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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Self knowledge, the equal of universal knowledge in most of India, is one of the most prized areas of knowledge. Various sciences and systems have been created just for this purpose. One of the oldest branches of knowledge in India is called Samkya. This is a dualist and materialistic branch of knowledge that sought to map out and categorize the various elements of existence that allow us to have this human experience. After some time, many of the philosophers and rishis began to understand that there was more to life than meets the eye. The material designations of Sankya are fine they said, but something was clearly missing since all this matter is inert, insentient and incapable of the complexity that we see in life. So, the rishis and philosopher looked deeper and eventually expanded the categories of tattvas to include several higher elements that connect us to a divine well-spring of power that infuses matter with sentience.
So, anyone wishing to follow the philosophical schools of India should have some cursory knowledge of the tattwas as outlined by Sankya as well as the more subtle tattwas as outlined in Tantra. In this section I wish to share some of the notes I have made regarding the tattwas. I cannot claim this as original work, but since it’s an area of study that I find myself continuously coming back to, I’ve come to believe that a basis in this knowledge is necessary for the more intellectually minded self seeker.
The Bhagavad Gita has said that there are four kinds of people who worship god: 1. the distressed, 2. seekers of knowledge, 3. seekers of wealth, 4. people of knowledge. In his summary of Chapter 7 of the Gita, Abhinavagupta wrote that, “Pure devotion is the wish fulfilling tree by means of which one may fulfill hopes proper to be desired by the sadhaka.” (p186) And elsewhere it has been said that knowledge is better than practice, meditation is better than knowledge, but renunciation of the fruits of action is better than meditation.
Spiritual inclination is grace! Spiritual effort is grace!
Tantric Upayas: Mean of Liberation
“Whatever act I may have performed without knowing its good or bad consequences or knowing the proper order of its performances; whatever act I may have performed without concentration or with any other lapse of my intellect; all of that, O Shambhu, you who are compassionate, forgive me, your miserable and ignorant devotee. Through this strota I surrender myself to you and let me never again become the abode of misery for no good reason.” (Abhinavagupta p264)
So with all of this in mind we can then then use these clues about our true nature to help lend us the faith and knowledge that we all need to begin or continue our spiritual practice. In tantra the means to self-recognition are said to be four-fold; these can be understood as both different stages of practice, as well as different means that can be used in different circumstances. The point of any Tantric sadhana is to efface the ego while cultivating a sense of universal love and oneness with those (and that which is) around you.
Ultimately we all have to accept that this comes only by grace, but a touch of that grace seem to already apply to those whose aim in life is spiritual. In any case these are the four means of liberation.
Shambhav-upaaya: Philosophical and mental means of liberation. Iccha-shakti; method of will. Theory of reflection. A kind of direct perception or pure understanding that form is merely a reflection of the Supreme. There is no method here other than being established in your own will; seated in the self; seated in the heart or however you want to put it. Matrkachakra: this is the awareness of pure thought without constructs; in other words sound. Pratyahara: this is spontaneous absorption which comes only by grace. When one is established in the self what need to be done. Abhinavagupta described pratyahara as, “When, like a turtle which withdraws its limbs on all sides, the yogi withdraws his senses from the sense objects, then his wisdom becomes steady.” (Gita 2/58) We expect our saints to be living at this level of awareness. Accords with the dream sleep when the mind dwells in the throat.
Shakt-upaaya: Contemplative concentration of void. (ex. Gap between two thoughts) Jnana-shakti. Uninterrupted awareness. Discovery of reality of void thru subtle means of conscious awareness. Practices that involve the mind and various higher levels of consciousness. Spiritual teachers are perhaps expected to be practising here. Accords with the dreamless sleeping state when the mind dwells in the heart.
Anava-upaaya: Depends on breathing (uccaara), sense organs (karana), and mental concentration (dhyana). Concentrate on space between inhale and exhale. One pointed concentration with any sense organ (ex. Trataka). Dyana without form like mantra. Dyana with form like yantra. Devote yourself to God thru puja, japa, homa, study of the scriptures. All the practices that make use of the organs of sense and action. This of course is where most of us are trying to practice and learn. Accords with the waking state when your mind dwells in the navel.
An-upaaya: No method. Only remain aware that nothing has to be done. Abide in one’s own self. Surrender your actions to God. This is the back up plan. This is perhaps the practice of the average person. Accords with the 4th state when the mind dwells in the head.
