Copyright 2015 Paul Bartholomew
Do not search for the truth;
Only cease to value opinions.
Do not chase the world.
― Hsin Hsin Ming by Seng-T’san
Verses on the True Mind
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
“You love a story!”
“This book is beyond radical. Radical means pertaining to the roots or foundation. This book claims there is no such thing as roots or foundation. There is only the utter clarity of reality as it is. And that is exactly what I have found to be the case.
“ To those familiar with my way of describing reality as it is, this book may shake up what you think you understand. And that is a good thing. Because goodness knows the last thing any of us needs is understanding.”
Joey Lott author of Peace Feels Like This and You’re Trying to Hard
Part 1 Mystic Origins 22
The Ancient Science of Yoga – what is the point? 22
[_ The Yoga of Intelligence- gyan 43 _]
The Yoga of Meditation 56
The Yoga of Lifestyle-karma 68
The Yoga of Knowledge 78
The Yoga of Meditation 102
The Yoga of Desire – kama 125
Is Yoga a belief system? 153
The Vedas Upanishads and Buddhism 183
Indian Philosophy 210
Yoga in the West 225
Quantum Yoga 253
The Language of Yoga 262
Part 2 Classical Yoga Texts 268
The Middle Way-Buddhist Yoga 270
The Yoga Sutras 278
Beyond Yoga 335
The Avadhuta Gita-hardcore yoga 339
This book is about that elusive and mysterious subject called Yoga. It is dedicated to my father whose religion was golf and to my mother who was a staunch Catholic born in Bangalore and rejected everything about India except the food. I must point out from the onset that this is not a book about the type of yoga that is most commonly associated with the practice of yoga, at least in Europe and North America, which is hatha, a set of postures called asanas and mudras. I have up to now avoided hatha yoga classes assiduously, except for a few months back in the 1980s when I practiced under the tutelage of the Italian yoga pioneer Carlo Patrian. I do not have the temperament for hatha yoga. What follows here is my exposition of the spiritual and philosophical characteristics of yoga which are in some aspects bound to its Indian heritage but are also universally relevant to the human condition. Yoga relates to a mystic union or a bridge between the transient and the infinite and is not defined by religion. The practice of yoga is not a threat to the precepts of Christianity, Islam, Judaism or Buddhism. It is not injurious to health. Yoga is simply a state of mind.
Of the many translations of the word Yoga – and there are many such as union, link, synthesis, yoking, unity of consciousness, oneness – the one that I prefer is ‘all’. But there is a twist. It is all and nothing. Yoga exists when there is nothing else.
I am writing this book for myself. It represents everything I know or want to know about Yoga. That includes meditation, Indian philosophy and spirituality, Buddhism, yogic systems, methods and conclusions. When I am done, that is it for one lifetime. If I ever forget I want to be able to refer to this book and remember everything there is to know. None of this information leads anywhere. Before it is too late I want to master the art of knowing nothing. That sounds kind of Zen. I know nobody will read this book – of the making of many books there is no end, a line that comes from Ecclesiastes in the bible. Swamiji said to somebody once why bother writing a book if you don’t get paid. It’s true. It is all ego, vanity, and books like everything else end up in the bonfire, burnt in the final days of the sun. Just like you. We all know nothing in in the end. But there is an art to knowing nothing.
Something has always bugged me about yoga as in the many thousands of yoga classes taught every day all over the world. And that is that it seems so soulless, like a ritual to some kind of body worshipping cult. Something is missing, some essence that distinguishes yoga from Zumba and Pilates. Something that those crazy Indians latched onto thousands of years ago and hung to tenaciously. And I know what it is – this essence is the spirituality and mysticism that constitutes the very inner sanctum of yoga. Without this inner core of mysticism, yoga would not be any different from simply going to the gym or jogging or any other dumb arse keep fit workout. It would just be a physical exercise. Yoga is much more than mere isometrics and getting a tight but.
In Europe and the USA, the default mind of society set is now firmly secular. As far as history can reach back, approximately six thousand years, societies had a religious orientation, sometimes little more than superstition, ritualised, devotional and as time passed increasingly institutionalised. Now the human experience is at the center of most people’s lives, with desire, not religion, the prime mover in society. Social democracies are atheistic. Though a large percentage of people profess a faith, society has divorced itself from the precepts of religion, either in practice or by law. Religion is irrelevant, scarcely mentioned in the media.
The practice of yoga reflects this secularism. All spiritual aspects have been stripped away. There is lip service paid to the masters of spiritual philosophy such as Patanjali or secular mindfulness meditation. Reaching nirvana or understanding the vijnana of consciousness is almost never on the agenda. Destressing the mind and getting a healthy body is invariably the goal. Yoga has become detached from its mystic roots. The practice of yoga today has become branded, barely distinguishable from calisthenics or Pilates. It is Zumba on a mat.
This spiritual element of yoga is usually incorporated into the extensive training that yoga teachers must undertake to gain a qualification, but the mystic aspects are often neglected in the classes. Neglected is probably an understatement. More ignored. There is not much money to be made from mysticism these days. The Halcyon days of the sixties are gone for most gurus. The spiritual side to yoga is frequently compartmentalised as a discipline that someone else’s meditation classes take care of, if at all, something separate from the yoga poses. Back in the day physical exercises of yoga were intended to calm the mind, keeping the body healthy. They were a part of a bigger process. In the practice of yoga exercises nowadays there is often a focus on achieving results, such is the nature of our results orientated society full of angry and frustrated people. The rationale is, if you want to be good at yoga, you must practice hard at perfecting the poses. But the modern practice of yoga has to be placed squarely in the far wider context of a mystic and philosophical tradition that goes back many thousands of years. As Bob said, it is time to bring it all back home.
These mystic elements are not so easily gauged in terms of demonstrable results. Spiritual yoga is a practice of refining your inner being and opening your everyday awareness to a far greater consciousness that transcends the limitations of the ordinary mind. There are no easily identifiable benchmarks to show progress or even target a well-defined goal. This makes it difficult to promote as a marketable product.
The spiritual side of yoga has been prevalent from the onset going way back to pre-history when yoga’s mystic core was first established. The classics of Indian spiritual literature shaped and molded the development of yoga from its origins. This ancient science of the art of living dissected with great precision just what it means to be alive and sought to provide an answer to the burning questions of life and death. I will examine the various methodologies of mystic yoga, starting with gyan yoga which evaluates how we know and experience the world. Meditation is an integral element in yoga to enable an understanding of ourselves as individuals and is fundamental to the yogic lifestyle as lived by the ancient sages of India. This included the traditions of Raj, Karma and Bhakti yoga
Desire and sex is examined through the lens of the kama sutra that looks at how the practicing yogi deals with these aspects of the human condition.
In part two I ask whether embracing the spiritual essence of yoga requires adopting a belief system or religious dogma. To answer this question, we look at the different schools of philosophy that developed in India over thousands of years with diverse characteristics, all sharply focused on achieving an understanding of the cosmos and our place in it. The role of the guru is paramount in the Indian spiritual tradition, perhaps uniquely so, and in the last century when gurus from India first began to travel to Europe and America things often got a little weird as two very different social cultures sought to understand each other.
No book on yoga can leave out the age of European colonialism when Britain was the dominant power on the Indian continent. I am a product of that system. European intellectuals sought to understand the Indian tradition against the background of the European Enlightenment. Many of them were in awe of what they found. Some intellectuals were dismayed at what they interpreted as barbarism, not understanding the intellectual discipline of the competing philosophies. Others viewed Indian ideas as inferior to those of a more evolved European intellect, indulging in a form of cultural racism that was prevalent in those days of white supremacy and closet eugenics. Many European intellectuals made a dry academic study of a fluid spirituality, missing the point entirely. As a result, the philosophies of India have never been given the universal respect they deserve, considered as products of an ethereal mysticism which even many yoga students find a little flaky – and possibly too challenging – for their liking. And this is perhaps why the spiritual essence of yoga is often understated in modern yoga practice, in preference for a more vigorous physical approach.
There are many schools of hatha yoga which differentiate themselves by level of intensity and the cycle of asanas or poses used. Many are identified with a charismatic founder. Some go as far as to become marketable brands with extra added value. The most popular are:
Bikram or Hot Yoga,
There exist striking similarities with the Buddhist and Christian traditions, both of which have a profoundly spiritual component. Quantum theory is a relatively recent attempt to understand the nature of reality. Quantum physics shares more in common with the metaphysical aspects of yoga practice than meets the eye. Indian philosophies covered much of the quasi philosophical ground of quantum theory thousands of years before. Their conclusion was that there is just one universal consciousness, just one, not division or separation of mind and matter, or spirit and the world, or abstract and concrete reality. The quantum community are still wedded to a dualist version of reality, of a material world that is either a vibration or a particle, but nobody knows which, for all of their brilliantly complex mathematical equations which shock and awe those not in the secret of quantum uncertainty.
The study of world literature often overlooks the Indian spiritual tradition. The Vedas are amongst the earliest works of known literature, written in a sophisticated system of grammar. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a manual of a lifestyle that leads towards enlightenment and a realisation of both the individual and cosmic self. The Avadhuta Gita is a challenging, even extreme, description of the mindset of a person who has totally transcended the human condition, denying the very existence of our perceived reality. The Verses on the True Mind by The Third Patriarch of Zen, which strictly speaking is not part of the Indian Yoga tradition, very succinctly expounds the principles of non-dualism which were deeply engrained in many of the Indian philosophies and certainly in the one that has thrived in Europe and the USA. That is Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy of unity of consciousness.
The Oracle at Delphi said know yourself. According to the Indian sage Ramana Maharshi, the only valid question in life is to ask who am I? A sign on the window of the Yoga studio says yoga lessons: inquire within.
We often confuse exterior and interior realities. Who exactly is the person that looks within. It is not the person on a set of identity documents or that face that looks back at you in a mirror. That person is a fleeting fiction who will come and go like a cameo role in some cosmic drama, a kind of celestial actor. Who then? The philosophy of Yoga teaches that we all have a great tool to discover who this fictional character really is. And it does so by breaking down everything that we take for granted, challenging conventional knowledge and defying orthodoxy.
