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Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit
A Personal Guide to the Wisdom of Yoga and Tantra
By The Same Author
Tantra: The Yoga of Love and Awakening
Sacred Spirit A Personal Guide to the Wisdom of Yoga and Tantra Ramesh Bjonnes .Sacred Body.
or by any information storage or retrieval system. electronic or mechanical. 00683. including photocopying. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2012909776 Cover Design © Donna Wilson McClure Author Photograph: Maya Verzonilla No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means. without permission in writing from the publisher. Published in the United States by InnerWorld Publications. San Germán.Copyright © 2012 by Ramesh Bjonnes All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. ISBN 978-1-881717-15-7 . Puerto Rico. PO Box 1613. recording.
the teacher of my teachers.To Shrii Shrii Anandamurti. irrespective of caste.” . A person who. creed or religion aspires for [such] spiritual expansion…is a Tantric. who said that Tantra “is the process of transforming one’s latent divinity into Supreme Divinity.
Associate Publisher. I highly recommend him.” —Bob Weisenberg. because here is a practitioner whose fine mind reaches into his heart. Grammy-nominated world musician “Ramesh Bjonnes is one of the finest yoga historians in the United States. while down to earth and easy to understand. He has a deep understanding of yoga philosophy and a deep personal practice. His words enter through my mind and then travel to my heart. they have also generated some of our most robust and enlightening debates. His essays. present. These essays have been among the most consistently popular ever on our website. He is a profound and humble teacher who brings insight as well as personal experience to his lectures. Sacred Spirit is an inspiring and provocative book. Elephant Journal . a cynosure where past. Professor of Religion. and future spiritualities commingle in a rich understanding of esoteric teachings and practices. express very deep thoughts and feelings. author of Auspicious Wisdom “ These writings on yoga. reaching back into the hoary past. Bjonnes is now an important voice for the study of living Tantra. founder Subtle Yoga “Sacred Body.“Ramesh Bjonnes offers rich insight into Tantra for the current age. and who have devoted years to actualizing the instructions they were given. –Jai Uttal.” –Kaoverii Weber.” —Douglas Brooks. Tantric philosophy and spiritual ecology have the lucidity of insight that comes only to those who have had the good fortune to have a long and close relationship with a true teacher. where they blossom like beautiful flowers of love and truth. will benefit from reading. while sustaining a clear focus in the present. lay or scholar. This book is a source that any person. converging one into the other. author of In Search of the Medicine Buddha “The writings of Ramesh Bjonnes cut right to the core of the spiritual journey.” —David Crow. Rochester University.
or Dharma: What’s the Difference? 91 . Naked and Enlightened: The Crazy Yogis of Love Tantra: The Yoga of Union 39 41 48 51 55 58 60 63 67 Part Three: The Wisdom of Yoga 69 Yoga Means Union: The Spiritual. Science.Contents Introduction1 Part One: Sacred Rivers: The History of Yoga and Tantra Brief History of the Yoga and Tantra Tradition Three Ways to View the Ancient History of Yoga Before Buddha was a Buddhist. Historical and Psychological Reasons71 Tantra and the Yoga Sutras: If Patanjali Had Been a Woman 78 A Comparative Examination of the Body-Mind-Spirit Connection 80 Yoga and Reincarnation: To Believe or Not to Believe? 83 Your Mind Is More Powerful Than Your Brain 88 Religion. He was a Tantric Yogi How Old Is Your Yoga Practice? Dispelling a Myth About Women and Yoga 9 11 16 24 29 34 Part Two: The Path of Love and Ecstasy The Yoga of Tantric Love: Seven Reasons Why it’s Not Just About Sex Tantra and Sex Yoga for Lovers Can Orgasm Lead to Enlightenment? Tantric Love: Why is Krishna Blue and Radha Golden? Tantra and Kundalini: Uncoiling The Sacred Snake of Sex and Liberation Fat.
or a Religion? 131 Yoga: Multiple Pathways to the Path of One! 135 Bhakti Yoga: the Cure for Spiritual Heart Disease 139 Diet for a Yogi Planet 141 Why do People Chant OM at the End of Yoga Class? 146 Why do Modern Yogis Believe Brahmacarya Means Celibacy? 149 Yoga May Be Bad For Your Health: Seven Ways to Avoid Yoga Injuries 151 You Are Already Enlightened! True or False? 154 Ten Simple Secrets to a Great Meditation Practice 160 Twelve Ways to Meditate Like a (Real) Yogi 162 Why are People Afraid of the Tantric Guru? 165 Why Yogis Eat Carrots Rather than Cows 170 Tantric Ethics for Self and Society 173 The Power of Mantras 176 Tantra Practice: Three Steps to Meaningful Mindfulness Meditation178 Introducing a Meditation Practice 182 Select Bibliography 184 Acknowledgments188 .Yoga and Activism 95 Can We be Spiritual without Transformation: A Tantric Perspective99 Three Ways to Practice Yoga 102 Three Ways to Enlightenment 106 What is Rajadhiraja Yoga? 113 What the Bleep is Dharma? 117 Part Four: The Spirit of Practice 121 The Power of Sitting Now 123 The Yoga of Fierce Enlightenment 126 Is Yoga an Art. a Science.
” This next step seems to have already started.” In this book.Introduction An Integral Perspective on Tantra and Yoga Tantra is generally known in the West as “the yoga of sex. this change of title is not only timely. as well as the writings and teachings of other popular authors on Tantra. there are many different schools and sub-schools emphasizing different aspects of the vast universe of Tantric practice and philosophy. there are people who proclaim to be Tantric masters. and many of them are simply dabbling in black magic and superstition.” There are many forms and schools of Tantra. Hence. In the words of the founder of the Bihar School of Yoga. Swami Satyananda Saraswati. However. several prominent yoga teachers predicted that Tantra will be the “next step in America’s spiritual evolution. but who in reality are charlatans and tricksters. A good indicator of the growing interest in Tantra is that Georg Feuerstein. Another indicator is the growing interest in the writings and workshops of Hindu religious scholar and Tantric practitioner Douglas Brooks. there are neo-Tantric schools of sacred sex that have little or no resemblance to traditional Tantra. and in India. changed the title of his 2012 edition of The Encyclopedia of Yoga to The Encyclopedia of Yoga and Tantra. not only in America. Tantra also represents a long and rich tradition that is perhaps best described as the inner essence of yoga. In the West. You will be introduced to what Tantric author Vimala McClure calls “the yoga of everything. you will be introduced to those aspects of Tantra that includes the practice of physical yoga .” In an article by Nora Isaacs in Yoga Journal. Within this illustrious and old tradition. some genuine and many not-so-genuine. Robert Svoboda. and Swami Satyananda Saraswati. but all over the world. such as David Frawley. “The techniques of Yoga have their source in Tantra and the two cannot be separated. Lama Yeshe. In this book. one of the world’s most prolific authors on yoga. it is essential—because these two traditions are intimately linked. you will be introduced to a more integral form of Tantra.
both wholeness and opposites. in all paths that lead to liberation. chanting. it is based on spiritual practice. Hence. Tantra. which no doubt has its own sensual beauty to offer. the Kularnava Tantra text speaks with a straightforward voice: “If [you] could attain perfection (siddhi) merely by drinking wine. it is about seeing and realizing that everything we do can become a sacred. For Tantra is not based on religious faith or belief. The Sanskrit word Tantra literally means the practice that leads to spiritual liberation. all creatures of the world would be liberated…” Not surprisingly. Tantric yogis embrace both unity and duality. breathing exercises. nor the path of mere sensual gratification. but this text is essentially neither part of Tantric nor yogic literature. sacred spirit exercises. Tantra simply means spiritual transformation.2 sacred body. That is why Tantra is often called the path of ecstasy. where its millions of readers learned that Western Tantra has been “overly sexualized. many people are searching for a more authentic and holistic experience of Tantra. visualization techniques. While good food and adequate amounts of money are essential ingredients in a happy life. while Tantra signifies the various ancient yogic practices and their particular history. Likewise. spiritual act.” Tantra is about finding balance in all aspects of our lives. better health is not gained by overeating on organic cuisine and true wealth is not found in the hoarding of material things. all the wine drinking rogues would attain perfection. a Hindu text on lovemaking. But much of the writings on Western sex-Tantra have actually been lifted from the pages of the Kama Sutra. In its essence. on the subject of indulgence in drink and sex as a path to liberation. or the path of love. the path of Tantra can also be loosely characterized as the universal quest for union with God in all the world’s wisdom traditions. philosophy. This search was reflected in the article “Tantric Sex” in O: Oprah Magazine. is a state of being. Irrespective of religion. in Spirit—and that the inner essence of all life and all things are bliss and love. like all genuine spirituality. the path to inner liberation. Most Western books on Tantra inform us that it is some form of esoteric sexual practice. integral Tantra is not the path of indulgence. If mere intercourse… would lead to liberation. sacred cosmology. So. They have realized that these opposites dissolve in Brahma. . and holistic medicine. mantra meditation. the spirit of Tantra can be awakened in all genuine spiritual practice. devotional dancing.
and the ecstasy of chanting are all celebrated together in dynamic balance. Indeed. all sacred paths worthy of their prayer beads would agree. and dancing—diligently and with total abandon. worries and egotistical tendencies head-on. As Douglas Brooks. daily spiritual practice is essential in achieving results on the path of Tantra. In other words. the movement of the body. mind. and spirit. and violence into peace. Tantra is also a worldview. In the spiritual practices of Tantra. not from the world. we must practice spirituality—yoga postures.” Similarly. the ability to transform desire into bliss. all conflicts and opposites. The life-affirming Tantra seeks freedom and liberation in the world. has now recognized that we humans are “hardwired for bliss. We must walk our spiritual talk passionately. Candace Perth.introduction 3 Neuroscience. While some spiritual paths seek salvation in heaven. but everything. Tantric spirituality means that in order to experience sacredness in everyday life. the heart and the spirit. Tantra is an integral practice and a lifestyle for body. chanting. Tantra signifies a spirituality that is vigorous and fearless—a spirituality that encourages and enables us to overcome limitations. a philosophy and a practical cosmology to live by. For the Tantric understands that all dualities. Tantra boldly claims that not just everyone. freedom. A Brief Introduction to Tantra Philosophy In India. Tantra seeks liberation while we are still alive here on earth. art. and bliss. Tantra is about the alchemical use of energy. It’s that simple. And in letting the bees of the heart do their work. the stillness of meditation. is at its core. meditation. prayer. practice. particle or atom of this universe has an inherent capacity to reveal the Divine. through the research of Dr. the sacred and the mundane. Tantra believes that everything is divine—that every form. as well as a path of liberation. In other words. the dynamic path of Tantra affirms that life can be joyful. we practice Tantra. God. personal transformation is to live like the Spanish poet Antonio Machado and let “the bees in our heart” make honey out of all our past mistakes. all forms and energies are different expressions of God that ultimately dissolve in a state of nondual unity and peace. As the yoga of everything. While some spiritual paths affirm that life is suffering. While some spiritual paths negate the world. the eminent religious scholar and Tantric practitioner in the Rajanaka Yoga . Tantra embraces the world. phobias. Tantra means science.
Since everything is Brahma. Ultimately. In Tantra. he or she seeks spiritual union—the union between the human soul and the cosmic essence of Brahma. can never be ultimately . Still. Tantra realizes that both the physical body and the mind are impermanent states of being. at which point the yogi becomes speechless in the mysterious splendor of ultimate union. ecological sensibilities: everything is one. for the Tantric yogi. mind. Spirt is experienced by merging our individual minds in the atman. and Shakti’s Cosmic Energy creates everything. The physical exercises are part of a nested continuum. “Tantra begins with the affirmation of the gift of being human. a practice embracing both worldly achievements and spiritual peace. And in Tantra. Tantric yoga is a practice of earthly balance and spiritual union.” In the cosmology. the Cosmic Consciousness of Shiva and the Cosmic Energy of Shakti are always entwined like the embrace of two celestial lovers. in Tantric cosmology. as an emotional and intellectual being and as a spiritual being. as a physical being. there is no inherent contradiction between the sacred and the mundane. of Tantra. at which point our individual soul merges in the paramatman. In every possible way. Shiva’s Cosmic Consciousness is inherent in everything. often described as an intuitive science. Although everything is sacred. Metaphorically speaking. from body to mind to spirit. Metaphorically. the cosmic soul. the path toward this state of nondual union is not belief. or creation philosophy. First a yogi attempts to harmonize body and mind. they are two sides of the same androgynous expression of the nondual Oneness of Brahma. The body is thus the “outer layer of the mind” and the mind a sacred vehicle for the expression of spirituality. and spirit is a brilliant insight. the mundane and the Divine are one. the spiritual cannot be expressed in words. Hence. God and Goddess merge in the ocean of nondual Oneness. Any improvement on the physical or mental levels can thus never be perfect. therefore.4 sacred body. only spirit is unchanging. in the ultimate sense. Tantra is. the soul. The goal of Tantra’s physical and mental exercises is to create a healthy body and mind and thus a conducive environment for spiritual practice—for meditation. then to live in harmony with the world. everything is sacred. everything is interconnected. sacred spirit tradition said in an interview. but practice. The body is thus a springboard from which a self-inspired and sustainable spirit can soar. The intertwined distinctions Tantra makes between body. This ancient Tantric concept of yoga appeals to our contemporary. not dogma.
In the cosmology of Tantra. Through the practice of Tantric yoga and meditation. we can never know everything. we can achieve this realization of spiritual union and inner peace. Shakti is the feminine life force in nature.” In other words. which the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali only alludes to. Ayurvedic massage and herbs are being introduced. popular yogis such as Sean Corn see Karma Yoga. many yoga teachers end their classes with meditation. In some yoga studios and ashrams outside India. will become more commonplace. And soon the body will age. yogis in tight clothing are loosening up their bhakti souls to Indian chants by kirtan singers Jai Uttal and Krishna Das. Here. These are all signs of a holistic tapestry being woven together from all the integrated strands of wisdom that yoga has to offer. But he who kisses the joy as it flies lives in eternity’s sun rise. Sacred Spirit is an expression of the essence of Tantric wisdom. Harmoniums and tablas are placed before outstretched yoga mats. . Still. the dynamic power of creation. Tantra represents integrated practice—the yoga of body. So. Sacred Body represents Shakti. some of which will be mentioned in this book. in the peaceful domain of spirit. Hence. as a way to heal. or service. being taught in the West today. mind and spirit. we see this Tantric spirit emerging. subterranean flow of yoga philosophy and practice is also being taught. the final satisfaction lies beyond both body and mind. In these new environments.introduction 5 fulfilling. we are not just this body. it is relatively rare to see the deeper meditation techniques of Tantra. But I believe it is only a matter of time before more of these subtle and powerful practices. It may start to ache. The Book’s Title Sacred Body. Disease may come. but all over the world. No matter how perfectly toned our body is. we are not just this mind. In other words. we are presently witnessing a reemergence of a more traditional Tantra and yoga. the essence of a deeper. yoga is being cultivated as an integrated spiritual practice. like salt in the ocean. the Tantrics of old would agree with visionary poet William Blake when he said: “He who binds to himself a joy does the winged life destroy. where all limitations and contradictions dissolve. No matter how intellectually smart we are. we are spiritual beings. express gratitude and to stay centered. not only in India. yoga is no longer just practiced for physical fitness. we are so much more. it will never be perfect enough.
love and bliss. she has the magnanimity of a mother and embraces all of creation—birth. and death—in the infinite. they rest together in the nondual ocean of Supreme Consciousness. will be familiar to most readers. which we humans express as sexuality. She is the Goddess of Energy. The Cosmic Energy of Shakti creates the world and all its beings. To live in accordance with the universal wisdom of Tantra is to embrace duality and unite in nonduality. the consciousness in all beings and the spiritual ground of all things. In Tantra. As cosmic potential. and the conscious awareness of human beings. life. If Shakti is the visible seed. the Cosmic Consciousness of Shiva and the Cosmic Energy of Shakti are always united in the bond of cosmic love. or Brahma. The Sacred Spirit of Shiva represents the stillness in all things.6 sacred body. sacred spirit the creative upward moving and vital force that brings a plant into full bloom. everything is sacred. and the Cosmic Consciousness of Shiva is the dormant essence of all things. Some words. the mind of animals. and the power of decay that returns the same plant to the soil. In humans. The Sacred Spirit is God in all living beings and the sublime consciousness in all the world’s manifestations. the universal spirit and intelligence within and beyond the world. Shiva is the seed’s invisible oil. such as karma. Thus. cosmic womb of her inner being. Tantra also sees consciousness as dormant potential in all material things. guru. Words that are less in common . Tantra sees consciousness stirring in all animals and plants. The Use of Sanskrit This book contains the use of Sanskrit words describing various yogic and Tantric concepts. As Cosmic Goddess. If Shakti is one side of a sheet of paper. or vital life force keeping our own bodies alive and healthy. The same vital life force also manifests as the energy of kundalini. The Sacred Spirit of Shiva is the God of Consciousness. the witnessing I in the depth of our soul. Together they are the dual components of Brahma. then Shiva is the other. it is the reunification of Shakti’s kundalini energy with Shiva as consciousness that brings liberation and freedom through the practice of meditation. creativity and spirituality. To embrace Shakti through spiritual practice is thus to awaken the possibility of uniting with Shiva and experience their unity in the form of spiritual awakening. the universal prana. and chakra. kundalini. The Sacred Spirit of Shiva is awake and alive in all of us.
such as samskara. have generally been translated in parenthesis and/or explained in more detail. economist. an Indian philosopher. Sarkar). however. composer. a. it means Supreme Consciousness. said that he was “one of the greatest modern philosophers of India. R. Tantric master. The word used to indicate the Divine or God in Sanskrit is generally the neuter word Brahman. philosopher.introduction 7 usage. however. Sanskrit linguist. such as when writing “the Vedic and Tantric tradition. it is generally not capitalized. or Hathta Yoga. since these terms are often used to indicate a specific spiritual path or tradition. or aspect of yoga.” for example. P. or vritti. and author of over 250 books. the words Tantra and Tantric are also capitalized. Shrii Shrii Anandamurti (a. Brahma was the preferred term used by my spiritual teacher. While Anandamurti is still relatively unknown outside his home land. such as the paths of Bhakti Yoga. As stated above. I have chosen to capitalize yoga. when the word is used to indicate a specific path. This noun has a generalized and abstract meaning in Sanskrit. Giani Zail Singh. In this book. k. . I have used the less common nominative singular form Brahmā. the former President of India.” Since the word yoga has become an integral part of our vocabulary. Similarly.
Part One Sacred Rivers: The History of Yoga and Tantra .
or asanas. asanas (yoga posture exercises). . According to some yoga scholars. In other words. in the ancient Vedas about 3000 years before Patanjali. in turn. that it originated in early Vedic culture (3000 bce). In Patanjali’s comprehensive system. and culminated in the Classical Yoga of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (200 bce). influenced what we today think of as the yoga tradition. forms only one of the eight parts. Patanjali wrote that the goal of yoga is inner peace. Indeed. for the most part. Of these two traditions. namely the important influence of Tantra from the very beginning of Indian history. But. flourished during the Epic Yoga period of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita (600 bce). this event signifies the Classical Period of Yoga (200 bce to 400 ce). pranayama (breathing exercises) prathyahara (sense withdrawal). This system. or the practice of yoga postures and meditation. when the Indian sage Pantanjali composed his influential Yoga Sutras.” To reach this goal of spiritual tranquility. emerged. according to these scholars. he prescribed the eight-limbed path of Asthanga Yoga. as many Indian yoga scholars will acknowledge. today better known as Tantra. yoga is not just a Vedic tradition. it was the Tantric river that. this is how most yogis in the West think about the ancient history of their practice. or. this view disregards significant aspects of yoga’s illustrious story. dharana (concentration). the spiritual history of India can largely be divided (and united) around these two sacred rivers—the Vedic and the Tantric. or the earliest forms of yoga. In short. “the cessation of mental propensities. The practice of Archaic Yoga. yoga postures. built upon much earlier forms of yoga as well as the Samkhya philosophy. as he put it.Brief History of the Yoga and Tantra Tradition It is commonly believed that the ancient yoga tradition’s spiritual quest culminated about 200 bce. dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (spiritual peace). according to other scholars and masters of yoga and Tantra. inspired by the prehistoric Shaiva Yoga tradition. its practices and history has much more in common with the Tantric tradition. also termed Raja Yoga. which are: yama and niyama (ethics). Samkhya was.
K. There is general academic agreement in the West that Tantra is at least fifteen hundred years old. authored by Svaratmana. From that period. Satyananda Saraswati. infused Jainism. and these paths. became an integral part of Indian culture. Hatha Yoga. Kashmir and Bengal Tantra. Tantra. and thus yoga. Iyengar and Patabhi Joise. In other words. from about 400 ce to 1200 ce. Hence. in the early 1900s. The spiritual re-emergence spurred by the Tantric yogis of the Middle Ages is perhaps unprecedented in the written history of the world’s wisdom traditions. Shivananda. that this Renaissance period of Indian culture was simply a re-emergence of a much older. especially various forms of Tantra. Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. Anandamayi Ma. It is becoming increasingly evident.12 sacred body. is only about five to six hundred years old. the oral tradition of Tantra. sacred spirit Most Western writers on yoga believe that Tantra emerged in India in the Middle Ages. traditional yoga as a system of personal transformation as we know it and practice it today. The modern yoga posture movement in the West—which originated with Krishnamacarya. In other words. oral tradition that goes back into prehistory. is deeply influenced by Tantra. Kundalini Yoga. There is also wide academic agreement that the posture yoga we practice today has its origins in the Tantric Hatha Yoga movement of the Natha sect. and so many other yoga systems. Bhakti Yoga. and written evidence of Tantra dates back to the Gupta Period (320 to 550 ce). which is thousands of years older than its written version in the various Tantras from the Middle Ages. While the first manual on Hatha Yoga. Today. and which has been promoted by modern teachers such as Ramakrishna. Yogananda. and his students B. has been modified over thousands of years.S. which dates its origins to the eighth century ce according to Western scholars and to the fourth century bce according to adherents of the tradition itself. and others. the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. when most Tantric texts were written. a few hundred years after Patanjali. however. is more likely as old as human civilization itself. Buddhism. and Hindusim with new vitality. who brought the teachings to the West—is largely based on Tantric Hatha Yoga with an admixture of Western inspired gymnastics. it . Vivekananda. Anandamurti. the many popular schools and teachers of yoga largely promote a body-oriented practice for enhancing physical and mental health—but even this form of posture yoga has its roots in Tantra in the form of Hatha Yoga.
the Samkhya philosophy has a distinct nondual flavor. The sage Maharishi Kapila is said to be the original author of this text of dualistic philosophy. thus evoking a link to shamanism. Considered to be the philosophical basis for Ayurveda. and static). Buried along with her were dozens of animal items indicating to researchers that she was a shaman in close communication with these animal spirits. air. perhaps. Another figure from the same period as the Pashupatinath figure features a dress made of bilva leaves. such as the Pashupatinath figure sitting in goraksasana. in the Mahabharata. Other “yogi-like” artifacts found at Mehrgarh date as far back as 6500 bce. Ayurvedic and Tantric philosophy. fire. . Samkhya is already mentioned in the Mahabharata about six hundred years earlier. Researchers studying the Paleolithic Kebara cave in Israel have concluded it features the burial of a medicine woman. Since the goraksasana is a rather sophisticated yogic pose. the five elements of nature (space. or shaman.500-9000 bce). from the Natufian culture (12. Interestingly. is that Samkhya contains most of the many philosophical attributes we have become accustomed to in enumerating yogic. for thousands of years. water. but also to the idea that yogis are in control of their animal instincts. the so-called King of Yoga. one of the six schools of orthodox Indian philosophy and undoubtedly the single most important school of thought within Indian Yogic spirituality next to Vedanta. and earth). and many other properties featured in the cosmology of Tantra Yoga.sacred rivers: the history of yoga and tantra 13 is widely acknowledged by scholars and adepts of the path that Tantra and the practice of yoga are much older than the late Middle Ages. energetic. animal nature. These sacred leaves have been commonly used in the worship of Shiva. the three attributes of nature (peaceful. namely Purusha or Shiva (Consciousness). archeologists have uncovered artifacts resembling yoga poses. no doubt thousands of years before the Tantra Renaissance of the Middle Ages. Similarly. Surrounding the yogic figure are also animals. a yogic bandha pose said to stimulate the arousal of the spiritual kundalini force. Prakrti or Shakti (Energy). in India. The figure was uncovered by Sir John Marshall in 1927 and dates back to about 3500 bce. their wild. What is most important. The Samkhya Karika text from 200 ce was one of the main influences regarding the rise of the Tantras as a body of literature. it is fair to assume that specialized Tantric yoga was practiced at an early age. Another entry point into the antiquity and non-Vedic origins of yoga and Tantra is the Samkhya philosophy. India’s ancient medical system.
you will study with a Brahmin priest. as opposed to the more external rituals of the Vedic Brahmin priesthood. In this way. it is possible that the early forms of Samkhya philosophy may also have been nondualistic. real and nondual. which is also the central thesis of Tantric philosophy from Abhinava Gupta to Anandamurti. lived much earlier. a sadhu or a guru from the Tantric yoga tradition. Brahma is both Consciousness (Purusha) and Energy (Prakrti).14 sacred body. he most likely lived around 1500 bce. The South Indian Ramanuja (1100 ce) tackled this debate elegantly by promoting his qualified nonduality. The question about the nature of reality has been fiercely debated among Indian philosophers throughout the ages. is mentioned in the Mahabharata. is that which binds the unqualified Purusha and thus creates the qualified world. it is reasonable to conclude that these texts. That is. While the Vedantic teachers have argued that spiritual reality is absolute. According to most scholars and recent archeological finds off the coast of India. Or. early Samkhya could have been expressly qualified nondualistic. Energy (Prakrti/Shakti). Samkhya could have possibly expressed the idea that Brahma is One and changeless. sage Kapila. At any rate. You will of course also find Brahmin priests in India who are well versed in the practical aspects of Tantra. . claims that this is also the time period in which its author. not singular but plural. its main protagonist. generally speaking. who considers Samkhya the world’s first philosophy. or nature. the Samkhya philosophers have argued the opposite. you will study with a swami. Since Samkhya. and if you want to learn Tantric practice. lived. if you want to study Vedic chants. This philosophy states that Consciousness (Purusha/Shiva) is unqualified and beyond sensory perception and can only be realized in deep meditation. as in the later Tantra philosophies. Anandamurti. While written texts of yogic and Tantric philosophy are of fairly recent origin. that idea has become one of Tantra’s brilliant insights—that Brahma is both One and Many. sacred spirit While the Mahabharata epic dates to 400 bce. This culture is devoted to intense inner yogic practice. the Yoga Sutras or the Tantras. Tantra strikes a rational yet transcendental balance between Samkhya and Vedanta. that reality is dualistic. on the other hand. but that the world of form is pluralistic and undergoes change. are grounded in an ancient culture nearly seven thousand years old. in its nondual version. whether in the form of the Samkhya. it is commonly understood that Krishna. but. and that the world is simply unreal.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In other words. Tantra most likely had its early roots in the shamanic tradition of prehistoric India. the tradition of Tantra and yoga itself is proud to proclaim that it is “ninety-nine percent theory and only one percent philosophy. ”Tantra is the practical and energetic application of all the yogic wisdom of life. are fundamentally rooted in the practices of Tantra. mathematics. the teachers and philosophers of yoga and the authors of Ayuvedic texts gained their insights and revelations from the practice of Tantra. grammar.sacred rivers: the history of yoga and tantra 15 Tantra prides itself on being a practical art and science rather than a philosophy. is also widely recognized as an influential Tantric teacher and practitioner. while deeply philosophical in nature. Since the core impetus of Indian spirituality has been personal liberation. the famous founder of Vedanta. from the practice of mantra meditation. and. medicine and philosophy. Prior to that time. Adi Shankara (800 ce).” . All of the eight limbs of this classical system of yoga are basically Tantric.” In the words of prolific yoga writer David Frawley. breathing and concentration exercises. these great thinkers were first and foremost Tantric yogis and secondarily authors of science. according to Anandamurti. these practices were systematized by Shiva thousands of years before Patanjali’s philosophical treatise. Indeed.
Pakistan and Afghanistan. More significantly. barley and eggplant were cultivated.16 sacred body. and people lived in cities as early as nine thousand years ago. Ayurvedic medicine. This religion was largely based on sacrifices and rituals offered to please and to plead with the gods in order to fulfill their wishes and demands. not just geographically and culturally. during the period often referred to as the cradle of civilization. during or shortly after Neolithic farming settlements were established in the Fertile Crescent. Surya. an area in Pakistan. These Aryans worshiped the sun god. also the cradle of human civilization. and brought with them their Rig Vedic religion. Most Western and Indian academics hold the view that India was invaded by Vedic Aryan settlers around 1900 bce. long before the birth of Buddha (500 bce). Recent research into this important period of history has revealed that India was. While there is general agreement among scholars regarding the antiquity of India’s civilization. where yoga was already practiced by Tantric (Shaiva) ascetics. India had already developed the sophisticated sciences of yoga. India was also the birthplace of the world’s first great religions. in so many ways. These patriarchal and martial Aryans. namely Sanskrit. in the Middle East. One of the first areas on the planet where people settled to farm and create urbanized city complexes on a considerable scale. but also spiritually. wheat. They massacred people and reduced the surviving Dravidian shudras . sheep and cattle were domesticated. was South Asia—the area that today includes India. There are currently three main theories on ancient Indian history: 1. and one of the world’s most sophisticated and spiritual languages. sacred spirit Three Ways to View the Ancient History of Yoga Indian civilization emerged about eleven thousand years ago. Buddhism and Jainism. these academics claim. In Mehrgarh. there is less agreement about how and when it developed its advanced culture and sacred traditions. meditation. soon conquered northern India and destroyed the great Indus Valley civilization. for example.
not by violence but by climatic changes. According to these writers. In one of these points. and the historical mythology of the Ramayana were written down for the first time. This conflict has been described in the famous epics.sacred rivers: the history of yoga and tantra 17 to slavery without regard for rank or learning. Georg Feuerstein. About seven hundred years after Kapila. as well as some Indian writers. . especially within the fundamentalist Hindutva movement. most likely as early as 7000–5000 bce. around 1500 bce. India produced the world’s first coherent philosophy and cosmology. or Raja Yoga. the Vedantic Upanishads. 3. namely the oral teachings in the epic Mahabharata. subscribe to the theory that there was never an Aryan invasion around 1900 bce. Subash Kak and David Frawley outline seventeen points for why the invasion never took place. According to Puranic history as well as recent genetic science discoveries. the Aryans are indigenous to India and represent everything that is noble about Indian culture. they reflect on the possibility that the Aryan settlers arrived in India at a much earlier date. which today is popularly known as the philosophy of Ayurveda. Western yoga scholars. the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. And around 200 bce. the spiritual teachings of the Gita. Over time. and that yoga comes solely from the Vedic tradition. India became a blended civilization—part Aryan Vedic. with a liberal admixture of Jain and Buddhist traditions—and this blended culture is what we today know as Indian civilization. India’s ancient medical science. Therefore. This “One River Theory” proclaims that the Indus Valley was not destroyed by Aryan warriors. This last option brings us to my own “Two River Theory” and the idea that the history of yoga represents a blend of the Tantric and Vedic traditions of India. some of the greatest spiritual literature the world has ever witnessed. the Vedic Aryans arrived in India at an early age. namely sage Kapila’s Tantricinspired Samkhya philosophy. the sage Patanjali wrote his Yoga Sutras and codified the oral teachings of the Tantric yogis for the first time in the form of Asthanga. but instead by climatic changes. 2. as many academics claim. however. Not long after. the blending of the Vedic and Tantric (Shaiva) cultures of India had already matured by the time the Indus Valley civilization was depopulated around 2000 bce. including Georg Feuerstein and David Frawley. part Dravidian Shaiva. In their book In Search of the Cradle of Civilization.
In Feuerstein’s new version of his book The Yoga Tradition. Spencer Wells. In the words of Swami Satyananda Saraswati: “The yoga we know today was developed as part of the tantric civilization . Genetic science and archeology have determined the Vedic Aryans arrived in an already inhabited land. which is also what genetic science has concluded. These two rivers. he similarly suggests the Indo-European Aryans arrived in India as early as 6500 bce. sacred spirit These three versions of Indian history may seem entirely at odds. civilization. Tantra has by far been the most influential in shaping the practice of both physical and meditative yoga. Mongolians and Austrics—had already developed a sophisticated. however. Together they have also influenced and formed the foundation of what we practice as yoga today. the Vedic and the Tantric form two different worldviews. Looking for better pastures for their cattle. but it started thousands of years before the commonly accepted 1900 bce date. the first is primarily ritualistic and religious. The first theory has dated the Aryan invasion rather late (1900 bce) and does not reflect the genetic research of Dr. and one we may broadly term Tantric/Yogic—gradually formed what we today know as the Indian. and for other riches. In other words. but there are important overlapping agreements. In other words. and its peoples—the Dravidians. while the latter is primarily empirical and spiritual.18 sacred body. In other words. who claims the invasion started much earlier—about 7000–5000 bce. there was an Aryan invasion. Of these two rivers. Kak and Frawley—proponents of theory number two—this migration started when the Rig Vedic Aryans arrived via the Russian steppes and the deserts of Iran more than three thousand years before the Indus Valley was abandoned. these skilled warrior nomads arrived in successive raids and migrations over a period of several millennia. Indeed. urban culture. the indigenous Indians and the invading Aryans had already experienced three thousand years of conflict and gradual integration. Hence these peoples. representing different civilizations. by the time the Indus Valley was finally abandoned due to climatic changes around 1900 bce. the alleged violent invasion around 1900 bce is highly unlikely. if the migration took place several thousands of years earlier. and the art and science of Tantra Yoga was already in practice among them. and the theories do in some ways compliment each other. or Hindu. cultures and outlooks—one we may broadly term Vedic/Priestly. as suggested as a possibility by Feuerstein.
This civilization gradually fuses with the Vedic civilization and the Vedic warrior clans eventually gain political and economic control. The Dravidians establish a Tantra-oriented civilization in the Indus Valley region. pratyahara. 5000 BCE—Tantra Systematized by Shiva Agama and Nigama. or Siddha Medicine. and dhyan. Shiva introduces concept of Dharma—the path of spirituality and righteousness. are given by Shiva and his wife Parvati. one for the common people and one for yogis. which was largely composed outside India. He also introduces Tantra Yoga. Rajasthan. 5000–2000 BCE—Tantra-oriented Civilizations in India Tantric civilization established in Kota. as well as two versions of the Panchamakaras (Five Ms). In archeological excavations made in the Indus Valley at Harappa and Mohenjdaro.000 years ago. Shiva establishes a city in Kashi (Benares). more than seven thousand years ago. pranayama. Shiva also refines and systematizes Ayurvedic and Tantric medicine. Tantric yoga spreads to other parts of Asia. the philosophical and practical teachings.sacred rivers: the history of yoga and tantra 19 which existed in India…more than 10. the following timeline emerges:* 9000–5000 BCE—Proto-Tantra Rudimentary forms of shamanistic Tantra practiced by Dravidians and Mongolians. the musical octave and mudraic dances (with his wife Parvati). Moreover. Shiva formulates the marriage system. on the banks of the river Ganges. Small groups of Vedic Aryans move into India bringing with them the oral teachings of the Rig Veda. but the people’s religion remains . now in modern Pakistan. including practices such as asanas.” If we synthesize these three divergent views of the history of the Tantric and Vedic tradition into a coherent vision. many statues have been found depicting deities resembling Lord Shiva and Parvati performing various asanas and practicing meditation. often termed Vaedik Shastra. Europe and the Middle East. dharana. Larger groups of Vedic Aryans migrate into India. Proto-Tantric city complex established at Mehrgarh around 6000 bce.
the Gaodiya and the Kashmiri Schools. Yudhistira. the Sama Veda. 1500 BCE—Krishna and Samkhya Krishna formulates three branches of yoga—action (Karma). The Indus Valley civilization.20 sacred body. The Bhagavad Gita. The Samkhya philosophy based on Tantra is written by Kapila. the dual nature of Brahma. and the Yajur Veda—are composed as oral teachings during this period. Vedic philosophy and various historical events. popularizes the Tantric practice of prananyama. a disciple of Krishna. Tantric and yogic teachings spread all over the Far East. People worship the Mother Goddess and also the Father God (Pashupati). also termed Raja Yoga. 200 BCE—Patanjali Inspired by both Tantric yoga practice and Samkhya philosophy. His teachings greatly influence the later school of Vaishnava Tantra. emerge as an expression of the fusion between Tantric yoga. this text is also called Kapilasya Tantra. The three other Vedic texts—the Atharva Veda. Mahabharata These written texts. 700–300 BCE—The Upanishads. which by then is a fusion of Tantric and Vedic influences. 2000 BCE—Transformation of the Original Shiva Tantra Shiva Tantra (also termed the Shaivite tradition) transforms into two branches of yoga. an idol depicting half a man (Shiva) and half a woman (Shakti). The idea that Brahma comprises both Shiva and Shakti is now widely accepted and consummated in the Ardha-Narishvara. Tantric yogis understand these expressions as Shakti and Shiva. The Gaodiya School was popular in East India (Bengal) and was only marginally influenced by the Vedas. also referred to as the Fifth Veda. . or breathing exercises. is abandoned due to climatic changes. devotion (Bhakti) and knowledge (Jnana). sacred spirit markedly Tantric Shaiva inspired. Patanjali systematizes important aspects of Tantra into the eightfold path of Asthanga Yoga.