All of the methods we use for self-recognition and self-improvement will fit into one of these categories. For most of us we can only apply an-upaaya. We’re busy completing our karma, we’re engrossed in what we’re doing and that’s ok. We just have to remember that nothing truly needs to be done; we just have to be. For many people, this isn’t enough, we want to go deeper and try to understand and perhaps perceive the subtler aspects that are indeed ensuring that everything will be ok in the end (or it won’t and that’s ok too). We want to apply some upaaya, some means for greater self awareness; we want to apply ourselves and improve our organs of sense and action (anava-upaaya); we want to use study scripture, practice various forms of meditation and yoga that can help get us or keep us in touch with some divine that we all sense is a part of our lives. We generally feel pretty good about ourselves doing all of this until someone reminds us that nothing really needs to be done. At which point we stop doing so much and sit and do it all in our minds: conscious awareness; subtle awareness; shakt-upaaya. We have to do something so we continue, but we try to keep in mind that the doing doesn’t really matter so much; it’s not really part of the job profile of the individual self the individual soul that is still a part of the universal self that we’re all trying to get in touch with has made many of those decisions (after all, astrology clearly teaches us that the universal self is taking care of most of the doing down here on earth). The individual self can, however, move it’s awareness around and put it where ever it likes. (The oldest texts on yoga talk about entering other bodies.) Some say we are to put our awareness on prayer, others say to look for pleasure and satisfaction in life, a few other dare to claim we should focus on combining the two. All would perhaps agree that we should first have some idea who we really are. In the end, grace is our only hope. By grace some people become seated in themselves and there is nothing more to be done (shambhav-upaya). When we withdraw our senses from the objects of sense we experience the pure taste of whatever flavour we have inside of us; we get that pure flavour we crave on account of the wheels of energies that are operating inside of us.
“The withdrawal of the vital channels (pranayama), the conquest of the elements (dharana), freedom from the elements (pratyahara) and the separation of the elements (Svachinanda).”
(Shiva Sutra 3/5)
“…he who constantly tries to discern the spanda (vibration) principle rapidly attains his own true state of being….” (Stanzas)
Vijnanabhairava it the classical text outlining 112 methods of Tantric and Yogic methods of union or self-realization. Some suttras give very specific instruction, others leave the door wide open for you to follow what comes natural to you: a word, an object, a thought, anything at all; fix your mind on it and don’t let it waver. “The expansion of consciousness that takes place when one is engaged in a single thought should be known as the source from whence another arises. One should experience that for oneself.” (Stanzas 41) Or find that point between two breaths, two thoughts, or two actions and try to rest your mind there. Meditate on being both the perceiver and perceived (the subject and the object). Then establish a state of awareness of that which links the two. Become fully aware of the state of perceiving, free from both subject and object. Abhinavagupta has described it as a bird swooping down upon it’s prey. That moment moves fast and we must be swift.
Much of the Vijnanabhairava teaches a kind of concentration or focus, when we can take this power of focus and put it where we like, then we can do what we want. Of course we also have to have he self knowledge to know if we have the various abilities of mind sense and action to get that thing. This is why yoga seems to focus so heavily on health, exercise, learning and study; because if we’re strong healthy, flexible and knowledgeable we will be able to access and heighten all of our natural abilities. If we have looked at and studied the self merely by observing the various faculties of the self we will be more comfortable in our bodies, our minds, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. This comfort allows us to take our awareness away from the body, mind and circumstances and focus instead on those higher aspects of ourself that reach throughout the cosmos rather than remaining trapped in our tiny worlds of suffering and woes. Contemplate each tattva respectively and disattach from it: from least pervasive to most pervasive; from the elements, up thru the senses, mind, intellect, maya and consciousness itself. (See chapter on tattva’s.)
Anything that brings us closer to recognizing and realizing that we are that universe can be considered a means to liberation. Many of the Indian sciences have their own upayas depending on which parts of us we are focused on healing and getting into touch with. But every upaya also affects the whole. So if you’re following Ayurvedic diet to heal your body, that healing is also bringing more awareness of your soul. But of course everything must be followed in balance or you get some excess or deficiency.