The tool that can crack the cosmic safe where the cosmos keeps its secrets well hid is the intellect which has the power to discriminate between objects and situations and make appropriate choices. The intellect is at its basest level just a highly-evolved survival instinct which relies on the sense of distinguishing between what is a source of danger and what is not, and then taking an appropriate course of action. The intellect is a great tool, but let us not forget that it is just a tool.
Reason is a product of this tool. The sense of reason, the ability to distinguish, is a faculty that has evolved over billions of years. What the early practitioners of yoga suggested was that the fully expanded intellect has a single purpose and that is to allow us to tune into a higher consciousness and thereby reach a level of knowledge that lesser mortals will never attain, not because they are stupid but because they remain prisoners of the base intellect. Yoga is fully compatible with modern theories of evolution.
Rita is cosmic order which equates to moral order. Morality is not defined by us humans. There in a natural balance of things – Satya – which must be respected and kept intact. Things are not false but more in a state of disorder. Truth is the natural state of cosmic harmony. So don’t mess with it!
The early Indian philosophers equated intellect not with reason but with a universal consciousness. Everything, they said, is consciousness. Flowers, clouds, reflections of the moon in a pond and the wind rustling leaves in a forest. Even a slug on a wet summers evening pulling itself along a pathway is imbued with consciousness.
Of course, we humans have the highest intelligence in terms of reasoning power. We tend to think of consciousness as a human attribute. What defines us as a species is the evolution of our brain structure and our ability to analyse the world, looking for competitive advantage both over fellow humans and nature itself. The downside is that the intellect is constantly searching for meaning to give value to the information stream that flows into our brains every microsecond. We are designed to be involved, to get with the programme, with a brief respite in sleep; and even in sleep, dreams pull us back into the realm of mental activity. That is the essence of the human condition that the early Indian philosophers and scientists identified: to be involved, ensnared, and bound to the world. They realised that to experience existence without attributing some kind of value is nigh on impossible. Everything has a name and a definition. Everything seems so real. But they also saw clearly that the only experience that cannot be accessed by the senses or mind is the state of existence after death because that is beyond the power of the intellect.
The challenge that they set themselves was to merge into a reality that is immune to death. This deathless reality equates to transcendental consciousness. Over many thousands of years, via diverse schools of philosophy, this challenge was met through the growth of ideologies that embraced various intellectual positions. Throughout this process there is one common theme: that a human life can only be fully experienced to its highest potential by abandoning any identification with the experience of reality through the senses and instead re-identifying our sense of self with a higher consciousness which is resistant to the forces of decay and is therefore eternal.
This is a huge challenge. And in the following chapters I will look at the various methodologies that were created to find an answer that we can relate to without somehow giving primacy to our powers of intellect which can only define what is experienced by the brain. In short how to experience both what we were before birth and what we remain as after death. It is an almost impossible herculean task. To overcome this challenge, the ancient mystics challenged the very concepts of life and death as separate experiences or even as different sides of the same coin. Our sense reality, they said, is an illusion and a fundamental misconception. And this begs the question: if this reality is an illusion, what then is real, if anything?
Yoga teaches us that there is just one reality and one knowledge. This knowledge has no form and no substance and cannot be conceptualised. To grasp this with the mind requires a higher awareness. And for all of its failings, the intellect is the only tool that can train us to achieve this knowledge and transform the mind.
The language of Indian philosophy and its mystic tradition is in some respects very much of its time. Light dispels darkness. Brightness, enlightenment, the illusion of the rope seen as a snake in the dark. Nowadays we mostly live in cities with light pollution and never a clear view of the stars in the night sky. The planet seen from space is all blazing electric light. None of that existed back then and the analogies and metaphors that uses light, such as the lamp of wisdom, were so much more cogent and immediate than they are today. We do not fear the darkness so much anymore. We probably even mourn the loss of dark places to retreat to from the ubiquitous illumination of street lightings. Few people in an urban setting or anywhere in proximity to a city experience darkness. But the metaphor of light as opposed to dark runs throughout the Vedas and the Upanishads and Buddhism. Sometimes we can substitute knowledge for light and ignorance for darkness. One of the books by Shankara, who was the philosopher who laid down the framework for the type of rational mysticism that we associate with Indian today, has been translated as the Light of Knowledge.
A fundamental term such as dukkha has been translated in all manner of ways – as suffering, as stress, as misery and woe or by an extended explanation such as ‘the unsatisfactory experiencing of life due to the essentially insubstantial nature off all things’. Some words have a basic meaning and an extended philosophical one that has no equivalent in English. Purva, for example, can mean simply prior to or before or ‘the moment before the experience of now’. Neuronal science has explained this phenomenon – the moment when data hits the brain but before meaning is attributed – but lacks a word to describe it.
Rajiv Malhotra is a businessman turned academic who rails against Western academics interpreting the Indian philosophical tradition and translating Sanskrit using a Western mind set, accusing Western academia of indulging in neo-colonisation. Although he frequently goes over the top and off the rails, he does have a point. We westerners have often taken stuff from India and claimed it as ours, not only architectural artefacts but entire spiritual traditions. You could say that Yoga is one of those cultural thefts.
Take Back Yoga is a Hindu movement in the US that aims to reclaim Yoga from the secular modern postural exercises that it has become. I do not know what they will think of me, a citizen of Britain, taking the high ground.
So, a disclaimer. This is my interpretation of five thousand years of Indian mysticism and philosophy from the Vedas to the present day. None of it is true or correct or claims to be at the center of the circle of academic truth. I just love this stuff. It makes sense to me. This is me writing in London, in a room, in a house with electricity and gas and a road outside, wired up to a global network, far removed from the ancient night sky and dusty trails and fields of India where Gautapada, Nargajuna, Shankara and Kapila debated on the meaning of existence in a universe. These guys are my mythical heroes. My experience of an objective reality is so different from back then. But has anything changed apart from the details? We are born, live and die here, against our will. We claim possession of the world and have an identity that we respond to. It is just our place in time and space that defines us. This is a labour of love and we all know what that means: passion and good intentions but we get it wrong sometimes. Please forgive me.
An opening is a term used in yoga to describe a shift in consciousness. It has been described as walking through a door into a new psychological panorama. This is first contact with higher consciousness. This is meeting our true self, in our original space. It is the same world as before but transcended. The birds still sing, the bees buzz, and the morning dew glistens in the sun, joyous and free. The prisoner is released from the cage of a former existence. There is no going back. Once free, forever free.
Om is a sacred sound and a spiritual icon in Dharmic religions and philosophies. It is also a mantra in Yoga, Buddhism and Jainism. In classic Indian philosophies, Om is a spiritual symbol referring to both Atman (the soul, self within) and Brahman (the ultimate reality, the entirety of the universe, the one truth, and the supreme spirit).
The syllable is one of the most important symbols in Indian spiritual practices and is often found at the beginning and the end of chapters in the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Yoga Sutras. It is spoken or chanted during the recitation of spiritual texts and during meditative and spiritual activities such as Yoga.
Part 1 Mystic Origins
The Ancient Science of Yoga – what is the point?
before I start, I should ask what is the point of yoga? Perhaps I should side track. In Sanskrit, the ancient language of India the word ‘artha’ means purpose, meaning or sense. This Sanskrit word, part of the Indo-European lexicon of languages, is the distant descendent of the English word ‘art’. Yoga is art. Yoga is purpose. Yoga is meaning.
What is the meaning of life? If this were a cartoon, an ancient hunter dressed in skin and carrying a club, would be staring up at the night sky, in a state of wonder. Inside the cartoon caption there is a big question mark: just what is going on here and what is happening up there? I am here and the stars are there, distant, unreachable in infinite space, separate, billions of years apart. There is always a sense of otherness. Us and them, separated at birth.
Next question our ancestor would have asked is what happens when we leave the world behind? And if there is anything at all does it happen here or there?
Many thousands of years ago mystics experienced a deathless state in which there is neither ‘here’ nor ‘there’. In this state both questions and answers exist in harmony. They recognised that such a state cannot be expressed intellectually in words. But we have to start somewhere.
Let’s start with the world around us. That is human reality, the material world, the one we breath and feel, with oxygen, carbon and the rest of the elemental stuff. It appears three dimensional with a beginning and end to everything, all causally related and mostly predictable. Humans are at the top of the food chain and bacteria at the bottom, mutually dependent. Where would be without our bacteria?
We compartmentalise our reality into little packets of comfortable familiarity, with a tendency to polarise everything. Rain and sunshine, pain and pleasure, life and death, love and hatred, peace and violence, man and woman, child and adult, week and weekend, day and night, sunrise and sunset. Oh yes – now and then, me and you, us and them. And just as everyone instinctively knows the world and how to measure, quantify and compartmentalise the shapes and objects experienced through the senses, we all also have the innate ability to know what lies beyond the senses, beyond all of this. This is what defines mysticism most succinctly: that we can experience an enhanced reality as part of our natural condition. Mysticism is not weird. It just gets a bad press. Never believe what you read.
Everybody creates a sense of self-identity from their personal experiences, bundling up selective memories to construct a personality, and thereby creating a unique sense of self-identity. We all do it -it’s the way the brain works. This ‘me’ seems cemented in a reality that comprises past individual experiences and dependencies: parents, a place and date of birth, a social security number, a nationality, a wardrobe of clothes, a favourite pair of shoes, a set of likes and dislikes and set of cultural preferences many of which are arbitrary. And so on, all the way to the grave. Myriad details all merge to solidify a personal identity. On death, these details disintegrate. There is no more, it would seem. Rien ne va plus – no more bets.
What remains, and what happens to all that life energy when the machine switches itself off? These are questions of What and Why and When and How and Where and Who – and WTF? The questioning state is a distinctly human experience; we all want an answer. I am begging you, please. So off we go and create cosmically inspired belief systems and religions to accommodate our existential doubts and explain away our feelings of insecurity when confronted with the lack of apparent answers.
These big intergalactic questions go invariably in one of two directions: God bound or human bound.