800 CE—Yoga Vashista This great Tantric yogi returns from China where he learned the subtle practice of Tantra meditation. 600 CE—Age of Buddhist. Hinduism and Jainism. Milarepa. Hindu and Jain Tantra Tantra Shastras are written and influence various schools of Buddhism. but in reality the Tantric age started in 5000 BCE and lasted for thousands of years. His esoteric teachings on Tantric meditation and philosophy are compiled in the book. Ganapatya Tantra and Saora Tantra. Shakta Tantra. 1000 CE—Kularnava Tantra This seventeen-chapter work contains over two thousand verses and is considered one of the most important Tantric texts.sacred rivers: the history of yoga and tantra 21 100 CE—Tirumular Shiva Tantra adept from South India. Famous Buddhist Tantric yogis from this period and onward include Naropa. Saraha. lays the foundation of Indian aesthetics. 400–1200 CE—Tantra Shastras Most of the important Tantric yoga texts were written in this period. Je Tsong Khapa and Wanchuchuk Dorje. and writes an encyclopedia on nondualist Tantric yoga. considered one of the greatest yogic canons of all time. 900 CE—Abhinava Gupta This Tantric Renaissance man revives Kashmir Shaivism. and thus to many scholars this was the “Tantric era” of Indian spirituality. Yoga Vashista. Shiva Tantra evolves into five branches. Proponent of Bhakti Yoga and the author of the famed Tirumantiram. Vaishnava Tantra. . Prahevajra. Such texts include the Kularnava Tantra and the Mahanirvana Tantra. or Paincha Tantra: Shaiva Tantra.
Swami . 1500–2000 CE —Tantra Influences Many Spiritual Teachers and Paths Some well-known spiritual teachers and leaders influenced by Tantra include Kabir. Paramahansa Ramakrishna. this fourteen. such as the Agama and Nigama teachings.chapter text defines yoga in accordance with Shiva’s teachings as the union of individual self (Jivatman) with the Cosmic Self (Paramatman). an epic poem reenacting the Bhagavad Gita.” 1300–1700 CE—Yogic Scriptures During this period many important yogic scriptures based on ancient oral teachings. was a Shaiva Tantric whose main disciple. Matsyendranath. Merging the Vaishnava movement with Kashmir Shiva Tantra. and dedicated to Shiva were written by Tantric yogis. These include Shiva Samhita. Jnaneshvar composed the Gitagovinda at the age of 19.22 sacred body. sacred spirit 1000-1200 CE—The Nathas Develop Hatha Yoga The founder of this movement. The nineteenth-century sage Ramana Maharishi called him the “king of saints. Hatha Yoga Pradipika. 1500 CE—Caetanya Mahaprabhu A Tantric adept. systematized and further advanced the practices of Hatha Yoga. Jnaneshvar created a popular Bhakti movement in north India. Gheranda Samhita and several Yoga Upanishads. Guru Nanak. 1100 CE—Mahanirvana Tantra Considered by some as the most important of the Hindu Tantric scriptures. 1271–1296 CE—Jnaneshvar A genius Renaissance man and Tantric adept. Mirabai. Gorakshanath. Caetanya is undoubtedly the most well known and celebrated Bhakti yogi of India.
Pattabhi Jois.sacred rivers: the history of yoga and tantra 23 Vivekananda. Swami Laksman Joo. Iyengar. healer and scholar. unites the essence of the Five Schools of Tantra. Swami Ram Tirtha and Ramana Maharishi. S. Lama Yeshe. an influential Indian Yoga teacher. Swami Shivananda. Anandamayi Ma. such as B. Hatha Yoga. Tulku Rgyen Rinpoche. The Serpent Power. Tantric philosophy and practices greatly influence several schools of Buddhism and. Some of his students include many influential yoga teachers. These students become the teachers of many of the most popular yoga teachers working in the West today. 1914 CE—John Woodroffe The seminal book The Principles of Tantra is first published. was published in 1918. and develops a comprehensive system of Tantra Yoga for the current era based on a new collection of Tantric sutras in the book Ananda Sutram. K. and Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. 1900–2010 CE—Krishnamacarya and others Krishnamacarya (1888-1989). K. *Most dates are approximate. Indra Devi. . Woodroffe’s second classic on Tantra. and others. in general. Nityananda Avadhuta. all the movements within the Hindu yoga tradition. modernizes the ancient Hatha Yoga system by incorporating Western-style gymnastics. 1922–1990 CE— Anandamurti Anandamurti synthesizes the main features of Shiva’s original teachings. Contemporary Budhiist Tantric teachers include HH Dalai Lama. incorporates Ashtanga Yoga.
. Danielou points toward something not commonly mentioned in Western Yoga circles: that Yoga and Tantra existed independent of the Vedic tradition and then blended into it. describes his wandering ways before he became known as Sakyamuni Buddha. Tantrism. just like the colors of Mayan shamanism have blended with the religious fabric of Catholicism in Central America. had not been annihilated by the invaders and had to a great extent continued to exist parallel to Vedism. But first some definitions of terminology to give this article a bit of a historical context: Tantra: a spiritual path and practice that leads to liberation. Buddha and the Tantric Mystics Alain Danielou writes in his book Shiva and the Primordial Tradition: “The pre-Aryan civilization. Yoga: a spiritual path and practice originally based on Tantra that blended with the Vedic tradition. and Yoga. also called Shaivism. together with the ancient Samkhya philosophy. the Bhagavad-Gita. Here. is a brief history about yoga in context of the life and time of Buddhism’s founder. then. The ancient concepts of Shaivism. perhaps.24 sacred body. lay beneath the surface and continued to reappear at every level and in every period. Veda: a sacred tradition based on religious rituals brought to India by the Aryans. Shaktism. which in proto-historical times had extended its influence as far as Western Europe. A less familiar story. the yogic practices developed by the indigenous nonAryans of India. He was a Tantric Yogi The story about Buddha’s enlightenment under the fig tree in Bodh Gaya is commonly told in books and lectures by Buddhist teachers. the Yoga Sutras and the Tantras. this Tantric/Vedic synthesis produced scriptures such as the Upanishads. there are four Vedic scriptures and Indian civilization is largely a blend of the Vedic and Tantric traditions and scriptures.” Here. sacred spirit Before Buddha was a Buddhist.
as in the case of many contemporary priests and believers. And sometimes these archetypes emerge as a mixture of attributes and behaviors. two types of practice used to take place side by side: on the one side. the non-Aryans’ Tantra sadhana. Their untamed culture was gradually absorbed by mainstream Vedic society over a period of thousands of years. that yoga did not originate in the Vedas as most scholars and contemporary yogis believe—and that yoga is inherently not a religion of belief but a set of practices. So. Danielou is also reminding us that yoga is much older than Patanjali and his Yoga Sutras (200 bce). just like Christian mystics. have often been heretics who cultivated their wisdom in silence in forest ashrams and mountain caves. Or these: the interpreter and the mystic. the practice of self-control and attainment of divine knowledge. just like the Christian tradition is made up of priests and mystics. at least in India. two icons are revealed: the priest and the yogi. this is what mystic and historian Alain Danielou wants us to realize: Indian sacred tradition is largely made up of these two archetypes. are often various psychological and cultural aspects of the same person—we will assume that the priest is a Vedic Brahmin and the yogi a Shaiva Tantric. the believer and the practitioner.sacred rivers: the history of yoga and tantra 25 If we use religion and mysticism as analogies. Buddha.” Anandamurti echoed this thinking in his seminal essay Tantra and Indo-Aryan Civilization when he wrote: “After the Vedic Aryans came into India. For the sake of historical and psychological simplicity—for in reality the priest and yogi. The young Buddha was often seen wandering among these yogi outcasts.” . both religious firebrand dogmatists such as evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell and spiritual ecstatics such as St. a philosophy to live by. Theresa of Avilla. Two archetypes. the sacrificial fires of the rishis…and on the other side. then Aryan Vedism represent religion and Tantra Yoga represent mysticism. They distinguish between Vedic and Tantric—vaidika and tantrika—currents of Hindu spirituality. Tantra and the Vedic Priesthood Georg Feuerstein writes in his book Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy: “Every educated Hindu has looked upon Tantra as running parallel and in close interaction with (rather than merely in opposition to) the Vedic heritage. Yogis.
he attracted those. In the commentary on the Avashyaka Sutra by Jina Dasa. Buddha and the Yogis After Buddha. the smearing of the body with ashes. who were dissatisfied with Vedic rigidity. after leaving behind his life as a prince. and they separated. sacred spirit These two sacred rivers of India stretch far back into historical antiquity. he spoke out against the excesses of the Vedic priesthood: the animal sacrifices. there has been a tendency in India to view yoga and Tantra as more recent traditions. became a yogi quite familiar with the various practices of Tantra: mantra meditation. Eventually. renounced his life as a prince. much more rocky than the Western yoga community acknowledges. except when they have been envisaged solely in relation to Vedic civilization.26 sacred body. The Buddha. Alain Danielou writes in his book the Play of the Gods: “The figure of Gosala is very important. for in presenting a different version of the old culture. the opulence of the temples. the caste system. but they have often had a rocky relationship. later recognized as the founder of the Jain religion.” Just like the Christian priesthood eventually closed the book on Jesus’ revolutionary revelations and encased them as the final “word of God” in the Bible. he had been a yogi. Before the Buddha became the Buddha. Gosala had an argument with his two young and outspoken disciples over points of doctrine. a mystic wanderer. such as Mahavira and Gautama. until then ignored and rejected by [Vedic] Aryan society as the superstitions of despicable slaves. . the Enlightened One.” Mahavira traveled with Gosala for six years. Moreover. he joined various groups of wandering yogis and Shaiva Tantrics. the begging of food from a human skull. Shiva and his followers were often in conflict with the same Vedic Aryan invaders. a Shaiva Tantric. and he aroused a sudden interest in the antique pre-Aryan philosophy [Shaiva Tantra] within the good society of the period. and Buddha joined these wandering ascetics for three or four years. kundalini awakening. as “new developments. together with his friend Mahavira. According to Alain Danielou. we learn of the story of his travels in the company of Gosala. fasting. so has the Indian Brahmin priesthood claimed the often heretical wisdom of yoga as their own. And thousands of years before that. One of these yogis was named Makkhali Gosala. or Gautama. asana practice. which gives a rather complete picture of the life of Mahavira.
sacred rivers: the history of yoga and tantra
The argument they pondered was the following: is our life predestined, or do we have free will? Gosala argued that human beings were under the complete control of a cosmic principle while the two young rebels, Gautama and Mahavira, argued that, through yoga, one was no longer under the spell of determinism. Through yogic practice and ethical behavior, they argued, one could get one leg up on one’s karma—and be free! Gautama was not a slacker monk. He had intense spiritual ambitions. He knew how to fast and sit in lotus position for days on end without losing his concentration, without moving his body. This we learn through his encounter with two other yogic teachers, namely Arada Kalapa of Magadha and Rudraka Ramaputra of Vaishali. Sage Kalapa taught the coming Buddha a yogic practice enabling him to experience the state of no-thing-ness (akimcanya-ayatana). Indeed, the young Buddha-in-the-making entered these trance states with ease and Kalapa soon asked him to share the leadership with him in his order of yogis. But the young former prince declined his offer. Buddha then joined the order of sage Rudraka Ramaputra, whose teachings held within its nondual vision the prediction of new heights of spiritual evolution. Through these new practices, the young spiritual athlete became intimately familiar with a state of “neither consciousness nor unconsciousness” (naiva-samjna-asmajna-ayatana). Still, the fierce yogi’s thirst for enlightenment was not quenched. He was not convinced he had attained the spiritual plateau of permanent awakening, or enlightenment. Therefore, he picked up his begging bowl and moved onwards.
Buddha, Tantra and Enlightenment
Lalan Prasad Singh writes in Tantra: Its Mystic and Scientific Origins: “When Siddhartha was moving about in Bihar in search of Truth, he met Sanjaya, a great Tantric near present Gaya, and was initiated by him into Tantra sadhana.” Little is known about the exact practice Buddha embarked upon, but it is commonly accepted that he ended up meditating under a banyan (fig) tree. “According to the accepted Tantric belief and usage,” writes Lalan Prasad Singh, “the banyan-tree is one of the five trees recognized as Kula-trees. It is, therefore, not without any reason that Siddhartha performed his sadhana [spiritual practice] under the famous banyantree near Gaya and attained spiritual enlightenment (Buddhahood).”
sacred body, sacred spirit
When I lived in an ashram in Nepal in the early 80s, I was initiated into the practice of Tantric dhyan meditation, which corresponds to the seventh limb of the Asthanga Yoga of Patanjali. The practice—which culminates after performing the other three meditation lessons of this well known eight-limbed path, namely pratyahara, pranayama, and dharana—involves using an internal image as a point of concentration and gateway to eventually achieve an inner state of nondual peace. Since Tantra embraces opposites, one employs, in meditation, the paradoxical practice of concentrating on a form, or figure—such as a deity, or a geometric yantra—to reach the formless. The energy of the opposite is used to go beyond both energy and polarity to reach a state of peaceful union. In Buddhist Tantra, for example, this meditation is often referred to as the practice of thing-ness to reach no-thing-ness. Similarly, in Bhakti Yoga, one may use desire and longing to go beyond attachement and reach a state of no-desire and no-longing. Some years later, I picked up a copy of Andrew Harvey’s excellent travel book Journey to Ladakh in which he describes in detail a Buddhist Tantric practice that is stunningly similar to my own. These practices are nearly as old as the Himalayan hills; they are generally not taught by Vedic priests; they are taught in secret, and they are generally not described in books, or sutras, not even in the Yoga Sutras. With some variation, however, they are taught in Buddhist Tantric circles. Indeed, the Buddha himself must have practiced and taught similar techniques to his disciples. According to Lalan Prasad Singh, “some scholars think that Nagarjuna, the founder of the Madhyamika school [of Buddhism], is the real exponent of Buddhist esotericism. [In] our view it is the Buddha himself who is the founder of Tantrism in Buddhism.” In other words, when looking at a Buddha statue, we see the outer form of the inner yoga, the inner Tantra of enlightenment. For Buddha was a yogi both before and after he became the Buddha.
sacred rivers: the history of yoga and tantra
How Old Is Your Yoga Practice?
Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body is a well written and thoroughly researched book on how modern Hatha Yoga, or “posture practice,” as he terms it, has developed and changed within and after the practice left India about one hundred years ago. In other words, it’s a near perfect book about the practice and history of modern yoga. The book is mainly about how yoga’s modern proponents—T. Krishnamacarya and his students K. Pattabhi Jois and B. K. S. Iyengar— mixed their homegrown Hatha Yoga practices with European gymnastics. Rather than remaining in the caves of the Himalayas these yogis lived in the city and embraced the oncoming European cultural trends. They especially embraced its more “esoteric forms of gymnastics,” including the influential Swedish techniques of Ling (1766-1839). Singleton uses the word yoga as a homonym to explain the main goal of his thesis. He emphasizes that the word yoga has multiple meanings, depending on who uses the term. This emphasis is in itself a worthy enterprise for students of everything yoga; to comprehend and accept that your yoga may not be the same kind of yoga as my yoga. Simply, that there are many paths of yoga. In that regard, this is by far the most comprehensive study of the culture and history of the influential yoga lineage that runs from T. Krishnamacarya’s humid and hot palace studio in Mysore to Bikram’s artificially heated studios in Los Angeles. Singleton’s study on “postural yoga” makes up the bulk of the book. He also devotes some pages to outline the history of “traditional” yoga; from Patanjali to the Shaiva Tantrics who compiled the Hatha Yoga tradition in the Middle Ages and penned the famous yoga text books, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Geranda Samhita. It is while doing these examinations that Singleton gets into water much hotter than a Bikram sweat. Thus, I hesitate in giving Singleton a straight A for his otherwise excellent dissertation. He claims his project is solely the study of modern posture yoga. If he had stuck to that project alone, his book would have been mostly great and received accolades. But unfortunately, he commits the same blunder so many
more spiritual. mantras. So how does Feuerstein’s integral yoga homonym differ from the non-integral modern posture yoga homonym presented to us by Singleton? Simply put. on doing postures. bandhas (advanced body locks). such as best-selling yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein. Singleton mentions all this in his book’s “Concluding Reflections. the only ranking allowed is noranking. The only judgment allowed is no-judgment.” In other words. mudras (hand gestures). the modern fascination with postural yoga can only be a perversion of the authentic yoga of tradition. kundalini (spiritual energy). they argue. these contemporary yogis claim. Modern yogis like Singleton. While posture yoga primarily focuses on the physical body. their position is rather contradictory: the only people allowed to judge are those who claim they do not judge! Georg Feuerstein can easily see past such superficial contradictions. in order to contrast it with his own philosophy of yoga. think that their practice is a deeper. who writes that when yoga reached Western shores it “was .30 sacred body. Feuerstein’s insightful writings on yoga have focused on the holistic practice of yoga. which these cultural relativist yogis perceive as an arrogant version of yoga. mind. No yoga is better or more advanced than any other type of yoga. etc. But in all their feverish no-judgment. chakras (subtle energy centers). on the whole shebang of practices that traditional yoga developed over the past five thousand-plus years: asanas (postures). a form of yoga which is pretty similar to my own. All homonyms are equally good and valid. on the other hand. Indeed. spirit exercise. In other words. except that homonym.” Then Singleton quotes Feuerstein. he is one of those traditionalists who hold yoga to be an integral practice—a body. The traditional yogis. Singleton writes: “For some. integral yoga includes both the physical and the subtle body and involves a whole plethora of physical. and authentic form of yoga. Undoubtedly one of the most prolific and well-respected yoga scholars outside India today. claim that such ranking is unfair: all yoga is equally good. mental and spiritual practices hardly ever practiced in any of today’s modern yoga studios. sacred spirit modern yogis do. maintains Singleton. This kind of ranking is counterproductive and a waste of time. namely traditional yoga. pranayama (breathing exercises). they claim. it is strategically important for Singleton to criticize Feuerstein’s interpretation of yoga. they seem to forget that their no-ranking is also a form of judgment.
Ramakrishna. why did Singleton bring this up in his concluding arguments in a book devoted to physical postures? Surely to make a point.” According to integral yoga. And that makes an intelligent comparison difficult. Nisargadatta Maharaj. Interestingly. takes place in and beyond the fifth and innermost layer of the mind. we need to practice not only the yoga of the body. not a better. And that is a crucial difference. yoga is primarily a spiritual practice involving deep postures. it seems imperative for me. not physical fitness. Hence. The broader question about the goal of yoga. To attain liberation. Not even by practicing the kind of fitness yoga Singleton claims is “spiritual. slimmer physique. simply because it cannot alone deliver the desired results.” Singleton then correctly points out that yoga as fitness training had already started in India. but a better chance at spiritual liberation. fitness yoga has certain limits. Ramana Maharishi. Even though postures are an integral part of traditional yoga.” I am still not sure what Singleton means by it from just reading Yoga Body. Hence. . Enlightenment. a so-called traditional yogi. from the point of view of traditional yoga is this: is it possible to attain enlightenment through the practice of fitness yoga alone? The answer: Not very easy. and since he did. We need to meditate. But that is not exactly Feuerstein’s point. Feuerstein simply points out how the physical exercise part of modern yoga lacks the deep “spiritual orientation” found in traditional yoga. For him. the body is the first and outer layer of the mind. Then Singleton exclaims that Feuerstein’s assertions miss the “deeply spiritual orientation of some modern bodybuilding and women’s fitness training in the harmonial gymnastics tradition. He also correctly points out that fitness yoga is not opposed to any “spiritual” enterprise of yoga. the goal of yoga is enlightenment (samadhi). the goal of traditional yoga. not even spiritual physical fitness. from this particular perspective of yoga. enlightenment is possible even without the practice of posture yoga.” While I am quite clear about what Feuerstein means by “deeply spiritual. not in the physical body. a fact indisputably proven by such sages as Anandamayi Ma. According to Feuerstein. to respond.sacred rivers: the history of yoga and tantra 31 gradually stripped of its spiritual orientation and remodeled into fitness training. namely spiritual liberation. however. but also the yoga of the mind. deep study and deep meditation. Iyengar. Not even likely. and many others. as well as the yoga of the spirit.
notably the schools of Hatha Yoga. and rather impressive.) for such particular purposes as enlightenment practice. or samadhi. And ultimately. the yogis of old designed sitting yoga postures (padmasana. And where does this yoga perspective hail from? According to Feuerstein. Feuerstein and all of us so-called traditionalists are simply saying that if your goal is spiritual enlightenment. yoga is a holistic practice in which the physical body is seen as the first layer of a series of ascending and all-embracing layers of being—from body to mind to spirit. however. Iyengar did not start meditating before he was more than sixty years old. no matter how “spiritual” Singleton claims they are. etc. “It underlies the entire Tantric tradition. said recently that he wished he had started meditation practice much earlier in life. but you probably won’t be much more enlightened by it. Yoga Body thus misses a crucial point many of us have the need and right to express: yoga is not just a physical practice. Indeed.” In Tantra. sacred spirit one of posture yoga’s main teachers. siddhasana. his criticism of Feuerstein at the very end of his book seems rather shallow and kneejerk. then fitness yoga probably won’t do the trick. they spent more time sitting still in meditation than moving about doing postures. claims traditional yoga. These are the kinds of layered insights and perspectives missing in Yoga Body. Spirituality. Namely. but his insistence that there are “deeply spiritual” aspects of modern gymnastics and posture yoga misses an important point about yoga. since it was the intense sitting practices that induced the desired trance states of enlightenment. it is indeed clearly understood that the human being is a three-tiered .32 sacred body. the body itself is the dwelling place of the Spirit. Hence. Many famous Indian yogis have proven it is possible to be enlightened without intensely practicing the various Hatha Yoga postures. deep within and beyond the body. the body is the sacred temple of the Spirit. that our bodies are only as spiritual as we are. Singleton’s sole focus on describing the physical practice and history of modern yoga is comprehensive. On the other hand. probably quite accurate. Now in his nineties. Indeed. which are an offshoot of Tantrism. enlightenment will not easily be achieved by just practicing these postures. viirasana. You can stand on your head and do power yoga from dawn to midnight. Hence. or meditation. comes not from the body but from that soulful space in our hearts and minds. Similarly.
all-embracing Tantric and yogic practices such as posture yoga. or holistic form of yoga is a vitally important cultural exploration. kirtan. . the more spiritual practice is added to our posture practice. it is very gratifying to see how the more spiritual. breathing exercises. Perhaps soon someone will write a book about this new. can we have both a limber physique and a sacred spirit while practicing yoga? Yes.sacred rivers: the history of yoga and tantra 33 being—physical. shall we call it. ever-growing homonym of global yoga? Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body is not such a book. neo-traditional. the Tantrics very skillfully and carefully developed practices for all three levels of being. From this ancient perspective. we certainly can. So. mantra meditation. But a book about this. The more holistic our yoga practice becomes—that is. and scriptural study are increasingly becoming integral features of many modern yoga studios. Hence. the more these two seemingly opposite poles—the body and the spirit—will blend and unify. the goal of ancient Tantra. Unity was. after all. mental and spiritual.
they tear the Indian oral history to shreds and claim that whatever archeological evidence exists—the Shiva seals. Western academicians claim that Hatha Yoga developed in the Middle Ages. in particular the Natha yogis. or yoga postures. the most essential postures for spiritual growth. are thousands of years older.34 sacred body. that the Shaiva culture was already several thousand years old prior to the writing of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (we know this from the Puranas and other texts not yet translated into English containing the oral history of India) and thus we may conclude that yoga postures are likely to be thousands of years old as well. This is the kind of logic the Western yoga academicians use when discussing the history of yoga. for example. which carbon . Western academicians confirm that these postures were developed by Shaiva Tantrics. Hence. The practice of yoga did not start at the time the first literature of yoga was published—these practices. But perhaps these modern yogis are standing with their heads in the sand. Think about it this way: We know that Sequoyah developed the Cherokee alphabet in the early 1800s and that the first Cherokee literature was published in 1827. mainly standing on your head doing asanas. just like the religious practices of the Cherokee. however. of a yogi in the rather complex goraksasana position. I think. is that the mythmakers often proclaim that yoga is mainly the practice of Hatha Yoga. This book contains descriptions of twenty seven yoga postures. They often fail to emphasize. One reason such myths are popular here in the West. sacred spirit Dispelling a Myth About Women and Yoga Some contemporary yoga bloggers in America believe that women were not allowed to practice yoga until about fifty years ago. because that is when the Hatha Yoga Pradipika was first published. Does this mean that the Cherokee language is only about two hundred years old? Does this mean that the Cherokees did not have an oral history or spiritual ceremonies before this time? Of course not.
the lotus. which the carbon dated Shiva yogi seals quite conclusively confirm. Not the Vedic stream. it’s a philosophical treatise on the eight limbs of yoga. Men are the cause. Hence. it is also. Just like shamanism. yoga is also the practice of meditation.27 August 1982) would certainly qualify as a yogi. studying scriptures. But there are no disclaimers in the Yoga Sutras proclaiming that women cannot perform yoga. it’s important to study and include the oral history of yoga. etc. sacred influences: the Vedic and the Tantric. like so many other places on the planet. bigoted men are the cause. elitist.sacred rivers: the history of yoga and tantra 35 dating has confirmed is over five thousand years old—is not conclusive enough to confirm that yoga postures existed in India three thousand years before Christ. While the Vedic tradition has had a dismal track record in relation to women. as the oral tradition claims. Historically. as most yoga academicians do. she attracted thousands of followers who saw her as an embodiment of the Goddess and a true practitioner of yoga. praying. One of the main texts on yoga. the practice of chanting. dancing ecstatic dances. or more properly stated. a yogini. More importantly. according to the oral yogic tradition. Indeed. the famous spiritual teacher Anandamayi Ma (30 April 1896 . Women have been treated like second-class citizens in India for centuries. Tantra has done a much better job. the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras is not a how-to book on practicing yoga postures. And it is the latter stream of sacredness that supplied the esoteric and physical technology of yoga. Hence. yoga is thousands of years old. that Hatha Yoga developed much later. if a sophisticated asana like the goraksasana existed thousands of years ago. and Hatha Yoga has been practiced since the beginning. is sexist and racist. If we modern yogis want to know more about the history of yoga practice and culture. mostly uses the word asanas to describe the position used for meditation. yoga has mostly been an oral tradition for thousands of years. Hence. it is convenient to claim. Just consider this quote . During her influential life. or half lotus position. yoga is not only the practice of physical postures. But yoga is not the cause of this sexism. these practices were also open to women. More importantly. highly likely many other types of asanas existed as well. India has had two great. There are no other asanas described in the Yoga Sutras. Another reason this myth about women and yoga has come about has rather dark origins: India. Sexist.
Kashmir. It is. When she is naked. women have been gurus. teachers. women have always been allowed to teach and practice. Moreover. both men and women were teachers. That tradition has been alive and well in India for thousands of years and it represents a fusion of Tantra and Veda. and Goddesses since the beginning of time. within non-Vedic culture. men must kneel and worship her as the Goddess. True. in Tantric yoga. Women have been practicing and contributing to the yoga tradition for thousands of years. and parts of South India. yoginis. or yogis. dancers and meditators who . it is estimated that about one million of the approximately ten million sadhus of India.” Throughout the history of Tantra Yoga. the traditional ascetics. all of the famous Hatha Yoga teachers coming out of India in recent years have been men. No man may raise his hand. Why? In part. While there is plenty of evidence of suppression of women in India. These dogmas have also influenced the practice of yoga. and a classic of Shakta (a branch of Tantra) literature: “In Kaula every woman is thought of as a manifestation of the Goddess. or yoginis. written about five hundred years ago. true. She has equal rights with men on all levels. however. etc. But women have been allowed to be yoginis for thousands of years. Indeed. practice yoga. there is little evidence within traditional yogic or Tantric culture to support the myth that women have not been allowed to practice yoga until recently. Women have always been allowed to practice yoga in India. But it is not true that women were only allowed to practice yoga until recently. scholars and gurus. and also evidence of women not being able to read or study the scriptures. that India has long been suffering from the influence of many Vedic dogmas. In fact. ochre clad holy women. dance.36 sacred body. only men were teachers. healers. a tradition that most likely grew out of shamanism. More importantly. sacred spirit from the Yoni Tantra. as students. moreover. in Vedic culture. women have been held in high regard. at least within the traditional culture of India where Tantra has been influential—in Bengal. The way out for women in Vedic society was that they were allowed to be swamis. The Bauls of Bengal are ecstatic singers. women have not been allowed to be Vedic priestesses in India. where Tantra was widely practiced. No one can argue against that. because Tantric culture has been largely matriarchal. unfortunately. but in Tantric culture.. not patriarchal. strike or threaten a woman. are women.
But since this essay is about women.” If we consider a yogini to be someone only practicing yoga postures. apprentice of Shiva (the King of Yoga (ca. in America. practice solitude. when Tantra was more commonplace. fourteenth century) Sarada Devi—Bengali yogini and spiritual head of the Ramakrishna Mission after her husband Ramakrishna’s death (nineteenth century) Kaoshitaki—Yogini. as well as all other mystics. then the number of men will of course increase. due to caste prejudices) . Ironically. sing devotional songs. sixty of whom are said to have been women. The number of female yoga adepts may have been considerably higher in India’s past. If we include all the Buddhist. and Laksmi Ma. and renowned Bhakti Yogi (ca. then there have been millions of such yogini practitioners and gurus throughout the ages. renowned yogini and guru inspired by the Baul Tantric tradition in Bengal (nineteenth century) Mirabai—celebrated poet. 5000 bce) (surgery was part of ancient Tantric Ayurvedic medicine but not practiced in areas were Vedic dogmas were dominant. were inspired by the Bauls. primarily because Hatha Yoga is just one of many branches on the large tree of yoga. singer.sacred rivers: the history of yoga and tantra 37 have wandered all over India since the Middle Ages. and some of the well-known female yoginis and gurus. Zen and Hindu meditators as yogis. Acclaimed yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein writes in his book The Yoga Tradition: “Allama Praphudeva [a Tantric yogi from the Natha tradition] was a contemporary of Basava (1120-1168 ce) and the head of an order that included three hundred realized practitioners. including the well-known teachers Anandamayi Ma. great scholar and wife of the celebrated yogi Maharishi Agastya. however. early Middle Ages) Karkati Rakshasi—Ayurvedic doctor and one of India’s first yogini surgeons. here is a short list of a few great women yoginis from India to dispel the myth that women were only allowed to be yoginis before quite recently: Anandamayi Ma. if we by the word yogini also refer to all the mystics who meditate. from South India (ca. Arcanapuri Ma. However. which we should. Many of the Baul ecstatics are women. there are few prominent yoginis in Indian culture. and other spiritual austerities. more than eighty percent of those practicing Hatha Yoga today are women. fasting.
Part Two Tantra: The Path of Love and Ecstasy .
God. fame. In Tantra. this wisdom. we actually want to get engaged and tangled up in the world with our spirit still shining. Even in suffering. to become free from suffering or from attachment. like a tai chi master. . from suffering. romantic sex. land. to become a witness to it all. we are attracted to the Divine. our attachment. the idea that the bees of Sprit can potentially turn everything we do and feel. into nectar. The yogi’s task then becomes to disengage. When we are attracted to the Divine. The attitude of Tantra is that even our suffering. But that is not the attitude of Tantra. is our yoga. Spirit. the world is seen as a cause for suffering and therefore gives us a sense of false identity when we are attached to it. Here. according to Tantra. sex. In other words. When we are attracted to money. our spirituality. In Tantra. Tantra moves with the energy of attraction toward freedom from attachment. Awareness. it is called kama. the attitude to life is via negativa. is called madhuvidya. Even in pleasure. The key to being a Tantric yogi or yogini is to embrace duality and then go deep into it and then beyond it. or honey knowledge. deeper love. there is. even failure. Why? Because duality is just another expression of nonduality. or spiritual love. it is called prema. beautiful music and poetry. Tantra embraces the idea that attraction is the law of the universe. We are attracted to inspiring art. And then. all problems are potential friends. are seven unique ways of Tantric spirituality: 1. This knowledge.The Yoga of Tantric Love: Seven Reasons Why it’s Not Just About Sex On some yogic and spiritual paths. a support system for deeper understanding. and Consciousness in everything. allies.
and a worldview. the ultimate Cosmic Consciousness beyond name. the yoga of Divine Love.42 sacred body. Everything is God or Goddess.” So. Everything we experience is an opportunity to practice yoga. the yogi is advised to turn kama into prema—to see everything as sacred. It is. if we really and truly long for sacred communion. The consciousness within everything. is the understanding that the realization of the Self includes everything. this path is. a lifestyle. in cosmic union. a way of life and a philosophy that expresses the perennial essence of our human quest for spiritual realization. everything is Brahma. --Georg Feuerstein. and mystical poets. such as Rumi and Mirabai. For those pure in mind. in Tantra. That is. It simply is a state of being. we express our spirituality through longing and love for God. Bhakti yogis see emotions—even anger. we open our hearts for greater vulnerability and union. In Tantra. everything is pure. he who is free from such notions is happy. Abhinava Gupta wrote in his text The Tantra Loka: “Jagadananda. as Divine. Even though many writers refer to Tantra as either Hindu Tantra or Buddhist Tantra. attachment. Together. That is. Tantra sees everything as sacred. sacred spirit or desire. some lilies have a romantic relationship with the moon. yoga is not just a practice on a mat a few times . or world bliss. 2. or Shakti. Like all spiritual paths. like your posture yoga practice. Through spiritual longing. form. or Shiva. a spiritual practice. these alchemical lovers unite as Brahma. just what it is in the moment. Therefore. the creative force of the universe is Goddess. --Vijana Bairava Tantra Tantra is often called the path of ecstasy. in its inner essence. are insanely attracted to the Divine. In truth there is neither purity nor impurity. The latent energy. For in Bhakti Yoga. not a religion. within and without. from Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy Bees are attracted to pollen. nor a belief system—even though it is classified as a religion by many scholars and believers. Tantra is not a dogma. Everything is sacred. even loneliness—as great vehicles to enhance spiritual devotion. the latent intelligence in the universe is God. greater ecstatic bliss and communion with the Divine.
American poet Robert Bly aptly describes Bhakti Yoga as the path where “the bee of the heart stays deep inside the flower. or the expression of spiritual love. Tantra represents our universal quest for truth./ it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that/ does all the work. from the experience of Bhakti. “Praise!” This event took place at around 5 AM. Tao. Based on a spiritual worldview and yogic practices. a way of being. Spirit.tantra: the path of love and ecstasy 43 a week. Yoga is a state of mind. and cares for no other thing./ Look at me. 3. he simply said. and you will see a slave of that intensity. And what is this essence? It has many names: God. or simply the One.” One early morning a few years ago. into an alchemical fuel for love and the emancipation of Spirit by worshiping all as God. Tantra thus embraces and reaches beyond both the worlds of science and religion. Kevala Bhakti is considered the deepest form of Bhakti Yoga. from his popular book Kabir: Ecstatic Poems: “When the Guest is being searched for. the Tantric lifestyle helps us to invoke the sacred in everyday life. Kevala means only. so the devotee loves for the sake of love. while waiting for Robert Bly to get ready so I could drive him to the airport after a poetry reading and a workshop I had organized for him. thought. Bhakti Yoga turns desire and attachment. the very antithesis of spiritual liberation. but the popular poet was wide awake and alive and started reciting from memory various sacred poems satiated with the fierce sweetness of Bhakti.” This focus on passionate love is integral to Tantra. . the bee of the heart goes so deep into what it loves that it transforms into love itself. only love. The devotee simply loves the Divine without asking anything in return. Tantric love is thus about creating spiritual oneness and union. To become that love is the goal of the love-intoxicated path of Tantra. Allah. yoga is something we can practice with each breath. Tantra is about feeling connected to and awed by the spiritual essence of the universe. including these lines by Kabir. and action. As a spiritual practice. Godhood. Tantra cannot be divorced from the inner essence of its own spiritual heart. Tantric love is a form of Bhakti Yoga. Thus. he asked me: “Do you know what this country needs?” And without letting me get much time to suggest an answer.
