Food for the Mind (Yoga Philosophy, etc)

Contemplations on readings and yoga philosophy.

A Session of Coincidences (and Shiva Tattva)

Towards the end of a yoga session I start thinking about what would be a good theme for the next.  I start by observing what is going on in the world — from the change of seasons, to whether it is rainy or drought, to what is going on in the political climate, noticing what is recurring in my own practice and the practices of my students, watching what is arising in my contemplations and meditations, and seeing what is resonating most in what I am learning from my own teachers.  I will go into my library, reading and rereading things to see what resonates with what I am observing and experiencing.  I also take into account the length of the session to be sure that it will fit well within the number of classes.  Once I have set the session theme, I spend the week in which I will teach a particular principle, contemplating it, reading about it, practicing with it, and thinking about its relationship to my life off of the mat.

When I selected the tattvas this session it was for a whole array of reasons (some of which have been set out in previous posts).  The order I picked to teach them, and which I chose to emphasize, were for what I thought would be the best way to share knowledge and experience and not for the outside calendar.  It was then, by sheer  serendipity that the themes fit as they did with the calendar:

  • Vayu — the mahabhuta air, the element associated with the anahata chakra (the heart chakra) on Valentine’s Day
  • Purusha/Prakriti — nature and spirit, was the week I was leading the “Yoga for Gardeners” workshop
  • Shakti — power, expansion, opening, was for the week of the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Now this week, the last week of the session, parama shiva — the highest tattva. Shiva tattva is the most subjective principle and the most universal.  It represents the essence of being (sat), consciousness (cit), and bliss (ananda).  It is everywhere and nowhere, in all beings and not.  It is whatever ever we think of as spirit or force or web of being or light or pulsation or divine — whatever we believe is the very essence of being.  It is most interesting that by my series of contemplations and choices over the winter holidays, that I gave myself the homework assignment, as it were, to be specifically contemplating, practicing with, and studying the shiva tattva as I offer peace to Becky as she departs and seek my own peace in my grief over the loss of her physical presence.

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Moksha

I have a set of cards that I keep on my altar that are designed to be used for contemplation.  There are about fifty cards, each of which has a sanskrit word and its meaning.  Just as one gets a fortune cookie randomly or picks a tarot card from a deck, but the message often seems right on point, the word that arises from the card picked from the stack often seems uncannily timely.  Early Saturday morning, after not having used the cards in a few months, I picked a card from the middle of the stack to see if it would help guide my contemplation and meditations as I was getting ready to say good-bye to Becky. The word on the card I picked blind from the middle of the stack was “moksha” or liberation.  In classical yoga, moksha does carry with it the implication of being liberated by transcending body and mind.

Later on Saturday, when I was on my way home from teaching for the appointment with the vet, I stopped at the metaphysical supply shop for a piece of rose quartz (to use in a ritual to assist with the transition and loss that a friend taught me).  At the check out were “dolphin saying cards.”  There was a sign next to the cards inviting customers to take one for free.  The sign also said that it was not necessary to take the one at the top.  The cards were face down; I did not look for a particular saying.  I dug a few cards down, and the one I selected read:  “freedom has its roots within yourself.”  In other words, “moksha” for the second time on this day, when I was facing with Becky her transition of the spirit from the body.

Was it a message?  Was it a coincidence?  I do know that I knew when it was time, as I did with Henrietta.  Becky just did not want to be embodied anymore.  When I held her in her arms after she stopped breathing, she was released and relaxed in a way she had not been in months.  That the signs were saying “moksha” resonated with Becky’s power and connectedness.  I hope that when I am ready to go, I will truly understand moksha, that I will be released.  It is so resonant of Becky’s life, for all her quirks, that she was still teaching me even as she was dying.

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Shiva-Shakti Tattvas

The shiva-shakti tattvas, the two highest tattvas, are completely subjective.  The shiva tattva is, according to the philosophy, the ultimate reality, the pure “I,” undiminished and undifferentiated consciousness.  As something purely subjective, it is both everywhere and nowhere, in every being and simultaneously beyond them.  It is not dissimilar to Hegel’s Absolute (though I believe Douglas Brooks, who knows far more than I in this area, might disagree with me on this one), which “is and is not,” or Kant’s “unmoved mover.”

Shakti tattva is power — the power to tranform, create, manifest, diversify, cloak.  Shakti is the power to become embodied in objective form.  Shiva and shakti tattvas are thus inseparable.  Ultimate unbounded consciousness and freedom (shiva) only has meaning to the extent the power to move, create, and diversify (shakti) pulses and transforms the subjective into the objective, the unimaginable to the observable.

In our yoga practice and meditation, we seek to use the practices to reveal to ourselves the ultimate pulsation (spanda) between the objective and subjective, the observable and the unknowable, the individual and the completely universal.  One way I experience the first principle of Anusara yoga (open to grace), is taking the mat or my seat with an openness to sense and experience this ultimate pulsation (spanda) and play (lila), so that by using my body, mind, and will, I can better recognize the spirit that shines in all of us and use that recognition to inform how I relate to myself, society, and all beings.

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Iccha, Jnana, Kriya

Above (or perhaps beyond, or maybe more elemental, or more universal — words inevitably tangle us in discussing essential philosophical constructs) the six kanchukas (cloakings or coverings) are the five universal elements.  These are suddha vidya, ishvara, saddha shiva, and shiva-shakti.  John Friend suggests that we think of the first three of these tattvas as corresponding to the principles of iccha (will),  jnana (knowledge), and kriya (action).