Either an all knowing and omnipotent God comes to the rescue, like in the ancient Greek tragedies when a deus ex machina, literally a god from the stage machinery, would appear at the end of the play to resolve everything nicely so everybody can go home feeling nice, if not at the very least reassured.
Or we humans kid ourselves that, because we have the intellectual prowess of the most highly evolved life system on this planet, there is some universal principle that ordains us as special case, either designed by god or self-appointed. Neither option has proved entirely satisfactory outside of religion. This is not to denigrate the religions of the world – more on that later. But there is a big question mark hanging over the planet, not visible from outer space, but bigger than the great wall of China. This question manifests in many ways: as doubt, as insecurity, as unease, a restless feeling. It is what the Buddha called dukkha.
The thing is that we are not all that evolved. There are a trillion more things that we don’t know that we do know. We share most of our DNA with primates such as bonobo monkeys and orangutans. We are not much different from frogs and pigs structurally. Our reasoning powers are not much more sophisticated than that of a chimpanzee. Not compared to the reason powers of galaxies. We are kind of a dumb arses species with a chimp mind. We just love all the violence and killing on television, fascinated and addicted.
There is another mind – the mystic consciousness – and it needs to be thought through first. Yoga is a philosophy of existence that resolves all doubt and dissolves the questioning mind. It is based on a system of information that does not require belief in any ideology or contradict any of the world’s faith system. Not Christianity, not Islam, not Buddhism, Sufism, Jainism, not Scientology nor the religion of the Jeddhi. It does not require a particularly intellectual mind or an academic background. Everyone can grasp this science just by looking within. It is self-evident.
Yoga is also low on its quota on moral and ethical imperatives. Morality and ethics are always relative. The one moral ‘commandment’ is ahimsa, the principle of non-violence, the one that Martin Luther King adopted in the Civil Rights struggle in America.
Self-inquiry has been the bread and butter of philosophers since the dawn of philosophy. Yoga just happens to express this in a way that somehow makes perfect sense when experienced through the filter of a spiritual mysticism. All sense of reason is sublimated to a transcended consciousness. And this does not come easy to the average man and woman, indoctrinated in the supremacy of causal reality.
Causal reality is the conditioned world where everything and everyone impacts on everything and everyone else. It is the reality of an involvement in a cycle of misery and joy, of creation and disintegration.
This transcended consciousness cannot be defined purely intellectually as it embraces contradiction and does not rely on rational thought or the intellect for the validation of a self-evident truth. A troublesome proposition, no? It is both a knowledge of the world and of the one reality that created this world. This knowledge is formless. Furthermore, it is not a knowledge of anything.
These are bold statements indeed. Yoga boasts of impressive cohones.
According to yoga, all truths are true and not true at the same time. This is polar logic – embracing both poles of logic simultaneously. Nothing is entirely true or false, merely relative.
Such stuff is extremely perplexing to the rational mind wedded to the three-dimensional world of a space time continuum where everything has its proper place. We, the human race, is addicted to logic, despite being primarily motivated by illogical desires. We have broken down logic to nice little departments: syllogistic logic, mathematical logic, modal logic, philosophical logic, computational logic, logical positivism, Boolean logic, even Fuzzy logic and so on. It is an accepted truism that logic is good and illogical is less good.
There are some very good grounds on which to challenge this truism that raises logic to its lofty position in our civilisation as if it is the only game in town.
The human disease of war and genocide which infects nations and cultures with an irrational impulse towards violence lead to some 200,000 million dead just in the last century alone. And that is excluding casual murder, just organised slaughter. The total deaths of World War I, World War II, and the Russian Civil War were 80 million, 16% of all Europeans dead due to warfare. War and genocide are carried out by governments acting irrationally in the name of logic. The disease of war is an irrational disease of the logical mind.
Political ideology is not immune to the irrationality of some logical policies. In China, Mao’s Great Leap Forward resulted in 20-40 million deaths, most by needless starvation but 6-8 percent as a result of politically motivated torture and murder. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia murdered a quarter of the population in the name of an ideology. Stalin whose death tally could be as high as forty million, once had a hundred and twenty thousand Poles killed for being in the wrong place. It all seemed very logical at the time.
And of course, slavery from Europe’s dark past, the epitome of human cruelty. Business logic dictated that trade. The Nazis applied the logic of the perverse ideology of eugenics to their murderous activities. The USA and Russia between them have over twelve thousand nuclear warheads. Ten of which would destroy civilisation. A hundred would change the ecosphere. We have the capacity to exterminate the species – it is no longer the act of wrathful god from the Bible but the stupidity of the human intellect.
So perhaps we are not the cleverest species on the planet after all. Our logic and sense of reason is fundamentally flawed.
The Indian philosophers for the most part, going back two thousand years, have always argued that logic is never absolute, but subservient to a greater cosmic consciousness. From the yoga perspective, everything in the human experience is relative and conditioned, including logic and reason. Nothing in the physical realm is by itself a stand-alone truth. And this is because things only appear to be real. Logic only appears to be logical. Some branches of quantum physics have reached the same puzzling conclusion with no sign of ever being able to prove any of this.
Logic is just the mind in operation. Yoga proposes that our sense of reality is neither true nor false, but only relative. It is all in the mind and it is all an illusion, which is neither true nor false. Logic would dictate that illusion relates to something false and unreal, but in the mystic vision of the world there is a distinction between illusion and falsehood. Illusion is not the opposite of truth or reality. It is simply a misunderstanding as to the real nature of existence. It is a misconception on a cosmic scale.
Yoga today is sanitized but yogic practices originated in a deep mystic frenzy thousands of years ago during magical rituals dedicated to Lord Shiva and his consort, the goddess Kali, performed on cremation grounds many thousands of years ago. Kali was a fierce fetish god, worshiped as the mother of life and death by a sect called the Aghoris living at the edge of civilization near cemeteries. Aghoris based their beliefs on two principles: that Shiva is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent and is also the primal cause of absolutely everything. Consequently, everything that exists must be perfect. To deny the inherent perfection of anything is to deny the sanctity of all life in its full manifestation. Even death is perfect.
These fetishists were really weird and liked nothing better than a fresh corpse for some odd ritual stuff. Meditating seated on a corpse was a badge of honour and eating cadavers showed contempt for fear of death. Yes, these guys ate dead people to prove something to someone (make me a corpse burger). A fierce warrior cult developed out of these fetishistic practices and in time a view of the body as a temple became integral to the practices of Kali worship. Yoga poses were originally militaristic. This primitive form of Yoga evolved and adapted to local cultures and deities. Gradually, this civilization became more structured, and the death cult origins were marginalized. Yoga was made safe and accessible to the ordinary householder in an organised society.
However, the secrets of the death cult were carefully codified so their essence could be transmitted during ceremonial initiations. The performance aspects of this tradition became ritualised and more sophisticated. First orally and later in scriptures, the arcane secrets of reuniting life and death, matter and spirit, morphed into teachings of a higher existence. The emergent philosophies were practiced by a literate intelligentsia. The death cult origins were preserved in the martial arts performed by an army of wild monks, skin daubed in grey funeral ash and faces painted orange.
In the Indian Vedas there is no doubt about the reality of the world. The early gods were related to a force of nature. Humanity was completely at the mercy of the gods who were not bound by morality. They were powerful entities corresponding with nature and it was considered sensible to buy favour with these amoral gods. The cosmos had a natural order. Piety was practical if you wanted the gods to look after your family
This practice of sacrifice and the primeval ritualization are still evident in our increasingly secular age. The sacrifice of the ego on the altar of meditation is a throwback to the age of animal sacrifice. Mantras are a substitute for superstitious spells. Just as animal sacrifice presumes the gods have human attributes with a belly to fill, mantras assume the universe has ears to hear.
Yoga philosophy developed in the wider Indian tradition which spanned two distinct civilisations, the Aryan North and the Shivait South. Some of the earliest writings in the history of humanity originate in the civilization of the Indus valley of the northwest region of India in the Bronze Age period 3300-1300 BCE. This era was globally the big bang of human consciousness with a flowering of higher thought. Little is known of how they lived and what they believed in but we do know their civilization was technologically sophisticated with flushing toilets and a sewer system that most European cities could not compete with until the twentieth century, some four thousand years later.
This ancient civilization produced the Upanishads and the Vedas, first transmitted orally down through generations and then in writing. This oral tradition includes songs of poetry and philosophy called gitas, the most famous of which is the Bhagavad Gita. This tells of a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna on the eve a great battle, with Krishna explaining the true nature of life and death and how to act in this world, to Prince Arjuna who is understandably having a psychological melt down at the prospect of having to kill old friends and relatives the next day on the battlefield.
Arjuna is a great prince who has been unjustly deprived of his birth-right by his wicked uncle. He leads a great army into battle and rides to the front line with his charioteer Krishna to survey the opposite army. There he sees many of his relatives and former teachers and friends and he realises that he is fighting real people, not imaginary villains, and that he will have to kill some of the people so dear to him if he is to win the day. He turns to Krishna and says he just can’t do it. He wants to go home and forget about this war and the killing machine.
Krishna sets him straight in a comprehensive exposition of the various schools of Indian philosophy. He tells Arjuna that the real situation is that he is not killing anyone because there is nobody there to be killed (life and death being all part of the big illusion). As long as Arjuna thinks that he is the one doing the killing, he will be plagued by fear and doubt which just guarantees misery, not to mention an inefficient use of time. Although there will be a whole heap of violence on the battlefield, Arjuna in the true essence of his nature is not involved. He is just not part of it, even though someone who answers to the name of Arjuna will be slashing away with his sword and doing all that battlefield stuff. That Arjuna is not who he is.
So first of all this is not about non-action. One might imagine that the principle of nonviolence (ahisma) would dictate that Arjua simply not fight. That is not the way forward Krishna says because these guys want to string you up. Krishna tells Arjuna to give up self-identification with the fruits of his actions. The Self cannot be killed. These people, his teachers, friends and relatives, are manifestations of a consciousness that is totally unidentified with what is about to happen on the battlefield.