In regards to healing, we can often look at to the activity of the senses to see if what is happening on the inside is the same as what is happening on the outside. Food, acupuncture, the clothes and ornaments we wear, the the people we associate with and the activities we perform can all be used to heal. It’s all a kind of worship and ritual. Swami Laxmanjoo made a point when he said that worldly life is pragmatic, worship should be appreciated as theater: art for arts sake. In the Stanzas on Vibration it says: “Constantly attentive and perceiving the entire universe as play, he who has this awareness is undoubtedly liberated in this very life.” With equal gusto it has been advised to ignore the cycle of birth and death; the cycle of life is higher, only it is eternal. If we live for an eternity there is always time and reason for healing and self recognition. It’s cautioned, however, that while participating in sense enjoyment, we are to be enjoying the bliss of self, not the pleasure of the sense object.
“The subject is said to be the lord when, in the midst of phenomena, (he experiences them) as his own body. (But he is) a fettered soul when, sullied by karma etc., (he experiences) conflicts (klesha) in the midst of diversity generated by maya.
Jyotish Astrology Upayas
“the City of Eight consists of the inner mental organ along with the senses of knowledge and action. Others say that it is [also] made up of the five breaths, the five subtle elements, desire, karma and ignorance.” (Tattvaprakasha)
Jyotish astrology, as the science of light, also seeks to engage the subtler perspectives and provide upayas for self recognition. Astrology acts as the mirror of the individual self and suggest remedial measures for helping you to realize your connection with the universal self. For anyone with any experience with Jyotish astrology, we often find that our limits in the material world are much greater that we at first suspected. The extent of our fettered is almost unimaginable, but still we get this wonderful experience of free will. So how do we explain this contradiction between our experience and the knowledge.
Astrology is of course an ocean of a science, and the astrologer merely a pearl diver. The ocean is vast, and the diver is just one small simple man. The client has his or her chart (the ocean) and the astrologer also has his own chart, which is but a wet-suit compared to the ocean. If both charts are favorable, the client will receive a good reading and go away happy and receive the fruits he or she expects to receive. Perhaps the person will even get a glimmer of the divine forces to which are inseparably linked. If, however, just one chart is not favorable, many things can easily go awry. The astrologer can have a bad day and miss something, or the data might not be quite right, or the client might not understand correctly. In any case, it’s always our own fate, we cannot blame others for our misery.
Traditional healers generally maintain that they do not actually perform any healing. The client comes (we always hope) with that healing already inside of them. The healers job is merely to point them in the direction of healing. The healer is just an instrument of healing. This is why such a variety of scientific and non-scientific methods all work to heal; because it’s not the method which is providing healing, but the patients own life force. Astrologers need to impress upon people that what they generally decoding for them is what they have inside of themselves; and not necessarily some outside force. There are no upayas that can bring you anything you don’t already have inside, all they can do is help you to reach the highest and best potential of what you already have.
From an astrological perspective, what is outside of us and outside of us are merely reflected versions of each other that are constantly acting and interacting together. We get a combined effect of the reactions that are produced. We often say that an astrology chart is like a pathology report. The astrologer is like the doctor who interprets that report. The client doesn’t really need to know the details of the report, what the client needs is the remedial measures.
In truth, most people know themselves fairly well. They don’t really need an astrologer to tell them about themselves, what they need are ways which will help them understand the interconnectedness of everything. Giving specific selfless service is said to be one of the best ways of overcoming or understanding our suffering. When we serve those who share our suffering or represent our fears then we dissipate that negative quality; life become just a little bit lighter.
Meditation and any spiritual practice in general can been good, but even these things can be fine tuned with astrology. Of course gemstones are easiest for most people with a few extra dollars, but without grace, I can’t imagine the effect to be as strong as with some practice which can include service and ritual, but also tapas, worship, mantra, the study of scriptures and other such engaging practices.
What is important to remember is that “Identification with the City of Eight is bondage.” This may come as a surprise to many people who have been taught to identify with their own inner soul, rather than with their body, but these lessons of the City of Eight suggest that even the deepest essence of our individual soul is binding, as of course it must be, since freedom is not an individual experience but rather a universal one.
Part 10: The Goal
Somewhere within all of this is supposed to be some goal. We want something for all of this work performed. What exactly we want is not easy to describe. Many words get used such as enlightenment, self-recognition, self-empowerment, freedom, liberation. Many other describe as self-improvement or self-betterment. We are not, after all, merely doing this for our health. So what should we expect? The truth is that we should not expect anything. Of course everything is always changing so there will be change, but fundamentally nothing will change. You will still have the same fate and karmas to perform. As Krishna said in the Gita: “we cannot avoid action, not even thru non-action.”
What changes is our awareness? By gaining deeper more focused awareness we are able to recognize how we are ourselves the universe. This is self-recognition. We come to recognize the eternal subject which is ourselves, as well as the relationships of that subject with the various objects of the world beginning without own body. We are not this limited individual self, we are the universal self in part and in whole.