Yet the same force has the capacity to blind us. Tantra is worldly union when we truly experience the world as spirit. exists at the very root of creation and life itself. The real knowledge issues from the mystic unification of Shiva and Shakti. and Shakti is Brahma as Cosmic Creative Energy. Hence. this Brahma is composed of Shiva and Shakti. Tantra can lead us into thinking that. then more of everything is better. there is always the possibility of making mistakes. And. Vidya and Avidya Shakti. 4. The primal. They are always together. to drive us away from truth and self-realization. evolutionary force of Shakti—which is both real and symbolic—is that which inspires us toward illumination and wisdom. How? Just like light and heat are inseparably one with fire. More sex. Shiva is the consciousness and intelligence inherent in all of creation and Shakti is the force of nature that created you and me. In Tantra. Shiva and Shakti. always one. not about more sex. like a wave and a particle in quantum physics. That is. no matter at which stage we are on the spiritual path. They are simply two different expressions of the same universal Brahma. Thus. pure being. Remembering these primal aspects of the world. sacred spirit Kevala Bhakti is not attained by baths. Tantra warns us that everything in this world can be a trap. from Subhasita Samgraha That is. if all is sacred. Tantra is worldly union. That’s because the duality of wisdom and ignorance. as sacred. . Kevala Bhakti is revealed in the heart when the alchemy of longing has been exhausted and turns into pure love. More money. Tantra is not about indulgence. are never separate. the essence of the universe is called Brahma. exercises. yet they are also the dual expressions of fire. Tantra is cosmic union. more money. —Anandamurti. and can lead to pain. we open up to see and experience oneness in duality everywhere. We open up to feelings of spiritual connectedness and love. the dual expressions of Brahma. -—Tantraloka 5. of being a failure. or efforts.44 sacred body. In actuality. or Cosmic Consciousness. It is the cause of liberation. as mentioned above. Shiva is Brahma as pure Cosmic Consciousness. or more vitality.
So Tantra is not about indulgence. Thus. and deep love while engaging with the world. Those who let the body decay. Tantra is the path of via positiva. —Tirumular (seventh-century Tantric sage) 6. full and of unmoving ground. Having learned the skill of fostering the body. there is always a need for spiritual vigilance. the path of ecstatic love. attaining fame and earning money! “Just as the waters enter the ocean. Tantra is about deep practice. There is no need to kill the .” That’s Madhuvidya. and money. Tantra is seeing love in everything. “The taste of milk and honey is not it. when you are making love and money. hand in hand. This Yoga of Love is beautifully exemplified in the life and poetry of Rumi. Tantra is the path of sacred love and (sometimes) the path of sacred sex. And they won’t attain the powerful knowledge of truth. always a need to personify a deep. Especially when eating. fame. Love instead that which gave deliciousness. Tantra is an affirmative path. The path of Tantra is about experiencing spiritual bliss. sex. it is often said in the yogic scriptures that Bhakti Yoga.” -—Bhagavad Gita 7. being connected to the Divine when you live your life. having sex. Hence. who said.tantra: the path of love and ecstasy 45 So. and always a need to transcend our own limitations and ignorance. to soak the human heart with divine Spirit. In other words. The Perfect One has entered the temple of the body. love that which is within and beyond all physical forms and expressions. Tantra is about being aware. spiritual ethic. I fostered the body. so all desires enter him who attains peace. and I nurtured the soul. Duality and nonduality can thus walk down the road of life. destroy the spirit. The path of embracing life’s challenges. That’s honey knowledge. is the best and safest path. That takes discipline. but not the desirer of desires. deep meditation. But that takes practice. Love that which is within and beyond food.
Just embrace him. it becomes one with the ocean. you will eventually experience love in everything.. as I was sleeping. And the golden bees were making white combs . When my ego dissolved. pranayama. As the Tantrics will say. Oh water. That is the spirit of Tantra. As I Was Sleeping Last night. when you cultivate love for that which gives you all that is delicious in life. a Tantric churns longing into love and melts separation into togetherness. water of a new life that I have never drunk? Last night.” is insightfully and lyrically articulated in this poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado (18751939). hence. This form of alchemical spirituality. I dreamt -.marvelous error!— that I had a beehive here inside my heart. to the realization that the Divine can be experienced everywhere. That is the alchemy of Tantric love. This. Just love him. Last Night. namely Brahma. chanting.46 sacred body. When salt dissolves. etc. I dreamt --marvelous error!— that a spring was breaking out in my heart. where even our failures can become “honey knowledge. mantra meditation. is the path of Tantric love—the path that leads us to experience the unity of Shiva and Shakti in our own hearts and minds. and. I became one with Shiva and Shakti. translated by Robert Bly. Through the spiritual practices of posture yoga. sacred spirit Buddha on the path of Tantra. then. are you coming to me. -—Jnaneshvar (Tantric sage) Tantra is the yoga of transformation and of transmutation. I said: Along which secret aqueduct. as I was sleeping.
47 . I dreamt -.tantra: the path of love and ecstasy and sweet honey from my old failures. I dreamt -.marvelous error!— that a fiery sun was giving light inside my heart. and sun because it gave light and brought tears to my eyes. as I slept. Last night. It was fiery because I felt warmth as from a hearth. as I was sleeping.marvelous error!— that it was God I had here inside my heart. Last night.
Feuerstein describes how the first four ingredients of these socalled “left-hand path” practices of Tantraare “all thought to have an aphrodisiacal effect. sacred spirit Tantra and Sex The spiritual practice of Tantra. playing. “because the names of the five ‘ingredients’ or ‘substances’ (draya) in the ritual all start with the letter M: Madya (wine or liquor). the spirit of Tantra implies that ordinary activities and enjoyments such as eating. and sex are seen as relative expressions of the Absolute. Nothing could be farther from the truth!” It is indeed inaccurate to equate the transcendental bliss achieved in Tantric samadhi (Oneness with Consciousness)with the physical pleasure of sex. “epitomizes the entire Tantric program… The sexual union between male and female practitioner… the utterly blissful transcendental identity of Shiva and Shakti. has often been misunderstood and misrepresented. “It is so called. writing. Tantra was often practiced at night in secret by Vedic priests who were bound by dogma not to admit to its powerful transformative effects. Matsya (fish). Tantra has most commonly been reduced to “a mere discipline of ritualized or sacred sex. in the West. this practical path of self-realization. that sex epitomizes the entire Tantric program! In actuality.48 sacred body. God and Goddess. as the mythmakers will want us to believe. According to Georg Feuerstein. Mudra (parched grain) and Maithuna (sexual intercourse). Tantra has become the equivalent to sex. “The final ritual ‘ingredient.” although “scholars have speculated a great deal” about the fourth ingredient. These Five Ms are also referred to as the ‘five principles’ (panca tattva). The reason for this misunderstanding in the West has mainly arisen from a lopsided interpretation of the so-called Five M’s. In the popular mind.’ Maithuna. They are thus imbued with sacredness and spirituality. Mamsa (meat).” But that does not mean.” writes Feuerstein. In ancient India.” he writes. for example. .
as is often the case at seminars promoting what Feuerstein calls Neo-Tantrism and others humorously refer to as California Tantra. feel somewhat lackluster and boring. But if you do your yoga right. are minor and temporary replicas of the ultimate spiritual union with Brahma. the physical world. practiced in excess. but pleasure derived solely from the senses. We humans desire and deserve endless pleasure. for new ways to get satisfaction. it’s not in endless. we look for new enjoyments. are themselves limited. that sexual Tantra is some kind of pathway toward salvation. But these mundane pleasures. according to Tantra. sooner or later you will realize that nothing in this physical world can give infinite pleasure forever. but from within. that is. is contrary to the inner essence of this ancient and sublime practice. not from physical objects and attachments. which enjoy sensual and physical pleasures. according to Tantra. Thirdly. our sense organs. Because true. The left-hand path as described by Feuerstein above was originally prescribed by Shiva as a path of moderation. Thus. at the same time. from material things. this does not mean that eating large amounts of certain kinds of food or having excessive sexual activity will automatically intensify one’s spiritual vision. is limited. the common misconception in Western New Age circles. used up. The main idea behind the practice of the left-hand path is to practice spirituality (sadhana) while in the midst of enjoyments. . Moreover. these finite things cannot satisfy our infinite desires. are limited. What used to feel or taste so good will after a few dozen or a thousand repetitions. they tend to turn us into compulsive slaves rather than liberated souls. lasting pleasure comes. Tantra sees nothing wrong with seeking pleasure. get old. Why? First. the mind derives pleasure from objects as long as that object satisfies our karma (or samskaras). unfulfilled needs have been fulfilled. Hence. We humans continually look for new stimuli. our desires are based on unfulfilled fruits of our past actions. Secondly. or ananda (bliss). the source of pleasure. nor our desire for infinite peace. You may only have so much money or so much sex.tantra: the path of love and ecstasy 49 However. to harbor divine feelings while relishing their delights. infinite supply. not excess. It was both prescribed as a means of reducing one’s intake of wine and meat and. They will wear out. But once those past. as this indeed is the underlying reason for our quest for the ultimate spiritual pleasure.
but a path that personifies the very essence of yogic nondualism. Mamsa (meat)–one who has control over his or her speech. Spirit or Brahma. or one who surrenders all actions–good. Now! . those who want more than material wealth and a great looking body.50 sacred body. For the spiritually inclined yogis. near the pineal gland. or union with the Divine. be they physical. not about sexual indulgence. on this very earth. of seeking the ultimate and infinite pleasure: oneness. As Feuerstein writes. Here and now. “In the right-hand schools [the Five M’s] are understood symbolically and are completely internalized. Matsya (fish)–refers to the subtle science of pranayama (breathing exercises). sinful. In this body. while in deep meditation. which. bad. the cosmic effulgence of God. and unite it with Shiva in the spiritual energy center at the top of the head. with a human body and a human mind can transcend ordinary existence and realize life’s ultimate moment of pleasure. righteous. or wicked–to God. says Tantra. Not in heaven. which is what the word tantra itself implies. also called kundalini). Not only will this yoga make us free. is said to be a practitioner of mamsa yoga. as bad company leads to bondage and good company leads to liberation. the Five M’s have a different. more subtle meaning. Tantra is thus a path. is a hormonal secretion from the pineal gland. sacred spirit and ultimately to rise above the transient nature of these earthly pleasures all together. It really is free! Anyone. The etymological meaning of tantra is as follows: tan means to expand and tra means to liberate. Thus Tantra is the spiritual science that liberates the spiritual practitioner or yogi from limitations. and also to the feeling of deep compassion arising in a spiritual person’s heart.” Here is a brief overview–based on ancient Tantric aphorisms–of how to interpret the Five Ms when they are internalized: Madhya (wine)–to enjoy the sudha or somadhara. It is thus more exact to describe Tantra as a comprehensive spiritual science. mental or spiritual. not tomorrow. A second meaning is that it refers to the spiritual aspirant’s ecstatic or intoxicated love of God. Maethuna (intercourse)–the purpose of maithuna yoga is to raise the Shakti (divine energy. Mudra (grain)–avoidance of bad company. from the mind trapped in delusions. located at the lowest vertebra of the spine.
Sitting cross-legged. There is no need for any other sign from God than that. And. Kabir says: Student. these hundred or so wandering ascetics were reciting the poetry of Kabir. Kabir says: When the Guest is being searched for. Theresa in Europe and Rumi in the Middle East. while living on the banks of the Bagmati River in Nepal. tell me. I suddenly saw a flock of a hundred swans in the distant sands. these lovers of spiritual poetry had mysteriously lifted and moved away. to paraphrase Rumi: the longing for the Beloved is in itself God’s response. St. When I got closer. in the next life you will have the face of satisfied desire. Even long before their contemporaries. The swans of Kabir. I was walking down to the river to take my daily bath. And eventually. Once. what is God? He is the breath inside the breath.tantra: the path of love and ecstasy 51 Yoga for Lovers The ecstatic poetry of Mirabai and Kabir has been sung in India since the Middle Ages. you will see me instantly— You will find me in the tiniest house of time. enlightenment becomes a steady inner blossom: small love finally sees through the effulgent eyes of Big Love. mystic lovers have known that their divine affair with the Beloved comes and goes. Because. to those who think their aching heart has only lived and loved once: If you make love with the divine now. the foot prints of their limber legs still visible in the sands. loving yogis: When you really look for me. Lover and Beloved become One. . After finishing my bath and my meditation on the river banks. Kabir says to all breathing. even when no one seems to be listening. I started to walk back to the small ashram where I was living. After crossing one sand dune after another. I realized the swans were people dressed in white. however. for some of the most saintly of yogis and mystic lovers. they keep loving the Divine. Still.
And through reading her poems. and eating nothing but organic vegetables from Whole Foods.52 sacred body. it’s because you have lived it again and again. In other words. burning incense for statues of Krishna and Buddha. we begin to discover that these two teachings are not separate. In these two ways. Mira demonstrates over and over. my friend. and you can’t seem to wipe that satisfied glow off your face. Mirabai sings: If we could reach him by munching lettuce and dry leaves Then the goats would surely get the Holy One Before us! If stone statues could bring us all the way. And if meditation comes really easy to you. I would have adored a granite mountain years ago. this road is the heart opening…. she says. American poet Jane Hirshfield writes of the mystic. only the deep passions of Bhakti Yoga can bring us closer to our Beloved’s arms. can’t possibly buy us enlightenment. each grounded in her fierce and unwavering passion. and you will see a slave of that intensity. if you feel you have done these practices. Forget it. Mirabai says: The heat of midnight tears will bring you to God! Listen. it’s because you have. sacred spirit It is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that does all the work. female yogi and poet Mirabai: She…offers two central teachings of liberation. One is the consummate freedom passion calls up in us. She is simply reminding us that the yogi worship of the inner . sung these songs of devotion in some other life time. and the other is the surrender of self that passion’s fulfillment requires. of course. Mystic yogis like Mirabai knows that owning the latest yoga water bottle. Look at me. She is not saying we should leave our organic vegetables behind. that the lover meets fully and intimately the energies of awakening.
I heard that sound. which is deep inside. even in places like San Francisco and Santa Fe. Mirabai gave up a comfortable life and a husband and became a dancing wanderer. Kabir’s poetry also tells us that we don’t quite get it by singing kirtan once a month in a yoga studio. and the passive practice of Yoga. part of our wholehearted dedication to spiritual practice. Phil? Robert Bly writes: “Kabir mocks passivity toward holy texts. And we taste that everything we do can become part of the practice. this kind of passionate love for Spirit is not found on the cover of Yoga Journal. then we know the kind of spiritual devotion Kabir and Mirabai speaks of. worldly experience laced with spiritual honey. How many are there alive who has taken in its meaning? But there’s hope. with fierce meditative practices…. Are we ready for this kind of wild abandon. or by chanting Om once a week at the beginning and end of yoga class. In Tantra. and I am its disciple. or as much as we once intensely desired our partner’s love. toward popular gurus. as much as we desire water when we are really thirsty. we have also experienced the intensity of the spiritual love Kabir speaks of. When we want That. but we must understand that he himself is firmly in the guru tradition and that he followed an intricate path. If we have known the intensity of human love. It is rare.” In other words. can become madhuvidya.tantra: the path of love and ecstasy 53 Beloved is fierce and non-compromising. our heart and mind unites in the . that kind of longing becomes the fuel on the fire of Bhakti Love. It becomes part of the Ishvara Pranidhana the Yoga Sutras speak of. Kabir gave up religious security and dogmas and gave us iconoclastic teachings that speak to the hearts of mystics from all traditions. Filled with this kind of fierce Love. Kabir says: Breathe in that word out of which the Whole Milky Way has come! That word is your Teacher. or are we too timidly attached to our Prius’ and our cappuccinos? Can we only stomach the self-help love handed to us by Oprah or Dr.
. sacred spirit pranendrya. Then we know that the Yoga of Love still sits deep inside our heart. like a bee inside a flower. where our longing and seeing embrace in the stillness of peace. Note: All translations of Kabir and Mirabai by Robert Bly and Jane Hirshfield.54 sacred body. the seat of intuition in the heart chakra.
And I mean truly enlightened. letting ourselves dance into ecstatic trance on waves of repetitive music and chanting. According to Georg Feuerstein. Bhakti Yoga is all about opening our heart chakra. resulting in amazing inner ecstasies. The term for mindfulness in Sanskrit is smrti—to recollect. that the breath is Consciousness. Then there would be a lot of enlightened sex practitioners out there. Sex is a form of bliss. how can sensual pleasure and spiritual bliss be the same? Sex is sensory. But it is a short-lived sensual bliss that does not automatically lead to full-blown spiritual bliss. . as in the case of one man named the Buddha. but the latter does not automatically cause the former. chanting. In fact.tantra: the path of love and ecstasy 55 Can Orgasm Lead to Enlightenment? One of the main differences between authentic Tantra and Western Neo-Tantra is this: some of the followers of the latter believe orgasm can result in enlightenment. such teachers “confuse Tantric bliss (ananda or maha-sukha) with ordinary orgasmic pleasure. As Kabir said. But sex is not a unique gateway to bliss.” This blind force of sex can sometimes release powerful kundalini energies. dance. Sex is blind. one will also remember the nature of the breath. no doubt. Music. Sex is energy. and yoga asanas can also release these energies. the Divine is the breath within the breath. Love is wise. however. drumming. Indeed. however. now and in the future. yogic bliss is extrasensory. to remember to be in the present moment. In Tantric practice. that one well known Neo-Tantric teacher made the rather preposterous claim that Buddha could not have achieved enlightenment without first having had sex with his wife Yasodhara. I have yet to read or hear of someone who has achieved permanent enlightenment via the path of sexual practice alone.” Yes. I have read. It is true that enlightenment may include orgasm. As Nisargadatta Maharaj said in his remarkable book I Am That: “Love is a state of being.
nondual flashes of insight to become long lasting and finally permanent. when having attained continuous mindfulness one attains dhruva smrti. dhyan. the already highly evolved Ramana Maharishi sat in silent meditation for days and weeks. the Real Self. are bliss. etc. Nor will you find any written or oral (pun intended) indication that his enlightenment had much to do with his previous sex life. we need to practice powerful Tantric and yogic techniques that awaken the slumbering kundalini force at the bottom of our spine.” the remembering not only to meditate on the breath but also remembering that the breath itself is Consciousness. We need to open. you will not find a sutra in which the Buddha proclaims that ejaculation equals enlightenment. are divine. like the Indian sage Ramana Maharishi. Not to indulge. Remembering what? The remembering that all objects of one’s attention are sacred. And. If sex was a means to full-blown enlightenment. to transmute. we need to work on our practices a little more intensely and frequently. After several such enlightenment experiences. not to cling. Soon his realizations matured into a permanent state of being. the great scriptures and the sayings of the saints would include such proclamations. strengthen. one experiences continuous remembering. the Inner Witness. Neo-Tantrics. if we want these ecstasies. Ramana was a natural sage from birth. purify and balance our chakra energies through asanas. when remembering. But. .56 sacred body. sometimes in front of a statue of Shiva. Yes. as it did to him when he was innocently lying down in savasana (corpse pose) on the floor to “experience death. And. If you’re one of those lucky few. This form of meditation has the capacity to take us into a deeper state of silence and spiritual depth than mere mindfulness. I’m sorry to say. We. without need for food or sex. The genuine power and inner essence of Tantra lie in its ability to transmute our desires. that is.” But such cosmic graces are only showered upon the karmically endowed few. the rapture may strike when you are quite young. Into a permanent state of love. kirtan. We certainly won’t be able to master this esoteric science after a weekend course in Neo-Tantra. these fleeting. so that we can truly experience and embrace the kundalini force when it actually manifests its inner petals in blazing splendor. pranayama. on the other hand. sacred spirit Thus we may term Tantric meditation “meaningful mindfulness.
bliss and emptiness—characteristic of the fully enlightened state. Tantra is known for its straightforward.” he writes in his widely acclaimed book Introduction to Tantra: The Transmutation of Desire. this is just as mistaken as grasping onto passing pleasures and expecting them to give us ultimate satisfaction. lasting satisfaction. enlightenment is the ultimate. Lama Yeshe: “There is no reason at all to feel guilty about pleasure. free-flowing and mind-blowing bliss. Just contemplate these words of one of my favorite Tantric teachers. So to conclude our short escapade into the world of Tantric love: sex is a passing pleasure.” In other words. transform and metamorphose our desires into non-attached. the cosmic union of Shiva (consciousness) and Shakti (kundalini) in Tantric practice as well as cosmology. . Tantric teachers shoot straight from the hip. Lama Yeshe also points out that the Yab-Yum Thanka does not represent sexual intercourse but “the experience of total unity—of method and wisdom. body-embracing attitude.tantra: the path of love and ecstasy 57 but to alter.
When we look at the ocean from afar its surface appears to be blue. some philosophical (Purusha) for the same nondual aspect of reality. then the ocean is transparent.58 sacred body. the nondual God Shiva. Krishna’s sensuous and captivating consort Radha likewise takes part in her divine play with her lover Krishna and represents the creative aspect of nondual reality. the Blue Krishna becomes transparent. of Krishna. the Goddess of creation. through our nondual gaze of meditational ecstasy. moving. that which creates the world of form. some devotional (Krishna). you cannot realize the Absolute Divine without dancing in the world of the relative. Likewise. as Shiva himself. but up close. you cannot truly understand the traps of relativity without knowing the vast radiance of the Absolute. some Tantric (Shiva). Tantric lovers representing yogic nondual union. Thus the body too is divine. He appears blue from a distance. we cannot experience the ethereal and divine. Thus. the same as Consciousness. the arms flung . The heart-melting blue boy represents nondual awareness. Hence Krishna is the devotional aspect of Shiva. the devotional Krishna is in essence the same as Purusha. Without dancing. in yogic philosophy. They are not two. Many names. As per Tantra. she is Prakriti. sacred spirit Tantric Love: Why is Krishna Blue and Radha Golden? The Tantric explanation for the symbolic colors of Radha’s golden and Krishna’s blue bodies is that these eternal lovers represent the creative lightning flash of Shakti and the blue ocean of Shiva. they are One. of Consciousness. In Tantric philosophy. So. nondual Consciousness. we sing the praises of Consciousness. of Shiva. The same holds true if we come close to the transparent being of Consciousness. Together Radha and Krishna dance and merge into one single current of nondual delight. nondual Purusha. as transparent as Consciousness. expressing in the form of a human body. She is Shakti. when we chant the name of Krishna during kirtan. but if we cup some ocean waters in our hands.
tantra: the path of love and ecstasy 59 ecstatically toward the sky and the feet firmly rooted on the earth are one body. . Two cosmic beings. Krishna’s love is focused on the sparkling eyes of Radha. One Cosmic Love. Thus the Absolute Krishna is expressed through the eyes of the relative reality of Radha. from a Tantric perspective. is both worldly and otherworldly. And her loving being plunges into the vast ocean of Krishna’s gaze. Hence yoga. both physical and metaphysical. That’s the Tantric story of the two radiant lovers—Radha and Krishna.
which is a coiled up snake of creativity. He also claims that Shaivism as a sacred. yes we are! In the book Gods of Love and Ecstasy.60 sacred body. Alain Danielou links the spiritual hearts of the Indian God Shiva with the Greek God Dionysus. And Danielou believes these shamanic and yogic snakes crawled to the West from India and can be found in caves and earth circles from the Ganges to England. In other words. And it is an enterprise that’s been going on for a few thousand years longer than the world’s oldest yoga mat. both literally and symbolically. sacred spirit Tantra and Kundalini: Uncoiling The Sacred Snake of Sex and Liberation Are we humans hardwired for sex and liberation? According to Tantra Yoga. This whole inner enterprise of uncoiling the inner labyrinth is what we call yoga.” writes Danielou. the crown chakra. sand and rock. “Since its remotest origins. the kundalini. as symbolic representations of the inner journey of yoga. In these two divine characters of magic and transcendence. When you walk a labyrinth counterclockwise. . yogic culture stretched over a vast area—from India way into Greek and Celtic Europe. When mystical labyrinths appeared in the earth of Crete some four thousand years ago. the kundalini. And this spiritual uncoiling from the inside is the awakening of Shakti. so that she can unite with Shiva in the sahasrara. you symbolically unwind the cosmic coil of kundalini. since when people did their meditation naked in rain and frigid weather in the Himalayas. Shaivism has been inseparable from Yoga. the inner labyrinth of yoga. Shaivism (Tantra Yoga) had already existed in India for thousands of years. sex and spiritual liberation at the bottom of our spines. East and West meet. also manifests as exterior labyrinths of the earth. since when people did their asanas on dirt. you liberate yourself from the earth cave of the muladhara chakra.
chakras. These challenging vrittis. it is also the seat of our spiritual longing for both liberation and dharmic action. as well. the abode of the Shakti. for bliss. associated with this chakra: Dharma—psycho-spiritual longing Artha—psychic longing Káma—physical longing Mokśa—spiritual longing In other words. we are hardwired for spirituality. the linga. ten. Tantric yoga was not created by puritans. for dharma. Indeed. according to Tantra. our thirst for both physical and spiritual love comes from this inner labyrinthine cave. discernment. But the heart of this science is reflected in the labyrinth of the earth and kundalini of the body. cruelty. . or human longings. fear. there is the human capacity for awakening spiritual knowledge. For these yogis of old. Thus. This coiled female energy surrounds the male phallus. around the other chakras. deceit. the love vritti located in the heart chakra. The vagina. the energy from where everything is created. the famous para vritti located in the ajina. twelve. and perhaps the most important of all. they knew that above the first chakra there were numerous challenges ahead. and arrogance. and many more. but even as much for liberation. Indeed. for spiritual union. and vrittis—and how these esoteric. Furthermore. balanced and alchemically tuned by Hatha Yoga and meditation—is complex and beyond the scope of this short essay. for yoga. the yoni. The Tantric science of kundalini. most of these vrittis are more psychologically challenging than the four primary ones located in the muladhara chakra. including hope. are located in clusters of six. is the earth labyrinth. or eyebrow chakra. there are four fundamental vrittis. As you can see. the self-born consciousness erect and alive in all things. possessiveness. or Shakti. the first chakra is not merely the “lowest” chakra. inner expressions are awakened. As you can see. effort. or Shiva. That’s why in India.tantra: the path of love and ecstasy 61 All energy is lodged in this first chakra. including hatred. sixteen and two. you will see people worshiping vaginas and penises made of stones. We are hardwired for lust. But there are also positive ones. but also not by hedonists.
.62 sacred body. the spiritual energy labyrinth inside us. the kundalini. so outside. sacred spirit In other words. Our spiritual practice. As inside. is reflected in the sacred revelation of the earth labyrinth. our yoga. helps us uncoil and liberate the kundalini labyrinth and thereby free us from its containment in the earth chamber of the first chakra.
Milarepa and Drukpa are some of the more famous of the wild ones from the past. the so-called King of Yoga. The Buddhist tradition is of course well known for its crazy-wisdom teachers. Marpa.tantra: the path of love and ecstasy 63 Fat. for example. meditate and sleep in cremation grounds and otherwise commit multiple acts of random wildness. I looked through their covers one day sideways…if you have not lived through something. it is not true. The avadhutas. broke the dogmas of both Hinduism and Islam by declaring that God was beyond both holy scriptures and religion. then what? Suppose you scrub your ethical skin until it shines. a radical iconoclast during the fifteenth century. was part unorthodox Sufi and part eccentric Hindu. He enters controversies. . Robert Bly writes in his introduction to his book Kabir: Ecstatic Poems: “Kabir in his joyful poems delivers harsh and unorthodox opinions. are Tantric yogis known to roam around naked. All for the glory of Shiva. The Bhakti yogis were mad minstrels of the heart. while Chögyam Trungpa was contemporary. But if inside he is colorless. Then what?” And here’s what he has to say to the spiritual bookworms among us: “The sacred books of the East are nothing but words. he was also squarely on the path of practice. But the yoga tradition also has its own gang of crazy-wisdom adepts. Kabir wrote about those yogis thinking it’s all about the proper clothing.” Kabir. Naked and Enlightened: The Crazy Yogis of Love There’s been numerous crazy yogis of love and radical spirituality throughout the history of yoga. for example. or the proper morals: “The Yogi comes along in his famous orange. eat and drink out of human skulls. He was a weaver known to fall off his stool into the lap of his Beloved when reciting his poems. Kabir. the most famous Bhakti poet in India.” But while Kabir may have seemed wild and untraditional. but inside there is no music.
and then he smeared his body with his own stool. All for the glory of wildly embracing their inner Beloved. naked and seriously enlightened.” the silent yogi gestured. the nadis that cross the kundalini channel along the spine—thus forming the six chakras.64 sacred body. he was a legendary spiritual figure from Bengal. just tell them this kind of madness is incurable. . Since he was always naked. but to no avail. She sang: “Friend. if your friends and family is giving you trouble because of your weird new habit of dancing with your invisible Beloved during kirtan. The avadhuta told me that Trailanga was famous for his many occult powers. listen: this love doesn’t come or go. especially women. and the passive practice of yoga. Mirabai was the most celebrated of the many spiritual courtesans of the God-man Krishna. Bly is referring to the ida (moon) and pingala (sun). One day in court. sacred spirit “Kabir mocks passivity toward holy texts.” writes Bly. he defecated on the floor. with fierce meditative practices. One sip from the cup of that sweetness.) The Bhakti poets would also dance and sing themselves into ecstatic trances. They swirled. “Take a look at my new clothes.” Another time. Now I’m drunk for life. he was sometimes arrested by the stuck-up British for indecency. Mirabai’s family tried to tame her wild Bhakti energies by keeping her trapped in a loveless marriage. the judge shouted: “Get him out. Unsoberable. his imposing.” (In this insightful prose. the sixth being the one between the eyebrows—until they end in each nostril. One of the most celebrated of all crazy-wisdom yogis in India was the Tantric wildman Trailanga Swami. Tell them it’s useless to try. Utterly disgusted. Fat. Standing on the prison roof. guided by energetic visualizations of ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ energies. Get him out of my courtroom. I was first introduced to him by an avadhuta a few months before leaving for India on what became a nearly three-year immersion into Tantric yoga. fat body was a testament to the fierce stubbornness of absolute freedom. they wept.” In other words. but we must understand that he himself is firmly in the guru tradition and that he followed an intricate path. the world starts to spin. he miraculously escaped prison. “toward popular gurus. they kicked all habits of convention.
devotion for God. after Independence. which is considered the winter abode of Shiva. Some biographical sources claim he was several hundred years old. what is the moral of these stories. Strongly feeling that kirtan is important for us Western yogis. He could move objects. Enlightened teachers sometimes resort to spiritual shock therapy to jolt us out of our spiritual complacency and the false security of dogma and convention. these words? The moral is certainly not that crazy behavior equals enlightenment— but simply that enlightened behavior can merit seemingly abnormal behavior. That kind of Puritanism was introduced by the British. he told me. This colorful yogi—whose corpulent body. Finally one day. she wrote: “We live in the aftershock of Protestantism. Having realized his mistakes and thus unburdened by the ego’s spell of psychic powers. It’s as my friend Lindsay wrote during an email conversation we had about ecstatic kirtan dancing. he could now focus on his original pursuit in life. is especially good for us who grew up under the inhibiting Puritanism of Christianity. he could read people’s minds. he apparently hardly ate. colorful life. your powers are in my hands. After practicing meditation for twenty years.” The avadhuta told me that this was the best day of his life.” the guru said. nakedness and wildness is rarely a problem. and certainly not as old. although naked. In India. but.” . but he nevertheless had a healthy pot belly. He died in that sacred city.tantra: the path of love and ecstasy 65 Trailanga remained silent most of his life. “Bhakti Yoga. I think. if you are a crazy-wisdom sage. So. He had spent most of his twenties doing meditation for up to twenty hours a day and eventually developed many occult powers.” is all we need. the love of God. it’s no longer enforced. he met his guru Bhagiratnanada and soon thereafter set out on a pilgrimage that eventually led him to Varanasi. I met another avadhuta—not as corpulent as Trailanga. “You are not able to handle them properly. where he lived most of his long. This. While in India. in 1887. and despite his corpulent form. these poems. his guru called him to his room: “From today. might not be a good fit for the pages of Yoga Journal—is a testament to the fact that the inner esprit of Indian yoga does not work well with commercialism.
sacred body, sacred spirit
Lindsay does not mean, of course, that all Protestants are stuck up folks unable to fling their heart-doors open to the Divine. She means, I think, that we’ve been sitting on our hands in church for too many centuries, and it’s time to let those arms and legs loose for the praise of God. But, that’s not all. Kabir, that wild poet, has a warning for all who think that flamboyant body-yoga exhibitionism is a sign of spiritual achievement. No matter how flawless our asana, not matter how wild our kirtan, it’s how we are moved under the skin that’s important. Here’s how Kabir reminds us of that: “Go over your beads, paint weird designs on your forehead, wear your hair matted, long and ostentatious, but when deep inside you there is a loaded gun, how can you have God?” John Lennon was indeed right: All we truly need is love. Kabir’s love, of course, was not just made of flower power. His was also the kind of love totally unafraid of both living and dying. His was a radical, uncompromising kind of love, and always ready to share it: “If anyone needs a head, the lover leaps up to offer his. Kabir’s poems touch on the secret of this bhakti.”
tantra: the path of love and ecstasy
Tantra: The Yoga of Union
Tantra is often called the yoga of sex. But Tantra is also about another form of intercourse or union, about spiritual union. Let us look at the ancient scriptures of yoga to see what the Tantric spirituality of union is all about. The two most important interpretations of the word yoga are offered by Patanjali and by Shiva. Patanjali explains in his famed Yoga Sutras that yoga means “the suspension of all mental tendencies or propensities.” In other words, one attains inner peace when the mind is void of distractions, void of thought. This rather dry definition of yoga never appealed to me, nor did it ever quite take hold in Indian culture. Shiva’s popular Tantric definition is more heart-centered and soulful and also the most popular in India. Yoga, said Shiva, according to the Tantric scriptures, is that process that creates unity between the individual soul and the Cosmic Soul. No matter which philosophical interpretation you prefer, yoga is the inner state of well-being we feel when there is harmonious interaction between body, mind and spirit. As a lifestyle, yoga is a path of self-discovery. Through Hatha Yoga, pranayama, chanting, study, and meditation, yoga promotes physical health, mental balance and spiritual peace, and union. Spiritually, the Tantric definition of yoga is “union” and refers to the state of enlightenment and ecstasy achieved in samadhi, the experience of union with the Divine. As an art and a science, yoga aids us in developing a more healthy and balanced lifestyle. The spiritual state of yoga, or union, is often expressed through spiritual love or Bhakti Yoga. Thus people who simply meditate or chant the name of God are also yogis. In traditional temple sculptures, and also in Buddhist Tantra, the spiritual, nondual union with the Divine is symbolized by two lovers in a tight embrace. Yogic union is also described in statues depicting half a man and half a woman, the Ardha Narishvara statue in which Shiva and Shakti, the male and female aspects of God, form a cosmic union.
sacred body, sacred spirit
In the Maya Tantra, one of the ancient texts based on Shiva’s teachings, yoga is defined as “the unity between the individual soul and the universal soul.” In another Tantric text, the KularnavaTantra, the attainment of yogic union is poetically described as “water pouring into water.” Today, many popular writers on yoga, including Deepak Chopra, have adopted this Tantric interpretation of the word yoga, that yoga means “union.” Here is a story about the experience of yoga as union with God: The first Indian yogi to visit America, Swami Vivekananda gained worldwide fame at the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago, and eventually became the most well-known disciple of the Tantric sage Shrii Ramakrishna. Once, while having a discussion with a friend about whether it was true that all material things are God, Ramakrishna walked up to them, inquired affectionately about what they were talking about and then touched the young Vivekananda while he himself went into yogic trance, or samadhi. “At the marvelous touch of the master,” Vivekananda recalls, “my mind underwent a complete revolution. I was aghast to realize that there really was nothing whatever in the entire universe but God. I remained silent, wondering how long this state of mind would continue. It didn’t pass off all day. I got back home, and I felt just the same there; everything I saw was God.” So, the spiritual goal of yoga is to unite the individual soul with the Cosmic Soul, to pour the waters of our heart into the waters of the Cosmic Heart. This ecstatic love union is called yoga. And this yogic trance, this samadhi, this spiritual fusion of the one into the One, is the ultimate goal of yogic practice.