The person who thinks that the Self causes the killing or that anybody kills the Self has not grasped the truth, because the Self neither kills nor is killed.
The Self, or God, is not subject to birth or death. Even when God has become manifest in some form or other, seemingly having been born, the truth is that God remains eternal. When a body appears to be killed, it is only the earthly form that changes. The Self remains forever the same.
So, Arjuna, as you now know the Self or God is eternal and not subject to the changes of the physical form in birth and death, who is it that is doing the killing and being killed? There is no need to grieve for the dead.
The Self, manifest in a physical form, just casts off that form, like changing clothes. Nothing really changes. There is just the appearance of change.
The Self cannot be cut or burnt or drowned or blown by the wind. Nothing affects the Self. It is immortal and indestructible.
Always keep God in mind as eternal, omniscient, unmoving, ever present.
The Self is unmanifest, beyond our comprehension, beyond change. So do not worry or fear, Arjuna
The big battle scene is just part of a larger heroic epic but the dramatic confrontation with imminent death allows Arjuna a moment of epiphany of the truth of his existence and his whole assumed raison d’être. Krishna dismantles Arjuna’s idea of who he thinks he is, thereby allowing him to rediscover his true being, while still remaining the Prince Arjuna character who circumstances have brought to that moment in time, on the eve of a huge and bloody battle.
It is not really about the battle- this is partly a literary device as this is all part of a much larger epic about warring tribes. This is an extreme situation and in such moments of high drama people are open to revelations and insight. But it could be any situation that we face in modern life – battles are not so much in vogue these days – like a confrontation with someone or a job interview or any situation that you would much rather avoid.
Krishna introduces the concepts of yogah karmasu kaushalam, efficiency in action and samatva-buddhi, mental balance.
Be steady in yoga, Arjuna, do whatever has to be done; give up attachment, be indifferent to failure and success. Mental balance is yoga.
A balanced mind is not motivated by desire; defend your mind with mental balance and poise, Arjuna. People who are obsessed with the results of their actions end up stressed and uptight and prone to error.
With this mental poise, you will be free from worrying about what is right and what is wrong. Devote yourself to this yoga; it is the secret of success in everything you do.
Krishna is calling up a higher mind or buddhi. This buddhi or ‘intelligent will’, is indifferent to results. Consequently, there is no desire for gain or power. The mind rests in equanimity and even-ness, the master of the technique that is to be adopted for doing work, be it planting seeds peacefully in the garden or facing down the opposition on a battlefield. A higher mind is the guide to becoming united with the higher self.
One definition of yoga, therefore, is the skill of acting in the world.
The Bhagavad Gita contains several notions of Indian thought: maya as illusion, the psychology of yoga, the philosophical system of Samkhya philosophy, the lifestyle of karma and the knowledge of gyan^1^.
These strands of thought merged with the mysticism of Shiva or Shaivism, which was predominant in the south of India, distinct from that of the Aryan north. The philosophy of Shaivism was Samkhya from which much of Yogic philosophy stems. Pedantically speaking, Yoga was a strand of the Samkhya philosophical system before the genius thinker and debater Adi Shankara blew the whole thing open and introduced a new dimension of Yoga into Advaita philosophy in the 9th century. At which point Yoga stopped being Yoga-Samkhya and just Yoga in its own right. The main point here is that Yoga was a philosophical thing before it became modern Yoga.
There are six main branches of Indian philosophy: the six orthodox systems and three non-conformist (or heterodox) systems. The two orthodox systems that have continued to flourish are the Yoga and Advaita schools which are interrelated and share many basic assumptions on the nature of existence. Dogmatic philosophers may point out that Yoga is essentially dualistic in that it is a ‘yoking’ or union of a finite existence with an all pervading infinite reality, whereas Advaita is a non-dualist philosophy that holds that there is just ever unity of consciousness and therefore there is nothing to yoke together.
Buddhism evolved as a non-conformist philosophy and a reaction to many of the dogmas prevalent in the Indian sub-continent circa 500 pre CE.
Yoga can be described as the ultimate philosophy of union and to back up this outrageous claim it is useful to take a side step and look at Advaita Vedanta, the so-called philosophy of oneness. Advaita means not two or non-duality. ‘A’ means ‘not’ and ‘Dva’ is two, which in the Indo Germanic languages has come down as two and dual in English, Due, Deux, Dos in the Latin based European languages. Not two, non-dual. We can expand this to mean oneness or unity of consciousness.
Vedanta quite simply means the end of the Vedas, the mystical poems from early Indian history. It proclaims that Vedanta is the culmination of the Vedic teachings.
The Vedanta system of philosophy had various branches, the main differences being in how much they adhered to or diverged from the idea of non-dualism. There was qualified dualism, strict dualism and neither dualist nor non-dualist, all disagreeing on some facets of Vedanta but all essentially harmonising that moksha or enlightenment is the goal of life.
The teachings of Advaita are essentially a method to acquire knowledge how to experience personal liberation by reducing the bombardment of sensory data into the one transcendental experience. Yoga has come to be the means to realise this vision of oneness.
Core to Indian philosophy is the tenet that human experience with all of its joy and delights is ultimately an unsatisfactory experience because of the transitory nature of all things. The mind and intellect is compelled to identify with the material world as that is the only apparently substantive reality. There inevitably comes a time when the intellect is redundant as well as defunct and the experience of this reality comes to an end. To paraphrase Charles Dickens, we all make a lovely corpse. If anybody thinks about the happening of death, no doubt this is an experience slated for some time in the future, and as far away from now as possible.
Everybody has a sense of self, a personal identity. In yoga this sense of being somebody existing as a unique individual is called asmita. The individual asmita is based on sense-impressions and memory. The process of identification creates a sense of an individual and a unique self that is by its very nature impermanent, and doomed to fail spectacularly. It really is a case of putting all your money on the wrong horse, one that runs the wrong way.
Mystical yoga teaches that enduring happiness is achieved by becoming aware of an infinite consciousness that permeates this seemingly fragmented world. And through the practice of meditation the essence of reality is revealed as an unchanging, indivisible and infinite consciousness. This experience is said to be beyond words and description. It is beyond mundane experience and therefore considered transcendental.
Advaita is the philosophy at the heart of this spiritual experience. Advaita is essentially a simple philosophy with one premise: that every situation, every question, and every predicament can be reduced to one element. That single element is unbounded existence, a seemingly ethereal proposition of a single consciousness that permeates all matter. Despite the apparent simplicity of this proposition, the Advaita philosophers and mystics developed a detailed system of didactics to explain these esoteric ideas. They left no stone unturned and analysed every aspect of the minutiae of existence.
Yoga and Advaita Vedanta have emerged as increasingly part and parcel of a shared philosophical system. Some aspects of this system are distinctly associated with Advaita from the 9th century CE, particularly the emphasis on knowledge. Yoga, as a strand of the Samkhya school, was initially a competing materialist philosophy. However, from the 19th century the philosophical languages of the Yoga and Advaita started to merge, with some additional influences drawn from the Shiva and Vishnu religions. When we see Indian gurus, we are seeing predominantly teachers of Advaita, albeit often an eclectic hybrid of other strands of Hindu spiritual traditions. At the risk of being simplistic, Advaita is a knowledge based system, while Yoga is the practical methodology of that knowledge.
One of the earliest expositions of what morphed into modern postural yoga is found in the Shiva Samhita from the 15th century which every yoga aficionado should read at least once in a lifetime, if not annually. It is one of the craziest treatises on the yogic science ever written and makes the most incredible claims about the benefits of the practices described therein. You can hold your breath for hours on end, rest your body weight on one thumb, be free from disease, decay, asthma and arthritis, fly, talk to animals, and finally defeat death at its own game. Are we to take this literally or are these claims just metaphors? Unfortunately, the author the Shiva Samhita is dead so we cannot ask, merely draw our own conclusions.
Where this text excels is its descriptions of the breathing practice of pranayama, some basic asanas and mudras, and meditation. Reading these words is to be transported back in time to an age of yogis doing hardcore exercises with the single goal – to achieve unity or synthesis with the one knowledge, without superimposition of the senses. The mission statement is there in the opening lines.
‘There is one true knowledge without beginning or end. No other real entity exists. The diversity in this world appears through the imposition of the senses on knowledge and for no other reason.’
The most accessible translation is by James Mallinson from YogaVida publications. He does not try to water down the meaning for a modern audience who might find claims such as yogis being able to fly a little unbelievable but tells it as it is, as strange as it may seem. One particularly exotic practice is that of semen retention and drawing up female ejaculate as if this were divine milk through the urethra and a full-on description on how to do this.
Equal balance is given to pranayama, the physical asanas and mudras and meditation. It is not clear if this is an integrated yoga system or if any one of these aspects can be practised in isolation because after the description of a component – for example, kumbhaka in pranayama, Siddhasana in the asanas or meditation on the Sahasrara lotus – description of infinite perfection is assigned.
From a philosophical perspective, the underlying thesis is full blown Vedanta which by then in India was the default doctrine (Buddhism having been sent packing to Tibet and China). The guru is revered as a semi deity. True and faithful practice of the Shiva Samhita absolves the yogi of all sins including the murder of one’s own guru or, even worse, still sleeping with his wife. The yogi not only gains super human powers but becomes a sex magnet.
‘At the sight of the practitioner who repeats this mantra one hundred thousand times, women tremble and become sick with lust. They fall shameless before the yogi.’
It is not clear what effect female yogis have upon men- possibly the opposite.
The Shiva Samhita is not a text to take too literally or understand in rational terms. The best approach is to consider it like diving into an ocean full of brightly coloured fish and sea creatures and marvel at the wonder of it all before coming back for air. It is so farfetched in its high octane claims of the benefits of yoga to seem almost a comedy at times, but that would be to miss the point of a theme that flows throughout, contained, as in many of the opening lines of the Indian sutras, in verse one: there is just one truth, one consciousness, and the rest is all imagination.
Yoga spirituality is based on the proposition that division and duality is the fundamental characteristic of the human experience. Duality is multiplicity, the world seen as comprised of multiple objects. In a non-dual view of the world, this multiplicity of objects is known to be an optical illusion because of a misconstruction of what’s actually going on.