When I think of the Anusara principles in practice on and off the mat, I think of them in terms of the tattvas, particularly the five universal elements and the five mahabhutas .   Those of you who practice and study Anusara yoga are familiar with the principles of “open to grace, muscular energy, inner/expanding spiral, outer/contracting spiral, and organic energy.”  As part of the physical practice of asana, I think of these alignment principles as corresponding to the mahabhutas (the five great elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space/ether; see previous posts on how I experience the alignment principles as relating to the mahabhutas).  At that level, “open to grace” has physical characteristics.  These principles, when applied consciously, help us to align the physical body with the energy body, so that we can more fully delight in our bodies.  When we are in alignment and experience expansion through alignment, we can more optimally move in and experience the physical and mental realms in a way that helps us recognize the universal spirit in all beings.

The reason I come to the mat, the ultimate purpose of yoga in an of itself and for me as a practitioner, is informed by the five principles of the universal.  The yearning to connect to the spirit is in essence an opening to grace at an elemental, non-physical level (an uber opening to grace).  The next aspect of our practice, which is more important than the physical technical details of the alignment principles, are what John Friend terms “attitude, alignment, and action.”  These are by definition more universal and fundamental than the physical principles and correspond directly to the principles of iccha (will),  jnana (knowledge), and kriya (action).  The essence of yoga, especially from a tantric perspective, is the will (iccha) to embody and experience the union of mind, body, and spirit with a radical embrace of our being.   Knowledge (jnana), when used as a way to align with our true nature, is not to correct, but to better enable us to align our body, both physically and energetically, and our mind so we best can experience and express our will to connect.   The ultimate action (kriya) of a pose or what we do off the mat is a spontaneous offering or an expression of our will to connect, using ever increasing refinement, skill, and knowledge.

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Yoga for Householders

Paul Muller-Ortega, who teaches philosophy and meditation from similar roots to those that inform Anusara yoga, spoke yesterday of the differences between the path of the renunciate and the path of the householder.  He strongly stated that neither path was better.  What he suggested, though, was that a householder will better flourish practicing yoga designed for the householder rather than attempting to practice renunciate techniques, while still staying in the householder path.

What does this mean?  I think it means that we become unhappy and conflicted if we try attempt the practices of the path of complete non-attachment and transcendence of body and mind while we are still very much staying in society and responsible for family, work, and citizenship.  The tantric, householder path, including that of the Shaivite tradition of Kashmir and Abhinavagupta, offers practices that enable one to live liberated in society, instead of suggesting that the only way to true liberation is to reject and transcend work, family, and community.  In yoga terms, the householder path is one that realizes moksha (liberation), through ardha (physical and material well-being), kama (love/relationship), and dharma (right work/path) rather than by transcending them.

Taking the householder path does not mean just indulging.  It still requires sensitivity, dedication, discrimination, and alignment.  I think it may be even harder than renunciation.  I know it is easier for me to just stay alone and practice, for example, than to bring yoga off my mat to how I work, consume, relate to others, and participate in society.  The householder path, though, is the one for me.

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One Person’s Weeds

Last year, some romaine lettuce must have bolted.  I have baby romaine lettuce coming up everywhere.  Having reverted to the wild, it is quite bitter.  It is also taking up a fair amount of space, so to be able to plant more appealing things (new herbs and greens) I will be pulling it up.  It has become, in essence, a weed.  Later in the year, I’ll also have a surfeit of volunteer epazote and purslane, which many would pull as weeds.  Those, I actively encourage, eating young the ones that come up over and over again through the bricks and confining in containers a few others to grow larger and to reseed.

Even though it is too bitter to be palatable raw, the now “weed” romaine tastes fine cooked as a tender green.  So it does not get discarded.  I just won’t make myself eat it in its bitter form as the salad green that it is “supposed” to be.  Instead, since it is nourishing and tasty as a cooked green, it is a welcome early addition to the garden.

Just I have challenges and tribulations from whatever is my overall plan for the garden, I have my share of aches, pains, challenges, and disappointments, in life and in my yoga practice.  The question is how to discriminate (viveka) among those that are poisonous, those that are bitter, and those that can be made nourishing and sweet, through the cooking of understanding, practice, and effort.

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Only a little rain (and vimarsha)

My gardening friends have been commiserating and worrying about the abnormally dry weather.   For the past couple of days, we have all been concerned that this storm has brought so little needed rain, although we are grateful to get whatever rain comes.  Other acquaintances were complaining yesterday that it still wasn’t sunny.  When I mentioned drought conditions, they had not noticed.  If they noticed once it was pointed out, they suggested reasons why for them personally, it would still be a better thing for it to be a sunny day.  Part of the reason I garden is to keep me connected with the rhythms of the seasons and the weather.  If we do not grow our own food and depend on the fruits of our labors, nor are taught the relationship between the weather and our survival, there is no reason to know it.  We become disconnected from nature and from the earth.

For me, connection to the earth deepens my connection to myself and to spirit.  How can we know ourselves if we do not know how the earth nourishes us and how we relate to the earth?  How can we recognize the light within ourselves, if we are disconnected from nature?  At the same time, the practice of yoga, with its inward questing (antar-vimarsha — the quest to touch or reveal the true Self), by revealing to us the subtle energies and knowledge of the relationship of body and mind, can lead us back to yearning for a deeper understanding of the world around us and for a healthier relationship between the give and take between us and the earth.  We can thus reach spirit both by being more aware of the outside and seeing where we are disconnected in our practice off the mat and by reaching inward using our spiritual practice (the Anusara principles are designed to be a pulsation of reaching outward and inward for an ever growing expansion and understanding of mind and spirit) and then knowing the outside is not aligned and needs to be shifted.  All this is the process of vimarsha, like a little more rain in the drought to nourish and encourage the unfolding of spring.

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