Some beliefs bring people to an emptiness once the individual self has been over come, Tantra promises a fullness like a pot boiling over. The fullness is the dynamic interplay between subject and object, the movement and change of the world. To be aware of this is said to be freedom. The practice of yoga is the practice of being aware of all those things that connect us with ourselves and the other (which is who all the gods essentially represent) We should be aware of consciousness, breath, energy levels, rituals, mantra and worship. Expanded awareness is the only goal and these are the tools (our body and this world) This is the same awareness which shows us that there really is no distinction between fate and free will.
This is a big concern for many people who feel as though they are being led thru life like a draft animal. Many people who hear about astrology feel like this whole concept of astrology somehow interferes with their free will. Most people is this world are very attached to the ignorance they call free will. This common idea that we are the body and thru the body we can do what we like thru free will is a very narrow and ignorant perception of freedom and will. If we start to recognize that we are all of this, only then will we recognize the place from where that freedom and will arise.
We recognize our free will when we are aware of that all of this is emanating from the free will of that Shiva which is inside of us; that which which is us. Freedom is exercised on the levels between Shiva and maya, not on the level of our minds, bodies and senses. These things are merely the tools for exercising that freedom. Of course once a choice is made, we have to live by the karma of that choice. As soon as an individual soul takes a body, the time and place of that activity becomes crucial for the rest of ones life. This is of course the time and place of our birth and first breath, and whatever karma is given to us at that precious moment will determine the extent of the work to be do in this life. The trick is to recognize all of this and maintain that awareness that we are Shiva, we are the chooser, and have chosen to experience all of this. What is inside is outside so we have as much power inside of ourselves to affect events in our lives and this world as the Sun and the Moon have to affect the life cycles of this universe. It’s a fully reciprocal relationship between ourselves and the world. The more we recognize this, the more harmony comes into our lives and the world. The truth to life and freedom are vast; they range far beyond the mundane details of life. We can be sure, however, that everyone will play their role and each of us will get that taste we most crave; the quality of that flavour will be up to us.
“…. Then he unfolds Himself in the totality of manifestations viz., principles (tattvas), worlds (bhuvanas), entities (bhaavas) and their respective experients that are only a solidified form of Cit-rasa [the juice universal consciousness].” (Pratyabhijnaahrdayam: The Secret of Self Recognition. Trans. Jaideva Singh. Sutra 4)
Macrocosmos & Metaphysical Existence
Shiva Tattvas (Shaktyanda; sphere of shakti functioning in its pure form of citshakti or mahamaya)
The jiva is limiting himself thru maya and the five kanchukas. The Malas are due to the kanchukas and the two types of ajnana: 1: Paurusa ajnana: innate ignorance regarding the self. 2. Bauddha ajnana: ignorance of buddhi.
One considers the subtle and gross body as the self on account of asuddha vikalpas (ideation, thought constructs, irrational psychological thought). Replacing ajnana with jnana is one of the main goals of kashmiri shaivism and philosophical spiritual practice in general.
1 Five functions Performed by Shiva: 1. Nigraha or vilaya (act of self limitation/contraction), 2. Srsti (act of self manifestation of the world), 3. Sthiti (preservation of the world), 4. Samhara (absorption/withdrawl of worldly manifestation), 5. Anugraha (revelation or dispensation of grace)
2Shakti’s 5 modes of expression: 1. cit-shakti: conscious force, 2. Ananda-shakti: power as bliss, 3. Iccha-shakti: power as will, 4. Jnana-shakti: power as knowedge. 5. Kriya-shakti: spontanious action as power
3 Three kinds of defilements: 1. Aanava Mala (mula mala): self-contraction occuring at the first moment of manifestation of the universe. “The impurity of individuality.”(Aphorisms p15) Our true power becomes “obscured by the notions of existence and non-existence…”(Aphorisms p15) Begins once he descend to sadashiva level. Two kinds: a) veils knowledge of divine awareness, but freedom of action remains intact (Parlayaakalas & sakalas who exist below Prakriti) b) leaves knowledge of divine awareness, but veils ability to act freely (those staying above maya tattva). 2. Maayiiyamala: maayaa and the 5 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 the monade, embodies individuals are created, known as sakalas. *the imprint made in the mind due to action which is motivated out of attachment.