Let us look at duality in operation. The eye sees an object – let’s say a table. This is known as a distinct item, a separate object in its own space. Next to the table is a chair. So now there are two distinct objects, each in their own space. Break it down to one element and the concept of furniture emerges. But the furniture is in a room, so there are two separate objects again, the concept of furniture and the physical space of the room. Break it down again, reducing duality to the one component at each step: furniture, a room, a house, a street, a town, a country, earth, sky, space. Sooner or later there is something else constructed from a collage of separate objects, down to the invisible chemical make-up of objects – cellulose, carbon and other elements. And this can be further broken down physically, sub-atomically, mathematically and theoretically until there is no division, just the one component, one existence, one space, and one being. This is the perception of consciousness.
This is a consciousness that is self-knowing. There is no perception as that would require something else other than consciousness to do the perceiving. In the final analysis, this is simply experience.
If the idea of birth and the idea of death is condensed down to the one experience, there can be no concept of a separate birth and death. There is just the concept of existence. But it does not end there. The idea of you as a person existing to experience this consciousness is still rooted in duality. Even the idea of you as a person has to be broken down until there is just existence with no self-identification.
By ceasing to believe that we exist as a person, a name, with a fixed identity and all the trappings of individuality, the self-imposed constraints on our existence are lifted. However, the logical mind seems designed to complicate everything it interacts with, sucked into a world of multiplicity. Logic is the circuit board of human existence that yoga aims to rewire.
Now the question arises: what is the point of all this reductionism? Reality seems to work just fine so why try and dissect it?
The answer is that there is no point. This may be an incredibly frustrating assertion, but it remains so: there is no logical reason for our existence. There is a physical and scientific explanation on how life evolved and so on but none of this will explain the underlying rationale of existence. I will endeavour to explain this in a simple language that does not rely on complicated intellectualisms. Ultimately there is no meaning other than consciousness. Mystic yoga defies conventional logic. Initially a suspension of disbelief is required because from childhood we are taught that the world is real. Everybody has a given name that they answer to. To doubt reality can be an unsettling experience, even dangerous. Therefore, the Advaita philosophers went to great detail to explain their mystic findings and provide a solid platform to start the journey towards self-identification with a formless and absolute consciousness.
The Yoga of Intelligence- gyan
The problem with reality as we know it is that it is dependent on time. Yoga proposes a reality that is not defined by time in space, one that exists timelessly before birth, during life and after death. How then to define this reality with the usual points of reference of the time-spatial dimension in which we are living, breathing, thinking and existing?
Advaita philosophy begins by examining what it means to be alive in the world and identifies three elementary states of human consciousness: the waking state, the dream state and the dreamless state. At any one time, a person lives in one of these three states.
This may seem to the modern mind as simplistic. Contemporary science uses a different language altogether. Deep sleep is explained as silent neocortal neurons measured in terms of hertz or slow-wave sleep. Different wave patterns have been identified which determine our conscious awareness. The Indian three state theory was proposed in an age when the technology of today was not available. It has to be considered as a metaphysical explanation of the human condition. This does not make the theory any less valid, simply less sophisticated in its scientific analysis. But where it may seem deficient from a scientific viewpoint, it more than compensates in its metaphysical investigation into our relationship with the wider universe.
At the heart of our experience is a sense of who we are. We tend to define ourselves in terms of what we know: our set of skills. And what we know is usually what we do for a job. An architect knows all about the science of architecture, a plumber about plumbing, a doctor about medicine.
Added to this, there is another skill about aspects of the world that we are interested in and usually require some specific knowledge. This combined skill set constitutes this conscious ‘you’ that is your psychological identity.
This sense of self identity is always the result of causal influences, some of them completely random, others more obvious, such as social class. Genetic predispositions have an influence. Even when a person has made a conscious career choice, on closer analysis there were subtle influences that conditioned this choice. People have a degree of control over the paths they take through life but nobody is immune to the forces of chance and outside influence.
For all our acquired knowledge and intelligence, what we do in our waking hours is predetermined by external factors that we have internalized. Everybody lives a conditioned life and conditions control choices.
These choices give order and meaning to random events and thereby create a coherent reality.
The waking state of intelligence is the basis of our usual interaction with the material world. It describes the primary function of our relationship with things. For example, we see a person and so we are conscious that there is before us a shape and a form, an object that is external to our own body. This thing is ‘labelled’ and a name is given to it. Then we add extra elements or attributes such as size, colour, cost and a position in time and space to build up a three-dimensional image. We objectify what we see (or touch, taste, smell, hear and feel). Then a set of emotional reactions kick in – liking, not liking, association and desire and so on. We are sucked into a perceptual reality. One enduring feature of this reality is the sense of division, of us and them, as the world existing separate from the body.
Psychological theory suggests that the human brain is programmed to process visible objects as a whole or the sum of the parts. This is known as a Gestalt mechanism and describes how we combine patterns and shapes into one entity. We then give this element a name which cements its existence.
The experience of the reality of these objects in the waking state is very difficult to deny as valid. As humans have become more sophisticated down through the millennia, more things and ideas and concepts have been invented exponentially, solidifying a fixed world view that the totality of reality is the waking state of intelligence.
This is one take on consciousness. The Buddhist take is superficially very different because an essential tenet of the Buddhist dharma is that everything in existence is relative and that includes consciousness. Their view of consciousness is less an absolute unchanging state of infinite something or other but closer to perception or awareness. And always relative. So, the consciousness of a person will be relative to mind, intellect, chemicals, neurological brain patterns. Like in Advaita consciousness is not a monopoly of humans but there is no point going down metaphysical worm holes to try and establish what the consciousness of a star or even the universe might be. However, one thing for certain in the Buddhist canon is that consciousness is momentary and changes moment to moment. The consciousness of the universe would be an experience that measures in ages or thousands of years or maybe the lifetime of many universes. We can never know but one view that many of the different schools of Buddhism do share is that, although the object of consciousness may change in time and space, the experience does not. And so this ties up neatly with the Advaita take on absolute consciousness or Brahman. The arguments then boil down to not so much what consciousness is and more what is the experience of reality.
Yoga challenges our usual sense of what is real by breaking this perceived reality down to just a flow of sensory data that is decoded in the brain. Our reality is just a process. This actuality is all created in the brain which is programmed to objectify everything, giving rise to feelings, emotions, aversions and addictions, sometimes compulsively so, throughout the day and night, constantly changing, always in flux. In order to impose some kind of order on chaos, a sense of me or in Sanskrit asmita is created as an unchanging witness, transforming flux into a perceptual consistency. This becomes the axis around which the world revolves.
This asmita is not the ego of modern psychology. It an awareness of there being an individual identity, a me-ness, to experience the world.
The experience of this reality fluctuates between on one hand satisfaction, a sense of ease and pleasure, and on the other dissatisfaction, a sense of unease and pain. In Sanskrit, sukkha is ease and pleasure and the thing that we like; dukkha, its dualist opposite, is pain and discomfort and all things unpleasant. Sukkha and dukkha are like Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum, Laurel and Hardy and ‘another fine mess you’ve got me into’. They are the epitome of the divisive nature of our relationship with the word, the separation of the inner and external worlds.
In Yogic philosophy the dream state is the second state of consciousness. In this state our reality can become more elastic. People can fly, walk on water, talk with the dead or do the sort of things that only happen in dreams.
Sometimes people with infections or brain disorders confuse the reality of the waking state with the reality of the dream state, and reality is experienced as a hallucination. LSD, short for lysergic acid diethylamide, itself a bi product of a naturally growing spore, sends people off on a trip where everything takes on a dream like quality.
Dreams can become nightmares. There is sukkha, pleasure, and dukkha, suffering in the dream state too.
One common theme running through Indian philosophy – and Far Eastern Buddhism is that the distinction between the being awake and dreaming is not so cut and dry.
One night, Zhuangzi dreamed of being a butterfly — a happy butterfly, showing off and doing things as he pleased, unaware of being Zhuangzi. Suddenly he awoke, drowsily, Zhuangzi again. And he could not tell whether it was Zhuangzi who had dreamt the butterfly or the butterfly dreaming Zhuangzi. But there must be some difference between them!
The third state of consciousness is the deep sleep state. This is the state of nidra. Although there are mental processes taking place in deep sleep, there is no waking state or dream state awareness of these. Deep sleep is often a metaphor for death. The dead sleep in graveyards.
How to define the deep sleep state as a state of consciousness if there is no apparent awareness or knowledge of anything happening in this state? Surely we have to be conscious of something dynamic for consciousness to be active.
The mind is conditioned to be conscious of something, of a shape, an object, a sense of self. Because the world is taken to be inherently real, the brain has difficulty in defining anything as existent when it cannot be processed by the senses or the mind. The idea of being conscious of something that has no physical or mental presence goes against the grain of the system of the mind. Even the notion of ‘nothing’ is turned into a concept of something.
It could be argued that we are simply not equipped to know the state of nothing. Zero is a number. Nothing defines something.
In the reality of yoga everything is conscious. Even a stone is permeated with consciousness, though clearly it has no nervous system to be aware of this. A dead body, with no signs of life, is never less than conscious. Pure Consciousness does not need us to be conscious. Human awareness is just the neurons in the brain ticking away like a highly evolved Swiss clock. In the waking state when consciousness is limited by the mind and senses, any sense of reality will always be partial.
In the practice of Yoga Nidra, the meditator leaves the waking state, goes past the Dreaming state, and rests in Deep Sleep, while remaining awake. The practice of Yoga Nidra is to experience a state of deep relaxation to wind down from stress by silencing neuronal activity. This type of yoga is also used by yogis to purify the samskaras, the deep impressions that generate karma.
Scientific research suggests that the state of deep sleep in necessary for the creation of fresh memories, like a computer clearing its cache of data. In the dream state, these memories are rearranged and filed in specific parts of the neuronal network. Sleep deprivation can cause a distorted sense of reality and hallucinations because the brain goes into overload.