Part Three The Wisdom of Yoga: The Psychology and Philosophy of Tantra .
that Patanjali. It is not so commonly understood.Yoga Means Union: The Spiritual. but rather described yoga as suspension. love. Historical and Psychological Reasons It is commonly understood that yoga means union. bliss. never emphasized yoga as union. When he sees all beings as equal in suffering or in joy because they are like himself. had nothing to do with it. bliss. as restriction. oneness. has had a prominent place for thousands of years. and the world are in union. that man has grown perfect in yoga. he remains in me. even love. whom Feuerstein suggests was a historical person. Yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein remarks in The Yoga Tradition that Patanjali’s dualistic philosophy never quite took hold in devotion-oriented India. In Krishna’s Bhagavad Gita. where yoga as union. emphasizes that yoga is union. the so-called originator of Classical Yoga. God (Brahma). whose philosophy of the Yoga Sutras is becoming increasingly influential in Western yoga circles. (BG 6. At least since the time of Krishna. Krishna affirms this spiritual truth in a language reminiscent of the mysticism . the source of all things: He who is rooted in oneness realizes that I am in every being. and whom some scholars estimate to have lived about 1500 bce. Patanjali. wherever he goes. however.29-32) Here. the great yogi warrior and Godhead of the Indian Bhakti movement. Krishna speaks from deep inside the guru tradition. in which the guru (Krishna). as duality.
Flow. sacred spirit of the Greek neo-platonic wisdom teacher Plotinus and Christian sages such as Meister Eckhart. when we are absorbed in an activity that leaves us in a state of effortless and unself-conscious buoyancy and control. If we fast forward three thousand five hundred years from Krishna’s time. it seems to be Patanjali’s. we encounter the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihali Csikszentmihalyi. more nondual. And that’s not Feuerstein’s personal intention. concentrated enjoyment. There is not much mention of flow or unity in Patanjali’s sutra. But. According to contemporary Tantric yoga philosopher and Sanskrit linguist Anandamurti. these inward states of “emptiness” seem to be qualitatively different than the state of union Krishna speaks of. as some writers on yoga have pointed out. who interprets this sutra much like Feuerstein. is experienced when we are in a state of deep. Patanjali’s intent was that a yogi must suspend his or her “mental tendencies” (vrittis) in order to find peace. Feuerstein’s translation is indeed a lot closer to the literal meaning of Patanjali’s words than most other translations I have read. Rather. Because. that in this sutra Patanjali describes some of the psychological effects of yoga—the absence of mental disturbances— rather than the inner revelation and feeling that the deep meditational . says Csikszentmihalyi.72 sacred body. Let us contrast the insight of flow and yogi union with Patanjali’s most famous yoga sutra—yogah citta vritti nirodhah—by using the translation of Georg Feuerstein: Yoga is the restrictions of the fluctuation of consciousness. more heart-centered. All of these teachers thus confirm that nondual wisdom represents a universal spirituality beyond religious and cultural differences. then. and someone in a dreamless state of sleep will not experience any mental expressions. There are no phrases indicating “heart” or “unity” or “oneness” in Patanjali’s original sutra. someone in a coma has also suspended his or her mental tendencies. Feuerstein’s translation gives us a sense that yoga is a discipline to chastise the mind into submission. Rather. It appears. union-and-flow-like than what Patanjali’s words seem to imply. and we will find a remarkable congruence of thought between the ancient yoga of Krishna and contemporary psychology. many “translations” of this particular sutra reflect an attempt at making it sound more Tantric. says Anandamurti.
the wisdom of yoga 73 practice and devotion of yoga evokes. Shiva said that yoga means “the unity between the individual soul and the cosmic soul. We humans often fluctuate between these three states. Hence. yoga reflects a sentiment of heart-centered devotion: the unity between our heart and the cosmic heart. the state of yoga. experiential state of mind of a yogi is. is what yoga is. We are bored into limp inaction when contemplating our dismal present. Csikszentmihalyi claims. while Patanjali does not use the term union. he says. have similar ideas about what the inner. for our purposes. and that process. We are anxiously tapping our fingers when contemplating the fear of the future or the guilt of the past. and that state seems to contrast with what Patanjali had in mind. if we take him at his own words. the contemporary psychologist. and Csikszentmihalyi.” That is. or. yet dynamic flow dips into the infinite flow of consciousness (paramatma). we experience yoga as a feeling of union. yoga meant the “suspension of our mental tendencies” or “the restrictions of the fluctuations of consciousness. writes Anandamurti. The state of flow. exists in a dynamic space somewhere between anxiety and boredom. there may be a link between his Yoga Sutras and the other two great sources of yoga—Shiva and Krishna. Indeed. From Shiva’s Tantric perspective. or the unity between oneself and the Other. then. the idea that yoga means union is rather absent in the Yoga Sutras.” Patanjali wants us to control those vrittis in the citta. The idea that yoga means union. he says. Anandamurti reminds us that the idea that yoga means unity did not originate with Patanjali. It originates either from the root verb yuj with the suffix ghain and thus means “addition. in the mind. But we enter a state of flow the moment we engage in challenging but rewarding activities . The Sanskrit word yoga itself has two meanings. the King of Yoga. a feeling of flow.” or from the root verb yuinj and the suffix ghain and thus it means “unification. And that link may lay in the way that flow or union or yoga is achieved. Anandamurti attributes to Shiva. For Patanjali.” Thus the ancient gurus Shiva and Krishna. yoga would be experienced as follows: when our individual mind has calmed its “tendencies” of boredom and anxiety and its focused. And here is the Sanskrit transliteration of Shiva’s saying about yoga as union: samyoga yoga ityukto jivatma paramatmanah. Hence.
contemplation. to use William Blake’s famous metaphor. or sheets of being. If not the full-blown spiritual states of union. guilt. experience of pleasure and pain. psychic awareness. we experience deeper and deeper states of yoga. Why? Because we shift our attention from the distracting chatter of the mind. of course. when we experience the ultimate union Krishna often speaks of in the Gita. there are various stages of union. There may be temporary feelings of deep union and awe at this stage. five states of Anandamurti’s yogic mind.” This model differs from the more commonly known Vedantic model of the koshas.74 sacred body. or stages of perception. There are. That is. to materialize actions based on those stimuli. activities that let us enter a more challenging and rewarding state of flow. . dreaming. inventions. in addition to the body. writing. The three first stages in this model roughly correspond to the Jungian psychological model: Conscious mind (kamamaya kosha): this state of mind has three functions: to sense external stimuli. Our feelings of awe and mystery are just the beginning stages of the journey. pain— no longer sidetrack us. In that state of flow. In other words. For yogis. we enter the world of union. hurt. etc. gardening. to have desires based on those stimuli. What do I mean by that? There are doors. art. Subconscious mind (manomaya kosha): this state has four functions: memory. sports. one with the cosmic soul itself. Unconscious mind (atimanasmaya kosha) is the state of intuition and creative insight. mirrors. And as these “doors of perception” are “cleansed” through spiritual practice. there will often be an experience of prolonged periods of union during meditation at this stage. it is instructive to take a look at Anandamurti’s “yogic mind model. no longer produce feelings of either anxiety or boredom. an inner awe of concentrated bliss. the fluctuations of the mind that Patanjali is talking about—those vrittis of desires. To understand these stages of union. sacred spirit such as music. or samadhi—which are rather rare in yoga—we experience at least a psychological resemblance of it. art. the mind of sublime poetry. the parts of the mind that are either anxiety ridden or stiflingly bored. yoga and meditation. we enter the state of being that Krishna is talking about in the Gita. In that state of flow. the state of union Shiva exemplified as an inner revelation of oneness. and. which culminates when we become one with the mystery.
claims Anandamurti. When the veil between the hiranmaya kosha. flow.” writes Anandamurti. pulsating organism. the result is a near-constant perception of great clarity. ecological. and for Shiva. the human soul merges in the Cosmic Soul. the yogi truly experiences that the above has merged with the below. the fifth stage of the above model. The jivanmuktis. while the greatest of them. the world has indeed become sacred. and union. the idea that life. Causal mind (hiranmaya kosha): this is the last or highest stage of inner yogic union. the enlightened beings. is dancing according to the flow of that rasa. live in this realm. the feeling that there is only a thin veil between our self and the Divine. or individual soul.the wisdom of yoga 75 Subliminal mind (vijanamaya kosha): this level of mind has two main functions—deep discrimination between what is “truth and untruth. grace. or Bhagavan. that cosmic rasa. as well as a host of other attributes. This yogic mind model represents the totality of the human mind. It is in this state one starts to experience a near continuous flow of freedom. the jivatman. a renunciation of the world. the enlightened yogis. every animate and inanimate entity. What is especially lacking in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. the jivatman merges in the paramatman. Thus. etc. the source of that flow. the center. . And that stage of awareness is the ultimate state of yogic union. whereas yoga for Patanjali indicates a moving away from the world. Patanjali’s. is God. is vibrant. is the idea that yoga means juice. or Brahma. It reflects the mindset of many great yogis and gurus. that the cosmos itself is one vibrating. can also pierce this last veil and permanently rest in the Cosmic Soul itself. the liberated souls. Metaphorically speaking: the below has become one with the above. is union with that flowing organism of the cosmos. undisturbed attention. Here. yoga. wholeness. and when all of these five levels of mind have been cleansed or made transparent through meditation. wisdom and bliss. when lived to its fullest. the doors of perception have been cleansed. according to the vibrational expression of that rasa. and the Cosmic Mind of Brahma becomes nearly absent. on this threshold between the two worlds of being. And for Krishna.” and detachment. the union between the personal soul and the Cosmic Soul. dynamism. spiritual success. everything has indeed become divine. Heaven has indeed become the world within. “Every living entity. for the Tantric. Shiva’s and Krishna’s ideas about yoga are not exactly the same. In other words. including ecstasy.
sweetness. Moreover. So. nor suppression of our basic desires. the Tantric yogi will embrace them.” Csikszentmihalyi writes. and love in everything we do. is attraction toward that ultimate flow. I am one with That. or during deep meditation. sacred spirit When movement is the nature of life. that feeling. When that profound idea. yoga is practice. consciousness. consistently. the simple yet profound proclamation: I am That. I am one with my Higher Self. and flowing. Tantra Yoga. I am one with that transcendent flow that runs and pulsates through and within everything. and then they are all offered as a gift of surrender to the cosmic flow. dynamic. “one must do it. yoga is not theory. Simply put. and the more overwhelmingly meaningful our sense of union with the Other. the Tantric yogi will attempt to make all ordinary tendencies spiritual. and ultimately by seeing union as an available source of inspiration in everything. And the more sophisticated the practice and the discipline. loving . not disgust toward anything. our mental tendencies. then. is available to us while performing an action. yoga is practice. Tantra Yoga is thus not revulsion from what we do not like. I am one with God. yoga is discipline. becomes. yoga says YES to life by seeking and seeing the bright side of everything. the deeper the state of mind and focus. rather than suspending our vrittis. yoga is living and being. yoga is about seeing union. much more elegant: yoga does not turn attraction into repulsion by saying NO to life. or simply right now! Flow is being in the present moment—as during mantra/breath recitation while walking. so. biking. by seeing the wisdom. Thus.76 sacred body. seeing God. the nature of the whole universe is flowing. in the same way as athletes or musicians…” And. Hence. eating. how can yoga be without flow? More to the point. Here are some of the commonalities between the psychology of flow and the spiritual practice of yoga: Flow is concentration—as during meditation and asana practice Flow is increasing sophistication and challenge—as during the practice of more advanced asana and meditation techniques Flow is unself-conscious behavior—as during chanting and dancing in Bhakti Yoga. Yoga is much more psychological. will love them. “It is not enough to know how to do it. I am one with Krishna. oneness. and pulsating. while acknowledging that yoga is an “enormously sophisticated” way to experience flow. then we are in the flow of yoga. sacred. Rather. the deeper the flow. with That. in that light. then we experience yoga.
but when we live trapped within this disease of self-absorption.the wisdom of yoga 77 And. . what are the signs that we are experiencing yoga in our life? Bill Walz.” And when we feel that miraculous feeling. So. the truly spiritual experience is impossible. we practice the yoga of flow.” And according to the eminent psychologist Abraham Maslow: “The sacred is in the ordinary…to be looking elsewhere for miracles is a sure sign of ignorance…everything is miraculous. a meditation and mindfulness teacher at the University of North Carolina writes: “True spirituality requires experiencing a self-transcending connection with Life and with others. there is another commonality between the yoga of union and Csikszentmihalyi’s flow: the way to happiness lies not in mindlessly following our hedonist desires. but rather in flowing with our call for mindful challenges.
that yoga is about opening ourselves into a state of being already known to our hearts. when I read the Yoga Sutras. Devi’s warm. Nirodha means restriction or suspension. and freshness in each line that other translations lack. she is the author of The Secret Power of Yoga. and deeply personal translations are different from any I have read before. Citta means mind. simple. Vritti means tendency or fluctuation. I sometimes feel as if Patanjali himself was hell-bent on mind control. and thus to experience the goal of yoga. Feuerstein’s gives us a sense that yoga is a discipline to chastise the mind into submission. should be interpreted as follows: “Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart. She writes that the above sutra. In the words of my guru. sacred spirit Tantra and the Yoga Sutras: If Patanjali Had Been a Woman If Patanjali had been a woman. An internationally renowned yoga teacher. There’s a personal directness. in which Patanjali explains the meaning of yoga. they remind me of the liberal way Robert Bly—a very sweet but also a very manly man—translates Rumi. or consciousness. a book in which she uncovers the “heart and spirit” of the Yoga Sutras. and hope. Ironically. Anandamurti. Kabir. Feuerstein’s translation is indeed a lot closer to the literal meaning of Patanjali’s words than Devi’s. . Devi’s translation of Patanjali’s most famous sutra—yogah citta vritti nirodha— is so sweet. Georg Feuerstein’s translation: “Yoga is the restrictions of the fluctuation of consciousness. Indeed. he may have sounded a lot like Nischala Joy Devi. There is really nothing about the heart or about unity in Patanjali’s original sutra.78 sacred body. liberty.” Compare this to her male counterpart. unity.” Devi’s translation gives us a feeling of warmth. who interprets this sutra much like Feuerstein. Patanjali meant that a yogi must suspend his or her “mental tendencies” (vrittis) in order to find peace. or Mirabai. Tantric and heart centered that it makes all previous translations of these Sanskrit words look as if written by male experts hell-bent on mind control.
the unity between you and the Beloved. Because the Indian people. But for Patanjali. that our consciousness abides in the heart. that yoga means union. Resembling this heartfelt spirit of Tantra. Nischala Joy Devi’s translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1. yoga seems to have meant something else: not union.” Our vrittis.” Because of this harshness of language. in the mind. of philosophy—for Patanjali was first and foremost a philosopher—the Yoga Sutras never became popular with the masses in India. It encourages students to be harsh with consciousness. not from Patanjali. In Tantra the path of yoga is the path of alchemical transmutation rather than through fierce control. in our citta. . in order to experience yoga. not through the mind. Not in the same way Shiva and Krishna have touched the hearts of the Indian people. And the way of transmutation goes through the heart. the unity between your heart and the cosmic heart. which is integral to understanding this sutra. They live and breathe first and foremost in the heart. the Sanskrit transliteration for that is: samyoga yoga ityukto jivatma paramatmanah. our wants. In other words.” Here’s another angle. And so do women. And so do the Tantrics. is often translated as “consciousness. And Patanjali wants us to control those vrittis in the citta. the emphasis is on control. are all about the heart. writes Gregory David Roberts in his bestselling book Shantaram. and through consciousness. Anandamurti reminds us that yoga also means unity. it is said that yoga means the unity between the individual soul and the cosmic soul. restraint. our desires.2 reads a lot like the way yoga is explained in Tantra: that yoga is the path of the heart. not through the intellect.the wisdom of yoga 79 In fact. but the “suspension of our mental tendencies” or “the restrictions of the fluctuations of consciousness. they reside in our mind. And that is why I prefer the Tantric interpretation of yoga: that yoga is about uniting consciousness through the way of the heart. our endless mental tendencies. The word citta. But in Tantra the way toward yoga is not simply through control but through the way of union. or some form of restriction. through the way of love for the Divine. of interpretation.” but it really means “mind. that yoga also is a devotional concept. that yoga also is the path of the heart—and that this profound idea comes from Tantra. In Tantra. Nischala Joy Devi writes: “When this sutra is referencing only the mind. And as mentioned before.
The first sheath is the annamaya kosha. The third is the manomaya kosha. The fifth and last sheath is the anandamaya kosha. the sheath of intuition. or the rational mind. there are eight levels of consciousness. in yoga psychology these levels of mind are termed koshas. developed by my teacher. Next comes the vijanamaya kosha. the veil before alaya or pure Spirit. the subtle mind. Anandamurti. Here is a contemporary yogic elaboration of these sheaths. called manas. unites with the Cosmic or Divine Soul. Each one of these “petals” envelopes the other and. Indeed. Spirit or God. This model expands on the Vedantic version by dividing our individual Body-Mind-Spirit into seven levels. The final level is the alayavijnana. And. as in Ayurveda. Annamaya Kosha—the physical body. including its many sub-functions: 1. The seventh layer.80 sacred body. through an integral Body-MindSpirit practice. the human mind can be divided into various levels or spheres. how the mind expands into this soul and finally. just like the banana flower. The next layer of the mind is based on sensory experience. the deep. According to the yoga philosophy of Vedanta. inner level of blissful transcendence. refers to both higher mind and the center of the illusion of the separate self. or the sheath composed of life force. with its crystal-clear perception. . This is the connecting link between the physical body and the mind. an individual is composed of five such sheaths. the physical body. Yoga emphasizes the importance of understanding the essential nature of this spectrum of consciousness—how the individual mind rests within and is part of the soul (atman).” The body. composed. the sphere of emotions. sacred spirit A Comparative Examination of the Body-Mind-Spirit Connection According to many spiritual traditions. comprises the sixth layer. In Mahayana Buddhism. it is said that “the human being is composed of five layers of mind. depending on your perspective. progressively conceals or reveals the ultimate reality. The first five represent the five senses. The second is the pranamaya kosha. or annamaya kosha. As mentioned earlier.
humility. success. artistic inspiration. Spiritual non-attachment does not mean to escape the world but rather to embrace it as Spirit. d) dreaming. Also known in Jungian psychology as the conscious mind.the wisdom of yoga 81 of the five elements: ether. In this level of mind one is able to pierce through the veil of the gross. creative insight and extrasensory perception. When that happens. sex and fear. and perhaps even a direct experience of Spirit is experienced. 3. earth. This state of mind controls the conscious mind. Manomaya Kosha—the mental layer of mind. the layer of direct knowing. Jung called this layer of the mind the unconscious. a deep yearning for Spirit is felt. Kamamaya Kosha—this state of mind is the “desire” kosha. 5. Here the feeling of “I” is only latent. Hiranamaya Kosha—subtle causal mind. also referred to as the “golden” kosha. b) rationality. steadiness. also called the “special knowledge” kosha. c) experience of pleasure and pain based on reactions from past deeds. cheerfulness. air. gentleness. objective reality and get a glimpse of the world as it really is—simply Spirit. b) having desires on the basis of those stimuli. 6. or intellectual discovery. water. only a thin veil separates the spiritual practitioner from the Soul. Many divine attributes are expressed through this state of mind: mercy. the kamamaya kosha. it activates the body to satisfy the basic instincts of hunger. This layer of the mind controls the motor organs and the instincts. blissful expression. Spiritual discrimination means to be able to discern between relative and absolute truth. 4. non-attachment. Vijinamaya Kosha—the first layer of the causal mind. sleep. because of its effulgent. magnanimity and more. It has three functions: a) sensing external stimuli from the outside world through the sense organs of the body. Also referred to in Jungian psychology as the subconscious mind. Although most people spend the majority of their lives in the kamamaya and manomaya koshas. spiritual bliss. sometimes this layer is accessed through deep contemplation. It has four functions: a) memory. 2. A person in this unusual and sublime state of . This kosha has two main functions: discrimination (viveka) and non-attachment (vaeragya). to see that all is divine. Atimanasa Kosha—the supra-mental or subtle mind. serenity. fire. and c) acting to materialize those desires by using the motor organs. The body is controlled by the first layer of mind.
82 sacred body. And although each tradition explains these layers somewhat differently. through prayer and fasting. it is a natural and universal process of gradual unfolding and eventual full awakening..” But. as Anandamurti says: “Through the medium of kosha-wise meditation. or spectrum of consciousness... through ecstatic dancing and chanting. Or. through the practice of meditation. Atman—beyond mind. by uniting its will perfectly to God’s.. and most importantly. with divine bliss.. .” My own spiritual teacher.the soul appears to be God more than a soul. every kosha has to be made transparent and crystalline.” The universal aspect of this process is illustrated by the writings of many mystics and saints from various traditions. St. sacred spirit mind has approached the dawn of true awakening and experiences the all-pervading state of Cosmic Consciousness. Indeed. perhaps none could have expressed this simple yet advanced process better than the poet and artist William Blake: “If the doors of perception were cleansed. the Soul. what is important is this: Through the immense scope of these levels of mind. Anandamurti. it is God by participation.” “When this is done the soul will be illumined by and transformed in God. John of the Cross explained well the highest state of God-consciousness: “. And God will so communicate his supernatural being to the soul that it will appear to be God himself and will possess what God himself possesses.” No matter which model of the Body-Mind-Spirit connection you are used to. 7. “to appropriate that infinite inheritance of which we are already in possession. the mysticism of Christianity and the mysticism of Tantra speak with one voice. man would see things as they really are—infinite. The sixteenth-century Christian mystic St.. the yogis claim..” But how? Through the study of spiritual scriptures. the Cosmic Consciousness. notes that in order to experience this cosmic state of mind one must cleanse one’s perception by converting “the mind into a real mirror. the human mind is finally enveloped in pure Spirit and is able to realize oneness with the Divine. the fuller the entire entity will become with divine radiance.. through yoga practice.. As John Caird said so beautifully in his book An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion.” In other words. John of the Cross perfectly echoes the yogis of India: “A soul makes room for God by wiping away all the smudges and smears of creatures.
some forms of Christianity. just like I am doing right now. I have lived here before. I have even sat here on this bank before. It happened one sunny afternoon. as many believe. It is also a common belief of pagan religions. And. such as Druidism. and the idea is common in many tribal societies around the world. did reincarnation become part of my vocabulary. and Australia. when I received initiation into Tantric dhyan meditation at the banks of the Baghmati River in Nepal. where this idea is as commonly accepted as basmati rice. This doctrine has also been part of the Greek. Plato and Socrates. Suddenly. Buddhist and Eastern tradition. It was a feeling of palpable certainty: I knew . I was sitting there relaxed and thinking of nothing in particular. It was not the dizzy and vague feeling of déjà vu. neoplatonic tradition. Reincarnation was accepted by such historic figures as Pythagoras. According to his deeds. and I looked past the men bathing their elephants in the river. Judaism. My meditation teacher was meditating in front of me. it became part of my deeper identity. in places such as Siberia. West Africa. body to body—is not. North America. learning meditation. it struck me like a lightening bolt: I have been here before. and even the Viking tradition. the embodied self assumes successively various forms in various conditions.the wisdom of yoga 83 Yoga and Reincarnation: To Believe or Not to Believe? The belief in reincarnation—that souls migrate from life to life. just a yogic. Only when I arrived in India and Nepal. one fine day. —Shvetashvatara Upanishad The idea of reincarnation—that our mind and its unexhausted karmic reactions keep assuming new bodies in order to fulfill its destiny until final enlightenment—was hardly on my mind at the beginning of my yogic journey. across to the other side where steep Himalayan mountains towered into a cobalt blue horizon.
and the Celtic Druids also taught a doctrine of reincarnation. such as the late psychiatrist Ian Stevenson. former head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia. sacred spirit this place. Some scholars suggest that the idea is original to the Buddha. some scientists. and who had died prior to the child’s birth. My guru. I had returned home. and they had clear memories of how they had died. Alaska. as well as in the prehistoric Dravidian traditions of South India. I think you are right. . A few seconds after these thoughts crossed my mind. have studied this phenomenon and concluded that it is a real possibility. their families. They then ceased to do so by age seven or eight. my teacher opened his eyes and said: “Yes. After interviewing the children. Stevenson collected over forty cases with physical evidence relating to birthmarks and birth defects of children. The children had often died a violent death. you have been here before. Having been part of the oral tradition of India since antiquity. India and both North and South America. and others in the community. While reincarnation is not as commonly accepted in the Western world. the concept enters historical. used the term “extra-cerebral memory” to describe this kind of non-brain-dependent memory of a past time when the soul lived in another human body. with the adaptation of ideas such as karma. He reported that the children he studied generally started to speak of their past lives between the ages of two and four. Europe. I was familiar with these people. During the Iron Age. Anandamurti. samsara and moksha in the Upanishads (ca 700 bce) and other scriptures. The author of Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect. not just a belief system. The origin of the Indian reincarnation idea can be found in the non-Vedic and oral Sramana and Tantric traditions. these languages. the Greek Pre-Socratics discussed reincarnation. and these practices. But a more likely possibility is that it originated in the much more ancient Shiva-religions of the pre-Indo-Aryan Ganges Valley. Stevenson studied over three thousand cases of “possible reincarnations” in Africa.84 sacred body. Stevenson would identify if there had been a living person who satisfied the various claims and descriptions collected.” The origins of the notion of reincarnation appear in written form in the philosophical traditions of Greece from about the sixth century bce. written records rather late.
For months. He has extra-cerebral memories of helping French Jews escape their ultimate fate of being sent to the gas chambers. Destitute. He had helped her during World War II. Helena has become a well known photographer and lives in . But. One of the most dramatic examples of reincarnation stories I have heard was told to me recently on my trip to Copenhagen by my Danish friend Espen Hansen (not his real name). his chronic neck and back pain indeed took on a new. before this fateful meeting with Helena. These dark and disturbing memories were fatefully re-awakened by a mysterious meeting Espen had with a beautiful Greek woman named Helena. 1944. the title of his compelling book. while Espen was leaving the restaurant where he usually dined with business clients. he had recurring dreams and memory flashbacks from a life as a member of the Nazi party during World War II. living in Paris. strangely.the wisdom of yoga 85 which he claimed matched wounds recorded in the medical or postmortem records for the individual identified as the past-life personality. Since he was young. and although responsible for atrocities against Jews. Espen and Helena became very close friends. historical and fateful significance. Espen is a Kriya yogi. where he lived with his family for about fifteen years. he also apparently did help some Jews escape during the war. Stulpnagel was a German general and a member of the July 20 Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. these startling claims made complete sense to him. One day. Hence. And when he found out that Stulpnagel was hanged for treason on August 30. I come here all the time. Espen was stunned. Today.” But that was not what Helena meant. She took him aside and told him that they had known each other in a previous life. He also “remembers” that he was finally executed by hanging for these and other renegade actions. she ended up as a waitress in Iceland. she claimed. he simply responded: “Of course. She was working in a restaurant in Iceland. Over time. and he was a Nazi. writer and filmmaker working on a documentary about meditation. Helena asked him: “Do you remember me?” Puzzled by the question. Helena was the daughter of a Greek shipping magnate who had recently gone bankrupt. She was a Jew. he’d actually started to believe he’d been Carl Heinrich von Stulpnagel in a previous life.
13. Moreover. even though reincarnation is a part of yoga philosophy. In other words. Stulpnagel could have been a real good guy. so the infinite. even though he wanted to destroy Hitler’s regime. that while there is a root of works there is fructification in rank and years and experience. I understand why many contemporary yogis do not care about the doctrine of reincarnation. Yogic believers in reincarnation will counter by saying that it is not only our karma from one life that determines our destiny in the next. 18. For reincarnation also appear in Norse mythology. “Take No. it really does not matter much to your practice either way. reincarnation is a necessity. but that is now called old wives’ folly. However.86 sacred body. In Aphorism 8. a belief in reincarnation is not a prerequisite for doing a proper headstand or to sit in lotus position repeating a mantra. can become a yogi in his next incarnation? Difficult question. sacred spirit an ashram in India. indeed. the great philosophical authority on yoga say about reincarnation? Actually not much.” But whether you believe you’ve been born again and again or not. Because of all these philosophical conundrums. even a yogi in a long ago. I guess I am fated to be a believer in this born-again-and-again doctrine. Both of these infer reincarnation. “Patanjali’s Aphorisms are worthless. Judge in his 1889 translation of the Yoga Sutras. Book III. Even though they live on two different continents. Just as the body casts off worn out clothes and puts on new ones. —Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita But is it possible that a former Nazi. Book II. previous life. . and why many even think it is superstitious and totally bunk. But without the context of reincarnation. Book IV. you see. the belief in reincarnation was probably commonplace among the Vikings since the annotator of the Poetic Edda wrote that people formerly used to believe in it: “Sigrun was early dead of sorrow and grief. Indeed. as both a Viking and a yogi who strongly feels that I have lived in India before. immortal self casts off worn out bodies and enters into new ones.” writes William Q. What does Patanjali. they still keep in touch. or No. It was believed in olden times that people were born again. which declares that the ascetic can know what were his previous incarnations with all their circumstances.
eternal. I am more yogi than Viking. . as is told in the Lay of Kara.the wisdom of yoga 87 Of Helgi and Sigrun it is said that they were born again. and she Kara the daughter of Halfdan. In other words. and she was a Valkyrie. imperishable and timeless and is never terminated when the body is terminated. we never really die. he became Helgi Haddingjaskati. The mind is also recycled and becomes part of the cosmic sky-cycle of birth and rebirth.” But these days. Only the body dies. So I cannot but help becoming inspired. perhaps even more Indian than Norwegian. Then the body is recycled and becomes part of the earth. uplifted and awed by cosmic and timeless words like these from Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita: The soul is birthless.
and that is why we should listen to them. Interiors must be interpreted. the brain is enveloped by the much subtler and larger mind. tofu-like substance of our brain is busy all day long firing off billions of neuron messages to thousands of neuron connectors. This neuron-firing brain is inside our organism. But we still cannot touch or see the mind.88 sacred body. not just the Western material scientists. They noted down very systematically all their observations. and the mind is the inner. This means that the objective reality is the outer. which is universally accepted within the yoga community. but according to yoga philosophy. we can examine all its parts and chambers. not a machine. a human being. We can cut open our brain. the brain is a physical object. You. The yogis talk about objective and subjective reality. the five . what they realized. you must communicate with me. Poking my brain won’t do much. According to Vedanta. mental and spiritual reality. In a manner of speaking. what they experienced. The best way to explain this in yoga terminology is through the kosha system. And this phenomenon can objectively be registered on a machine. Reality is not just objective. but not so many details about how I feel or what I see. Hooking my brain up to an EEG machine can tell you many things about my brain activity. must ask me how I feel. sacred spirit Your Mind Is More Powerful Than Your Brain The grey. Talking and empathizing is what the yogis have done for thousands of years. You must empathize. It is also subjective. But this tells you nothing about what I subjectively feel when my heart rate goes down. inside our body. my heart rate goes down when I meditate. we can analyze its molecules. To the subjective mind. Talking about their inner world. And interiors cannot be cut open with a knife. The yogis are therefore scientists of both the exterior and interior realms. In order to know that. physical reality. we can touch it. you must talk to me. Because the mind is an interior level of our being. the brain is still exterior to the mind. If you want to know what my mind is like. Yes.
is advocated by both theologians and scientists. talk. which is remarkably similar to yoga philosophy. if there is a God at all. Some scientists. then the mind and its ever-increasing subtle layers of mind. In other words. but it simply cannot be reduced to the brain. it is not synonymous with the mind. This idea. maintain that the mind is an “information field” that is connected to but extends far beyond the periphery and function of the physical brain. But according to most neuro-scientists. or layers of the human being are: Annamaya (body and brain). Panpsychism asserts that consciousness. consciousness does arise from the brain. Another way of explaining the mind/matter conundrum is offered by a range of thinkers and scientists through the theory of panpsychism.the wisdom of yoga 89 koshas. But according to yoga. one layer subtler than the last—first the crude anatomy of body and brain. the complex and subjective experiences of our thoughts and emotions when we walk. the brain and the mind are synonymous. . as is explained in yoga and Tantra. The brain is thus the outer layer of the mind. All these koshas are interrelated and the brain would not function without these higher and deeper functions of the mind and soul. He or She is simply an image or an idea conjured up by the neurological fireworks behind the walls of our bony skull. the brain is an interactive tool of the mind. As in Tantra. the science of complexity acknowledges the biological roots of the mind. but it also maintains that we are more than our neurons. then the energetic anatomy of nadis and kundalini. is found everywhere and is a fundamental property of the universe—all the way down to atomic particles. The human mind has a unique. According to yoga. wisdom and bliss. To these scientists. Pranamaya (the energetic body) Manomaya (mind body) Vijanamaya (wisdom level). Anandamaya (bliss level). yes. nor would the mind and soul be able to express themselves without the brain. our consciousness is nothing but neurological interactions in the brain. The human being is thus like a banana flower: one layer envelopes the other. Our mind. read or listen to music cannot simply be reduced to neurological patterns in the brain. from David Ray Griffin to David Chalmers.” But perhaps the new science of complexity explains all this even more “scientifically” by stating that. like biologist Rupert Sheldrake. interior experience all of its own. but the mind is much larger and subtler than the brain. Thus rocks and salt crystals have what Chalmers call “protoconsciousness.
90 sacred body. of the interlacing relationship between matter and Consciousness..D. between what Tantra calls Shiva (Consciousness) and Shakti (Energy/Matter). Therefore the brain is enveloped by the mind. . not the other way around. They have proven that we can—as in fact yogis have maintained for thousands of years—will ourselves to become better human beings. But since material science is not equipped to understand the subjective or spiritual part of reality. as well as in the minutest expressions of matter. The human brain and mind are constantly interacting. Jeffrey M. one external and one internal—of Cosmic Consciousness made perceptible in human beings. the brain and the mind are both exceptional and mysterious expressions of the cosmic unfolding of Consciousness. “is an interlacing network of wholes. They belong to the purely interior and subjective realm of the mind. of Brahma.” Both the brain and the mind are perfect examples of these interlacing wholes. M. Because it is universally accepted that people with mystical experiences report that these occurrences are “more real” than anything else they have experienced. even alter brain function through the use of mindfulness. These two fine-tuned mechanisms are. sacred spirit This becomes especially clear in regards to the realm of spirituality. Shiva and Shakti are but two expressions of the One Universal Being. these cosmic dualities of Shiva and Shakti are magnificently expressed in the form of the mind and the brain. integral expressions—one lower and one higher. Not only that. much broader in scope than the brain. but the mind’s whole is much larger. according to yoga cosmology. through the practice of spiritual intention. the experience of spirituality is not merely triggered by sensory or neuro-chemical pleasures. and Sharon Begley actually document how the mind is more expansive. in effect. In the book The Mind and the Brain. it regards such experiences as unreal or something simply produced by the brain itself. The brain and the mind are also perfect examples of nature’s duality of Brahma’s oneness. In other words. powerful and creative than the brain by illustrating through PET scans that willful meditation practice can actually alter the brain’s physiology. Philosopher Jan Smuts reminds us that nature. In human beings. we can. According to yoga philosophy. Schwartz. These experiences are of a higher or deeper nature than that which we ordinarily encounter every day. on both the grand cosmic scale. Throughout evolution. and thus evolution.
Allah. “The Kingdom of God is within you. the ancient concept of yoga means to become “one with paramatman. In Sanskrit. each religion embraces the Great Chain of Being. In its truest. to become one with. Thus. Religion has also been one of the most divisive and bloody forces on the planet—the source of many despicable dogmas and irrational creeds we sure (as hell!) can live without. All these levels are ultimately enfolded by the Source. eventually leads to the experience of unity with God. or Spirit. the Ground of Being. In other words. religion is the same as spirituality. when our individual soul experiences oneness with the Cosmic Soul. . which means to unite again with the Source.” In so many words. Consciousness. or Dharma: What’s the Difference? The word religion comes from the Latin religare. Brahma. Just think witch burnings and gay hating and no-other-God-but-mine hating! But let’s get back to the deeper meaning of religion. meditation. one with the Cosmic Soul. Science. at the heart of every authentic religion lies an understanding that there is an all-pervasive state of reality–God. by God. Religion in its truest sense is thus a path. prayer. or with God.21 As comparative religious scholar Huston Smith has explained. samadhi or satori. Spirit. According to this view. chanting.” Throughout history saints from various religions have described their ecstatic experience of God-intoxication as gnosis. which. the word religion means much the same as the word yoga. Tao—and that this reality can be experienced within through the practice of yoga. if practiced diligently.the wisdom of yoga 91 Religion. But that’s not always the case. deepest essence.” —Luke 17. which in its Tantric definition means “to unite. humans throughout history have viewed reality as a hierarchy of levels–from matter to body to mind to spirit.
