the false limitations we put on ourselves. To do this we practice being open and honest to the reality of the moment while applying our most sincere efforts to whatever activity is at hand. This sincerity is especially important for healing and spirituality, since it provides us with the impulse and the will to gather the necessary knowledge and put it into a meaningful action. Tapping into this personal sincerity for healing is what we mean by healing from within.

Prana: The Most Essential Quality

 What is Prana Vayu?

hanuman, bhima, madhvaPrana is life force or vital essence. Vayu is air and movement. Pranavayu is the movement of vital energy. Western Yogis have been talking about prana for many years already and it’s a relatively common term now. Modern Sanskrit scholars now tell us that we may have misunderstood the meaning of this word (see Wallis or Dyczkowski for confirmation).

Yoga teachers will commonly cue student to “inhale the prana” and “to visualize prana coming down into the body to give it energy. Ayurveda has followed with this classification of prana being a downward movement connected with the inhalation. Prana vayu is actually a bit of an awkward arrangement of terms since anything with prana moves and anything that moves has prana. This means we can refer to all five movements of the prana  vayus as movements of ‘prana;’ we can also drop the use of prana and just call these movements the vayus.

What modern scholars tell us is that the word ‘prana’ actually refers to the upward outward movement of our exhalation rather than the downward inward movement of our inhalations. The implications of this research is just starting get filtered down to us ordinary yogi and even very respected Ayurveda Institutes have still not taken the time to consider their own teachings and understanding of this topic.

I have written elsewhere about the ignorance of the colonial mindset so I won’t talk about it here. Most ordinary yogis in the west are so far removed from the yogic scriptures that such finely tuned understanding of the terms they use is of little importance. The larger institutes and colleges are typically more concerned with reputation and profits they have little incentive to seek after the truth. It almost seem to be a kind of “little mans syndrome” of academia. Only the the great scholars care about such things and nobody listens to them since we can find the (wrong) definition of of prana anywhere on google.

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So, getting back to exhalation which is connected with prana vayu. When we exhale, our vital force goes out thru our breath and the five senses to illuminate the world much like the Sun as it follows it’s daytime course thru the heavens. It’s rises with the beginning of our exhalation and moves thru the sky (of consciousness) until setting in the 12 finger space above the crown of the head to give way to the movement of the moon which rises full when the sun sets. This is where the exhalation has ended. As we inhale to passively and graciously receive the gift of life one nitya (goddess) leaves the Moon and enters into our bodies to nourish us and give life to the soul (the Sun) thru the body until she is herself drained of life, dark and dry as the Sun gains exaltation begins to penetrate the cold darkness of death with heat of life and the illumination of consciousness.

This is also the meaning of pranayama (prana + ayama): the life force which defeats death bringing life to the sense, allowing them to move. Prana brings movement and warmth to whatever is inert, cold and dead. (I have also seen the opposite interpretation (prana + yama) suggesting that we do the breathing practices in order to still the breath, slow all the vital functions, an ultimately ride the breath to the heavens leaving the duality of earthly existence behind. Of course we continue on with our life, but without attachment, free of the limitations of the three gunas and they individual vital breath. One moves instead in perfect harmony with the universal flow of consciousness.

Kal Bhairava takes over for Yama in Varanasi.

When we exhale prana, that life force which was given to us by god, reaches out to the world through our senses to colour and flavour the objects with whatever flavour we might crave; whatever we have inside of ourselves at the moment reaches out to the world to create a counterpart. When we inhale and bring back all of that sensory material we generally forget that we have just created it, so we react. We forget that we always get back whatever we give. As long as we have forgotten this fundamental rule we will suffer from our karma; once we learn it, life becomes a spontaneous play whatever might be your circumstances.