Yoga proposes that what passes for human consciousness in the three states is simply a continuum of degrees of awareness. Pure consciousness is on a whole different cosmic level, present in both the sentient and the insentient. To differentiate the conscious brain from an expanded consciousness, various adjectives are used: pure, absolute, cosmic. This transcended consciousness is not defined by our experiences.
The waking state is steeped in illusion. We assume a nervous system has a monopoly on consciousness. But the hills are alive with consciousness and the cosmic mind is fully conscious regardless of us humans. Consciousness exists whether anyone is there to experience it or not. The teachings of Yoga propose that life is lived in the shadow of an infinitely greater intelligence but we delude ourselves that our human reality is all there is to know. Our awareness should be directed towards this intelligence. Then we can truly feel la caresse exquise de la vie – life’s sweet caress.
In Sanskrit, vidya is knowledge. A-vidya is ignorance or not knowing. Vidya is etymologically the root of our English word vision (through the Latin word videre). It is obvious that the senses and mind do offer a vision of the world and that the physical world is undoubtedly as real as it is tangible. But things can be both real and an illusion simultaneously. The senses do not lie but they do not tell the whole truth. They spin a version of the truth that is wholly convincing but not entirely real.
If we accept the truism of yoga of non-duality, that the only reality is one without a second and absolute, it follows that there must be a single state of existence that comprises both the physical and abstract worlds, including time and space – one state of being that cannot be broken down any further. It also follows that the world of diversity must be an optical illusion.
The human sense of existence as experienced on ‘me-ness’ or asmita is founded on a misconception.
Life is a misconception.
Birth is a misconception.
Death is a misconception.
The human brain is just not programmed to accept this misconception of reality. The illusion, in practical terms, is not that this reality is unreal and non-happening but more who does it happen to? Get that straight and the rest follows. The concept that everything, both material and non-material, is a manifestation of absolute consciousness, is fundamental to the philosophy of yoga.
The problem that rises from this concept is that, if we accept the idea that there is consciousness in all things both alive and dead, sentient and insentient, we are left in a vaguely metaphysical world where there are blurred lines between reality and unreality and it can all get a bit illogical. The intellect has evolved to be sharp and alert and a logical mind will red flag dangerous situations – and so a well-defined reality is crucial for the survival of the species. The intellect, however, has never been seen or photographed or patented. We have just invented the idea that there is an intellect and this has the supposed purpose to referee the world and lick it into a shape that we can all relate to. The intellect is a concept and convenient reference point but is essentially fallible.
The key term here is species specific. We all share the same vision of the world, but overladen with personal preferences. When a sense is not available – sight or sound, for example – the brain constructs another experience. As long as we are alive we experience the world with the senses available to us, and that includes the intellect which is in essence a sixth sense.
In the teachings of Yoga, there is no single reality in our experience of the world, just an illusory experience of multiple realities. A succession of events is linked together. A healthy brain is able to create a collage of these shapes, forms and happenings and transform this into a cohesive reality.
This constructed reality is called in Sanskrit mithya and describes an illusory knowledge of the world. The word mithya is the origin of our word myth. We live our lives as a myth, as heroes of the intellect.
A person who lives their life in a dream does not see situations clearly but just projects desires and wishes onto the external world, bending reality according to personal preference. Psychoanalysts call this transference. Reality has an illusory or dreamlike quality. In yoga all three states, the waking, the dream and the deep states are just aspects of human consciousness. Breaking it down to the one element, there has to be a transcendental state of consciousness. This is the fourth state that unites the waking, dream and deep sleep states into one expanded experience.
The progression from a conditioned understanding of how the world works to an expanded awareness of cosmic consciousness is pivotal in yoga and is achieved by tuning into a higher frequency of experience. This is the expanded state of human intelligence.
The fourth state of consciousness transcends a world vision beyond the apparent reality of every day experience into a super state of Pure Awareness, an ‘absolute’ state of peace and calm. This is the transcendental state that includes the other three states but is not confined by them.
This state of consciousness, known in Sanskrit as turiya, is how freedom from doubt and existential anxiety can be achieved. It is in this fourth state that a complete and abiding happiness is experienced, where all reality is known without division and our fragile sense of self identity is merged into an all permeating, eternal, indivisible unity of intelligence.
But what are we conscious and aware of if our ordinary experience of the world is all a big misconception?
A central tenet of yoga philosophy is that we live in the state of avidya which can be translated as an unknowing or an amnesia of our original condition. The proposition is that we all existed as a pure and perfect state before we were born, and will continue to exist as such after our deaths. We are pure and perfect in this very moment. There is no separation, nothing else other than this very moment in time, including memories of the past and projections into the future. History is always on the side of now.
There is always just the one element that every unit of reality can be reduced to, and there can be no imperfections. But our limited awareness in the three states makes us forget that our source of existence is unbounded and uncontaminated. Our senses blind us to our true nature.
The experience of turiya, the fourth state, is essentially mystical. This is an epiphany state, a breaking through to the other side. We can know our original face, as the Zen master called it. We can then truly realise that our eternal essence is not subject to birth or death; that we have got this all the wrong way since day one. We have been looking for perfection in all the wrong places.
Gradually as we have gone through life, passing through the ages, we have learned to make sense of the world by identifying patterns, and in doing so we have identified ourselves with our external environment. Yoga proposes a solution that to find a lasting happiness and peace of mind, even in the face of adversity and certain death, we need to refer back to that flawless state of existence before birth. This is absolute reality, not the partial reality of the present moment which is beset with no end of idiosyncrasies and inherent flaws.
To accept this proposition does not mean you have to believe in it. But it is imperative to open your mind to the possibility that what we call reality is all a myth and that our grip on this reality is very tenuous. We can tie ourselves in knots analyzing exactly what reality is comprised of. Ultimately, it is like the sign on the window of the yoga studio: you have to inquire within.
The spiritual concept of a prior state of being that is the source of human reality is common to most spiritual traditions. In the Old Testament God says to Moses: before Abraham was, I am. In the New Testament the prophet John the Baptist says to Herod: After me comes a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.
There is a potential pitfall in separating human consciousness from a pure or absolute state of consciousness and that is of creating a duality and a sense of there being something else. Whereas, absolute implies one without a second. Even inferior and superior are mired in the comparative realm which requires something else. Yoga states simply that Consciousness is you and you are Pure Consciousness before you were you. There is in the final analysis no before or after. Consciousness is one, even in the illusion of multiplicity. It cannot be described, only alluded to. There is no need to get caught up in seeking some kind of yogic wisdom because there is absolutely no objective to achieve or indeed any empirical proof of this. Yoga remains always a mystical proposition of the existence of a super fine state of being in the physical realm that is not quantifiable or even describable. The teachings of yoga also state that this fourth state of being cannot be separate from the other states of existence. Breaking it down to the one element, all four states of consciousness are just one and the same. The illusion of existence is that it seems that the waking state, the dream and the deep sleep state are separate realities. It appears so. It seems so.
In turiya, this illusion of separateness is dissolved, like ice cubes in water. Likewise, all cares and worries and troubles that are of the waking and dream world melt away. Knowledge, awareness, and consciousness merge into one super state of existence beyond the senses, transcending a mundane vision of what is real and unreal.
Transcending human consciousness does not make anyone a superior person, like a spiritual aristocrat or mystic super hero. Breaking it down, nobody and nothing can be superior to anything or anyone else. We are all born equal. Taking this all the way to its final conclusion, yoga questions whether we are even born at all or is that also part of the illusion?
The Yoga of Meditation
You have to do your own work;
Enlightened Ones will only show the way.
Those who practice meditation
Will free themselves from the chains of death.
For over five thousand years, mystics have affirmed that meditation offers release from the stresses and strains of daily life. Furthermore, in meditation lie the answers to all our questions about our existence on this planet, whatever they may be – spiritual, practical, mundane or emotional, even financial and political. Meditation is not just about being chilled out in some blissful state. It is about getting down and dirty and grabbing life by the throat and wrestling it to the ground. Meditation is a tussle with the ego. In a perfect world meditation wins hands down but we make the world imperfect by interfering with our opinions and judgement and always knowing better. The culprit is that sense of being someone, that asmita or me-mess. We just can’t let it lie.
Meditation is a practice which is unique in the human experience in that seemingly there is nothing being done. The only activity which can be used as a comparison is the act of thinking in that both are attributed to the mental realm. Thoughts and the meditative mind are often in a battle for supremacy, with the ego as the commander of the thought brigade and absolute consciousness as supreme leader of meditation.
Meditation is a profoundly personal experience. In the most refined practice there are no restrictions, no outside influences and no thought control. There is just an anthem of total freedom, and an inner silence that is only experienced in meditation. This, in theory, is how it should be. But the ego has a million fiendishly cunning plans to upset the peace and quiet, like an impatient child in the back seat of the car on a long journey. The mind is constantly plotting to assert control over the process.
Some theory of the perfect meditation: the practice of meditation achieves nothing and completes everything. The meditator knows the meaningless purpose of life and is guaranteed success, even in failure. Get out of jail and live the perfect life. Live to be healthy, wealthy and wise. Live life to the full. Smile and the world smiles with you.
Unfortunately, it’s not like that. Meditation is often a messy affair, not for the faint hearted. If you are an achiever and a doer, there are no pre-determined goals to be set like some business plan to discuss at the Monday morning company meeting. It is not as if there is a right and a wrong way of doing this. There are certain skills which can be developed and cultivated. Think of a garden and the gardener, the painter and the painting, the thinker and the thinking. It’s instinct and intuition and the luck of the Irish. Many fall by the wayside, wounded soldiers, while others march on.
There are many different techniques that can be used according to mood and temperament; such as meditation on the breath, or on colour, on sound, on compassion, on love, on equanimity, or with a mantra, or focusing on an ideal or on a special text. Or on nothing, the hardest technique of them all. There are many methods to meditate, each with its own colourings, and there are many rivers to cross in the practice. Doubt and impatience are two such obstacles.
Meditation is not a formula that can be trademarked (though many have tried – for example the Transcendental Meditation movement.) No one size fits all, not every day and for each occasion.
