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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.

Are You Wondering

why I did not post an entry about the sixth anniversary of the war in Iraq?  I obviously care deeply about the need to end the war and to address the tragic aftermath at home and abroad.  So why choose not to mark an anniversary?  Why instead of marking a dire anniversary, celebrate spring?  Sometimes, by celebrating something small in the midst of a crisis, we can give ourselves the grounding and energy to work harder to bring more light and to seek to end needless suffering.

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.

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.

Be Smile (from the outside in, and vice versa)

Yesterday, for the first time this year, there was more daylight than darkness.  Today, it will be warm and sunny.  Notice if the light and warmth brighten your mood.  Then try to observe just where and how you are shifted so that when things seem dark and gloomy, you can find the place within yourself that responds to light and dark and invite in your own light to shift.  This is a power of meditation.

be-smile

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.

Worrying (and the kanchukas)

This morning, woken by the purring cat from an anxious dream in which I was not doing enough to make things better (I am not making this up), my first thoughts were of escalating war in Afghanistan and deepening economic crisis at home.  It felt almost strange and abstract to be worrying about these things from my warm comfortable bed.

I think worrying can have a positive place in our lives.  If we just get worried or anxious about things and get trapped in not doing or growing or reaching (both inward and outward) for a sense of connection and spirit, then worrying will cloak or limit us.  If we recognize worries as showing us limitations, then we can use them to grow and change and spur us to action.

After the 25 tattvas describing the physical world and our being and understanding of the world that correspond in both the classical and Kashmir Shaivist systems, are Kashmir Shaivism’s six kanchukas — cloakings or coverings.  The kanchukas are niyati (limitation of place), kaala (limitation of time), raaga ( attachment), vidya (limitation of knowledge), kalaa (limitation of action), maya (illusion of individuality/manifestation).

From a tantric perspective, experiencing ourselves as thinking, individual beings in the manifest world, constrained by time and space, only binds us if we think that is all we are.  If we get completely entangled in these constraints, then our sense of spirit is cloaked, just as if we get stuck in worrying, instead of using worries as a spur to work for change, we become miserable.

I meditate and practice asana, as taught by my teachers, to reveal the restraints of physical being as only part of my being.  Spiritual practice can serve to enable us to experience freedom of heart and mind, to bathe in the bliss of the essence of ourselves that is universal and unconstrained by the limitations of individual manifestation.  The point of these practices not to escape our individual selves or to gratify them (that would still be “cloaked”), but to find the strength and stability to serve better and to work for a world in which all beings have an equal chance to seek the spirit and experience the bliss of connection.