” “universal truths. And other such fundamentalist nonsense! And there are still plenty of fundamentalist followers of Christianity who believe in such irrational hogwash as the virgin birth. That said. experience or proclaim the truth or veracity of something that can only be experienced subjectively and is beyond the rational. “Thou shall have no other gods before me.92 sacred body. and that creation was consummated in only six days. The Hindu Vedas. in its critique of what is often called “perennial philosophy. Chapter 5 verse 156-161. A virtuous wife who remains chaste when her husband has died goes to heaven. sacred spirit But unfortunately religion is not always the same as spirituality.” Why? Because objective science and rationality cannot describe. for example. but Hinduism is also full of dogmatic injunctions (such as the caste system) that serve to separate and discriminate rather than unite and embrace people. A woman who is unfaithful to her husband is reborn in the womb of a jackal. contain some of humanity’s most ancient and sublime spiritual revelations. Dharmashastras (Sacred Hindu text) While the originators of religion may have experienced a deep sense of union with Universal Consciousness and also subscribed to the near universal belief in the Great Chain of Being. Hinduism is also full of irrational myths: a dip in the sacred Ganges in the holy city of Varanasi (Benares) will bring you to heaven when you die. religions are often the opposite of spirituality. —The Laws of Manu. Religion has often kept people away from the experience of spirituality. the physical resurrection.” —Ten Commandments A widow should be long suffering until death. are nevertheless riddled with myths and dogmas. Objective science . No wonder the exponents of science and rationality revolted against such illogical doctrines.” or simply “spirituality. the same religions. self-restrained and chaste. scientific rationalism has failed miserably in its critique of the innermost spiritual truths of religion. That is. which generally were established years after the founders died.
the wisdom of yoga 93 can determine that you meditate. the matter-is all-there-is. That’s when the trouble starts. a discovery that won him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1977. The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. the virgins in heaven. —Albert Einstein Benedictine monk and author David Stendl-Rast explains the importance of distinguishing between the essence of religion and its institution or dogmas: “Religion…should be written with a capital R to distinguish it from the various religions. Why? There is simply no other way to explain the unexplainable. That’s why even scientists resort to poetry. It is the source of all true science. inner spirit. which basically reverses the second law of thermodynamics. the resurrection. Ilya Prigogine is best known for his definition of dissipative structures and their role in thermodynamic systems far from equilibrium. they become poets. to myth. who dances in eternal dynamicity beyond both life and death! So. Because in closed thermodynamic systems there is no exchange of energy or entropy with the environment. He likened his discovery. spiritualists. Trouble starts when we take all that science has to offer and believe that is all there is. No problem there. to the dance of Shiva. The problem arises when we take the metaphors—the virgin birth. We end up with a flat world devoid of inner transcendence. neither objective nor subjective reality. things without depth. Thus his evocation of Shiva’s dance. the flames of hell. buildings without sacredness. Objectivity is everything. inner subjectivity. the sacred. Even the person experiencing samadhi will have an impossible task explaining how it feels! The rational can only approximate the transrational. That’s indeed why we have language. There is dynamic equilibrium. Objective science can never fully explain subjective truth. both science and religion uses metaphor to explain certain truths. the-brain-is-all-there-is theories—literally. There’s trouble when science says that the sensory world is everything. why we have maps. No wonder we ended up with a world of lean yogis without soul. mystics. But those scientists who understand the mystery. to explain certain objective truths. But language and maps are not the same as reality. Translated into everyday . but the same science cannot describe your spiritual experience.
and that spirituality. we may term it a dogma. song. The Sanskrit word dharma means “an object’s or a being’s inner nature. and silent enough to truly unite human society. universal religion. Let me explain. let us say that religion contains both certain universally accepted truths as well as many irrational dogmas. is the same as spirituality and Religion. Or dharma. It is also often in conflict with basic human values and therefore unable to inspire and guide humanity on its march toward creating a universal and truly integrated society. dance. . It contains truth. In conclusion. Another way of making this distinction is to say that religion.” Dharma just is. on practice and experience. as in spirituality. In fact. is the only power that is universal. beyond words.” The main point here is not one of semantics but to understand the essence of what some call Religion. sublime. because religions generally depend more on scripture and beliefrather than. truth in its most unblemished and sacred form. spirituality. not religion. Religion becomes spirituality. truth that can only be approximated by poetry. the perennial philosophy. Which. is exoteric. to me. Religion. is esoteric. Thus spirituality supports and includes rationality and science. Also. is often based on a literal translation of irrational myths and legends and thus is often in conflict with both human nature and science. and to be human is to become one with that which just is. for the sake of a theoretical definition of the difference between religion (dogma) and spirituality (dharma). on the other hand. while spirituality soars beyond and above these irrational limitations. spirituality. with its emphasis on sacred. spirituality is the dharma or inner characteristic of that human condition.94 sacred body. sacred spirit living. in its various guises. institutionalized it becomes a religion. but very different from religion with a small r. with its emphasis on external rituals. dharma is often translated as “the spiritual path. meditative practice.” In the context of humanity’s search for perennial wisdom. So.
for example. enlightenment means transformation. we might say. teaches us about inner and outer ecology. wisdom. golden thread: enlightenment is being in this world but not of it. If there . are one in Brahma. is not an escape from the world but a true return to the world. whatever it’s righteous intentions.” In other words. we learn: “Brahma (Cosmic Consciousness) is the world. Anandamurti: “Yoga means unification…We must have yoga in all the three levels of life. that the world of spirit (Shiva) and the world of matter (Shakti) are essentially an integrated whole.” In the words of my Tantric guru. exuberant embrace. In the words of Ken Wilber: “The point. an activism that is not purified by profound spiritual and psychological self-awareness and rooted in divine truth. So what do the great wisdom traditions say that urges us to be active in this world? From Buddhist and Hindu Tantra. In the words of sages and pundits from various wisdom traditions and backgrounds. Enlightenment is having your head and heart in the wide open sky of spirit and your feet firmly planted in the garden of life. In other words. Enlightenment means to be an integral person working toward creating an integral world. Enlightenment means being a spiritual activist. in other words. we see a common. everlasting.the wisdom of yoga 95 Yoga and Activism “A mysticism that is only private and self-absorbed leaves the evils of the world intact and does little to halt the suicidal juggernaut of history.” “Shiva (Cosmic Consciousness) and Shakti (Cosmic Energy) are one. the nondual philosophies of Tantric Yoga. and compassion will only perpetuate the problem it is trying to solve. is that the circle of Ascending and Descending energies must always be unbroken: ‘this world’ and the ‘other world’ united in one ongoing. transforming us and the world at the same time.” –Andrew Harvey Enlightenment.” “Nirvana and samsara are not two.” “Brahma is the composite of Shiva and Shakti.
or rather yoga-oriented movement. Consequently some yogis have fled this world to seek salvation in spirit only. these are questions without clear cut and easy answers. If all is one. the way my food is made and where it comes from matters. sacred spirit is yoga only in the spiritual level and there is no yoga in the psychic and physical level. Because. But let’s not climb too high up on the ecological or activist pedestal. In Vedanta we are taught that this world is an illusion. is to look the world straight in its face and answer all the uneasy questions in life and come up with workable. like the sexy perfection in that sleek. these are questions every earth-yogi must make and answer. even though I try to shop local and organic and grow some veggies and live in a so-called green community. what will happen? The very existence of human beings will become unbalanced. yes. here on this dusty earth. perfection. not all yogis have lived firmly rooted in this world. Still. the less suffering I cause animals and the environment matters. sensual body of the Lululemon . To be a yogi activist.” That is. The body and soul of those people living over there. Because. which is produced two thousand miles away? These are questions on the yogi/activist’s mind. the body and soul of animals. as yoga says. if all is one. then. Not just my personal body and soul. is it better to buy this local yogurt even though it is not organic. “Yoga in each and every sphere of life. in each and every sphere of life. when we buy yogurt a yogi is to consider not only how deliciously it melts on the tongue and how good it is for health but also how good it is for the planet’s health—how and where it was grown by farmers. Yoga is then to ask ourselves: is this yogurt both organic and local? If not. I have Appalachian hillbilly neighbors who eat bears and have never heard the word asanas. There are always exceptions. like that popular brand over there. it all matters. if all is one. human equipoise will be lost. conscious compromises.” But not all yoga philosophies have urged the same balance. animals and dirt. Even though Vivekananda was a follower of Vedanta and did not think posture yoga (asanas) was very important. So we must have yoga. Because. That is yogic ecology. I favor those who clearly favor balance in their world view. but also the body and soul of others. he was a political activist in his native India.96 sacred body. of plants. And. They grow most of their own food and generally live lives much greener than I do.
backs. who. In some of my retreats. also Consciousness. if all is potentially one. That act is part of the idea that samsara and nirvana are one. the idea that Shiva and Shakti are one in Brahma. Still. If all is potentially sweet. We act as if the world is a sweet and sacred place to live. It can be yoga to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH to the CEO and the board of directors. also sacred. Anandamurti. that kind of perfection is not the perfection the yogi activist will always find or even want. That is the sacred and often complex and neglected enterprise of yoga. like heroin addicts. Not to demonstrate because it is hip. stole the wages of these workers to increase their quarterly profit fix. In Tantra that is acting from the state of madhuvidya. to Occupy Wall Street. our enlightenment enterprise. Yogi perfection is. I teach a meditation and visualization exercise developed by spiritual activist Andrew Harvey in which the aim is to break our hearts open to the world. to passionately find that heartbroken space within which resonates with that which is broken outside us. a state of mind. Because. first of all. that this world is also Brahma. lonely. the world of samsara. how our economy runs. separated . Always. It can be part of our yoga. hearts—and yoga can. That is Tantra. had a saying: yoga is self-realization and service to the world. and he became the Nelson Mandela of yoga. but simply because it matters. It can be yoga to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH without hating those you say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH to. a state of heart. in small and big ways. it matters. We can do yoga by occupying space on the sidewalk to protest the firing of workers.the wisdom of yoga 97 yogi. then what kind of yoga is it? The yoga of a selfish. Because that which is broken can heal. that act of healing is spiritual activism. then that state of mind urges us into imperfect action. by feeling. a state of consciousness. My guru. That is what the yogic transformation enterprise is all about: to blend that which is within us with that which is outside us. that is yoga. Imperfect action in the world of Shakti. mend the world. from the heart of honey knowledge. Living according to that saying landed him in jail. if yoga is all about navel watching and retreating from this world. how our resources are shared. we act by thinking. The idea that what is above is also below. Yoga can mend ligaments. and that act of healing is yoga.
Likewise. is the yoga of imperfect perfection. And the ascetic thinks that by denying the body it will eventually evaporate into the transparent purity of soul. Body obsession and profit obsession and ascetic-escaping-the-world obsession thus share similar traits: they have great difficulty embracing reality in its wholeness. If yoga is holistic. sacred spirit soul in the body of a sexy Lululemon ad? The yoga of a body-denying ascetic whose nails are too long to feed himself? It is no accident that religious enterprises which are about goingto-heaven-only and yogic enterprises which are for-myself-only have a one-dimensional resemblance to economists who define human behavior and aspirations in purely economic terms. the cushion and Wall Street. imperfect and vast sacredness—in each and every moment of our lives. the whole of life in all its divine. Yoga thus is not only about occupying the mat. which I believe it is. complex yet sacred earthiness. the yoga of enlightenment with both a small and capital E. and nothing less. then part of its holism lies in its ability to embrace opposites and see the oneness in diversity and complexity. but about occupying the whole of reality. That is the yoga of sacred activism. in its imperfect. And that fictionalized version of reality has created a fictionalized. That. The economic human sees greed as good. the ego-driven yogi mistakes the beautiful body in the mirror for the beautiful self within.98 sacred body. that selfish aspirations are solely what an economy is built upon. . phantom economy based on greed and speculation.
from which even some quantum physicists now believe everything originates. of matter. . we undergo a shift in awareness. subtle. with the help of our will power. there is a changeless Self. But also according to Tantra. or Brahma. In other words. pure. Change is life. creativity and finally into death. especially some Buddhists and nondualists. our emotions. According to Tantra. the deep within. of the atomic world and beyond. Thus there is both transformation and no-transformation. in order to be awed by and to experience the inner thrill of Shiva Consciousness. Shiva is pure consciousness. from which everything originates. and is absorbed into through transformative expansion. and our sexual energy. embraces. from which everything is preserved and from within which everything dies and is destroyed. Shiva is that oceanic space within. discovers. that which we experience while deep-diving the conscious and subconscious monkeyminds and enter the super-conscious mind of revelation and peace in our meditation. into life. the deep inner world of all manifest beings. that which creates. to which the changing self wakes up. the body-mind. say that we do not need to transform. Shiva is that aspect of Brahma which is changeless. which never changes. do not need to change in order to be spiritual. that cave in the cosmic heart. the deep inner space of the outer world. that which binds consciousness into form. According to Tantric Yoga the spiritual realm is the one changeless Being. consists of two polarities: Shiva (Consciousness) and Shakti (Energy). an inner transformation with the help of Shakti energy. Change and no-change.the wisdom of yoga 99 Can We be Spiritual without Transformation: A Tantric Perspective Some people on the spiritual path. This changeless realm. pure intelligence. Because Shakti is pure energy. change is natural to the human self. this Brahma.
—Nisargadatta Maharaj We know that when death strikes. the Changeless. and death. we thrive on change in the form of Shakti. Tantra is the process of transforming one’s latent divinity into Supreme Divinity. —Anandamurti Tantric yoga teaches us that if this unchanging reality. we embrace Shiva. but that Shiva always remains. creed or religion aspires for [such] spiritual expansion…is a Tantric. A person who. close to our inner mind in daily contemplation. By meditating on that Changeless Entity. toward Consciousness. when we become less agitated. formless and deeply whole within and beyond. We know that beyond duality there is nonduality—that beyond both the deep subjective I of consciousness within and the objective yogic energy body that is healthy one day and sick the next. destruction. when sickness strikes. these twin archetypes. ever present. we embrace change. we accept change. sacred spirit By riding the energy of Shakti. Contemplate life as infinite. Tantra is to live in the balance of these two realms. by embracing . undivided. this Shiva is close to our heart. to transform. angry. creativity. that this change is inevitable. By meditating on that Changeless Entity. And we know. Hence. the kundalini of transformation and creativity. then it is much easier to accept and welcome and challenge the turbulence of change—the pain of physical and mental suffering that also is an inevitable part of life. that both Shiva (the changeless) and Shakti (that which always changes). Tantric meditation? To shift our attention toward Shiva. we realize. or irritated. that deep inner space of the cosmos. what is Tantric yoga. ever active. So. the goddess of transformation. from experience.100 sacred body. we associate with the wave of breath that is always connected to the deep spiritual ocean within. until you realize yourself as one with it. that it is Shakti’s nature to change form. irrespective of caste. that beyond those polarities of our being there is only Brahma. only Consciousness. in daily practice. are always alive within us. toward Purusha.
but the Shakti in us always undergoes transformation. the asanas. the immanent and transcendent aspects of reality. sometimes painfully. —Swami Nikhilananda describing the Tantric spirituality of Shrii Ramakrishna And here’s the secret. we do transform when we perform spiritual practice. And it is our choice to use our Shakti energy wisely or to use it destructively. In turn. that Shiva. the beauty of this transformation: by becoming more like the changeless. We do this practice. the energy of Prakriti. such as the Gita? Otherwise why do Buddhists practice tonglen. the energy of transformation and change. of our spirit. we do change. . In other words. We embrace change as pain and suffering and joy more peacefully. that quiet breath within our breath. we meditate in order to bypass distraction and destruction and to experience wholeness and unity—the subtle. that nondual awareness which never undergoes any change. the deep breathing. and sometimes gracefully. except that part of us. toward the changeless nature of Spirit. we can constantly undergo change more gracefully.the wisdom of yoga 101 the energy of Shakti. so that we may move into silence. And we are transformed by this arousal of Shakti energy in our body and in our mind. the counting of beads. to calm down the choppy winds of the mind. that unfathomable void that never undergoes any change. He thus bridged the gulf between the personal and impersonal. toward Shiva. In other words. the mantra repetition. mindfulness and ethics if not to gracefully transform that in us which needs to undergo change in order to be awestruck by and perceive the changeless? We do the practice. we practice yoga. Ecstatic devotion to the Divine Mother [Shakti] alternated with serene absorption in the ocean of Absolute Unity [Shiva]. that witnessing I in the quiet hurricane of our life. Shiva in us never changes. that inner witness. flow toward the breath within the breath. we are changed by it. Otherwise why bother to practice or to read and be moved by the great spiritual masterpieces. that great cosmic I. But we do it to generate change. changeless aspects of our soul.
Yoga has experimented with all these paths and expressions for centuries. It also appeared as if yoga is primarily designed for perfectly shaped white women. or asanas. asanas (yoga exercises). is a healthy and welcoming sign. an enlightened spirit. In this comprehensive system. the magazine covers were artsy. forms only one of eight parts: yama and niyama (ethics). you are not the first. the increasing popularity of yoga. dharana (concentration). pranayama (breathing exercises). and to enable people to reach this goal of spiritual tranquility. fitness and flexibility. As a young female yoga teacher told me: “I came to the deeper understanding of yoga by starting out thinking that yoga was only about physical flexibility. This system. or to achieve a little bit of everything? Either way.) Patanjali’s main focus remained way beyond bone and flesh. pratyahara (sense withdrawal). you will not find any information about perfect anatomical alignment or sculpted hips. he systematized Ashtanga Yoga based on already known yogic wisdom and practice. dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (spiritual peace). including Samkhya . But from then onward. moving together toward Spirit. Pantanjali wrote in one of his famous yoga sutras that the goal of yoga is “the cessation of mental propensities. around two hundred years before Christ. often termed Classical Yoga by Western yoga scholars. She learned that yoga was about flexible bodies and flexible minds moving together. yoga postures. the covers illustrated that a radical change took place some time in the late nineties. But while looking at nearly twenty years of cover photos on a popular yoga magazine recently. in all its profane and divine manifestations. it seemed as if modern yoga practice is primarily designed for the body.” (But in reading his text.102 sacred body. Still. the content often philosophical. In India. Quite strikingly. for outer appearance. the covers featured only attractive women with serene yoga-smiles and bodies exuding a wholesome allure. Prior to that time. sacred spirit Three Ways to Practice Yoga Do you practice yoga to get a flexible body. a bendable brain. built upon much earlier forms of yoga.” She quickly learned that yoga was so much more.
These twin lovers were also known as Purusha and Prakriti in the dualistic philosophies of Samkhya and Ashtanga Yoga. Indeed. the cosmic consciousness of Shiva and the cosmic energy of Shakti were entwined like the embrace of two cosmic lovers. ecological sensibilities: everything is one. Where there is energy. at all. In Tantra. did not think much of Hatha Yoga. but rather to tame the mind. in part. Shiva’s cosmic consciousness is inherent in everything. The final spiritual goal of yoga. the body and the soul. And they were figuratively expressed in ancient art in the androgynous Ardhanarishvara statue. or Tantra. then to live in harmony with the world. Today. and the Cosmic Soul. these timeless . in the creation philosophy of Shaivism. in the soul—while Shakti’s cosmic energy is that which metaphorically takes Shiva by the hand and creates everything. This body-negation has been common in India since ancient times and is. or posture yoga. Ecstatic dancing and spiritual longing were also integral parts of some forms of yoga. including Vivekananda. there is consciousness. is not just to attain control of the body. everything is interconnected. desires and needs. he said. he or she seeks samadhi. or paramatman. Where there is consciousness. most notably Bhakti Yoga. In other words. or spiritual union—the union between the human soul. or jivatman. says Tantra— in the body. two dualistic sides of the nondual oneness of Brahma. is reached when the mind is free of thoughts. Ultimately. Metaphorically. due to the influence of Vedanta. there is energy. This ancient Tantric concept of yoga appeals to my contemporary.the wisdom of yoga 103 philosophy. some forms viewed the body as divine. While Patanjali’s philosophy was dualistic. But that’s not always the case. Not all yogis have viewed the body in the same positive light as Tantra. yoga has expressed itself in different ways throughout the centuries. Tantric (Shaiva) meditation practices. and also on Vedanta. which viewed the body and the world as an illusion. The goal of yoga. Tantric Yoga is therefore a practice of both earthly balance and spiritual union. others as an illusion. said Patanjali. the goal of yoga is explicitly both Spirit-centered and bodycentered. many famous modern yogis. or even sinful. First a yogi attempts to harmonize body and mind. these “opposites” are two sides of the same androgynous being. Because Shiva and Shakti are one.
in which meditation plays a minimal or non-existent part. ecstasy and otherworldly love. more attractive. These are expressions of yoga practitioners’ deep search for magic. if yoga makes me more flexible. And that is perhaps why B. kirtan artists are generally not invited. in many yoga studios flexible bodies and flexible minds are fusing into spiritual union and oneness. The intertwined distinctions they made between body. For them. more relaxed. With the help of poets and translators like Coleman Barks. Iyengar. a beautiful. S. In other words. for example. more beautiful. K. more powerful. has exploded in popularity and multiplicity in recent years in the US and Europe. Krishna Das and Wah! combine the sacredly inward with the beat-savvy outward rhythms of both East and West. where kirtan artists such as Jai Uttal. the medieval mystic Rumi is now a bestselling poet among yogis in America. so that I can be more efficient. But in studios where there is a clear focus on yoga as a fitness exercise. The physical exercises are part of a nested continuum. why ask for more? Why ask for more. Yes. The body is thus a springboard from which a self-inspired and sustainable spirit can soar. Many of the fitness yogis and yoginis of today may not see it the same way. Meditation practice and classes on yoga ethics are also becoming an integral part of an increasing number of yoga teachers’ offerings. This new Hatha Yoga tradition. The goal of yoga’s physical exercises in Tantra.104 sacred body. This type of body-focused posture yoga has its roots in the tradition developed about a hundred years ago by Krishnamacarya. healthy body and an alert mind is more likely the main goal. said that he wished he had started to meditate when he was younger. however. did indeed ask for more. the modern Hatha Yoga master par excellence. mind and spirit is a brilliant insight of yoga practice and philosophy. not at sixty-plus. who mixed ancient yoga with modern gymnastics. from body to mind to spirit. That’s why it was emphasized in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika that Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga should be practiced hand in hand. sacred spirit expressions are bursting out of yoga studios. Yoga teaches us that any improvement on the physical or mental . if the body simply is a springboard from which a dazzlingly successful me will ascend? Many of the yogis of old. was to create a healthy body and mind and thus a conducive environment for spiritual practice—for meditation.
Tantra has attempted a different approach. The body will finally age. Because. both the inner and outer world. says this wise poet of ecstasy: “There is a subtle truth: whatever you love. can never be ultimately fulfilling. I am divine. that perfect body will never quite be perfect enough. some yogis of old were as extremely bodynegative as many of today’s yogis are extreme in their hedonistic body positivity. harmoniums and tablas are placed before outstretched yoga mats. will keep us more balanced. Keeping this perspective in our mind. So let these questions linger: Why do yoga? For the body? For the mind? For the soul? For the whole being? Whatever our answer. I am not this mind. and will always leave us shortchanged. there is nothing new under the yogic sun. Ayurvedic massage and herbs are integral healing modalities of many yoga studios. our practice will reflect it. In other words. both Shakti and Shiva. there is a lack of ecology. It may start to ache. our talk and our walk. more authentically yogi-like—both on and off the mat.the wisdom of yoga 105 levels can never be perfect. it is indeed important to know what you want. These are all signs of a holistic tapestry being woven together from all the integrated strands of wisdom yoga can offer. truth be also told. subterranean flow of yogic wisdom and practice. you are. Some are even dusting off Krishna’s urging by doing selfless service or social change activities. the spiritual yogi would say. and has often walked that fine balance beautifully by embracing both body and soul. like a silent mantra behind silent lips. I am That. our lifestyle. Truth is.” . Many yoga teachers end their classes with at least rudimentary forms of meditation. As Rumi says. The physical realm of our existence is indeed limited. In yoga studios all over the world. I am not this body. of balance in each of these approaches. In that regard. Behind the sensuous gloss on the covers of today’s yoga magazines. in the cult of the Yoga Journal body-sculpting women as well as in the body-negating cult of yogis who deny the body through their sickly display of atrophying arms or legs. both Prakriti and Purusha. more honest. I do see some glimpses of the deeper. But. Disease may come.
this path of calm. and it has a cause to bring about its end. This path of discernment. is simply this: to teach us “that all forms of clinging create suffering. bliss. traditionally considered nondualist. I will introduce three distinct and influential philosophical paths within traditional yoga philosophy. or dvaita. .. Yet. or advaita. Tantra instructs us that the practice of yoga reveals feelings of joy. Buddha said that suffering exists. traditionally considered a dualist school of yoga. which. it has an end. focused discrimination is different from the path of celebratory union. whose life’s goal is to end suffering. freedom. or mayavada (the doctrine of illusion/only Brahma/God is real). love. how much money we make. or the ecstatic Kali-worshiping Tantra of Ramakrishna. achieves enlightenment through detachment leading to transcendental absorption. as we will see.106 sacred body. While Buddhism emphasizes suffering. A yogi. awe. see all as one. but just for the sake of limited space and the topic of this essay. there are many more.” However. the path of sacred embrace as emphasized in the heart-centered Bhakti Yoga of Kabir. wholeness. oneness. not all paths of yoga puts so much emphasis on the avoidance of attachment and of suffering. While doing so. according to Michael Stone. They have much more in common than not. Adi Shankara’s Vedanta. etc. author of the insightful and very readable The Inner Tradition of Yoga. expansion. Brief outline of three traditional paths of yogic enlightenment: Patanjali’s Yoga. it has a cause. Krishna’s sublime stories in the Gita are also about a different mind-set: to see all as love. while all paths of yoga teaches us about the futility of attachments to our ego: the way our body looks. embrace all as sacred. we will look at each philosophy’s unique way to uncover the essence of yoga. sacred spirit Three Ways to Enlightenment In reality. perhaps as many as there are yogis. how big/small our nose is. all yogic paths are intertwined like threads in a meditation rug.
are practiced widely among all yogic traditions. but more appropriately a nondualistic-dualistic-nondualist philosophy bridging the philosophical dichotomy between Patanjali Yoga and Vedanta. he again built upon the works of the ancient Vedic and Tantric (Shaiva) sages of the past. it is because Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras follow and expand upon the tradition of the incredibly sophisticated philosophy of Kapila’s Samkhya. While Patanjali followed in the footsteps of Kapila. Hence.” especially in East and South India. and he was known as a fierce debater and logician. he advanced his own philosophical school. for example. and the Shiva Samhitas. Shankara was a Shiva Tantric and presumed to be the founder of Vedanta (see Georg Feuerstein’s The Yoga Tradition ) who followed in the footsteps of Patanjali. . studying the detailed and logical cosmology of Samkhya philosophy is exceedingly instructive. These yogis hailed from a fertile Tantric tradition that in many ways was distinctly non-Vedic and perhaps reached as far back into antiquity as five thousand years before Christ. in true Indian tradition. after its founder Kapila. traditionally nondualist. to indicate its link to early Shaivism (followers of Shiva) or ancient Tantra. the Upanishads. Patanjali Tantra. who wrote the Hatha Yoga texts dedicated to Shiva. In other words. Most all of the meditation teachings outlined in the Yoga Sutras. which is also the philosophical foundation of Ayurveda. there are many more integrating similarities.” or “Siddha medicine. Samkhya is also sometimes referred to as Kapila’s Tantra. those naked sadhus who penned the textbook Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The Natha Tantrics of the Middle Ages.the Tantras. and the Tantric sages of the middle ages. When referred to as Samkhya. But. and Ayurveda is also characterized as “Tantric medicine. the Bhagavad Gita. while there are distinct differences between these important schools and practices. to deeply understand the principles of both Ayurveda and yoga. Patanjali Yoga and Tantra The Classical Yoga of Patanjali is in traditional India also referred to as Patanjali Samkhya. Likewise. This is not accidental. often debating Buddhist monks.the wisdom of yoga 107 Tantra. India’s yoga-based medical system. or Raja Yoga. followed in the footsteps of an old oral tradition in part recorded in the Puranas. or advaita-dvaita-advaita. Samkhya is also termed Tantra Shaivism.
through skillful separation of . Yoga. of the unification of life. according to Stone. and meditation. etc. The yogi’s delusion according to Patanjali is the preoccupation with the world. and others. in his dualistic view of realty. the final absorption in the Self. Patanjali encourages the yogi. Rather his way to liberation and enlightenment is to escape suffering via discernment. the body. the senses. myths and meanings as numerous and colorful as the patterns in an Indian sari. breathing exercises and meditation to reach samadhi. introspection. by following the eight limbs of yoga. Thus. Satyananda Sarasvati. it is evidently not a yoga of union. we have lost nothing and gained everything with such an attitude. sacred spirit This potpourri of ideas and practices spawned a plethora of philosophical sub-schools and traditions with names and founders. practices. to disengage and withdraw from the world through ethical behavior. but the recognition. The false identification with the world is the allure that draws the yogi away from the inner world of the one true Self. Patanjali draws a distinct separation between the Self and the nonself.” A yogi on Patanjali’s path gradually discover a deeper recognition of the inner Self. The opposite reality of the Self is the World (Prakrti) with all its numerous physical and mental manifestations.108 sacred body. Let us take a brief look at these three schools: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras Patanjali’s philosophy (approximately 200 BCE) recognizes the Self (Purusha) as a transcendental. study. [union] would not even make any sense. Yoga. according to Stone.” he writes. is not an act of unity. “means that everything is interdependent… not something we seek outside ourselves or a willful attempt at union. Lalan Prasad Singh. in the present moment. all these schools are in essence Tantric. which strictly separates the transcendental Self from Nature and its products. all-pervading entity and as a state of mind actualized by a self-realized yogi. quite the opposite of what Patanjali intended. and eventually realizes.” For yoga philosopher and psychologist Michael Stone. This turns yoga into a “willful activity. Patanjali did not promote union with the Self through longing and heart-centered worship or meditation as in Bhakti or Tantra Yoga. postures. This is how yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein reads him: “Given Patanjali’s dualist metaphysics. but according to Anandamurti.
personal meditation practice. Hence. was a follower Shiva. He believed in Nirguna Brahma. A competent teacher who can impart the practical lessons of pratyahara (sense withdrawal). many think of him as the most brilliant philosopher. dharana (concentration) and dhyana (focused flow) is thus essential in order to develop a daily. the doctrine of illusion. in his insightful gifts of philosophical detail on the path of discerning what the Self is not. leads to nonduality and enlightenment. in the history of Indian thought. or practioner of Tantra who. the path of duality. Advaita Vedanta Shankara. not with the worldly. Moreover. atman (individual self ) and Brahma. thirty-two-year-old life. In Swami Vivekananada (18631902) we witness a modern exponent of Vedanta and simultaneously a . and he promoted Gunanvita Mayavada. The strength and beauty of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras lies.the wisdom of yoga 109 truth from untruth. pranayama (breathing exercises). Because of his philosophical unification of two seemingly disparate philosophical concepts. or Shankaracharya (approximately 800 AD). a kind of St. was a Shaiva Tantrika. Unlike Patanjali. Shankara was a great logician and traveled throughout India teaching his new doctrine. he managed to unite the various Hindu sects and to greatly reduce the influence of Buddhism in India. This process toward enlightenment according to Patanjali does not occur through union. the spatial-temporal world is an illusion. jivo brahmaiva na parah Brahma is the only truth. Thomas of Aquinas. or the physical world. or Purusha only. the Yoga Sutras’ contemplative stanzas and practical insights about meditation are an integral part of many yogis’ daily practices both on and off the cushion/mat. Shankara’s doctrine was summed up in the following sutra: Brahma satyam jagat mithya. Shankara taught the practices of kundalini yoga and the esoteric science of mantra meditation. he did not believe in the existence of jagat. During his short. I think. The Yoga Sutras are not an instruction manual in meditation. the doctrine of emptiness. of identifying with the transcendental. however. artfully practiced. His theories are reminiscent of shunyavada in Buddhism. like many Indian ascetics. the nondual awareness of the transcendental reality. and there is ultimately no difference between Brahma and the individual self. but as a process of identity. As a Tantric yogi.
Quite tellingly. pranayama. kundalini. that embody a post-modern and integral vision. Philosopher Ken Wilber maintains that the nondualism of Tantra brings together the inseparable and eternal unity of Purusha and Prakrti in a “nondual embrace” of fundamental importance to yogic philosophy. . sacred spirit teacher following the eight-fold path of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. who epitomizes the birth of modern yoga in the world. Vivekananda. Shankara’s doctrine of illusion undoubtedly has had many negative social effects in India by enslaving people to fatalist dogmas steeped in caste. or Raja Yoga. Aurobindu called his yoga Integral Yoga and Georg Feuerstein thinks it is Aurobindo. Interestingly. The millions of “posture yogis” in the West would perhaps disagree and instead think of Krishnamacarya as a more likely candidate. chanting. scriptural study. however. was an ardent social reformer and not exactly one to act as if the world was an illusion. both greatly influenced by Patanjali and Shankara. many believe that Tantric yoga represents most all yogic practice: the science and practice of mantra. myth and oppression.110 sacred body. the essence of dualism with the essence of nondualism. when almost all of the Tantric texts dedicated to Shiva—its alleged originator and King of Yoga—were authored. This logical embrace seems to reconcile the best of Patanjali with the best of Shankara. etc—of the vast body of Indian mysticism. chakras. as opposed to the Vedic aspects—the fire rituals. we see in Vivekananda and Aurobindu a fruitful integration of the dualism of Patanjali with the non-dualism of Shankara. etc. Moreover.. it is perhaps Tantra. or Deepak Chopra—who makes a point about not being a Hindu but rather a follower of Vedanta—signifies the modern version of ancient yoga. Yet. more than any other form of yogic philosophy. more than any other yogi. we witness a modern integration reconciling the deep spiritual introspection of yogic India with western Enlightenment rationality and social reform. the oral tradition of Tantra is a relative latecomer in India and is associated with the “Tantric Renaissance” of the Middle Ages. in giant personalities like Vivekananda and Aurobindu (1872-1950). In other words. Tantra If the Vedanta of Vivekananda. asanas. Written down as philosophy. dhyan.
Thus speaks Tantra.” The challenge for the dualist. and that all is real. Dualism is part of realizing non-dualism. this impossibly tongue-tied philosophical vision we may call nondualistic-dualistic-nondualism. For Tantra. the flesh is hedonistically mistaken for Spirit and indulgence equals transcendence. we can learn from. by focusing it—Tantra Yoga unifies the seemingly disparate realities of space-time and the transcendental Reality. A Common Philosophical Weave The truth is.” In other words. all of these philosophical yogic paths into our own. we cannot practice the yoga of nondualism in the first place. Hence the use of will. like Krishna in the Gita. we need to employ our will at almost every turn of the way in life. I humbly bow to the rich inner wisdom of all three paths. Tantra unifies the duality of Patanjali with the nonduality of Vedanta. (Indeed. is to let go of the mind and also to perceive the world openly through the heart. I am always unified with That. And rest . Thus all three visions are balanced and interconnected. love. Tantra. therefore anything goes. therefore. therefore any behavior is spiritual behavior. and Consciousness made the world. Without a body. are not at all contradictory to Tantra. That is. and integrate. lest we become lazy deadbeats. on the other hand. To free oneself from the idea that “I am enlightened just because I think I am. “By unifying the mind—that is. Purusha and Prakrti. as we see in so many neo-Tantric circles. truly two aspects of the same Transcendental Consciousness. without experiencing separation and longing. The biggest challenge for the followers of Vedanta is perhaps to avoid confusing the intellectual understanding of nonduality with the actual experience of it. discernment. Tantra seems to bridge the contradictions between Vedanta’s the-world-is-an-illusion theory with Patanajali’s the-world-is-a-distraction philosophy by exclaiming that both the world and Spirit are Brahma. perhaps the biggest challenge is the idea that. Although I personally favor Tantra.the wisdom of yoga 111 According to Feuerstein. the practice of observation. instructs us: I am That. since Spirit is everywhere.) Each aspect of reality complements each other in a cosmic embrace of spiritual union. these universal opposites of Spirit and flesh are truly one in Brahma. I am Consciousness.
The inner spirit of these three paths to enlightenment is perhaps most beautifully summed up in the koan-like words of the great nondual sage Ramana Maharishi: The world is illusory. Both we and the world are physically and spiritually vibrant. the rope for a snake. and life’s lessons do indeed become fleeting and illusory. Nor is the world an illusion. Brahma alone is real. We exist in this world. nor does it have to be a trap of the flesh.112 sacred body. real and present in all our glory. just like the breath of the sacred is inherent in all of us. All of the time! Yet. . enlightenment is inherent in all of them. We are not an illusion. sacred spirit assured. when we are trapped in the world. we mistake the unreal for the real. Brahma is the world.
the wisdom of yoga
What is Rajadhiraja Yoga?
