Last night, Paul Muller-Ortega, as part of the introductory talk for the meditation intensive, spoke at some length about the principles of ardha, kama, dharma, moksha.
As I have written about before, in the classical yoga view, it is the renunciation of the first three–material well-being, love and relationship, and right work or path, that leads us to the fourth–liberation. From a tantric yoga perspective, it is living and having the first three from the perspective of illuminated wisdom and discerning (viveka) insight (pratibha) that makes us free (jivanmukti) in this life.
One of the most exquisite things about a steady practice and study, is that each time we revisit a core concept, we hear and understand new aspects to bring into our lives.
When speaking of approaching these elemental aspects of human being, Paul noted that ardha includes not only material well-being, even wealth, but also the power that wealth brings and how we use it. Although he only mentioned that briefly amidst several other concepts, it really resonated with the current state of my being in relationship to the world and our country.
I have been contemplating deeply about wealth and power in this time of budget debate, and how they can and should be used to bring nurture, peace, and health to the maximum degree possible. (You might guess that I don’t think increasing spending for war and decreasing spending for education and health is going to bring us freedom).
Thinking about the power of money as part of our contemplation of our material well-being is something of critical importance at this time. If we shun or disdain in our minds wealth and power while still yearning for our own comforts, than we have lost an opportunity to bring the yoga principles into our lives as optimally as possible. (Of course, grasping and coveting money and power is completely destructive of the possibility of happiness, but most of us think about that, and it is why some say they are bad — money being the root of all evil, etc.).
If we are really in the world and want to be happy and to share and spread happiness, while living in accordance with the principles of the yamas and niyamas, especially the yamas: ahimsa, satya, aparigraha, brahmacharya, asteya (non-harming, truthfulness, non-greediness, aligning with spirit, and non-stealing), that is when we will start opening up the possibility of true living liberation.
Imagine, instead of thinking about material well-being as a “guilty pleasure” thinking of ways in which you can use your own well-being (and work through your practice to discover greater health and strength) to be a voice and power for good in your own individual way.
Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.
This weekend, a friend whose marriage of decades is precipitating towards dissolution, said to me, “I am having trouble reconciling being yogic and still needing to do what I need to do in connection with divorce. How do I deal with that?” I told her about a yoga principle I learned at the first Inner Harmony Retreat I attended with John Friend in the summer of 2003. He had asked a student a question that yielded as the answer the four yoga principles of ardha (physical and material well-being), kama (relationship, including intimate and love relationships), dharma (life path or work), and moksha (liberation or freedom). The fellow student answering the question, who was also my teacher, gave the classic yoga explanation that we try to do the first three elements in alignment so that we can then transcend and go beyond them to become free (enlightened). John replied that was the traditionally correct answer in dualist, classical yoga, but that from the tantric perspective of a person living in the world as a yogi, we look apply the principles differently. By living in a way that we have taken care of our physical and material well-being, have happy and loving relationships, and work with delight and passion that we will be embodying a life of the spirit; we will then be living and embodying freedom (jivanmukti). That encapsulation of tantric yoga resonated deeply and is a significant part of why I have chosen a path of tantric yoga rather than one that preaches renouncing the body and mind (which I think is impossible for one staying in the world).
My friend’s question seemed especially significant to me in light of the dialogue that has ensued following the publication of the New York Times article on John Friend, John’s blog in response, and the Elephant Journal interview. The essence of the article and the reactions, to me, seem to be about the intersection of our “outer” notions of societal success–fame and fortune–and yoga and whether the two can be reconciled. The New York Times article is obviously intended to be sensational and to create controversy; that is what makes a journalist who gets fame and fortune. But the alleged tension highlighted in the article is indicative of a bigger societal confusion of how and whether we can be spiritual or religious beings and also have human needs and wants. Ours is a society that hungers for panaceas and palliatives. In “discovering” yoga and its benefits in the late 20th century, far too many have put onto it expectations that have no basis in what is yoga and how it is supposed to aid us.
There is no word in yoga philosophy or in India for “yogic.” The word “yogic” is a western creation of relatively recent vintage. Webster’s dictionary does not have it as a separate word, but just has it at the end of the definition of “yoga” as “adj, often capitalized.” What do we mean by being “yogic?” It seems that we have gotten this notion that if we practice yoga seriously or teach it, that means we must be perfectly pure and good. We will need only light and air to nourish our bodies (and maybe a little local raw food in season); we will have neither needs nor desires; we will be so suffused with peace, compassion, and equanimity, that we never feel or show anger or grief, even in the face of injustice, violence, pain, or outrageous behavior. We expect that somehow we will be a perfect monk while still living with family and going to work.
We expect this not only of ourselves, but even more so of our teachers. In essence, we somehow expect yoga to release us from the realities of being human. To have such expectations inevitably will lead to disappointment in ourselves and our teachers (for being unable to reach this impossible ideal) or in the practice (both for not yielding this ideal and for, in our delusion, creating this expectation in the first place). My meditation and philosophy teacher Paul Muller-Ortega would say that to have such expectations is “adolescent” spirituality. When we practice “adult” spirituality, we take responsibility for ourselves and our own practice. We expect our teachers to offer us the teachings, but we honor and recognize them as human beings.
To practice yoga sincerely while still living in the world should make us more humane to ourselves and to all around us, not beyond being human. This is the true essence of Anusara yoga. To be richly and freely and wonderfully human and feel great love and compassion for that, even as we balance the realities of life with attempts to live in greater alignment. I am incredibly grateful for the teachings and the community that John Friend has created and the offering to study and get as deeply into the yoga as makes sense for me. Whether there are things I might do differently in the realm of ardha, kama, or dharma if I were “the yoga mogul” is of little moment because to find moksha we all strive to do our best in our own way (and one thing I know of John is that he always strives to do his best).
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.
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.