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“The vital breath is essentially a state of consciousness which manifests as the movement of two breaths; prana and apana (exhale and inhale).” This is a major theme of Tantra: that one thing  appears to be two separate things; or, as is the case in waking life, as a multiplicity of distinct objects. As we look at things more and more closely and understand them for their subtleties rather than accepting them at face value, they begin to merge together as though they were never separate. As it says in the Stanzas on Vibration:

“Whatever else may exist apart from you, if subjected to sound reflection, simply disappears like the fables palace of celestial musicians and you alone, changeless remain….” Stanza 10 goes on to say that , “then the soul realizes that his true nature (dharma) is universal agency and perceiving subjectivity, and so he knows and does whatever he desires.” ~Stanzas on Vibration~

In yoga we often talk about the body, mind and soul. We can think of this as three worlds or three layer of our being. The vayus live in the intermediate region of our highest intelligence but they move between the heaven and earth; the soul and the body; the subject and the object. Vayu is Air and Ether, which allows it pervade and move between all 36 tattva.

11TH_Rudra_Shiva_HanumanThe prana vayus are known as the vehicle of Rudra, an ancient name for lord Shiva that means “the Howler.” Rudra is known as the “Lord of Beasts.”  He is often associated with the 11 Mahurts which signifies his rulership of the mind and the 10 indriyas (5 sensory and 5 motor functions).

There are 5 Prana-vayu (movements of essential vital force), the sacred spaces associated with them. I have described them both in Tantric terms as well as in terms of Ayurveda

  1. Prana: Represented by the Sun. Prana is moving when we exhale; this is a movement upward & outward from the body, when the vital force of the senses reach out to their object. This is the expression of our life force to penetrate the world and forever leaving our mark up it (which will come back to us again thru the 5 fold cycle of the vayus). Prana also represent what we give to the world. Many people who belong to traditional cultures will begin a deep breath with an exhalation whereas modern people are much more likely to inhale straight away when told to take a deep breath. In the later Tantras, this movement became associated with the pingala channel of the nadi system.

  2. Apaana: Represented by the Moon.  Apana vayu is the inward & downward movement which first comes to us thru the crown of our head in the form of grace or shaktipat as we receive the gift of life. In Ayurveda it’s the downward movement that aids elimination.  and moved down the body Ayurveda they say move downward and outward. Like for the elimination of bodily waste. In later Tantras this became associated with the Ida channel of the nadis system.

  3. Samaana: According to Ayurveda, it moves inwards, spinning towards a centre point like meditation. In the waking and dream state, prana-apana is active, however in states of deep-sleep samaana (the Equalizing breath) balances the inhalation and exhalation. The call it the equinox

  4. Udaana: The Ascending breath. This is the central channel; the shushumna. This is the upwards rising force. According to Ayurveda, it also moves outwards like speech.

  5. Vyaana: expansion in all directions radiating from the navel outward in all directions. Often considered as the nadis energy system similar to the meridians of Chinese Medicine.

What is the most essential quality?

The first story

The Trio Brahma vishnu mahesh cute picturesOnce upon a time all of the organs and functions of the body got into a debate about who was most essential. Many were praising the the way the skeletal system gave shape and standing to the body, or how the blood carried nutrients to maintain the body, others marveled the how the heart pumped blood and how the lung found it’s own way to pump air, then pranavayu came along and everyone silent, for they knew that without the warmth of prana and the movement of the vayus that all life would stop. The hearth would not beat, the blood would pool and go stagnant, and the breath stops; the body becomes cold and inert.    

The second story

Once upon a time, the Gods entered into a timeless argument over who was most powerful and essential for the functioning of life and this universe. Shiva happened to be moving about rather than sitting peacefully upon the peak of Mount Kailash. Something always seemed to be happening whenever Shiva was moving about. When Shiva came across this childish argument he sought to quell it by simply pointing out that none were as powerful as him and they should all just go home and forget this pettiness. Of course some of the big gods who were standing around took offense to this; namely Brahma, the creator, and Vishnu, the preserver. To their protests, Shiva merely revealed his true form as a mystical shaft (lingam) of light and said, “see if you can find where I end.”

shiva1The two who remained standing there laughed at the challenge and quickly set off in opposite directions to find those loose ends, finish off the argument, and, for once, make Shiva look live the fool; because after all, everything has to come to an end. But after eons searching thru the vastness of Shiva’s light they finally decided to meet back in Kashi where it all began. When they got there, Vishnu immediately fell to his feet to offer his most respectful pranam to Shiva. But Brahma, who, despite his capacity for creation, has no eye for consequences, lied and said that he had found an end. It was just over the horizon not so far and it had only taken so long to return because he had decided to rest there for a while and fell asleep. 