Never heard of Rajadhiraja Yoga before? You are not alone. Up until a few years ago, I had not heard of it either, even though I had been practicing it for quite a while. If you’ve heard of Raja Yoga—Vivekananda and many other great yogis’ term for the Asthanga Yoga of Patanjali—you are half way there. As you know, Raja Yoga means the Yoga of Kings, or the Royal Path. And Rajadhiraja Yoga simply means the Royal’s Royal Path. It simply implies a more subtle, more internalized path of meditational yoga. If you meditate using concentration and a mantra, you might even practice part of it. Rajadhiraja Yoga is part of the practice of pranayama (breathing exercise), for example. But it differs from Hatha Yoga pranayama. Suppose you practice pranayama concentrating on your breath but without the use of a mantra. That’s Hatha Yoga pranayama. However, if you practice pranayama with your breath, the use of a mantra, and simultaneously concentrate on a chakra, as well as on the meaning of the mantra, all in one synchronized flow, that is Rajadhiraja Yoga. Sounds like a complicated practice. But so is playing the guitar, until, that is, you become proficient in improvising and getting your ego-mind out of the way, and let yourself flow. In other words, in Rajadhiraja Yoga we use the body and its energies (proper seat, or asana, and breathing), as well as the mind, for transmutation and transcendence into the realm of Spirit. So, in relation to Asthanga Yoga and its eight limbs, when you practice pranayama according to the principles of Rajadhiraja Yoga, you employ asana (sitting pose) pranayama (breath), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), and dhyana (spontaneous flow meditation). In other words, you practice five of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Asthanga Yoga. Even six, if you have an experience of samadi. Can you do all that while practicing one yoga posture after another in a studio together with thirty other fast-moving-and-breathing Hatha Yoga bodies? Only in theory. But in real life it’s not that simple; at least not if you want to experience the full benefit of the practice.
sacred body, sacred spirit
One will definitely benefit both mentally and spiritually by internalizing one’s posture practice through focus on the breath or a mantra in class or at home, as many yogis do, but such exercises (japa kriya) do not give you the same benefits or the same experiences as a deep Rajadhiraja Yoga practice while sitting in lotus or half lotus in deep silence. There is a reason why corpse pose is practiced lying down instead of standing; there is also a reason why meditation is practiced in certain asana positions—simply to enhance the full benefits of the practice. In traditional yoga, time is divided between posture yoga practice, as in Hatha Yoga, and sitting-still-meditation practice, as in the meditation practices of Asthanga Yoga, Raja Yoga and Rajadhiraja Yoga. For the yogis of old, there was a time and place for various kinds of practice. Mixing everything up, or just sample different techniques from the vast smorgasbord of yoga, like we often do today, will not, according to traditional yoga, give all the body-mind-spirit benefits yoga has to offer. In other words, Hatha Yoga, or posture practice, prepares the physical, energetic and mental bodies for the inner transformation that takes place during spiritual meditation in Asthanga Yoga and Rajadhiraja Yoga. An aching, stiff, or tense body is not conducive for deep meditation. Nor is a mind going wild on multiple cups of coffee or being frazzled from too many rapid, diverse and heated yoga movements over an extended period of time. However, deep yoga practices such as Rajadhiraja Yoga are often able to contain the paradoxes of the body and the mind. Aging and aching bodies, as well as our restless minds can, with the power of yoga, be trained by the power of the body and mind and then transcended by the spaciousness of Spirit. In other words, we exercise the body to relax, to detoxify, to become flexible, to enable it to endure. Therefore posture practice is a great aid for meditation. Sometimes, though, in deep contemplation, an experienced meditator may not notice that the legs have fallen asleep or that the left knee is aching. But after meditation, he or she is reminded that the body could benefit from a detox, a knee massage and a more regular or particular asana practice. When we slow down at the end of posture practice and end in corpse pose; when we get up and chant before meditation; when we induce wholeness and stillness and the mental space necessary for the sense withdrawal in pratyahara, and when we, in sequential fashion, bring the
the wisdom of yoga
mind into its own essential stillness in harmony with the breath, and when we focus in on a chakra, the mantra and its spiritual meaning, then we practice Rajadhiraja. All in one beautiful flow. So, who developed Rajadhiraja Yoga, and how old is it? Maharishi Astavakra, while living at Vakreshvar (a place of pilgrimage in India), introduced Rajadhiraja Yoga and gave the first initiation in that school to a young prince named Alarka. This likely occurred some time before Patanjali (200 BCE). In other words, Rajadhiraja Yoga is at least 2200 years old and forms the basis of the subtler, meditational aspects of Asthanga Yoga as well as the many schools of Yoga and Tantra that preceded Patanjali. As an historical aside, it is interesting to note that asta means “eight,” as in the eight limbs of Asthanga Yoga. Legend has it that Astavakra received this name because his body was crippled in eight places. May Astavakra’s crippled body inspire us to overcome our own physical and mental limitations and challenges, as he overcame his own, and brilliantly conceived a form of nondual yoga that gains transformational insights from the dualistic paradoxes of life. Like so many other forms of Yoga, Rajadhiraja Yoga grew out of the ancient practices of Shiva Tantra. Shiva is, after all, considered the King of Yoga in India, and Shaivism or Tantra is the trunk that so many branches of yoga stem from, including Hatha Yoga. In their subtle form, the practices of such meditational yoga are common in both Hindu and Buddhist Tantra. In Hindu Tantra, Buddhist Tantra, and Rajadhiraja Yoga, the concept of Paramashiva (Great Consciousness, Great Void) is recognized implicitly or explicitly. In the body-positive Rajadhiraja Yoga, as in all Tantric yoga, the body is real, the mind is real, and the spirit is real. The body and mind are thus vehicles to express and experience the Divine by transcending body-mind limitations as witnessed and experienced while in the womb of pure Sprit. This body-positive attitude is expressed in this passage from the Kularnava Tantra: “For the purpose of attaining knowledge, the virtuous person preserves the body with effort. When knowledge aims at both yoga and meditation, you will be liberated quickly.” So, the body is not viewed as sinful, limiting, or an illusion in this type of yoga practice. Nor is it simply viewed as an alluring sex symbol, as a tool of sensual attention and attraction. Rather it is viewed for what
a paradox of pain. grace. Pain and illness can give us as much insight as grace and beauty. No matter what our body looks like. it is the temple we have been gifted—a temple in which we may practice the silence of deep meditation. and all paradoxical realities can become a sacred vehicle for grounding and transformation. . sacred spirit it is. limitation and beauty. a fit and beautiful body is not a goal in itself. the translucent source of joy and peace in life. While a crippled body is no limitation for enlightenment.116 sacred body.
spiritual meaning and significance of this ancient Sanskrit word? And does it mean the same for everybody? Most often. who wrote that ultimate hipster book The Dharma Bums. a language that can bring us beyond dogmatic differences. how is it possible that my yoga dharma—which I don’t even think of as a religion but instead of as a spiritual path—can be the same as your Buddhist dharma? Or even your Christian dharma? And does it really matter? Can’t we just celebrate the diversity of religions. wars with both words and swords. spiritual term thrown around by yogis for a while. But what really is the inner. then wars break out. Eśa dhamma sanantana. And. because as long as I insist that my belief is different. practice and dogma. means to live according to one’s religion. But since religions differ in so many fundamental ways. frankly. we need to do better than that. we think of the word dharma. while completing his teachings. it is said. We need to find a common ground. When people’s religions. And soon the religious blood starts to flow. or dhamma in Pali. when fundamentalist religions are threatening our safety and sanity.the wisdom of yoga 117 What the Bleep is Dharma? You’ve heard this hip. as pertaining to the teachings of the Buddha. a perennial wisdom that can unify us beyond religious difference. people’s dharmas are threatened. at this time in the evolution of humanity. “This is the eternal dharma. or to live according to universal law. You’ve heard it thrown around by Buddhists the likes of Jack Kerouac. And we’ve been in deep trouble for too long. You’ve likely even used it yourself. remarked. or religion. that we come to some common understanding of what spirituality.” To live according to dharma. I think. or dharma is. or worse—better than yours—then we’re in deep trouble. of our spiritual points of view? Can’t we just agree to disagree? It matters. or to Hinduism in the teachings of the Vedas. The Buddha. But is that possible? We have already seen that representatives of both Yoga and Buddhist dharma have the ability to speak a language of freedom and universal unity. .
every idea of God. as each is but a different stage in the journey….118 sacred body. sex and freedom from fear. that each religion share kindness and care toward other human beings as a common goal. universal. with Spirit. the world’s earliest sacred scripture stated: Ekam sat vipra bahauda vadanti. mainly by satisfying our hedonistic needs for food. the dharma or path of spirituality. property. to seek happiness. sacred spirit Vivekananda. the nature or property of a fish to swim. He said: “The idea of an objective God is not untrue—in fact. mainly through our simple needs of the flesh. our animal dharma. But what is the nature or property of a human being? To seek pleasure. through these limited means? How can sexual satisfaction give us the ultimate high. through limited means. our dharma is the search for spiritual happiness. spoke about religious universalism. the first Indian yogi to come to the West. for God. whose dharma is easily fulfilled (just look at your dog. Because we cannot satisfy an unlimited need for pure awareness. to seek enlightenment! Unlike plants and animals. with the Void. Hence. spiritual truth. or your cat!). But how can we satisfy our cosmic needs for enlightenment. we are following svabhavik dharma. our infinite needs for union with God. the path of the real human dharma. What does it actually mean? The word dharma actually means “nature.” Hence we can say that it is the nature or property of a flame to burn. Because our need is greater than that of a plant or a dog. our ultimate freedom from samsara? It cannot. If we seek that ultimate happiness the way animals do. is true. which we approach in so many different ways and give so many different names. say the sages of the old and new age. for the Void. our human dharma is more expansive: we want unlimited pleasure. unlimited happiness. we . Hence. for Cosmic Consciousness. the Rig Veda. and hence every religion. there is also something called Bhagavat (great) dharma in yoga. But back to the word dharma. which means. whose dharma it is to follow the simple laws of nature. for I think it contains a clue to our real spiritual commonality. there’s only one common.” In other words.” And if we venture even further into India’s past. law. for enlightenment. “to what is One. The Dalai Lama says that compassion is that which unites all religions. and thus the dharma of water to flow. the sages give many names. that cosmic realization of our true Self.
Likewise. Boston University religion scholar Stephen Prothero. spoke to the common spiritual heart of both the Hindu and Muslim faiths. chant. That’s why we write love poetry to God all night. or dhamma. the well-known philosopher of religions. protests this notion that all religions share a fundamental goal. Enlightenment is one for all. The Buddhists call this path simply dharma. And Huston Smith. I know. even our final goal is different. And he was a Christian! The fourteenth-century Indian poet-guru Kabir. But I do not think so. we seek the great dharma. author of God is Not One. that both yogis and Buddhists share the same goal. share the same dharma. I can hear the voices of protest: our paths are so different. Huston Smith is wrong.” The trails converge because human nature. “A cleareyed understanding of our religious differences may be the best hope for promoting cooperation among different religions. found enough common evidence among the world’s mystics to declare that there is a perennial wisdom river that runs through all religions. too many philosophical and ritualistic divergences that do not converge in the same dharmic sea. who sought illumination in both psychedelics and yoga. And that is both the problem and the solution. said: “It is possible to climb life’s mountain from any side. our name for that ultimate state of enlightenment may be different. he says. That’s why we dance and whirl as if we’re perfectly and wildly free. but the ultimate goal is not different. Aldous Huxley. our practices may be different. There are too many differences among us.the wisdom of yoga 119 seek ultimate freedom. And that is our common dharma. I think it is fair to say. That’s why we pray. meditate. “The fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same. but when the top is reached the trails converge.” .’ said the seventeenth-century visionary poet William Blake. Prothero also contradicts Swami Sivananda. while fiercely anchored in yogic practice. Our language may be different. then. One river that ends in the same universal sea.” writes religion writer Don Harper. who said. prostrate. share the same desire for enlightenment! Yes. breathe slowly through one nose at a time. But not so fast you say. do yoga. human dharma is the same: to satisfy our inner thirst for illumination. I agree. “All religions are one.
And if dharma represents natural law. Because there is both unity and diversity in nature. but it is untrue. on the inside both nests are round and whole. Dharma is yes/and. our differences.120 sacred body. and dangerous. the nondual grace of Pure Consciousness.” He thinks that the only way towards cooperation is by understanding our diversity. sacred spirit To which Prothero replies. Dharma is not either/or. . Or think of it as a dharmic nest. I agree. the two wings of the dharmic bird are called unity and diversity. While the sticks used to build my yogic dharma may point in quite different directions than those used to build your Buddhist dharma. “This is a lovely sentiment. On the inside they both hold and support the nondual grace of the Void. We need to see and promote both universal unity and tolerance. I agree with both Huston Smith and Stephen Prothero. disrespectful.
Part Four The Spirit of Practice: Yoga and Tantra in Daily Life .
these words are important reminders for living life between the meditation sittings. The Power of Now we achieve while sitting in meditation is often incredibly blissful. But they do not take me to that deep space of Now in the same way my meditation practice does. for any book. is a personal technique. definitely more blissful than music. art. not even Eckhart Tolle’s. where all the stuff you’ve been . Like a silent symphony. What’s missing in Tolle’s book. a personal method as simple and transformative as those meditation techniques invented in India thousands of years ago. is “transformative. nor even spiritually insightful. I love the legendary little book by the famous. for me. The Power of Now. from our rear ends all the way up our spiritually inclined. What Eckhart Tolle has given us are wise words on pages of bestselling paper.The Power of Sitting Now Like so many other spiritual seekers. sex—and definitely longer lasting. that practice.” What this wiseass Zen monk means is that meditation—not the listening-to-relaxing-music-kind. But I love my daily meditation practice even more than the beautiful and wise words in Tolle’s book. Into that space where heart and mind may act in one harmonious flow. but the kind that’s designed for spiritual transformation—stirs things up. and this kind of transformation can get messy. Spiritual practice. And I would not exchange that experience. For me. for me. Because spiritual work—such as sitting on a cushion repeating a mantra tied to the sonic tune of our silent breath and concentrating on a chakra tied to the sonic tune of our even more transcendent soul—is not always spiritually blissful. The Sanskrit term for this is clusterfuck. kundalini climbing spines. he wrote. and. An angry and very articulate Zen monk perceptively wrote about this in an article in Buddhadharma magazine. Eckhart Tolle. But not always. contemporary German-Canadian spiritual teacher. It often creates the perfect little teacup of a storm in your head and heart. My sitting practice gives me each day a direct pathway into my own heart and mind. and which each day enables so many of us to feel the Power of Now.
” But if you want more? Then you must face your lousy karma. Then you may say to yourself. untold fears. day in and day out. and secret desires. why so many leave the practice. Meditation practice was. finally seek a therapist. you may decide to discontinue the practice. or more philosophically correct. introverted soul. you may not be prepared to face it. all the repressed. All those three. Bad news about your self-esteem. In other words. pick up yet another copy of a self-help book. more centered. or a therapist. your family. the armor of the ego. sacred spirit repressing your whole life (and from many other lives) may suddenly come floating up to the surface of your dark. the armor of the false you. In modern lingo those devils are simply all the bad news you see on your ego-screen while meditating. or simply continue your less psychologically confrontational Hatha Yoga practice with renewed inspiration and vigor. your relationship. repressed angers. invented. And that’s one important reason why I think so many people find it hard to sit in meditation. not for psychological sissies. These physical and psychological imprints are stored in your pain body. the messy psychological stuff our armor is built of is our samskaras. “This is really all the yoga I need. psychological imprints from past actions and experiences.and ten-headed “devils” the Buddha faced under the bodhi tree before his final enlightenment—and we must face the same psychological demons. Freud had it almost right. your job. your diet. You have certainly heard stories about how meditation makes you calmer. And. and through sitting . Unresolved and unfinished psychological business. Transformative meditation is. in part. a few months or years before it really gets to be transformative and truly and totally fulfilling. the armor of the body. unconscious material Freud said we invented religion in order to escape. In yogic and Sanskrit terminology. therefore. not to escape something. It takes courage to face and contemplate all the creepy demons suddenly let loose from the inside out. But did anybody tell you this peaceful experience sometimes is just the calm before the perfect psychological storm? When this inferno suddenly hits your conscious mind. All those contemporary devils we all know too well. Our hush-hush family traumas. surround ourselves with. your life in general.124 sacred body. head on. According to yoga. according to Eckhart Tolle. as well. your marriage. since spiritual meditation practice comes without a psychology degree. the armor we. to transform the sludge of our repressed samskaras. your lousy samskaras. but to transform something.
Once we train the mind to see the body as the body. Again and again. We are truly in the Power of Now. a natural outcome is being honest about what we see. to be with the breath without distraction. what many also call bliss. lust. Or whatever other dysfunctional malady you may suffer from. Hence. and it can be the moment of madness. As yoga teacher and psychotherapist Michael Stone says: “This takes us to one of the simplest aspects of practice: being honest. watery ocean of our being. impatience. Hence. the apt term “the enlightened neurotic. with ethical work (yama and niyama). in love. This unconscious sludge is now expressed with renewed energy in the form of anger. with service and activism.” Often we don’t see who we really are because we are so wrapped up in the image of ourselves colored by our mental imprints. jealousy. it can be the moment of wisdom. and to stay present even during difficult mental and physical states. truthful. Therefore it’s a good idea to combine cushion practice with mat practice. longest (and blissful) Now Moments of your life. our spouses. in union. the meditation practice stirs it all up and makes it all visible to ourselves. irritability. important. is a state where there is no need to resolve the contradictions of our life. . our friends. with devotional practice (kirtan). Simply sitting on the cushion is not enough. greed. But not so fast. But one thing is for certain. We are then in that state where everything begins and everything ends. This state of inner union or wholeness that comes with prolonged meditation practice. More visible than ever before. we may think of meditation mantras as microbe-eating organisms that dissolve the oily sludge from the inner. To paraphrase the famous sage and muckraker Charles Dickens: meditation can be the best of times. Meditation helps us to gradually gain the insight that being in the Now is a condition of freedom beyond contradictions and limitations. our samskaras. beyond our samskaras. Before the sludge particles are dissolved for good.” Spiritual practice and spiritual growth does not always equal psychological growth. in wholeness. because all opposites have already been solved. Our whole being must be engaged and transformed. It’s also a good idea to combine meditation with psychological work. our co-workers. in bliss. it can be one of the most honest. it can be the worst of times. if practiced properly and diligently.the spirit of practice 125 practice to dissolve this syrupy mess from our emotionally stuck hearts and soul.
He knew that some of the foreign yogic monks in training had stayed a few weeks past their visa status. which also hails from the ancient laws of Manu. according to custom are not allowed to remarry but must instead lead the life of an ascetic. According to an age-old custom. “or we will banish you from the family forever. the Tantric tradition as taught by Anandamurti does not uphold the unjust caste system. His family’s dogma walked over his yoga and forced him to abide by medieval customs akin to slavery. The only time he appeared at the ashram after that episode was as an immigration informer. throw themselves on their dead husband’s funeral pyre.” they threatened him. sacred spirit The Yoga of Fierce Enlightenment When I was living in Nepal. India and Nepal are complex places. a Nepali shopkeeper. who. upheld by Vedic cultural injunctions—and even supported by most Indian yogis—still maintain their outdated stranglehold on Indian and Nepali society. many such widows live in ashrams plagued by corruption and exploitation and some of them end up as prostitutes. A similar tradition. he vanished without a trace. In order to receive the teachings he had to cut his Brahmin tread. thus my friend had to give up his white “sacred thread. Acarya Sumitrananda. or lead a life of self-denial. as revenge for his Tantric troubles. he helped the immigration authorities arrest these Western yogis so they could be deported. Both religiously and culturally. philosophical sophistication and deep ethics live . Unlike in the Vedic tradition. These arcane and inhuman cultural customs. Indian widows had three options: to marry their husband’s younger brother.” the main visible sign of his high caste status. “You will remain an upper caste Brahmin. one of my best friends. Unlimited freedom. he decided to keep his white cotton thread as a symbol of his superior status in Hindu society. A few days after his initiation. I learned he had been abducted by his family.126 sacred body. As portrayed in the film Water by Deepa Mehta. So.” With his religious tail between his legs. was initiated on the Tantric path of yoga by my teacher. is reflected in the treatment of Indian widows. Some months later.
He called these unions “revolutionary marriages. He talked about the earth belonging to us all—not just all humans. he upset many . but also to animals and plants. stood up for these down trodden masses in India. But spiritual teachers in India are not supposed to talk about such subversive topics. Moreover. He talked about sharing the wealth. Anandamurti. As a result. a few brave souls have. or removal of rubbish.the spirit of practice 127 side-by-side with cruel bondages and outdated dogmas. and Mahavira. All in the name of the Hindu caste system. of course. You may. Dalits are still segregated and banned from full participation in Hindu social life. latrines. like so many holy men do to this day. about 1/7 of the population. Dalits also work as manual laborers cleaning streets. He called this concept neohumanism—the love for all beings. animal carcasses and waste. but which still is widely practiced and is still silently supported by yogis from many traditions. butchering. This plight effects over 160 million people in India. My own spiritual teacher. Historically. They are supposed to sit peacefully counting the beads on their prayer malas. and enslaved by men—but without any consequence. walk around naked in ashes. the founder of the Jain religion. including the famous poet Kabir. Dalits have historically been associated with “impure” occupations such as leatherwork. however. Engaging in these activities is considered to be polluting and contagious. thousands of intellectuals and government officials started to embrace his subversive teachings. and are often required to stay outside the village. Hence. but you may not practice your yoga freely for fear that your family will disown you. Not surprisingly. She especially talks about the women. who are often beaten. the enlightened Buddha. for example. and about instituting a maximum wage. a Dalit woman—a casteless person at the bottom of the Indian social pyramid—tells the story of her people. and sewers. openly inspired people in the sixties to marry across caste boundaries. not just a minimum wage. This point is powerfully illustrated in the beautifully shot documentary Fierce Light by Velcro Ripper. In this film. They may not enter a temple or a school. raped. He talked about “cosmic property” as opposed to private property. My guru also advocated economic change.” These radical “love marriages” across class and caste boundaries upset a lot of important people in India. which has been officially outlawed since Mahatma Gandhi’s time. crossing the shadow of a Dalit may pollute the soul of a Brahmin.
in spiritual sádhaná.” Anandamurti. In service of the sacred. and only this is worth calling dharma. and too often we remain silent about the slavery of religious dogma. We often remain silent about the insidious slavery of caste. familiar story. As long as we emphasize the . stated that he was only motivated by the love of justice and truth. thus. I urge you to let him know that you do not accept this thinly disguised thread of caste difference. These attorneys called his trial “politically motivated. The great sacred activist. free of all charges. it is still very prevalent in India. It is hidden among us yogis. Finally. stand up with the force of fierce enlightenment. on the other hand. he was imprisoned on false charges for nearly eight years. This is an old. race. but we hear very little about Hindu fundamentalism. the homeland of yoga. he was finally released in August of 1978. sacred spirit people in high and important places. By accentuating these differences. In the words of Anandamurti: “The ritualistic differences in various religions are quite marked. in yogi-like fashion. Indeed. because the very characteristic of dharma is to promote the cause of welfare. was burned at the stake by the Catholic Church in the year 1600 for being both a devotional mystic and a rational scientist. we must stand up. medieval and even contemporary people have not hesitated to cause heavy bloodshed. there is no place for the differences in nationality. However. We must speak up against such injustices.” In these words. Religion and intolerance have created enormous harm in the world. With the help of Amnesty International and attorneys from Europe and Canada. language. Everyone has a singular dharma named spirituality.” We must distinguish between spiritual practice (dharma) and the dogmatic rituals in various religions. Giordano Bruno. He did not want religious dogmas to hold his inner visions and convictions in rusty chains of superstition. He believed this truth to be so forcefully evident that he let himself be consumed by the flames of religious hatred. Not surprisingly. Bruno also believed in reincarnation. So when you see a famous male yogi adorned with the white thread of Brahmin superiority. he died rather than giving up his spiritual freedom. my teacher reminds us that dogmatic fundamentalism is all around us. they have caused torrents of blood to stain the rivers red. in 1971. or religion.128 sacred body. We hear so much about Islamic fundamentalism. Dharma and welfare are inseparable. In the words of Anandamurti: “You will have to advance with the true spirit of genuine social service.
pressing secrets most people are afraid to talk about. Nelson Mandela was once in jail for twenty-five years for “terrorism. no to psychic bondage. So someone else’s dogma cannot crush our dharma. dharma in this way: “The most detrimental thing for human society and human progress is dogma. distrust. Dharma can outwait the dark shadows of ignorance. because our spirituality. our yoga. Yes. Writer and activist Andrew Harvey. and fundamentalism. his work is regularly featured in . my guru. Let that be the fierce fire of our yoga. where there is no support of intellectuality. Anandamurti and other revolutionary teachers echo the message of the perennial philosophy espoused by Aldous Huxley: that there is a common. irrationality. the homeland of yoga.” This universal dharma is what yoga is about. In India. Today we need a similar enlightenment coming from the East. Anandamurti. and no to injustice in the name of religion. spirituality is not dogma. people are convinced by logic. humanity will experience hatred. In the case of dharma. Giordano Bruno’s quiet bravery of embracing both spirituality and science in the face of the inquisition is proof of that.the spirit of practice 129 differences between the rituals and do not focus on the spiritual essence of our quest for truth. says that religious fundamentalism is one of the most pressing problems in the world today. Anandamurti spoke about dogma vs. was once feared as a menace to Indian society.” In other words. and people analyze and accept it after free and frank discussion…. non-dogmatic spiritual core in all religious teachings that represents humanity’s “one religion. Hence. Spirituality is dharma. What is dogma? Where there is no logic. religious dogma in the form of caste is still one of those dark. is free. we yogis should say no to dogma. We need more yogis of the East coming out of their caved closets to stand up for a similar rational enlightenment. The dark hours of the inquisition ended with the rise of Western enlightenment. where there is no debate and free discussion… genuine dharma is based on logic and supported by intellectuality. As of this writing. Dharma can outlive even the flames of the inquisition. twenty-two years after his death. who coined the phrase sacred activism.” Today he is a celebrated statesman. no to caste. when will contemporary yogis of the East have the moral courage to speak out against the outdated caste system? The perception of many historical personalities has greatly changed with the times.
linguistics.130 sacred body. . universities hold conferences discussing his contributions to economics. He has finally become a celebrated and respected renaissance man. Tantra and yoga. sacred spirit major Indian newspapers. music.
Systematized knowledge in general. 2. a belief system. But. Any of the branches of natural or physical science.” Indeed. this is what distinguishes yoga from being a religion. they subscribe to “scientism. 5. as of facts or principles.the spirit of practice 131 Is Yoga an Art. let us try to understand the meaning of the word science. 7. To them. Systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation. the dictionary does not define the word science in such a narrow way: 1. esp. knowledge gained by systematic study. or a Religion? Yoga as Science Before we take a closer look at these questions. 3. A particular branch of knowledge. a Science. science does not apply to the other branches or systems of knowledge.” the reductionist idea that science is only related to any of the branches of natural or physical sciences. The communal and personal practice of yoga for the past five to seven thousand years most certainly applies to most of these definitions. 6. reflecting a precise application of facts or principles. A branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences. proficiency. 4. yogis observed . because over thousands of years. as we shall see below. Skill. including yoga. In other words. Knowledge. Take definition number two: yoga is clearly a “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation. a dogma. Those who argue that yoga is not a science use the word science in a rather limited way.
6) a particular branch of knowledge. . Instead I was presented with a body of quite rational. you will be stronger. And millions of others have had similar experiences.” They gained all this knowledge not through belief and superstition but through systematic observation of their physical bodies and the environment.” One of the things that struck me when I first started practicing yoga and meditation was how systematic it was. you will have such and such experience. and the natural world in order to gain knowledge about the body.132 sacred body. your concentration will improve. you will be slimmer. knowledge gained by systematic study. “If you practice these kinds of exercises. and others. the medical science of yoga. animals. and if you do. systematic forms of knowledge.” These yogis also observed and documented that. proficiency. I studied Ayurveda at the California College of Ayurveda with an engineer. Through the scientific efforts of trial and error. Let us conclude by saying that yoga is also the following: 5) “Knowledge. 7) skill. you will be able to sit for a long time without discomfort during meditation. and one of his main observations was how systematic. yogis were definitely scientists. When I started practicing yoga in India. they discovered that some foods were good for contemplation. Hence. were not so good. So. In addition. sacred spirit humans. you will gain strength and stamina. rational and logical Ayurveda was. And indeed I did. more flexible. the breath. very scientific. Definition number four: yoga is part of “systematic knowledge in general. such as garlic and black tea. the senses. I was told: try this out in this and that way. especially reflecting a precise application of facts or principles. and the way certain movements effected their health and well-being. nobody told me to simply believe this or that. the ancient Hatha Yogis were scientists.” Anybody serious about their yoga practice knows quite well that yoga is all of the above. In other words. if you eat the herb ashvaganda. These sages of old said. “If you eat the herb brahmi. as of facts or principles. The same goes for Ayurveda. and best of all. yoga is very systematic. Definition number three: yoga is a “branch of natural or physical science” for basically the very same reasons as outlined above.
Yoga is an empirical path of body-mind-spirit transformation. I can think of no greater spiritual art than that image. yoga is more a science and an art than a religion. you must apply your own imagination and creativity. the science of . that pose of deep. the meditation. We can divide the Vedas into two portions: the karmakanda (ritualistic portions of the Vedas) and the jinanakanda (philosophical portions). Some people who only practice Hatha Yoga believe that the rest of yoga—the philosophy. Yoga is a Spiritual Path Yoga is not a religion. and the Brahmanas. These rituals are the yajinas. and it is also an art because in order to do it deeply and blissfully. are the deeply yogic scriptures found in the Upanishads. and they are found in the four Vedas of ancient times. Many writers on yoga say that yoga comes from the religious texts of the Vedas. Or just take a look at a Buddha statue. you can hail from any religion and still practice yoga. But that is also a limited view. while the philosophy of yoga is expressed in these more recent.the spirit of practice 133 Yoga is an Art Just take a look at ninety-three-year-old B. sensuous enlightenment. etc. the practical knowledge. Or take a look at the well known American yogi. and they contain rituals and prayers to appease the gods. The fact is. you will quickly realize it is both a science and an art. The karmakanda teachings are the oldest portions of the Vedas. Sean Corn. and we soon realize that all yogis worthy of their yogi pants are artists. The jinanakanda portion. the Bhagavad Gita. Yoga is a spiritual path. These Vedic scriptures are more recent (700 BCE or so) and are a result of a rich blend between yogic and Tantric practice and Vedic philosophy. a great artist of both body and mind. the Ayurvedic stuff—is all about religion. so-called Fifth Vedas. Why? As I demonstrated initially. S Iyengar in one of his artfully executed poses. the chakras. And if you practice meditation. Hence. But that is a limited view. No problem. Yogic meditation is a science because it was developed through repeated experimentation and observation. K. It’s that simple. or the philosophical writings of the Vedas. request a good harvest. or sacrifices—including animal sacrifices—of the Vedic priests.
meditative way. you start to experience the vast inner NOW of silence and being. The limitation with this type of pranayama. this kind of pranayama became a body-mind exercise as it balanced his prana and manipura chakra and thus his digestive system and purified his blood. To do that. No Western medical doctor. sacred spirit yoga. You become the breath of Spirit itself. and a spiritual path. with each deep breath. the so-called real scientists. itching and inflammation of the skin) by practicing this type of pranayama. belongs to the oral teachings of the yogis and the Tantrics. slowly breathe you into a state of higher consciousness. the kundalini.134 sacred body. as with all Hatha Yoga. The yogis applied the same rigorous trial and error experimentation to the practice and science of meditation as they did while developing the Hatha Yoga asanas. At least that is one of the many ways in which yogis developed meditation techniques to let us embrace the inner union with Spirit. because you ideate on going beyond the chatter of the mind. had been able to help him. at least not in a systematic. which is the goal of yoga. which makes the practice more psycho-spiritual. though. the inner breath of the spine. an art. For him. you ideate on becoming one with Spirit. yoga is all of the above: a science. And slowly. and it has many health benefits. you need to practice Raja Yoga pranayama. and these oral teachings originated thousands of years earlier. and the ideation on the meaning of the mantra. Let me explain: Hatha yoga pranayama is generally practiced without a mantra. . A friend of mine recently dramatically reduced the symptoms of a severe case of psoriasis (flaking. Hence. That is the practice of yoga as a spiritual path. is that it does not induce a deeper state of spiritual awakening and bliss. This type of pranayama is practiced with a mantra.
dusty rooms. All over India. yoga is often synonymous with posture practice. Beyond convention. these devotees are also yogis—they are yogis of the heart. a misunderstanding. however. Yoga is a yes/and lifestyle. mind-expanding. anyone from an ochre-clad Tantric to a poor. you will find bespectacled pundits leafing through his works in Sanskrit in small. who was fiercely on the guru path. today. Bhakti-singing ecstatic to someone practicing yoga in an upper class studio in New Delhi. as Kabir himself. with various forms of Hatha Yoga. Until. which. You will not find. yoga is rooted in its body practices. you will find hashish-smoking sadhus in India. But what do I mean by that? In the West. in its transcendent mental outlook. Thus. And. for some.the spirit of practice 135 Yoga: Multiple Pathways to the Path of One! Is this headline a contradiction. In its essential purity. The fearless Kabir stepped on religious dogma as if dusty dirt under his naked feet. he embraced both Islam and Hinduism. and in its inclusive spirituality. and spiritually uplifting. yoga was a deep methodology of personal transformation. you will find both Muslim and Hindu villagers singing his songs with equal amounts of devotion. a philosophically incorrect statement? Perhaps not. Yoga is bodycentered. a yogi can be anyone from a meditating swami to a ganja smoking sadhu. Yoga is not an either/or lifestyle. deeply steeped in religious tradition. Yoga is yes/and. His work was much too philosophical for that. Mirabai broke the chains of a loveless marriage and embraced her fierce love as a whirling Bhakti Yogi in her songs of longing for her beloved Krishna. Ecstatic yogis include the medieval poet iconoclasts Kabir and Mirabai. In its homeland India. For Patanjali. reciting Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras along the burning ghats of Varanasi. Thus. in its purest essence transcends both religion and dogma. people dancing and chanting in entranced inwardness to the wisdom of Patanjali’s sacred texts. the singing finally ends in an inner trance of Kevala Bhakti—when lover and . yogis of the soul sing her songs until the heart wishes their sweet weeping will never end.
focuses our intention and expands our awareness. the mind. the body is the biggest part of their ego. For the great orator. the great religion of the human spirit. except the world within. everything is Brahma. on their breath when they move. plain doing nothing. yoga was the ocean of silence within. He hardly practiced asanas beyond his meditation poses. beautifully. except. colorfully expressed in the form of an intellectually sophisticated and modern Hinduism. That is. yoga is practice for the heart. They are as much a yogi as the chillum-smoking sadhu sitting by the ever-flowing river of the Indian cultural imagination. If we practice posture yoga and our attention is both breath and body. practice with the fervor of Olympic athletes. Otherwise it is just plain doing nothing. Yoga is practice for the body. yoga is practice for the spirit. posture yogis. and the spirit. they are also yogis. Yoga is deep. In America. Swami Vivekananda. who may never have seen a live sadhu or been to India. yoga can be music. yoga can be plain sitting. and majestic meditator. He was the ultimate yogi of the I AM. both ourselves and the world. if you invoke the spirit of yoga into those prosaic moments of life. Ramana Maharishi. In that spirit. sometimes even nakedly. His spiritual realization was both a detached witness to the world and a sharp sword of discrimination that flashed like a beacon of life’s ultimate wisdom. yet they may never meditate. a practice. their body is their prayer. Yoga tones the body. And. the quiet sage of South India. For another Vedantin. perhaps. artfully. everything is experienced as Spirit. deep. in sweaty yoga studios. yoga can be walking. spiritual intention. and a lifestyle of the body. Nevertheless. Their body is their song. In order to invoke the spirit of yoga. So how can yoga be all that—and even more? Simply because yoga represents multiple paths and practices. the sages developed various practices. To a yogi in this fierce and sweet state of Kevala Bhakti. yoga was Sanatan Dharma. Advaita Vedantin. and for the human imagination. he did not urge anyone to change the world. They speak of their body-mind-spirit practice. So what distinguishes yoga from other daily activities is its deep methodology—a science. spiritual being in the moment while you are in the flow of doing what you love. sacred spirit Beloved are embracing as One. And move they do.136 sacred body. Intention and attention gives yoga practice the ability to both deepen and transcend our everyday awareness. at other times. we tone the body and align our . He urged us to change.