“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” (Friedrich Nietzsche,)
It is an acquired skill to observe the mind in action and see how it responds to stimulus. One of the benefits that meditation brings is the ability to stand back from the mind and to not be constantly in the sway of thought processes over which we have little control.
This is not an exercise in mind control. In fact, it is not about doing anything really, not even meditating. It is not about thinking with the eyes closed nor is it an exercise in ridding the mind of thoughts. Meditation essentially is about finding a sense of balance and equilibrium without trying to control the flow of sensations and energy that arises. One way of doing this is to observe the mind in action and see what it throws up. This is the basis of mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is taught widely but not always wisely. In fact, mindfulness meditation should come with a mental health warning. Neuroses and psychological complexes can come up from the unconscious mind to the conscious mind with devastating effects. People with obsessive tendencies can find themselves giving validation to phobias and fears, thereby reinforcing them. Mild schizophrenia can be aggravated. Rather than feeling relieved, people can become confused, seeing and hearing things that are not there. The impact on an unstable mind can be distressing. Children are particularly vulnerable.
Mindfulness at its best is a methodology that helps you gain an objective view of yourself by distancing you, the experiencer, from the things experienced. But mindfulness has also become a slogan, a quick fix to resolve difficult and complex issues, and without proper guidance can open up a whirlpool of unresolved issues.
Because modern lifestyles are complicated, stress levels tend to be high and people often end up uptight, losing sight of what is essentially important, bogged down in the minutiae, lost in the details. But the calm practice of meditation is free of the demands imposed by external circumstances. The meditative state is inherently one of peace and tranquility. A calm mind, however, may prove to be elusive when it is tossed about like a cargo ship on angry waves in a perfect storm. By way of preparation for meditation, the practice of pranayama, which are yogic breathing exercises, is recommended. Pranayama settles the waves in the brain by regulating breath.
The breath is used in many spiritual traditions as a focal point of attention during meditation. In the Buddhist tradition of Vipassana, this is called anapanasati or awareness of breath. Observing the breath, or prana, is always a good way to start meditation, as a reference point or a physical constant.
The physical exercises of hatha yoga, known as the asana or poses, are also intended to induce a sense of physical well-being and calmness as well as to train the body to sit for an extended period. Hatha, the yoga of the sun and moon, brings calm to the body so the mind can find stability.
There is no mystique about meditation. It is just a practice, but one with a higher purpose. The goal is to acquire self-knowledge but without any preconceptions or fixed ideas from the onset of what there is to achieve. Meditation is unlike any other practice in that all it involves is just sitting, a closing of the eyes and being aware of inner silence, with no set target or complications.
Initially training in a technique is needed, because sitting silently with eyes closed for an extended period is for most people a challenging experience. The mind is very noisy, full of thoughts and sounds. Very few people can sit for even five minutes doing absolutely nothing, let alone thirty minutes. With basic training, however, anyone will eventually be able to meditate for extended periods without any structure other than to meditate, the mind auto-tuned into a state of higher consciousness. The meditative state is a natural one in a quiet and stilled mind.
Yogis can meditate for many hours with training. In Tibet monks meditate in the snow. There is a tradition of monks and nuns being immured, that is bricked into a cave, for many years. Tenzin Palmo, born Diane Perry in Bethnal Green and became a Tibetan Buddhist monk lived in almost total isolation in a cave at the top of a mountain for 18 years, spending most of her days and nights in meditation. This is at the seriously committed, if not extreme, end of the Yoga spectrum. Five minutes or thirty minutes twice a day is a very happy start to the practice. The benefits of meditation are experienced in consistency, not in strenuous effort.
In a later chapter, I will look in depth at the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. There is one line from this masterpiece of Indian philosophy which is particularly apt at this juncture. It is in Sanskrit and reads: yogash chitt vritti nirodah. This affirmation in the mystical science of Yoga is as pivotal as the opening line of the Bible (in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God) or the Buddhist Dhammapada (Mind precedes all mental states)
Yogash is the state of Yoga.
Chitt is consciousness.
Vritti are the modifications or mind waves.
Nirodah is the cessation or stilling.
The state of Yoga is when the mind waves no longer impact on consciousness. Yoga is the transcendental state of peace and stillness where intelligence flows freely. This, quite simply, is the goal of meditation.
It is seductive to interpret this affirmation in a linear way, as if the stilling of the mind waves sequentially leads to a state of higher consciousness. Our usual way of understanding the world is that there is always a cause and an effect and that everything results from something else. Nothing, it seems, happens without a cause. But this is not what yogash chitt vritti nirodah is all about. Consciousness is already still. The one wave of existence is always still. This is our natural state of being. Yoga desires nothing and goes nowhere. And the next line in the Yoga Sutras embellishes this.
The knower then rests in original space. When not in this transcendental state of stillness, our minds are caught up in the stream of relative consciousness.
But, this is not usually the case as Patanjali says in the third sutra because the mind gets easily distracted.
The waves of consciousness get identified elsewhere.
When not in this transcendental state of stillness, our minds are caught up in the stream of relative consciousness
Fundamental to this process is saaroopyam meaning identification or entanglement. The waves of consciousness become entangled with the objects they encounter. Basically this is where we go wrong, our mind waves projecting out towards the world of objects, things and desires. We get caught up in them like Velcro. We have a head full of ideas and struggle to get rid of them. This then effects the states of the mind in a knock on effect. Meditation gets harder and to some people this jingle jangle of the mind is unbearable.
In this case group meditation practice is recommended as a safer environment. We are social animals and meditative vibrations get amplified en masse. There is no group think in meditation but there is a reassuring communality.
There are some basic pitfalls that even the experienced meditator has to be alert to, such as the mind creating scenarios and then getting caught up in these. If the meditator turns focus onto money, this may lead to an obsession with wealth. If the meditator contemplates enlightenment, this can lead to frustration in not achieving an imaginary state of perfection. We may find that in meditation we ourselves become our favourite subject and the source of an endless and deep fascination which is ultimately one gigantic distraction. The ego will cling onto control for dear life. Any sense of identity will be the last thing the mind wants to relinquish. The ego, not hope, is the last to die.
One gradually comes to realise that the ego-mind-intellect-body construct is just a work of fiction, not much different from a character in a book. This is the ahankaar, the inner actor. Progressively the ahankaar of the meditator loosens its grip on the psyche. Freed from the restraints placed upon this fabricated character, we are free to be whoever we want to be. Eventually we lose even the desire to be anyone and we become free of self-imposed or parent engendered expectations.
Our conditioning is what defines us as individuals, but there must be a way out of this whirlpool that jets up joy and sorrow, carried on the rising and falling waves of emotions, of sukkha and dukkha. Meditation opens the mind up to a still place where personal development can take place without attachment to the inner actor. And what ensues may be experienced as self-realisation or enlightenment. Or it may be just peace of mind, a letting-go of cares and worry. The beauty of meditation is that it is free of dogma or ideology. Whatever truth is realised is both universal and deeply personal.
Meditation is often seen as belonging exclusively to the practice of Eastern spirituality. The meditating Buddha has become an icon – the eyes closed, a serene expression, in the lotus posture, stylised and instantly recognisable. This image, which is an idealised characterisation of the historical Buddha with Greek sculptural influences, depicts the state of meditation as peaceful, calm and at one with both the physical and spiritual realms.
If only it were that simple. Some people are initially attracted to the blissful iconography only to find that the practice is not that easy, and often quite painful. Meditation is often a messy affair with worries, nervous ticks, aches and pains and a myriad of thoughts filling up the mind. Desire rises up like bubbles in water. Expectations are high, accompanied by an internal pressure to experience something, anything. There may be an experience of an initial release of stress and worry which induces something not too dissimilar to an endorphin rush, but the mind usually comes back with its own anarchic programme and an unexpected agenda. There is often something better to do and or think about or a sudden rush of inspiration while meditating. The intellect and the senses create a world in the mind and the ego clings onto its existence in the waking state.
Guided Yogic meditation lead by an experienced meditator is useful to structure a session and set a focus. It can be daunting to meditate on lofty concepts such as Space or the Absolute or Pure Consciousness. In fact, these can be interferences from the immediacy of the practice. Any ideas of being spiritually skilful or worthy must be discarded. It is best to approach meditation with a sense of curiosity about what is happening in the present moment rather than approach the practice with grand designs.
An idea may arise of what should be happening. There may be an expectation that any spiritual experience ought to be just perfect, as if we can close our eyes with the guarantee to be transported into a world of peace and bliss at a moment’s notice. But the mind plays games – and the mind does not like to lose. Perfection gradually reveals itself but, like liquid mercury, it escapes our grasp as soon as we try to hold onto it. Mercury, in ancient myth, is the blood of Shiva, the creator and destroyer of the world. Shaivism, the Shiva religion of the pre-Aryan Indus Valley, is one of the many tributaries of the river of Yoga.
As the intellect becomes sharper with training in meditation, it becomes apparent that it is the nature of thought to direct itself outwards, as the mind obsessively probes for something to fixate on. This is due to the subject-object-relationship that we have with the world. Even in silence or emptiness of thought in meditation there is a subject-object-relationship going on: I (the subject) perceive the silence (the object). Recognising this process is a fundamental step forward. Acceptance of the duality quietens the mind.
A quiet mind helps in the search for knowledge of the highest truth. The intellect is a primary tool on this path towards enlightenment and it should not be deflected and diverted by thoughts that lead down winding paths heading deeper into a forest of confusion. It helps to always keep in mind the fundamental hypothesis that intelligence is non-dual, i.e. I am existence – consciousness – limitlessness. The mind must be keen and alert so that it is not drawn back into its habitual ways of functioning in dualism, stuck with the sense of other.
Mind and intellect are not synonymous although both function in a mental dimension. Mind tends towards the passive and intellect towards the active. Both are identified with the body. Consciousness is completely free of exclusive identification with the body and personality. The mind and intellect and body are of course conscious but not independently. Both the active and passive mind fuse with pure consciousness. Entering the stream of co-dependent consciousness is the nirvana of Buddhism.