Almost nothing enrages Shiva like arrogance and upon this insult all of his his most fearsome aspects rose to the surface and with an upsurge of impulse he chopped of one of Brahma’s five heads. The greatest crimes in India are those that go against pure knowledge and wisdom; they call this killing a Brahmin. Even the Gods are subject to karma so this fierce form of Shiva, whom they call Bhairava, took up the skull and walked the four corners of India for the next 12 years. This is the version of Shiva most emulated by modern Naga babas and Aghore: naked, fearsome to behold, covered in the ashes of the funeral pyre where he makes his bed. Every part of his external image brings fear and revulsion. But if we take the time to get to know a true aghore we will get to know and over come our own fears. For that’s the social role of the Aghore, to show us that this is the worst it can get; this is our greatest fear; but actually, it’s not so bad. 

Aghore
Aghore

After 12 years of wandering like this, Bharava returned to Kashi, and not far from the train station washed himself in a small pond. All of his impurities (malas) dropped away along with the skull which had been his companion for 12 years. He once again brought balance to the three gunas within himself, overcoming their excess and deficiencies freeing himself from the wheel of time and the cycle of cause and effect. In short, even the most fearsome evil was able to overcome the inner turmoil of self and social recrimination and realize himself as that same light of the universe that is in all things without distinction of good or bad or any of the other opposites.

Head Chopping in Hinduism

Ravan tapasya
Ravana offering his own head to Shiva.

In Kashi, whenever Shiva takes this fierce form and starts chopping off heads they call him Bhairava and have given him a rather bureaucratic job of welcoming and signing in all the pilgrims to give them access to the spiritual vision necessary “to cross the river that is so hard to cross.” You could say that he does this by metaphorically chopping off their heads. This head chopping metaphor is a relatively common one in Hinduism. Shiva chopped Ganesh’s head in Ujjain. They have built their own Bhairava temple there to commemorate the great event. Of course it was a little bloody and gruesome, but due to that Ganesha received blessings from all of the gods and was given guardianship over the directions. Kali is also famous for her necklace (mala) of heads. Ravana, the main antagonist of the Ramayana was given his great powers by Shiva when he cut off his own head in offering to Shiva. My teacher once told me that “only Ravana can cut off his own head and get away with it.” Due to his great power of penance his head grew back every time. Ravana was actually said to have ten heads due to the vastness of his knowledge and wisdom. All of this suggests that a jnana yogi needs to acquire, by penance and blessing, knowledge which faces in all ten directions.

kali maIn Jyotish we also have the story of Rahu and Ketu, the north and south nodes. This all happened in the very beginning when the gods and demons (the bureaucrats and bohemians) figured out that they had to work together to retrieve the elixir of immortality by churning the ocean of milk; pretty much all the divine being had to help in some way. In their greed to get the amrit, they didn’t think much about the side effects which was the creation of the physical universe and it’s cycles. Laxmi and Kamadenu came from this churning as did some great toxins that Shiva was able to swallow to save everyone. When the amrit arose and they were getting ready to pass it around a beautiful dancing girl appeared, seductive and scantily dressed. This was a ploy by the gods who knew the demons could be easily distracted by their senses. From the start, they never intended to share the amrit with the demons from. Swarbhanu was watching and saw all of this happening so he disguised himself as one of the gods and lined up with them for the amrit while the rest of the demons were being pushed to the back of the line. But just as Swarbhanu was taking a drink Sun and the Moon alerted Vishnu who swiftly cut off his head, but it was too late, the amrit had made it down his throat and both halves of him were immortal. The called the head Rahu and the body Ketu and gave them an abode in the starry heavens with the planets. The continue their vendetta against Sun and Moon whom they’ve never forgiven. At the time of the eclipse they get their chance to exact revenge thru various methods of disruption. Rahu brings intense desire while Ketu brings an almost equal intensity to his ambivalence. While Rahu brings our focus to the material world an ensures that the wheel of karma keeps turning; Ketu cuts us from our material ambitions allowing us to surrender to what is. 

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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