At its best. mental and spiritual results or experiences. The orthodox Vedantic yogi will shun the body and the world and anything else diverting his or her attention from dwelling in the heavenly Spirit realm. And spirit. some will energize you. Our awareness expands. of spirit. according to the Tantric yogis. Likewise. The spiritual consummation of yoga. On some paths of yoga. and it has cosmic power all of its own. the Tantric concept of the body as divine temple. Or to experience that body and mind are both heavenly. different methodologies and techniques produce certain results. some will help you focus the mind. such as in Vedanta. as diversions of spirit. Yet other practices may produce a spontaneous inner magic that transcends all differences. is union in the realm of spirit. our awareness becomes more subtle and still. If we add spiritual ideation and a mantra to that practice. even mind itself. In yoga. by its all-pervading nature resides in both heaven and earth. yoga refines both body and mind. you breathe a certain way. Yoga is to bring a part of heaven into the world of body and mind. wealth and power that is far from illusory. we employ a conducive methodology and practice to achieve certain physical. since the mantra is our mental asana. and it transcends and includes body and mind.the spirit of practice 137 awareness with the deeper recesses of our mind. So how to make sense of all this? Do all these paths lead to the same place or are they all as divergent on the spiritual inside as they look on the physical outside? . This is quite a different path from Bikram’s. the quality of our awareness may deepen or expand even more. Yoga is transformation. If you want your yoga poses to affect your mood and your glands and your endocrine system more than your alignment. A sacred symbiosis has been created. That is also yoga. The moment expands. Hence. body and mind are seen as illusions. you practice a certain way. The yogi will then experience unity beyond technique. more inward and blissful. And if we practice sitting meditation after our mantra-and-breath-focused posture practice. when you meditate. whose aging yet handsome personality projects a confident physicality. so that their functions may emulate and reflect the world of nature. a sense of spiritual oneness and deep peace. Others will help you do all of the above. Some practices will calm you.
The point is. which will determine the level of depth of our perception. There are levels of interior transcendence. They insist scratching our butt is no different than having a samadhi experience. many types of psychological ecstasies. There are levels of depth. you will get certain results. There are levels of being. or trances. meditative experiences can be as easily induced while doing asanas or bike riding. many people. and they will all give you different results and experiences.138 sacred body. or koshas in yoga. or the Buddha? Saying all experiences are the same is as untrue as saying that you can perform your asana postures in your mind while meditating and reap the same physical benefits. If your goal is deep fitness and a wholesome lifestyle. like posture yoga. Is it you. there are many forms of yoga. with its own goals. . the methodology of meditation is practiced on its own terms. then make meditation and study and chanting your primary focus—daily and intensely—with asana and a vegetarian diet thrown in for good balance. in the ultimate spiritual sense. too!) The good news is that we are all yogis! And. in its own realm. part art and part science. One yoga. Similarly. just as there are levels of proficiency in doing asanas. the path of yoga is both one and many. If your aim is spiritual realization. As you practice your yoga asanas according to your teacher and your style. And this practice of inner yoga is also. many paths. Hence there are many types of samadhi experiences. or experience. Just like the colorful garden of humanity itself! One humanity. sacred spirit Some insist that deep. the methodology of yoga. levels of intensity in our inner experiences. then keep doing your asanas regularly (and eat your veggies. These results are achieved by following the science. I suggest it depends on who does the scratching. feeling.
the spirit of practice 139 Bhakti Yoga: the Cure for Spiritual Heart Disease In the great tradition of the Bhagavad Gita and other Eastern sacred scriptures.” Through loving praise for the existence of “That” in all others. used to say that spiritual praise or devotional love “is the highest and most valuable treasure of humanity.” And what is the role of this love.. the path of intense passion and loving adoration for the Divine. The great sages have always reminded us of the importance of Bhakti.” It is through praising the Divine in everything that our heart opens up and expands to dissolve all barriers of duality and separation. that One who cannot be described. we can celebrate the oneness of creation. we can connect with the spiritual heart of everybody around us.” This kind of transformation is exactly what our self-obsessed and narcissistic Western world needs. That is Bhakti Yoga. In the words of Rumi: From beyond the intellect beautiful Love comes. the perennial cure for the aching emptiness we sometimes feel inside. of love for the Divine. Despite our many technological . Anandamurti. it is often said that the gateway to the Divine is through the heart of love. Poetic giants and mystical geniuses such as Rumi were the embodiment of this sacred path of passion. My guru. Their reminders cannot be underestimated. the path of Bhakti.. But how do we find “That” in our life? How do we experience “That” in others and in nature? As Rainer Maria Rilke—arguably one of the greatest poets to be born on Western soil—wrote in The Sonnets to Orpheus: “Praising is what matters. this devotional sentiment? “To transform our worldly existence into the supreme spiritual stance. And from beyond Love. who can only be called “That” keeps coming. Through an all-embracing awe of the presence of “That” in nature. Bhakti Yoga is thus the gracious act of offering of love and gratitude to “That.
To love and live the dance of opposites as if all is One. charm and wisdom will forever remain unchanged. . transformational diet of divine praise. adoration and love. sacred spirit wonders. Kabir. walking in the woods. Play kirtan at home or in the car. Read or sing the Bhakti poetry of Rumi. And what is the cure for this disease? Bhakti Yoga. Bhakti Yoga is to cultivate the dynamic harmony between the material. Mirabai.140 sacred body. Write love poetry to your lover as if he or she is divine. Write love poetry to the Divine. mental and spiritual realms. a daily. That vision has always been and will always be the sweet song of Bhakti Yoga. Read the Gita and other sacred books. it must be nurtured and preserved. Love the Divine in nature by watching the stars at night. but its transcendental beauty. and others. Dance while singing kirtan. our materialistic culture is suffering from a chronic case of spiritual heart disease. meditating and practicing yoga in aweinspiring places. Like a delicate plant. Join a kirtan group at your local yoga studio. Bhakti Yoga is to love the world as God and Goddess. The heartfelt love of the Divine is our most delicate and tender inner asset. Praise your family and friends as manifestations of the Divine. Here are a few ways to practice Bhakti Yoga: Chant your heart away with kirtan. Its melody and metaphors may change from time to time. Eat and drink as if your meal is divine nectar.
Indeed. whose influential Yoga Sutras were in turn a codification of theory and practice that had existed in India for several millennia. asanas were traditionally practiced as a preparation for meditation. whereas yoga traditionally has been mainly spirit-focused. Even though many yogis today claim otherwise. diet. even Hatha Yoga. had been in existence in India for thousands of years. Others put less stock in centuries-old warnings like “the slaughter of animals obstructs the way to heaven” (from the Dharma Sutras) than in what their bodies have to say. Many traditionalists see yoga as being inextricably linked with the meatless path. The yogis of old were consistently. in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. If eating flesh begets health and energy. we will notice how his treatise incorporated ideas from the much earlier Yoga Sutras. in Yoga Journal It might be true that the yogi diet today is as varied as the yoga styles we practice. they argue. I do not concur with those who claim that Hatha Yoga developed as an offshoot of yogic spirituality in the Middle Ages. citing numerous ancient Indian texts to prove their conviction. and meditation have traditionally been practiced for ethical and spiritual reasons. His list of names leads us to conclude that the yoga described by Svatmarama is at least contemporary with that of Patanjali (200 bce). I think the main reason for this difference is that most yoga today is still very body-focused. If we carefully read Svatmarama’s work. it must be the right choice for them—and their yoga. Hatha Yoga. Svatmarama. the Yoga Upanishads. if not vegan. . but not so in the past. its author. Asanas. the Puranas. secondarily for physical health and well-being. from the beginning of yoga’s long and illustrious history. invokes the names of many of the sages who came before him.the spirit of practice 141 Diet for a Yogi Planet “Ask any number of yogis to describe their diets and you’ll likely get responses as varied as the styles they practice. the Bhagavad Gita and even older scriptures. just like Patanjali’s teachings. In other words.” –Jennifer Barret. at least vegetarian. pranayama.
fish. point to the early Vedic peoples and their culture’s lust for animal sacrifices—therefore. Indeed. since the early yogic tradition had developed independently of the Vedic tradition. the Lord of Yoga. the Indians already practiced yoga. This popular and sublime scripture teaches us that sattvic foods. lived in the Himalayas in the summer and in Kashi (Varanasi) in the winter.” That is. grains and milk products. the King of Yoga. rather than being a book about the cult of the body. pleasure. is pretty straightforward about what yogis should eat. the first verse of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika reads: “Reverence to Shiva. the Bhagavad Gita. sacred spirit Hence. health. vegetables. such as Mehrgarh (7000 bce).” And at the end of the verse. posture yoga has traditionally been used as preparation for meditation. But other scholars. we are reminded that all Hatha Yoga “practices serve only for the attainment of Raja Yoga. not all yogis were vegetarians. who is nonviolent to all creatures.” In India. nor the Hatha Yogis. When they arrived around 5000 bce.” One is dearest to God who has no enemies among the living beings. who is considered the King of Yoga. causes “pain. Therefore there should be no surprise that the yogic canon. a time when some believe Shiva.” Meat. however. it is the ancient Shiva and not Patanjali. and long life. who taught Parvati Hatha wisdom as the first step to the pinnacle of Raja Yoga. strength. and alcohol. now believed to be one of the oldest cities in the world. it had advanced its own peculiar . such as fruit.142 sacred body. disease and discomfort. will point out that yoga culture actually had very little in common with early Vedic culture. including yours truly. Hatha Yoga is useless. mind and spirit and that this type of a diet promotes “vitality. grew rice and dwelled in urban cities. to train the body and mind to sit still for long hours in meditation. —The Bhagavad Gita Some scholars. they argue. Hence. the Hatha Yogis themselves proclaimed that “without Raja Yoga. the Hatha Yoga Pradipika leads the practitioner from the culture of the body towards the culture of the soul. In other words. are good for body. on the other hand. or tamasik foods. The nomadic Vedic people were hunters and herders who imported their sacrificial practices from outside India. How do we know this? Archeological evidence points to an early form of yoga and meditation practice that existed as early as 4000–5000 bce.
chapatti. samosa. estimated at being only about five million people. that Patanjali invented yogic vegetarianism anymore than he invented yoga. The Buddha and his friend Mahavira—the founder of the Jain religion. for several millennia. or nonviolence. India also had the majority of the world’s population. they became infamous for protesting the Vedic slaughter and sacrifice of animals. after all. (Consequently. Like today. It is therefore safe to assume that. Both practices had already coexisted for several millennia. is a necessary step toward higher wisdom and enlightenment. the rice and vegetable basket of the world during that time. instructed even the common people to reduce their intake of meat and wine. Sharon Gannon. It is unlikely. the royal teacher of yoga himself. and lentils. —Jivanmukta co-founder. and that they were taught to abhor animal slaughter. navel-and breath-watching yogis. India was.) According to the Puranas. not just because it was beneficial for the practice of yoga.the spirit of practice 143 sensibilities. So the practice of Ahimsa becomes one of trying to cause the least amount of harm. As long as we are living in physical bodies we will continue to cause some harm to others on this planet. vegetarianism is also an important tenet of yoga. outside of the Vedic Brahmin priest culture. emphasized in his system of Ashtanga Yoga that ahimsa. they also became vegetarians. in which ahimsa. Everyone knows that eating a vegetarian diet uses up the least amount of natural resources and so causes the least amount of harm to the whole planet. we realize we are connected to the whole . the ancient yogis and Tantrics lived. Over time. including an aversion for meat and a penchant for steamy dishes of rice. from Vegetarianism and Yoga In other words. for the most part. In other words. is the cornerstone—were two such yogi vegetarians. We do know that Patanjali. On their path to religious fame in India and beyond. as some Brahmin priests adopted yogic ways. because of its ethical foundation. Shiva. the great yogi-scholar. if we intently listen with our whole being while in the midst of our yogic asanas. the practice of non-harming and nonviolence. only a small minority of these ancient peoples practiced yoga. what to speak of the cave-dwelling. however.
For the sake of the earth. it is the first step. After that experience. Even an aspiring vegan Buddha would have to kill lower life forms in order to attain enlightenment. hooves and wheels. or do we listen to the more subtle needs of our hearts? Do we listen to the needs of the Earth. their bodies. We will naturally choose to become vegetarians or vegans. artificially colored. should yogis be omnivores. and thus we will naturally choose to cause the least harm. modern slaughterhouse. When I realized I had been eating live beings treated in such a cruel way. dead flesh. our hearts and our environment. they have practiced vegetarianism or veganism. It is said that the great yogi Caetanya Mahaprabhu had such a tender heart for the environment that he rescued plants creeping onto the road to help them avoid injury by oncoming feet. chosen the less cruel path when selecting their sustenance. Ahimsa is not an optional part of the program. Do we listen to the needs of our bodies. how much . The single most important part of your yoga practice is the strict adherence to a vegetarian diet. Even vegans kill lower life forms in order to live.” —Jivanmukta co-founder. vegetarians or vegans? I think the answer depends on where we most focus our attention. About a year before I encountered yoga. or the needs of animals or plants? I think the answer depends on how we listen to our bodies. I decided to discontinue stuffing my body with hormone-induced. In truth. for thousands of years. we all have to kill other beings to survive. But it is not an easy choice: Should yogis be omnivores. harm and injustice. So. Patanjali had an easy way of convincing me that ahimsa makes total yogic sense. After embracing body. no matter what diet we subscribe to. mind and spirit as inherent and interdependent parts of the cosmos. countless yogis have. Sharon Gannon. vegetarians or vegans? Contemporary yogi omnivores argue that we have to kill in order to eat. I walked through a large. My own experience? I became a vegetarian for ethical reasons first. Others argue that they cannot function optimally without eaing meat. a diet free of needless cruelty. minds and spirits. sacred spirit earth and her beings.144 sacred body. from Vegetarianism and Yoga So.
Consequently. Which part of yourself do you listen to before you eat? What type of diet will people ideally have on your yogi planet? Why is it unthinkable for most people to eat their own pets for dinner but to have no qualms about eating cows.the spirit of practice 145 killing should we enlightened human yogis allow ourselves? A cow or a carrot? The traditional yogi answer is that we should kill as few living beings as humanly possible in order to stay alive. yogis have traditionally been vegetarians. please go visit a slaughterhouse—then make up your mind! . Hence. chicken and sheep from factory farms? If in doubt about the ethical ramifications of killing animals. because cows are more complex and conscious beings than carrots. it is better to eat carrots rather than cows.
or vishuddha. he discovered the book contained only two words written in bold red letters on every page: Om Rama. we are told: “In the beginning was the Lord of creatures. however. sacred spirit Why do People Chant OM at the End of Yoga Class? Of the many names for God. maintains and reabsorbs everything in the universe. Every day. and the Word was truly the supreme Brahma. OM is most likely the oldest and one of the most widely used throughout Indian history. According to Tantric science. which is located in the throat. OM’s significance as a sacred syllable in Indian spiritual culture is illustrated by this simple story. it is commonly understood throughout human sacred history that the idea of God and the word that symbolizes God are inseparable. John: “In the beginning was the Word.146 sacred body. The sacred sound OM is commonly understood in Tantra as the cosmic sound vibration that originates. it is stated in the fist verse of the Gospel of St. which. These root sounds again . chakra.” In other words. and there is no difference between God and his name. uses the word OM in the form of Amen. There was once a sadhu who owned nothing but a water pot and a book. One day. and second to him was the Word. a curious onlooker asked the sadhu what book he was reading. the sadhu simply handed him the book. is the acoustic root of the sacred OM sound. The sadhu explained: “What’s the purpose of reading many volumes of books? God is the origin of all sacred books and scriptures. he would worship the book with offerings of flowers. and the Word was God. the fifty Sanskrit letters correspond to the fifty root sounds located in the chakras. Without answering. and then he would read the book with intense concentration for hours on end. What is not so commonly recognized.” In the Vedas. that words truly are what they express. and the Word was with God. according to some writers. When the onlooker opened it.” And in the Christian Bible. is that the Sanskrit letter rr.
the acoustic root of another root sound is called atibija. the crescent represents the principle of transmutation from the non-physical to the physical universe. Even though the sonic sound OM (which symbolically includes the dot and the crescent) is the acoustic root of this universe. That’s the sacred reason for the great spiritual vibrations generated when chanting Sanskrit mantras during kirtan! And that’s why this revered sound is often chanted at the beginning and conclusion of yoga practice and during so many other sacred ceremonies. what is actually the origin of the OM sound? According to Tantric philosophy. There is also a more down-to-earth explanation for using OM as the most sacred syllable. In Sanskrit. or mahabija. hate. thus it requires an acoustic root of its own. simply by the way it is pronounced. You start with A. preservation (U) and destruction (M). the physical universe comprises three elements: creation (A). The sonic vibrations and combination of letters in the Sanskrit mantras harmonize our chakras and link our own individual vibration to the vibration of the cosmos. The dot represents the unmanifest universe. OM is the acoustic root of creation. Hence.the spirit of practice 147 represent vrittis or mental tendencies (love. Sanskrit is a language that vibrates our being from within. the OM sound is nevertheless a combination of sounds. Hence. the rr sound is an integral part of the Sanskrit alphabet and the acoustic root of the sacred syllable OM. mouth and tongue. But how can the letter rr be the acoustic root of the famous OM sound? Indeed. the dot (. preservation and destruction. Hence. You continue with the O sound by rolling through the mouth from throat to the lips. fear. When pronouncing this sacred word. in the back of the throat without touching the tongue or palate. So the letter rr is the mahabija of OM. OM also represents the principle of transmutation. etc) which are clustered around the chakras. And you conclude pronouncing the sacred syllable with . hope. from the point of view of phonetics and the science of combining sounds. the devolution from pure Cosmic Consciousness to the physical world. That’s why Sanskrit is a profoundly spiritual language. the root sound. most complete words to be found. OM is perhaps one of the most comprehensive. Hence the letters A+ U + M = OM. But that is not the end of the story.) and the crescent that forms part of the OM symbol are also important. we combine all possible positions of the throat.
that is how AUM. Hence. yoga’s most sacred and complete word. “the letter U the dream state. or OM. world-renowned Hatha Yoga teacher B. is produced. describes the psychological and spiritual reasons for chanting OM. In his bestselling book.” . K. and the letter M the dreamless sleep state of the mind and spirit. sacred spirit M by closing the lips. Iyengar.” Iyengar writes.148 sacred body. Light on Yoga. S. “The letter A symbolizes the conscious or waking state.” He further writes that in its totality as a symbol. OM stands for the “realization of man’s divinity within himself.
fear and inferiority complexes were . Yama and niyama. one experiences continuous remembering. As Kabir said. Most interpreters translate this Sanskrit word as celibacy. We infuse everything with reverence and sacredness. or total sexual abstinence. the Inner Witness. the Real Self. we are indeed practicing brahmacarya. In Tantric practice. we are not detached from Spirit. even though the mind wanders from one object to another. This form of meditation has the capacity to take us into a deeper state of silence and spiritual depth than mere mindfulness. Whether we are eating breakfast or making love. one will also remember the nature of the breath. By means of such an ideation. when Indian society was dominated by Vedic priests and Vedic dogmas. are bliss. that the breath is Consciousness. Later.the spirit of practice 149 Why do Modern Yogis Believe Brahmacarya Means Celibacy? The term for mindfulness in Sanskrit is smrti—to recollect. And. if our ideation is that our food or lover is an expression of God or Spirit. this meaning of brahmacarya was apparently accepted. or Shaiva times. when having attained continuous mindfulness one attains dhruva smrti. now and in the future.” the remembering not only to meditate on the breath but also remembering that the breath itself is Consciousness. which includes brahmacarya. limited forms. During ancient. are divine. the Divine is the breath within the breath. that is. to remember to be in the present moment. why has a word so deeply mystical and spiritually all-embracing been reduced to the avoidance of sex? The literal meaning of brahmacarya is “to remain attached to Brahma”. Tantric. Why has this word been interpreted as celibacy? Yes. Remembering what? The remembering that all objects of one’s attention are sacred. Thus we may term Tantric meditation “meaningful mindfulness. when remembering. The meaning of practicing brahmacarya is thus to treat all objects or beings with which we come in contact as expressions of Brahma and not simply as crude.
I am also not saying that sexual indulgence is a form of spiritual practice. . That is the Tantric interpretation and also the literal meaning of these Sanskrit words. In turn. and that they indulged in activities against brahmacarya. people started believing that they. Make no mistake about it. The monks. I think it’s time modern yogis start embracing the deeply spiritual meaning of this word from our Tantric heritage.150 sacred body. were therefore thought to be far more spiritually advanced and thus could maintain their political hegemony and religious superiority. But brahmacarya has nothing to do with abstinence or celibacy. It is not. sacred spirit infused in people’s minds. I am not downplaying the spiritual benefits of authentic celibacy. had committed a serious sin. by leading regular lives. a state of consciousness. Brahmacarya is a state of being. who observed celibacy.
Yes. and it is important to be careful. The literal translation of the word asana (yoga posture) is. all glands that. Even insurance agencies are paying out an increasing number of yoga-related injury claims. when properly balanced. para-thyroid. and she is now urging other people to stop this “painful” form of exercise. thyroid. “Hamstring tears heal slowly. they do sometimes happen. thymus. especially in the beginning.” While yoga injuries are not at all as frequent as bicycle injuries or soccer injuries. pituitary and pineal. positively affect our physical health. the woman discontinued her yoga practice. testes and ovaries.” she wrote. To her great surprise. Practice yoga gently. . She “felt a sickening pop in [her] hamstrings” after practicing Utthita Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose). the wholesome practice of yoga can sometimes be bad for your health. she got seriously injured.the spirit of practice 151 Yoga May Be Bad For Your Health: Seven Ways to Avoid Yoga Injuries A friend of mine recently mentioned on her Facebook page that she practices yoga. adrenals. for example. after all. and in coordination with the breath. Krucoff herself is one of the practice’s many victims. pancreas. It took me six months to be able to run again and more than a year to fully extend my leg in Hand-toBig-Toe Pose. Not surprisingly. she received an angry response from a friend who said that after trying Power Yoga. the various yoga poses are balancing the chakras and the hormonal secretions from many important glands. These glands include the prostate and perineum. Carol Krucoff reported in Yoga Journal that increasing numbers of yoga injuries are being reported to medical offices these days. indeed. Easy does it. Here are a few tips to prevent injuries: 1. “and mine required rest and extensive physical therapy. mental mood and spiritual well-being.” By gently massaging and pressurizing the various endocrine glands in the body. “comfortably or easily held posture. gonads.
it is said in the Tantric scriptures that physical yoga (Hatha Yoga) should be combined with spiritual yoga (Raja Yoga). Pushing the body too far may lead to injury. don’t succumb to peer pressure or to a zealous teacher urging you to perform a-next-to-impossible pose when you know in your heart that you are not ready for it. mental and spiritual health benefits as doing the poses slowly. 4. take a deep breath and be gentle with yourself. Indeed. and spiritual development to combine yoga exercises with meditation. Yoga is not a competitive sport. Listen to the body. Yoga’s popularity has resulted in a shortage of experienced teachers and sometimes teachers with inadequate training are being hired at a studio. Serious injury. trying to sit in lotus position or do headstand the first time you practice yoga is definitely not advisable! 7. “Even new graduates from highly reputable teacher-training programs often lack experience. Besides—showing off may not just increase your ego. They were developed for the mind and spirit as well.” 6. mental. Know the weakest links. It is.” So. 3.152 sacred body. it may lead to injury. A few years ago. this potentially hazardous combination—new student and inexperienced teacher—is one of the leading causes of “injury-overzealousness. may not give the same physical. Indeed. Combine yoga with a meditation practice. those primarily for physical and mental health and secondarily for spiritual elevation. sacred spirit Practicing yoga too energetically. Pain is an indication that you should stop. and 2. 2. Hence.” wrote Krucoff. Accidents do happen. If you are a couch potato. knee and neck are usually the parts of the body that are injured the most during yoga practice. and with ease. I tore my meniscus while falling sideways in the bed of my friend’s pick-up truck when it jerked into motion. . Pick an experienced teacher. 5. Yoga postures are of two kinds: 1. according to Anandamurti and other Tantric teachers. Here’s some sage advice from Carol Krucoff: “I learned the hard way that there is no place for showing off in yoga. You may soon end up on your back at the chiropractor’s office. those primarily for spiritual elevation. in harmony with the breath. or too forcefully. many yoga postures were clearly not just designed for the body. The lower back. essential for optimum physical.
I did not listen to my body. or we slack off on our practice and become less flexible. once again. Too immersed in my mind and spirit. you are not doing yoga for anybody but your own body.” So. listen to the body. Treat it gently. And remember. One yoga pose at a time. and the healing process took a painstakingly long time. I had pain in my meniscus when I sat in meditation. Our bodies change with age. . Then suddenly one day bending down to pick something up from the floor. Listen carefully.the spirit of practice 153 For a long time. my knee went out. The pain was excruciating. Suddenly the body says “pop. Sometimes we sleep improperly. mind and soul. For nearly two years. I was unable to perform my asana postures properly and also unable to sit in siddhansana (half lotus) during meditation.
and voila. You have heard it from New Age gurus. The wilder the sex. you have always been in an everpresent state of enlightened arrival. No matter what. You have heard it from contemporary nondual teachers on the popular lecture circuit. For starters. there may have been some genuine sages who fit this category. it really is too good to be true?” To cut to the chase. You have heard you have already arrived. You have heard that you are already enlightened. social and psychological boundaries. You have heard it from Indian gurus. who displays such flamboyant tendencies to impart to the students some secret teachings beyond their rational understanding. it’s all the same. It really sounds great. do any of these statements make sense? Enlightenment is a complicated term carrying a lot of historical and psychological baggage. when some teachers leave a trail of wounded women and . as they do in the financial world. Hence. straight to the vegan substance of the matter: if yoga philosophy is our guide. It really sounds convincingly plausible. but it is impossible to know as their behavior transcends ethical. You have also heard it from some Indian anti-guru gurus. “if the deal sounds too good to be true. Habits such as alcoholism. sacred spirit You Are Already Enlightened! True or False? You have heard it many times. Some New Agers even say: it does not matter if you are ignorant or enlightened. But is it? In other words. many people who claim the high hat or turban of enlightenment have displayed many less than enlightened personality traits. All it takes is to put your attention to that part of you which is already enlightened. is instant enlightenment really that easy? Or is it more truthful to say.154 sacred body. you are home free in your inner state of everlasting nondual bliss. Samsara or nirvana—it’s all the same enlightened breath. the more crazy wisdom the teacher displays. In some Left-hand Tantric and Buddhist schools. smoking and sex with students have been explained away as part of the crazy wisdom of the enlightened soul.
after all.” Then there are “enlightened” teachers who. it is difficult to vouch for their “enlightened behavior. toward enlightenment. glimpses of insight. they are genuine adepts and teachers with genuine human flaws and humble hearts walking the potholed path toward sainthood. because “a saint is a sinner who never gives up. like Ramana Maharishi. Why? Because Consciousness. an inner place of soul awareness. or Brahma. Even so. according to yogic scriptures. who are not famous for their intellectual erudition or contributions to music or science but simply for their effulgent transcendence and genuine lovehearts of quiet beatitude. to say that all human beings have the potential for enlightenment. it is the core awareness of our soul. Then there are those sages. glimpses of enlightenment are available to us all—all day long. a place of silent and constant all-pervading bliss in a world of constant change. Enlightenment is. It is the ground of being. the enlightened awareness is ever present.the spirit of practice 155 generally confused students in their wake. Using different philosophical terms. unfettered by outer accomplishments. and Nisargadatta Maharaj seemed to breathe its essence with every word. And. in fact. and he composed more than five thousand Indian classical songs) and humble yogic sages who are walking encyclopedias of wisdom and sitting saints of spiritual effulgence (he revived dozens of Tantric meditation practices and wrote perhaps the first complete set of Sanskrit yoga sutras since the Middle Ages). Ramana Maharishi lived it. There are very few Einsteins of yoga. . indeed. Only inwardly are the signs the same. Patanjali preached it. Outwardly. the I AM of our being. who defies categories. Krishna spoke of it.” In other words. Then there are those like my own teacher. enlightenment is not a plateau of spiritual arrival. the everpresent witness of our mind. we all have the potential to arrive. are considered saints. to let the mystery of that sacred space be revealed to our inner sight. Anandamurti. there are very few who have arrived here. It is very much in harmony with yoga philosophy. as Yogananda said. I believe. Most importantly. a mountain top of psychological traits that looks the same to all who look for the signs of recognition. who are both giant intellectuals (he authored more than three hundred books on everything from Tantra to economics to yoga psychology.
Just think Nisargadatta Maharaj. Most of us seem to want instant gratification. We are not ready to go through the same intense seeking that Tolle himself went through. and you will see a slave of that intensity. Anandamurti. People took him for a crazy fool. my guru. right? Wrong. he spent years meditating ceaselessly under the tutelage of a guru. we require only three practices to arrive in that enlightened state: chanting the name of the Divine. the potential for enlightenment is available to all.” Practiced together. because it is the ground of everyone’s being. during intense inquiry. these two quotes are no longer contradictory. meditating on the Divine. he spent a long time suffering in the dual realm before he glimpsed there was a way out of his spiritual nightmare. and when. It’s that easy. I Am That. the struggle. thinking of the Divine. just by thinking about the idea that we already are enlightened. before that he was severely depressed. they teach us how spiritual practice creates a beautiful and intense friction in the mind. all we feel is love. just by thinking about his teaching a few times a day. during intense meditation. All we feel is the ojas. Before Eckhart Tolle wrote his nondual bestseller The Power of Now. this spark reaches the heart. In other words. then we are not quite ready to do the work. In other words. To be able to speak the words of wisdom in that 550-page masterpiece of a book. the sadhana. he was a fierce meditator for eighteen-plus hours a day for years before he could say (and truthfully mean): . Look at me. a one-pointed spark that illumines us from within. it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that does all the work. said: “struggle is the essence of life” and “love is all there is.156 sacred body. It’s intensely and radically different. They all say it’s that easy. a way out of his feeling trapped in the dark night of his soul. he sat on a park bench meditating for months on end. If we read Tolle’s book thinking that we will soon arrive at enlightenment just by reading it. enlightenment is realizing it with our whole being. but enlightenment is not simply to know this intellectually. or contemplation.” –Kabir In sum. sacred spirit According to the yoga scriptures. But true spiritual practice is quite the opposite of instant gratification. “When the Guest is being searched for. the vitality of the soul.
just like Ravi Shankar.” —Kabir . even life times. what difference would that make?” —Kabir That is. An ever-present unfolding into the awareness of that which we already are. Which is to say: we are simply oblivious. from oblivion. All of the time.the spirit of practice 157 “You are already perfect. it’s a gradual unfolding into ever-present origin. intense practice. of prolonged and intense practice. this head? Simply a container for a wandering. it is similar to the way we take it for granted that our oxygenated blood is keeping us alive. For this you have a body and a mind. For master Iyengar to become the Hatha Yoga genius that he is. And enlightenment is the opposite—it means to wake up from unconsciousness. If you have not lived through something. even to be awed to tears by those same words. In other words. he molded his body and mind for hours on end. the world famous classical maestro. because that is the ground of our being. he practiced for years for eight to twelve hours a day on his sitar. To become Ravi Shankar. “The sacred books of the East are nothing but words. And what is this enlightened state of mind. Unaware. Why would it be any different for someone who trains his or her mind to become one with Spirit? Perfection in body and mind takes practice. What is this body. Like oxygen. anyway. I looked through their covers one day sideways. There is simply no way around it. eternal soul! We are divinely enlightened all of the time. it’s ever present in our blood. Instant enlightenment is only possible after years. or contemplating the great wisdom of the Gita and the Upanishads. What you seek is to express in action what you are. this spiritual love? “Kabir will tell you the truth: this is what love is like: suppose you had to cut your head off and give it to someone else. But if we intellectually take that for granted. it is not true. thinking about enlightenment. is not the same as actually experiencing enlightenment. day in and day out. It’s the same as being unconscious. into ever-present awareness. Take them in hand and make them serve you…Go for it resolutely. the sages walk into death’s teeth with the same detached attitude as they have when changing a shirt. say the yoga scriptures. What Kabir talks of is only what he has lived through.” What I am getting at is this: we need to go for it resolutely. Therefore it’s no longer instant.
Thinking we have arrived is being caught in a subtle intellectual game of make-believe—the mind thinking it is what it is not. nondual awareness. to a Shiva temple on Mount Arunachala where his “mood of unity consciousness” would become an enduring. That is. acrobats. like butter hidden in the whiteness of milk. we need an insane drive for uncertainty. Is it easy to experience and to maintain this state of natural enlightenment? “Precisely because unsupported by intellectual or emotional articulation. And enlightenment is not at all about thinking or believing we are enlightened. until he found his balance and this world and the next became one seamless being. Constant vichara [the inquiry meditation taught by Ramana] resembles the attempt to remain awake for days at a time. like a spiritual moth to the source of light. In other words. and daredevils. all spiritual practice aiming at enlightenment involves an intensity of focus normally reserved for mad artists. is perhaps the most demanding of all. yes. is as intense a practice as trying not to fall asleep for days on end. To stay in touch with our enlightened self. Rather.158 sacred body. In his small classic book. twenty-four-seven experience. all authentic spiritual practices are the most demanding of all.” someone who after several neardeath experiences entered a state of natural. Otherwise the magnetic pull of “real life’ will simply be too strong. which Ramana characterized as most direct and simple. That is. it is a state beyond thinking. until that practice becomes natural. becomes the very breath of our being. sacred spirit Enlightenment is such a fiercely one-pointed state of mind that Ramana Maharishi was completely oblivious to the world for long periods of time. beyond belief. So. Each one. it is true that we all have the capacity for enlightenment. Coming Home: The Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions. to be abnormally awake. He would eventually be drawn. an inner thrill seeker’s love of the unknown. That is. The sleepiness that overwhelms us in this attempt is distraction from the source of awareness by the various objects or structures of awareness. but it is not at all true that having this capacity means that we all are . Lex Hixon describes Ramana Maharishi as a person who achieved “natural enlightenment.” Not only is vichara meditation the most demanding practice. that part of us which we always and truly are at all times. This path of staying awake to primal awareness. [this state] can be painfully difficult to sustain. like water flowing into water.