The calm mind is just a starting point, a preparation. There is no initial bolt of enlightenment as if this were a designer drug kicking in. To go beyond that preparation, the quiet, cleared mind must be trained further and put to targeted use.
At a deeper of level of meditation, it is useful to let go of all attachments. Non-attachment or vairagya in Sanskrit is a fundamental concept in Eastern philosophy and is easier said than done. Vairagya loosely translates as dispassion, detachment, or renunciation from the pains and pleasures in the illusory material world. Vairagya refers to an internal state of mind rather than to external lifestyle and does not mean rejecting or developing repulsion for material objects. It nurtures a strong attraction for the inner spiritual source of fulfilment and happiness as attachments fall away naturally. Balance is maintained between the inner spiritual state and one’s external lifestyle through the practice of seeing limited human reality as manifestations of the one Cosmic Consciousness. Attachments include preconceptions of identity and status, sense of gender, likes and dislikes, all the colouring of personality. But even as skill is developed in meditation, there is still the risk of becoming attached to a belief system. To be truly free of attachments requires dedicated and consistent practice and a sense of humility. Really nothing is being achieved, just a calling to mind of a greater sense of self. Recalling the higher self is nididhyasana.
Nididhyasana is a stream of thoughts that flow in a state of non-attachment. This process begins in the waking state and reaches its apex in meditation but it can be carried through to daily life, at home, in the car or at work or anywhere you go. Everything is a flow of karma. A lifestyle of non-attachment opens up a new way of living in the world of flux and permanent change. The yogic lifestyle entails living in this constant flux yet staying steady and at one with unchanged consciousness that, which the more it changes, the more it stays the same in the changing field of existence.
Whatever happens in meditation is an experience that is always conscious. Perhaps eventually nothing happens at all, and that is not so bad an outcome, because in knowing nothing, we can then start to know reality without any preconceptions or belief systems. Mystic Yoga is simply the art of knowing nothing while being conscious of everything. The world can then open up without prejudice, all the way to the outer reaches of the farthest galaxies of known space, some 13.7 billion light years away at last count, and then add some more for good measure. And beyond that lies nothing, not even the stars.
The Yoga of Lifestyle-karma
A monk goes to visit a guru in Benares, the holy city.
The guru greets him cheerfully and asks him how the journey was.
‘Very good. I walked across the river Ganges from one bank to another.’
The guru is impressed.
‘How did you manage that? It used to be a speciality of Jesus. I have never quite got the hang of it.’
The monk replies that he has meditated twelve hours a day, twelve months a year, for twelve years. In doing so he has gained the yogic power of walking on water.
The guru laughs at this.
‘I would not call that an efficient use of your time. It has only taken me a couple of seconds to work out that you are a total fool,’ he says.
The monk’s pride is wounded and he asks why.
‘Because for five rupees you can catch a ferry across the river,’ the guru says. ‘You don’t need to meditate for twelve years to know that.’
Karma yoga can be translated as the yoga of performing action, both mental and physical. This is the yoga of lifestyle. Yogah karamsu kaushalam is the efficient use of time and effort.
Karma is misunderstood by the uninitiated to only mean the results or consequences of actions. Karma really means effort or conscious action and is one of the building blocks of the human personality. All karma originates in the mind. In the yoga of lifestyle karma is the work that helps the individual’s intelligence to touch the yogic field. All actions have consequences, and according to the fundamental hypothesis of non-duality, actions and consequences are never independent.
Even thinking is a conscious action. Thoughts are mental actions, mental karma, and these can stay in the realm of thought or can be transformed into physical actions.
Every conscious mental action generates a physical reaction, seen or unseen. The karma flow is a stream of mental and physical energy with no clear demarcation in where the mental and physical fields begin or end. It is only the concept of time and space that confines the karma flow. A page of a book reflects a karmic flow of events that began hundreds of billions of years ago when life developed: from waves of consciousness, molecules and atoms, seed, sapling, tree, woodcutter, pulp, paper, ink, page. All these words and the imaginative process that is manifest here are just a moment in this process. Everything is karma.
While doing things we tend to anticipate the results of the action, constantly projecting ahead. This leads to a disconnection between the action and the result. Not doing something can also create a sense of unease or anxiety, planning and making decisions about what to do next.
An idea arises that something is being done, and consequently there is the expectation of a result. But what is that ‘doing’ that requires involvement by a doer of the action? As long as we identify ourselves with performing actions, we are vulnerable. It is the identification of you as the doer with the action that your performing that is your Achilles’ heel. This includes your thoughts. Death will catch you this way
Yoga proposes the concept of nishkaam karma or uninvolved action where there is no attachment to the anticipated result of actions. Effortless work is called nishkaam karma yoga, action without attachment to the result. This is the path of karma yoga. Individual action becomes the union of two forces; the individual working awareness and the source of pure awareness.
An action performed with nishkaam karma yoga produces better results and does not dissipate energy. Results are known to be just the resolving of what is happening in the present. Productivity daily in activities is increased because, without being weighed down with anticipation, potentialities can be identified more clearly. And it is easier to decide when a task is complete when the mind is at one with the action and not restlessly getting ahead of itself.
Human beings are work animals and possession junkies. Just being conscious in the waking state is a form of action. Karma yoga is a technique to work and think skilfully in the performance of daily actions. The ideal scenario is vigilant awareness of thought in action without mood swings. But that ideal is probably just a big dream, like those taking heads love to talk about. The more they are super cool, the more likely they are to be faking it.
We have all woken up in a good mood then something happens which messes up the day. There are some seriously enlightened beings that never get pissed off but I reckon most of them are faking it. It is natural to get worked up about stuff. The point of Yoga is not to get so chilled out that nothing gets to you. It is how you deal with stuff that counts and that includes moods.
The concept of mood or awasathaa is the closest that Indian philosophy gets to our modern concept of the emotional realm. Emotions, linguistically speaking, are movements outward, emoting. Vrittis are movements of consciousness in time and space. Vrittis too are karma and so have consequences. The fruits of one’s actions are karma phal and these leave an imprint on the mind. Here starts the process of identification in the mind. Karma accumulates in a reservoir. Sanchit karma is the accumulation of mental impressions in the karma aashay, the pool of karmas. Praarabdh karma is karma that is currently being generated that interacts with the previous impressions stored up in the memory bank.
The point of this is to show how much detail the ancient philosophers paid to the role of our actions in our lifestyles, and how our moods and emotional realm affect our choices. The past conditions us every moment of the waking day. The past claims us as much as we in turn make claims on the present and future, generated by our fears. People who fail are invariably conditioned to fail before they start, because failure is just a state of mind.
This is why Krishna tells Arjuna to stand up and fight. Do whatever has to be done but do not claim anything, he says. It is attachment to results and expectations that affects mood and states of mind. And this carries on in a cycle of mood affecting action affecting mind and so on.
Karma is directly related to emotional states. The stupefied mind, moordh aswasthaa does not necessarily mean stupid, more obtusely unenlightened. The most intelligent people can be stuck in a rut, constantly returning to the scene of emotional disturbances and psychic lethargy, prone to repetitive behaviour that sucks their lifeblood with negativity and inertia. Such people are heavy and abusive, obsessed, not far removed from an animal state. They have no ears or eyes for yoga and wouldn’t know enlightenment if it jumped up and bit them in the arse.
People whose mind is controlled by moordh aswasthaa can only go so far in a company or in their profession before the mass of the negativity and inertia drags them down. They vote for Donald Trump or play golf.
In the restless state mind, kshipt aswasthaa, attention is constantly projected out onto the world where it is drawn into a never-ending series of likes and dislikes, never settling on anything. Commitment only lasts until the next attraction comes along. This is the yoga equivalent of shopaholics, with the mind always looking for the next hit. Meditation becomes difficult, almost impossible. The mind flits about like a blue arse fly.
People in the undecided frame of mind, vikshipt aswasthaa, are open to meditation and yoga but are never quite sure why. Always prone to influence, their higher frequency thinking tends to only last while they are in the company of yogis and then falls back into doubt. They get disillusioned easily. The potential for enlightenment is there but, like Arjuna, they are made weak by indecision. Men become like little girls and women prevaricate
With the one pointed mind, the aykaagra aswasthaa, when the mind and intellect is fully focused, the intellect is tuned into a single wave of consciousness without being distracted by passing sensations and mental imaginings. A one pointed mind is not limited by the intellect but connects to the flow of the world. All karma and their consequences are experienced as interdependent. Emotions exist but leave no trace and lift the spirit to the highest state of mind, the nirodh aswasthaa.
Nirodh is the state of stillness or cessation. This is a state of mind in which nothing and everything happens at the same time. In the self-aware state of mind, the chitt vrittis, the waves of consciousness, are still and emotions dissolved. No negative karmas are produced and the mind acts from pure intelligence, not bound to the preceding mental states. This intelligence, though touched by the world, demands nothing and expects nothing. In a work context, both creativity and productivity is enhanced.
Zen depicts the nirodh aswasthaa state in visually descriptive similes such as walking through tall grass, leaving no trace as you pass. Or a clear pond after ripples have subsided. Another is the bamboo that bends with the wind and returns to shape when the wind subsides. Your karma is light, like air. Everything is everything, still and peaceful. Or something like that.
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There is yoga and there is mystic yoga, an expanded journey into the spiritual beating heart of the practice, from death cult origins to reinvention in the quantum age. This is not the postural yoga of looking and feeling chilled but something far more vital and challenging - a mysticism that challenges who we are and where we are in the universe, nothing more or less than an exploration of conscious,tracing the evolution of yoga, referencing the earliest classic texts of Indian philosophy and Buddhism and the Gitas. From the early Indian sub continent, passing through Europe and the US, expounded by gurus, intellectualised and sanitised by academics, the history of Yoga has always been permeated with a mystic essence that is too often neglected in our secular consumer age. This is true yoga, the unity of mind and matter, that takes us to a place where nothing exists apart from existence in its purest essence where everything is both known and unknown. Forget the dire politics of our age for a while.Tune into mystic consciousness and experience the essence of timeless Yoga.