4Prakriti provides Purusha with everything he needs for enjoyment. The physical body, karmendriyas, jnanaindriyas. The three gunas constitute prakriti: Kapha, vatta, pitta. Three modes of activity of shakti are: iccha (rajas), jnana (sattva), kriya (tamas).
5Buddhi is the abode of microcosmic Pranashakti. From here it flows thru the different parts of the body via the nadis. Contracted power of Jnana shakti. Sattvic. Locus of every experience. Five kinds of Pranavayu: 1. Prana (air: moves upward. Receptive: sense organs) 2. Aapana: (Earth: moves downward. Elimination.) 3. Udaana: (outwards. Speech, sound, limbs of the body), 4. Vyaana: (expansion in all directions), 5. Samaana: (Inwards. Anything that spins towards a centre point (ex. Meditation)).
6Manas: Ahamkara is the material cause. Instrument of rationality. Supervises/controls karmindriya and Jnanindriyas.
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.
Most people in the west recognize the concept of maya from Buddhism or Vedanta philosophies. Following these modes of thought, maya translates as illusion. The path of these philosophies is a path of negation (neti neti: not this not that) to distinguish the real from the unreal. They say that only god is real and objective reality (objects of the mind and senses and such) are not real. Such objects arise only through the illusion of maya.
Tantra accepts maya to be just as real as god himself. Since god consciousness permeates everything completely and fully, then every object of the mind and senses is, is a sense, equal. Rather than being an illusion that is completely unreal, Maya is a force that limits knowledge suggesting there is some sense of truth in everything.
The goal of Tantra then is to eliminate the ignorance with the light of knowledge.n There are two kinds of ignorance we are working with:
1. Ignorance regarding our true self
2. Ignorance of the attachment to thought constructs and psychological impressions.
“An Individual who, (though) desirous
of doing various things, but incapable of doing them due to his innate impurity, (experiences) the supreme state (Parma Padam) when the disruption (ksobha) (of his false ego) ceases.”~ Stanzas on Vibration. Translated with Intro and Exposition by Mark Dyczkowski ~
In order to remove this ignorance, they seek to clean up the impurities that cloud our vision. There are there types of impurity that each individual has to deal with in their own way.
1. Karma-mala is the first impurity we have to contend with This is the particle that attaches to our mind every time we perform any activity out of sense of attachment or desire. This is why so much yoga is focused on releasing desire and attachment. Rather then think of karma in terms of good or bad, we need to think of it in terms making karma, not making karma and burning off the karma we have without making more of it. Only by relinquishing the desire even for good results can we release ourselves from the karmic implications of our actions. And only thru the most difficult actions (tapas) can we burn the karma destined to fuel this lifetime. Karma yogi is the remedy for karma mala.
2. Maya-male is the second impurity. As we start to get our desires and attachments under control with karma yoga we begin to notice our limitations. But we also notice that a certain amount of limitation is necessary for the human experience. In many ways, it’s these apparent limits that set the stage for the classic human struggle of man vs himself & man vs nature.
Maya-mala basically makes us forget that part of ourselves that is divine by limiting our power & our knowledge. She makes us feel like we’re missing something from our lives (which is the polite way to say that she gives us desires). We are made aware of only a sliver of time and fear that this might be it. And finally, Maya makes us subject to cause and effect. The five divine powers of omnipotence, omniscience, fullness, eternal time and absolute freedom are hidden from us: not absent, just obscured; dulled down. We seek out this divinity within ourselves thru Sadhna.
The key to understanding Maya Mala is to search out our limits and find ways to overcome them, to push the boundaries of possibility outward. We do this in all realms: mentally, physically, intellectually, emotionally. Training and experience are they keys to Maya-mala.
3. Once we start to get a handle of our activities and start to push our limits we open the door to the possibility of cleansing the root impurity of individuality: anava-mala. Ultimately grace is the only way this gets removed, but we can prepare ourselves for it by seeking to be open to it. Only the greatest saints have the experience of clearly and spontaneously knowing that god is everywhere in equal measure. Death is the natural dissolution if our individuality.
Everything in the tantric’s path involves divine grace; nothing at all can happen without it. The very will underlying all action is said to be equal to the will of god. But once we have such a will for spiritual practice we can focus it on cleansing the impurities in our activities (karma-mala) and training ourselves in the various skills that will allow us to see that there really is much more to us than meets the eye. Tantra is an awareness of subtleties. We want to make our awareness more and more sensitive. To do this we sacrifice the gross, heavy materiality of this world for what is imperceptible and magical.