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already enlightened. What matters is to have the spiritual desire and stamina to remain awake to the intensity of natural awakening. One breath, one mantra, one asana at a time. In that state “water” and “wave” are the same thing. In that state “inside” and “outside” are the same thing. In that state “body” and “spirit” are the same thing. When we are intensely seeking Sprit in our practice, Spirit reveals itself in our body, in our very soul. Often instantly and unexpectedly! “When you really look for me, you will see me instantly—you will find me in the tiniest house of time. Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God? He is the breath inside the breath.” —Kabir
sacred body, sacred spirit
Ten Simple Secrets to a Great Meditation Practice
1. Cool body, cool mind. Before meditation, clean your body and mouth by taking a bath, gargling, etc. If you meditate immediately after taking bath, your body and mind will feel fresh and awake. During the day or evening, you may take a yogic half bath by cooling arms, face, navel, neck and feet with cool water. Also cleanse the mouth and nose with water. 2. Sacred space, silent mind. Sit on a meditation blanket or pillow made of wool or any other non-conductive material. Keep one blanket that is only used for your personalmeditation. Use a wool blanket, because wool is a good insulator from the electrical currents in the earth. Create a sacred pitha in your place of spiritual practices by only using it for meditation or study of spiritual scriptures. Do not meditate on your bed, as it will tend to make you sleepy. Keep one room, or at least part of a room, where there is no activity except meditation. It need not be a large space—three to four square feet in a corner is sufficient. By doing your daily meditation there, you will gradually create a strong, spiritual vibration, so that merely sitting there will elevate your mind. 3. Straight spine, concentrated mind. Although meditation is relaxing, it is not the same as relaxation, so maintain alertness by sitting with a straight spine. When your spine is completely straight, it can carry more easily the spiritual energy of the kundalini. By raising your head high and sitting erect, your mind will be alert and awake. Relaxing your back somewhat, allowing your spine to curve even a little, will likely cause your mind to become drowsy and wander. 4. Slow breath, deep soul. Breathe slowly and deeply. Yogic and Tantric scriptures state that controlling the breath is the key to controlling the prana (vital energy of the body), and controlling the prana is the key to controlling the mind. Do not hold your breath or strain, but allow your breathing to
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naturally become slower and deeper. This will gradually induce a deeper and deeper state of calm, concentration and bliss. 5.Sacred books, sacred spirit. Maintain spiritual flow by reading spiritual books daily. 6. Open eyes, focused mind. Repeat your mantra or sing kirtan as much as possible throughout the day. Repeating your mantra with your eyes open is called ardha iishvara pranidhana, or half meditation; it gives the benefits of mantra repetition without the full benefits of closing and stilling all the sensory and motor organs. It is not a substitute for full meditation, but it will maintain the vibration of your mantra in the mind, and thus will give you deeper meditation when you do sit. 7.Mantra dance, mantra flow. Dance kirtan daily by singing loudly. When we dance kirtan before meditation all our sensory and motor organs become stimulated with the spiritual wave of the mantras. Let yourself go! 8.Lonely space, silent mind. Perform meditation in a quiet and lonely place in the forest, mountains or by the ocean on a regular basis. 9. Spiritual friends, spiritual flow. Enjoy satsang (the spiritual company of friends) as often as possible. To be in the company of other yogis sharing experiences and stories helps in keeping our mind in a spiritual flow. 10. Hatha yoga for mind and spirit. Perform asanas daily. Practicing yoga postures daily is essential in maintaining healthy glands and balanced secretions of hormones. Slow asana postures, breathing slowly and holding the breath at particular intervals, is the most conducive yoga practice to meditation. (Hot and fast flowing yoga is not!) The gradual flexing of the body that takes place during asanas helps greatly in sitting motionlessly in meditation for longer periods.
the Yoga Sutras is not an instruction manual in meditation. Kriya Yoga or Tantra Yoga. 2) Dhyan Mantra: A Sanskrit verse listing the attributes of a deity and used to visualize that deity in meditation. The meditation techniques integral to the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Asthanga Yoga are still largely taught personally by a guru and for free in the old Tantric fashion. they often end up learning Buddhist meditation. but it gives you an idea of how they are practiced and what some of their benefits are. American yogis may know the philosophy of Asthanga Yoga. Sadhana means to make an effort. to perform spiritual practices daily. In a sense. That is also why so few in the West know how to teach them. they may have read the Yoga Sutras many times. Why? Because very few American yoga teachers know how to teach the meditation techniques Patanjali outlined in the Yoga Sutras. but when they want to learn meditation. 1) Sadhana: a general Sanskrit term for spiritual practice or meditation. Moreover. why do they often practice Buddhist meditation? Why do so few American yogis know what Asthanga Yoga meditation is all about? Because very few yoga teachers actually know how to teach the meditation techniques mentioned in the Yoga Sutras. 3) Pranayama: the process of controlling or regulating the breath or prana and thereby increase concentration and intuition. Hatha Yoga pranayama is generally performed without fixing the mind in a certain chakra and without Dhyan or repetition of a mantra. the whole shebang of yogic meditation styles. sacred spirit Twelve Ways to Meditate Like a (Real) Yogi Why do so few American yogis practice meditation? And. this term is synonymous with the English word meditation and may refer to many different practices. if they do. Here is a list of the most common and classical meditation styles integral to Asthanga Yoga. This list is not an instruction manual. . a sustained spiritual endeavor.162 sacred body.
and thus making the action free of karmic reactions. 9) Madhuvidya: often termed “the sweet science. . form. an intoxicating hormone from the pineal gland. Dharana is the sixth limb of Asthanga Yoga. 8) Chakra Shodana: a specific meditation technique used to purify the various chakras. union with same. absorption of the mind in Supreme Consciousness/God/Spirit. or mantra.the spirit of practice 163 Yudhistira pranayama. Pranayama is the fourth limb of Asthanga Yoga. a natural attainment and state of mind as a result of long term meditation practice. In Tantra Yoga there are three common forms of Pratyahara: A) Bhuta Shuddhi: a process of withdrawing the mind from the external world. 5) Dharana: concentration. 6) Dhyan: advanced meditation. 12) Samadhi: the final result of meditation. 10) Madhya Sadhana: a system of Tantric meditation used to stimulate the production of amrita. is performed while concentrating on a chakra. unbroken flow of mind moving toward union with Supreme Consciousness/God/Spirit. 11) Maethuna Sadhana: a system of Tantric meditation to control the kundalini energy. Pratyahara is the fifth limb of Asthanga Yoga. 7) Chakra Niyantrana: a specific meditation technique used to control the chakras. fixing the mind in a certain point or chakra during meditation while repeating a mantra or performing visualization. various stages of spiritual absorption and bliss. This practice is also common in Buddhist Tantra and is the seventh limb of Asthanga Yoga. using a mantra with ideation on Supreme Consciousness/God/Spirit before performing an action. repeating a mantra and ideating on Supreme Consciousness/God/Sprit. the eighth limb of Ashtanga Yoga. C) Citta Shuddhi: a process of withdrawing the mind from thoughts and meditating on a spiritual idea. 4) Pratyahara: a yogic practice of withdrawing the mind from the physical senses and the mind itself in order to experience deep concentration and peace during meditation. B) Asana Shuddhi: a process of withdrawing the mind from bodily sensations and concentrating the mind in a chakra. meditation on Supreme Consciousness/God/Spirit. which is commonly performed in Tantra.
2) Niyama (personal and social ethics) and 3) Asanas (physical postures. The three remaining limbs of Asthanga Yoga are 1) Yama (social ethics). for health.164 sacred body. or Hatha Yoga. . well-being and meditation). sacred spirit The five limbs of Asthanga Yoga mentioned above represents various forms of yogic or Tantric meditations.
whose teachings resonate with the perennial wisdom of all sages of the past. one who is always in a state of natural. however. and unravel the serenity of enlightenment. . Since there is much skepticism. a guru is that being who. Apart from having a yoga teacher at a studio. These “Einsteins of consciousness” hold the initiatory secrets to reveal Spirit. The guru is the one who helps us move from the path of avidya to the path of vidya.the spirit of practice 165 Why are People Afraid of the Tantric Guru? To many spiritual seekers in the West today. As the word connotes in Sanskrit.” to “remove ignorance” from our hearts and minds. The Guru in Yoga Throughout the history of yoga. by dint of his or her enchanted spiritual genius. most of us do not want to be spiritually beholden to anyone but ourselves. it is important to understand in essence who the guru actually is. such God-like humans in flesh and blood. is able to help us “dispel darkness. the genuine spiritual master is one whose mind is the embodiment of spiritual effulgence. there have lived but a few such illuminated beings. Such beings are the living testament of a spiritual lineage as old as civilization itself. In other words. In Tantra it is said that the quintessential guru is beyond physical form: brahmaeva gururekah naparah—the guru is none other than Brahma. controversy and misunderstanding about gurus in the West today. a guru (gu+ru= dispeller of darkness) is the one who removes the veil of existence and lets us see the true face of reality. the Guru is a relic from the past. one whose personality is inexpressible. bring down spirituality on earth. In yoga. Throughout human history. mysterious and powerful. our friends and community. the authentic guru has often been regarded as an essential spiritual guide. from the path of ignorance to the path of knowledge. intoxicated bliss.
” And Lord Krishna when he said. What matters is your love for that master and your ability to internalize the master’s teachings and extraordinary state of consciousness. Anyway? If your goal is to find a guru. And. no matter how beautiful and great. suddenly disappeared one day.” Although great world teachers. is not the guru. for it is their timeless Being and their Divine Presence that we venerate and love. feel devotion for a great spiritual master who has already left his or her body. their spiritual consciousness was attuned to the One God of all. Thus. There was no longer any need to search in the world for his guru. “My thoughts are always in the Truth. . your guru’s form and personality.166 sacred body. and others. In other words. After years of searching all over. the manifestation of the physical. You may. have been distinct historical personalities with distinct physical bodies and explicit sets of esoteric teachings. “I and my Father are One. “I am the goal of the wise man. and I am the way. for example.” Lord Buddha explained this with the utterance. God is ultimately the only guru. the One Formless Guru of us all. some of these teachers do not deserve the unconditional veneration bestowed upon them. When Rumi’s guru. self-realized gurus. unfortunately. And they remain so. Shams. historical guru is an indispensable gateway to the Divine. Rumi went looking for him. such as Shiva. one day in Damascus. here are four important insights to keep in mind: 1. Rumi realized Shams was within him. All great masters have clearly understood this. There are various kinds of gurus. Buddha. Do You Really Need a Guru? There is no absolute need to have a physical guru in your life. Rumi had himself become the embodiment of the guru and his teachings. For lo! My Self has become the Truth. even after they are physically no longer with us. sacred spirit no one else. What is a Guru. Many so-called gurus who have arrived in the West are teachers and not authentic. Jesus. Jesus Christ explained this in his saying. Krishna.
they were unable to find any flaws in his personal morality. the invading Vedic Aryans in India had to conclude that Shiva’s spiritual personality and leadership qualities were beyond reproach. the mahagurus are walking gods and goddesses whose consciousness is a door always flung open into infinite awareness. If the teachings of a not-so-enlightened teacher belong to a genuine spiritual lineage. Sometimes abusive. Modern Gurus: True or False? Hence. Hence the many reports of unenlightened behavior by so-called gurus who have misled their students through abuses of power. Gurus and Ethics Great gurus lead lives imbued with an impeccable spiritual ethics.” Taraka Brahma exists at the tangential point between these two worlds. the mahaguru and Taraka Brahma are synonymous. Hence. it is important to be devoted to the practice and the teachings while also being a discerning disciple. A so-called great guru. Most of them are not even qualified to earn the title guru. That is. hence the many excuses and cover-ups to deny such immoral behavior. do not qualify as mahagurus. one is told the teacher is enlightened . Forever awake.the spirit of practice 167 2. after years of opposition against Shiva and his Dravidian followers. 3. the vast majority of the so-called gurus who have visited the West since the 1960s. In Tantra. Likewise. there is the concept of Taraka Brahma—which literally means “the bridge between the unmanifest and the manifest worlds. 4. destructive and immoral behavior has been written off as crazy wisdom. corruption or sex. In Tantra. While there have been many great sages and gurus throughout history. there has only been a few mahagurus. his or her teachings will still benefit you. they are the historical gateways to the Divine. needs and faults as their students. a mahaguru is a human being whose consciousness remains a bridge between this world and the spiritual world. While the Romans and the priests of ancient Palestine felt justified attacking Jesus and his inspired followers for political reasons. because they are mostly teachers and seekers struggling with many of the same human desires.
the true guru is none other than the formless Brahma. are the invaluable lessons you learn from practicing the authentic teachings of an authentic lineage. What is most important. Second. irrespective of the teacher’s qualities. So. Some teachers. however. the spiritual goal of each path is the same: to reach the . This dilemma can be resolved by. it is natural that many spiritual seekers today are skeptical of the guru-disciple relationship. even if you have been misled by a less-than-perfect teacher. The Dalai Lama’s reply was profound and unmistakable: “One’s view may be as vast as the sky. One such teacher’s controversial lifestyle was brought to the attention of the Dalai Lama by a group of Western Buddhist monks. you need not leave the path.168 sacred body. These teachers will often share many of the same personality flaws an average seeker on the same spiritual path is faced with.” he said. or is simply unable to see that the teacher is a mirror of the student’s own limitation. recognizing that. first of all. sacred spirit and just displaying strange behavior to teach the student some important lesson in surrender or devotion. as guides. enlightened being? Because so many students of Eastern spirituality have been faced with these complex questions. in essence. the omnipresent God within and beyond us. after all. yet their personal conduct is less than exemplary. we must make up our own hearts and minds. What would be his advice. treat all teachers in the lineage.” The Guru as Archetype Each spiritual path approaches the guru as archetype in different ways. it is best to connect with a trusted guru or lineage with a known history of one or a few recognized and respected preceptors. except your carefully chosen guru. have great intellectual knowledge of spiritual philosophy and practice. The ideal spiritual teacher is a living example of the teachings he or she espouses. Or one is told the student lacks spiritual understanding. “but one’s regard for cause and effect should be as finely sifted as barley flour. but. Are we presented with the classic denial tactics used by groups where the victim is blamed for the group’s or the teacher’s transgressions? Or are we truly in the company of an unconventional. they wondered. not gurus. the one and only true Teacher of all. And third. So.
. In other words. it is as important to be a qualified student as it is to have a qualified guru. the Tantric tradition instructs us instead to embrace lovingly the Buddha figure as guru. The guru’s form is simply used as an archetype. In Tantric yoga. Devotion to an authentic guru and lineage is an invaluable tool on the path of spirituality. if you choose the guru path. thereby illustrating the similarities among the various Tantric schools. Likewise. But this is not idol worship. While the Zen Buddhist tradition sternly instructs us to “kill the Buddha” in order not to search for help from a superior being. as manifestation of our Divine Self. especially the form of the enlightened guru. all forms are considered sacred. the image of Jesus has been invoked for centuries by Christian mystics who desire to drink from the deep well of the Cosmic Christ. such a meditation practiceis beautifully described by a Tibetan Tantric Buddhist master. as a psychological tool to reach a spiritual goal.the spirit of practice 169 state of nondual awareness. if you do not hate the idea of having a guru. But this devotion must be carefully evaluated by our own rational and ethical standards. Thus visualized. Through devotional visualization. the guru’s form is embraced in the devotee’s heart and mind. but he or she is not seen or believed to be the spiritual goal itself. In Andrew Harvey’s book Journey to Ladakh. the guru’s mythic appearance will focus the mind to go beyond the mind and thus evoke the formless panorama of nondual divinity. who becomes a powerful gateway to Spirit.
According to yoga philosophy. according to Tantric yoga philosopher Anandamurti’s worldview—whose ideas have combined yoga philosophy with an evolutionary understanding of the world we live in—we grant existential rights or value to all beings.” Evolution is irreversible — amoebas eventually evolve into apes. sacred spirit Why Yogis Eat Carrots Rather than Cows Yoga for the Earth. the brain is not necessary for the mind to exist. but also that some beings have higher consciousness than others and thus “more rights. This type of consciousness is dormant. it was impossible to draw a final line between animate beings and inanimate things. even in so-called inanimate objects such as rocks. While a worm. For the ancient sages of India. because there is no nervous system in rocks to express it. spiritual oneness in all of creation.170 sacred body. the process of cognition is intimately linked to the process of life. Why do yogis select food from the vegetable kingdom rather than the animal kingdom? Read on and find out! According to the Santiago theory. sand or mud. has no brain. they still have a mind. all physical expressions of Cosmic Consciousness have an equal right to exist and to express themselves. or a tree. He concedes that. Thus. whether soil. “High” and “Low” Consciousness in Nature Since mind or consciousness is part of all living beings and lies dormant. but apes never transform into amoebas — thus Tantra and yoga also acknowledges “higher” and “lower” expressions of Consciousness in . developed by Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana. in principle. animals or humans. there is an intrinsic. there is consciousness even in the so-called inanimate world of rocks. Hence. plants. as if asleep.
But to survive. and are created by. Ecological Ethics According to Yoga Another way of expressing this is that a dog has more capacity for mental reflection and self-consciousness than a fir tree. cows or pigs should not be slaughtered. bean and rice are available. both are manifestations of Cosmic Consciousness. To solve this dilemma. and thus consciousness is also expressed in various ways. no one has delegated any authority to human beings to kill those “lower” creatures. Perhaps human beings can understand the value of their existence. As George Bernhard Shaw once said.” The more consciousness a being has. we cannot avoid killing other beings. Eating plants is therefore preferable to eating animals.” a yogi must consider deeply if it is possible to live a healthy life without taking such lives. corn. Nonhuman creatures have the same existential value to themselves as human beings have to themselves. According to yoga. it is better to eat carrots rather than cows. both the “low” and the “high” expressions of nature must be valued and accounted for. This differentiation is crucial—and forms the basis for why yogis eat veggies rather than veal. “Animals are my friends … and I don’t eat my friends. the same Spirit. various beings. Secondly. while an earth worm cannot. As philosopher Ken Wilber maintains.the spirit of practice 171 nature. Thus. because we all come from. the deeper the feelings. and the more potential for suffering. a yogi selects articles of food from among those beings where development of consciousness is comparatively low. based on their depth of consciousness. a seedling is more complex and therefore more conscious than an acorn.” . Both are conscious beings. in addition to existential value. before killing any animals with “developed or underdeveloped consciousness. the dog is higher on the natural hierarchy of being than the fir tree. Even so. there is unity of consciousness amongst all beings.” Hence. But nature is also infinitely diverse. both have mind. by the same Cosmic Consciousness. So when we develop our ecological ethics. have a variable degree of what is often termed “intrinsic value. and both have equal existential value — but because of the difference in expression of depth and quality of consciousness. both “high” and “low. If vegetables. and an oak is more complex and conscious than a seedling.
intrinsic.” In addition to existential value and intrinsic value. Our conservation efforts and our sustainable-resource use will become sacred offerings to Mother Earth. fruits. It is estimated that only ten percent of the protein and calories we feed to our livestock is recovered in the meat we eat. A forest’s utility value. the God and Goddess within and beyond nature. human beings usually preserved those creatures that had an immediate utility value. But. the expression of our ecological ethics will become an act of sublime spirituality. Throughout history. we cannot claim that only human beings have the right to live. We are more inclined to preserve the lives of cows than of rats. If we embrace the divinity in all of creation. for example. As a whole. Vast land areas are used to raise livestock for food. for example. All of nature is endowed with existential. This hierarchical. all are the offspring of Spirit or Cosmic Consciousness. its leaves or needles produce oxygen. its roots and branches protect the soil from erosion. vegetables and legumes for human consumption. Sometimes it is difficult to know what the utilitarian value of an animal or a plant is. and ultimately holistic understanding of evolution and ecology. the forest ecosystem has an abundance of ecological. All are the children of Mother Earth. These areas could be utilized far more productively if planted with grains. The other ninety percent goes literally “down the drain. and its pathways and camp grounds provide nourishment for the human soul. and ultimately to Cosmic Consciousness. therefore we may needlessly destroy the ecological balance by killing one species without considering the consequences of its complex relationship or utility value to other species. aesthetic and spiritual values that extend far beyond its benefits in the form of tooth picks or plywood. . formulates the basic foundation for a new and potentially groundbreaking ecological ethics deeply grounded by the philosophy of yoga. and not non-humans.172 sacred body. is more than just x number of board feet of lumber. sacred spirit Yoga and Sustainability It is also ecologically more sustainable to extract nourishment from entities lower down on the food chain. all beings have utility value. and utility value. It serves as a nesting and feeding ground for birds and animals. because of all beings’ existential value.
So. Indeed. our very existence causes violence and death every day. one falsehood can spoil a thousand truths. they were first mentioned in the Tantric-inspired Puranas thousands of years ago. they have become an integral part of yoga practice. we must destroy life to live. the King of Yoga. Sometimes a ruthless dictatorship inflicts more harm than does a violent uprising against it. and so our ethics—our guiding principles of conduct—are seen as essential stepping stones toward spiritual growth. Made famous by Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence movement.the spirit of practice 173 Tantric Ethics for Self and Society As the proverb goes. The essence of the practice of Ahimsa. . which literally means “no harm. a choice to struggle. grains and vegetables. especially from the Tantric interpretation of Brahmacarya. which is practically an impossible goal to uphold. The practice of Tantra embraces all aspects of our lives. but Anandamurti claim they were first taught by Shiva. Balanced and authentic conduct is therefore considered the foundation for living a life imbued with sacredness. Ahimsa—the least harm possible. Since then. Ethics is the soil and water we all need in order to sprout and grow so that we can openly bask in the sunshine of spirituality. Those students and practitioners of yoga who are already familiar with the Yamas and Niyamas may learn some new insights from the perspective of Tantra. Sometimes the lesser of evils must be chosen. As scripture. Yamas—acts of integrity: 1. over 7000 years ago.“ is to refrain from causing undue harm to other living beings. Even if we are vegans. may still uphold the principle of Ahimsa. compromises. The guidelines below are thousands of years old. then in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. They are not commandments but rather teachings to be contemplated and rationally adjusted as we are faced with the struggles. while it cannot be called non-violence. this yogic decree is actually not a principle of absolute nonviolence. paradoxes and beauty of daily living. even with weapons. and our diet consists of only fruits. Scholars maintain that their historical origin is uncertain.
It is a true principle of sacredness. Tantra interprets this differently. and carya means to move. we become content and at peace. balance. follow love. When we practice Tapah. 3. and to feel that each act is an act of sacredness. In many schools of yoga. 5.“ Tantric yogis define Shaoca as “clarity“ instead. While Brahmacarya inspires our subjective realization of the oneness of God. It advises us to love all. When we connect to the love we feel from within and the love we feel in others.“ In other words. It speaks directly to our greed. 1. But it also refers to what we withhold from others. to be a celibate. we lead simple. we do not let greed dominate our actions. They are steps we can take to make our lives richer and more sacred. Asteya seems like a simple principle—do not steal. More importantly. 3. because it also refers to such values as being clear. Niyamas—healthy practices. Santosa is the contentment that comes from accepting ourselves and others just the way we are. sacred spirit 2. Brahmacarya—follow God. or to restrain sexual activity. simple. To be in balance when the world is not. we are willing to undergo sacrifices in order to help others and to serve a spiritual cause. instead it means “to move with God. for example. to follow God. We feel and act from a place of sacredness. Practicing Satya is to speak truth with a spirit of kindness. Hence. Do our riches deprive others of their rights? Do we feel like stealing or cheating because we do not think we have enough? 4. Tapah—giving of ourselves. Asteya—not stealing. Aparigraha reminds us of the objective adjustments we must make in order to live as if all beings matter. and direct. the word Brahma refers to God.174 sacred body. On the face of it. Brahamcarya has nothing to do with sex. Hence. We are willing. sustainable lives. Brahmacarya refers to leading a chaste life. Brahmacarya reminds us that Brahma or God permeates every atom of the universe. In Sanskrit. Shaoca—clarity. Santosa is our ability to be at peace even during stressful situations. Satya—honesty. 2. Aparigraha—simplicity. These principles help us build a lifestyle that supports the values of Yama. to spend less on ourselves in order . Often termed “cleanliness. However. Santosa—mental ease.
Hence. Meditation is a spiritual practice. spirituality is both a practice and an experience.” In Tantra. All of these timeless. we have spiritual experiences. ethical guidelines—which are interpreted here from a Tantric perspective—can be applied in daily life. and through the Madhuvidya practice (seeing God/Spirit in everything). Hence. economics. etc. we practice sitting meditation twice a day. in the morning and in the evening. while we face all the contemporary issues and challenges related to relationships. all of life can become a spiritual practice. Ishvara Pranidhana—spiritual practice. . Hence. and as a result. politics. we read and contemplate sacred scriptures every day.the spirit of practice 175 to help someone in need. Ultimately. The rest of the day. Svadhyaya—spiritual understanding. parenting. we become a conduit of sacredness. ecology. Tapah means to truly serve the other as we would like to be served in return. The literal meaning is “to take shelter in the Supreme Being. 4. spiritual practice. Understanding the spiritual gems hidden deep in the scriptures is a genuine. we take shelter in God by the repetition of a siddha mantra. community. by practicing Ishvara Pranidhana. 5.
So. Some years ago. I whispered a mantra into his right ear and told him to close his eyes and silently meditate as per my instructions. when I was living and teaching as a yogic monk. Such is the power of mantras. when the young man fell backwards and experienced nondual bliss. only seconds after silently repeating a siddha mantra.176 sacred body. As a novice monk. I initiated a young man into the Tantric path of yoga. Even Western science would agree to that now. compost its desires and afflictions. due to the force of Shakti. after he had received his meditation instruction. He was literally blessed out of this world and blissed into the next! How is this possible. Tantra furthermore states that this energy (Shakti) is conjoined with Consciousness (Shiva) as the two poles of the same ultimate. According to the yogic science of Tantra. But how? . sacred spirit The Power of Mantras All mantras are words. of course. unload its karmic baggage. According to traditional custom. this world of matter is simply an ocean of energy. and Tantra explains that these sudden enlightenment experiences occur due to a person’s spiritual karma from previous lives) It happens because mantras are sacred words engineered to undo our minds of its fetters. see and experience our true. but never like this. only seconds after initiation. This primal force of nature literally kick-started his kundalini Shakti and united him with her cosmic consort Shiva in an accelerated and exhilarated union of cosmic oneness. Going a step beyond Western science. This spiritual knockout almost floored me as well. inner nature. liberate it from its past entanglements. They can catapult our bodies and minds into Spirit with the force of a lightening bolt. nondual reality. so that we can awaken. he fell backwards with a powerful and ecstatic shout and landed on the floor with a blissful expression on his face. it happened. let me make a disclaimer: this does not happen to everybody. simply by repeating a few gibberish syllables? (First of all. It is very rare. in Tantric terms. but not all words are mantras. A few seconds later. I had seen people fall into cosmic ecstasy (samadhi) before.
some negative (hatred. and they are each endowed with a sound energy. In the words of yoga scholar George Feuerstein: “[A word] acquires mantric value only when it has been empowered by an adept and transmitted to a disciple. But there is an additional element that makes the Tantric mantras powerful: the power of the guru. Great gurus. that word that liberates the mind. The meaning of the word mantra is literally “that sound. And that vibrational power has been gifted us by the mystical and scientific insights of the ancient yogis. there are also fifty letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Because of these three criteria. empowered by a legitimate guru. The yogis of old discovered this in deep meditation and thus equipped the Sanskrit alphabet with a phonetic ability that no other language has: the ability to liberate us with repeated use. or sonic fetters. Still. . So. who are skilled in this alchemical science. love). Vedic chants. even though they are in Sanskrit. all mantras are words. Moreover. jealousy) located in the chakras. not all Sanskrit words are siddha mantras or effective tools at cultivating spiritual growth and liberation. There are fifty of these vrittis.” For the practitioner of mantra meditation three things are important: 1) to use a proper siddha mantra. some positive (hope.the spirit of practice 177 According to the esoteric science of Tantra. do not have the same spiritual potency as these siddha mantras. To use a mantra from a book is therefore not as effective as when instruction has been given by a teacher through the process of initiation.” (man=mind and tra=liberate). 2) to know and meditate on the exact inner meaning of the mantra and 3) to use the correct pronunciation. we all feel the unique vibrational power of mantras when we chant kirtan or recite a Sanskrit sutra. Hence. these vrittis. of the mind are located in the various chakras. but not all words are mantras. as I wrote above. are able to empower mantras with spiritual potency. all these karmic fetters.
and Cosmic Energy. Tantric Philosophy says: Shiva shaktatmakam brahma. the Supreme Entity. As Kabir said. only One without a second.” the remembering not only to meditate on the breath but also remembering that the breath itself is Consciousness. In Tantric practice. one maintains attention on the chosen object of awareness. There is no differentiation. And. that the breath is Consciousness. is One but has two aspects. for instance by watching the breath. The term for mindfulness in Sanskrit is smrti—to recollect. one will also remember the nature of the breath. to remember to be in the present moment. sacred spirit Tantra Practice: Three Steps to Meaningful Mindfulness Meditation Many teachers of Buddhism and yoga promote and teach the practice of mindfulness. one faithfully returns back to refocus on the breath. This form of meditation has the capacity to take us into a deeper state of silence and spiritual depth than mere mindfulness. are bliss. When practicing mindfulness. or Shiva. the Divine is the breath within the breath. are divine. Developing a Tantric Worldview. that Brahma.178 sacred body. On a metaphysical . that is. Remembering what? The remembering that all objects of one’s attention are sacred. these two appears to be separate. This Sanskrit sutra by Anandamurti contains the basic concept of Tantric philosophy. when remembering. Brahma is the composite of Shiva and Shakti. the Inner Witness. or Shakti. now and in the future. when having attained continuous mindfulness one attains dhruva smrti. namely Cosmic Consciousness. Step one. the Real Self. Thus we may term Tantric meditation “meaningful mindfulness. one experiences continuous remembering. Whenever the mind wanders away. one sees only One. In this physical world of duality. but after attaining knowledge of nondual Brahma.
Spiritually. Developing a Tantric Vision Through Madhuvidya. this unity principle represents our need to integrate our male and female energies. it represents the way we contemporary yogis integrate spiritual exercises. Brahma. Thus. and Cosmic Energy. the Chinese expression of Tantra. they are the esoteric twin pair yin and yang. and discover joy and peace in polarity. also symbolize integration. Try to find as many situations as you can during the day when you can contemplate this union of Shiva and Shakti as Brahma. one sees that all are One. as the perfect unity-principle. it represents the interrelationship of all of creation. even contradictions and unpleasant experiences.the spirit of practice 179 level. Neurologically. envision how the Tantric principles of wholeness embrace everything. Now. Within our own conditional reality. but after attaining knowledge of nondual Brahma. masculine and feminine. in Jungian terms. is expressed in the “polarity” of Shiva and Shakti. so without. things and people appear to be separate. in essence. Use this vision to embrace aspects of life you are afraid of. Ecologically. In this physical world of duality. Psychologically. all things are. In Taoism. objective and subjective. Feel how everything is sacred. and all things have in them the latent force of Shiva. and physical exercises. or Cosmic Consciousness. into our daily lives. Everything in this world contains Cosmic Consciousness. Deeply contemplate this Tantric unity principle of the cosmos: Feel how everything is an expression of Brahma. this duality . such as meditation and chanting. As within. Tantric metaphysics has far-reaching implications for how we can find balance and harmony in our daily lives. or Shakti. Feel how everything is divine. so below. or Shiva. the ultimate reality. Brahma. Move beyond conflict and pain. without and within. As above. Ontologically. for example. or Comsic Energy. such as asanas. issues you reject or hide. the integration of animus and anima. of Consciousness. All things and beings are created by Shakti. Step two. As you can see. it is expressed when scholars seek to integrate spiritual and scientific knowledge. Shiva and Shakti. it represents the integration of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. this is expressed as the dualities of male and female.
Step three: Meaningful Mindfulness Meditation. This is madhuvidya. Try to see and feel Brahma in everything and everyone you encounter. focusing on a chakra and the meaning of the mantra. blissful. One may keep doing this over and over until one feels relaxed and natural and the mind is focused on the breath. etc. sacred spirit in Oneness. the state of always being in the presence of meaningfulness. partner or spouse is Brahma when talking to him or her. . sacred. When one sits down to eat. of course. remembering the Divine before acting.. Always. that is. one is gradually reminded of the inner meaning of life. twice a day. and doing yoga exercises on the breath. feel that the food is sacred. Try to feel that your friend. that action is also divine. Then imbue the breath with meaningful mindfulness. the inner mindful meaning of life: that it is sacred. And when this practice is natural and continuous. Of always being in the now. or in any other relaxed position with the back straight. Whenever any action is performed. then singing kirtan. one may continue the remembering by repeating the mantra during japa practice all day long. Try to feel that your food is Brahma before and during a meal. touching. God. To paraphrase Rumi: if you wonder whether there is divinity. and so on. always. whether God responds to your meditation. Everything. that whole process becomes one continuous meaningful remembering. with a mantra. So when a Tantric yogi sits with his or her eyes closed in either lotus position. whatever heartfelt feeling comes to mind that also represents divinity in your life. or honey knowledge. This is meaningful mindfulness. of divinity. before seeing. The more you remember doing this. divine. This is easier said than practiced. the remembering that everything is divine honey. then doing japa during the day. And if one forgets one can always go back to the meaning. half lotus. to the mindful remembering.180 sacred body. and meditates on the breath. and also during the act itself. start to feel that the breath is Consciousness. And even after sitting meditation. God. but the habit of sitting every day. it becomes dhruva smrti. also sacred. of the sacred. divine. love. the more you will become connected to the world around you in a deeply spiritual and sacred way. with a mantra.
the spirit of practice 181 your longing for That. the practice itself. is meaningful. Yes. is divine. then remember. it is the longing itself. . the return message from the Divine. that is the message. the effort itself. even the process of forgetting and then returning. Always. is part of the practice.
the Infinite Consciousness. Start by focusing your attention on your breath and take a few deep but slow breaths.” This mantra can be used as a beginner’s meditation practice. which consists of three Sanskrit words: Baba Nam Kevalam. morning and evening on an empty stomach and follow the other suggestions about meditation in the section of this book called Ten Secrets to a Great Meditation Practice. simply bring it back to the repetition of the mantra and imagine that your thoughts are passing by in your mind like clouds in the sky. It is very beneficial to chant for five to ten minutes or more before using the same mantra in silent meditation. and they are practiced in silence. or in a chair. Let . Anandamurti. or Brahma. My guru. and that its nature is peaceful.” Thus the literal name of the mantra is “Only the name of the Beloved. omnipresent and loving. half lotus. After a few weeks or months practicing in this way. imagine that Infinite Consciousness is all that exists.182 sacred body. Sprit.” and Kevalam means “only. re-introduced all the lessons of Asthanga Yoga as described (but not taught) by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. When repeating this mantra in silence internally with closed eyes and an erect spine in either lotus position. cross legged. in additions to many other higher lessons of Tantra that have been nearly forgotten. He also introduced a new siddha mantra. Try to meditate for 15 minutes twice a day. sacred spirit Introducing a Meditation Practice In the tradition of yoga and Tantra. You may also chant this mantra over and over to any peaceful and melodic tune you like until you feel enveloped in a peaceful trance. It is important to keep that idea of the mantra in your mind while you silently repeat the Sanskrit words. Baba means “beloved” or “dearest” and it refers to your deepest Self. Nam means “name. If your mind wanders during meditation. they are taught without any written notes. you may want to synchronize this mantra with your breath. the practice of meditation is taught by a guru or someone authorized by the guru to teach on his or her behalf. or empowered mantra. Most of these meditation techniques are taught according to the individual needs and spiritual development of the student.
and when you loose concentration. and Kevalam while breathing out. more sophisticated meditation lessons from a teacher visiting your area. the mantra and its meaning.eightfold-path. focus. Union is. If you wish to learn deeper. after all. Union and flow with the breath. Now you are synchronizing your breathing with the mantra and the meaning of the mantra. please contact me through my blog: www.com . what the practice of yoga and Tantra is all about. flow and finally the feeling of union with it all. simply bring it back to the breath and the mantra and the meaning of the mantra. When you feel peaceful and relaxed. Meditation is all about being in the moment and that requires attention.the spirit of practice 183 your mind gently flow with your breathing for a while. Let your mind flow. start to repeat Baba Nam while breathing in.
Volume Two. 1981 Singh. Ananda Marga Publications. Manohar Publishers. 1999 . 1996 Bhattacharyya. 26 May.Select Bibliography Introduction Anandamurti. Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy. N. 2006 McClure. 1999 Cooke. Calcutta. Ananda Marga Publications. 2004 Part One Sacred Rivers: The History of Yoga and Tantra Anandamurti. Lalan Prasad. 1994 Brooks. Calcutta. Discourses on Tantra. 1994 Anandamurti. Yoga Publications Trust. Nora. A Woman’s Guide to Tantra Yoga. article titled “History of Aryan Conquest of India told in Genes. Georg. Shrii Shrii. Douglas. Tantra: Its Mystic and Scientific Basis. New York. Shambala. 1976 Wells. 2011 Feuerstein. Volume Two. Concept Publishing Company. “Tantra Rising. 1999 Abhayananda. A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya. Random House. Olympia. Bihar. Calcutta. 2012 Satyananda. New Delhi. 1998 Isaacs. Swami. Swami. June. Boston. Shrii Shrii. Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey. History of the Tantric Religion. N. Spencer. Namah Shiva Shantaya. Shrii Shrii. Atma Books. History of Mysticism. from an interview on the blog “Shivers Up the Spine” with Priya Thomas. Vimala. Robert. Discourses on Tantra. Ananda Marga Publications.. New World Library.” San Francisco Chronicle.” article in Yoga Journal.
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In the spring of 2010. Tanya Lee Markul. via email. the sadhana of writing is a silent unfolding of the heart’s wisdom. sacred spirit Acknowledgments The initial writings of this book began with a virtual meeting of the minds. deep thank you to Robert Bly for teaching us all that writing is a spiritual practice. environmentalists and volunteer staffers: Ben Ralston. Some of these essays received more than a hundred comments. introduced me. then. which helped sharpen my left brain. Matthew Remski. and Braja Sorensen. healers. and in its best moments. Lynn Hasselberger. These essays would not have been read by so many people without the social marketing help of these incredibly supportive yogis. . and associate publisher. Julian Walker and countless other regular readers and fellow writers for their constructive comments. my friend and the founder of Subtle Yoga. I have never met any of you. until I finally settled on this one. to the publisher of Elephant Journal. they each ended up being read by hundreds and. I am especially thankful to Bob Weisenberg. Waylon Lewis. A sincere namaskar to Devashish Donald Acosta for being the most cool-minded editor/publisher any writer could ask for. but I love you all! Many heartfelt thanks to Dada Nabhanilananda for our many creative discussions about writing and for rejecting all my initial book titles. disagreements and general high spirit of mutual respect and support.188 sacred body. Many of these essays grew out of such discussions and. This encounter led to many fruitful and sometimes fierce discussions about everything yoga and Tantra with Bob and other yogis of the virtual realm. to my great surprise. Bob Weisenberg. And a final. in those long moments of deep flow. I am honored to have been part of Elephant’s yoga writing crew and the website’s exploding growth from it’s humble beginnings during that time when Waylon was not sure if he’d be able to pay his mortgage or not. Ben Riggs. Kaoverii Weber. Matt Helmick. Carol Horton. that. a solitary form of Bhakti Yoga. deepen my yogic concentration and inspire my right brain to even more creativity. Buddhists. thousands of people on the journal’s website. Tobye Hillier.
He has been practicing and teaching Tantric yoga and meditation since 1974.About The Author Ramesh Bjonnes is co-founder of the Prama Institute. . and a lecturer on yoga philosophy and history to yoga teachers and students in the United States and Europe. He is a certified yoga health educator. please visit: www.eightfold-path. a popular yoga columnist for the award-winning Elephant Journal.com. For more information about Ramesh and his work. a holistic retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
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