Most people don’t purposefully shatter their cherished pieces of pottery, but that isn’t always the case in Japanese culture. Adorning broken ceramics with a lacquer mixed with powdered gold is part of a more than 500-year-old Japanese tradition that highlights imperfections rather than hiding them. This not only teaches calm when a cherished piece of pottery breaks; it is a reminder of the beauty of human fragility as well.
In a world that so often prizes youth, perfection and excess, embracing the old and battered may seem strange. But the 15th-Century practice of kintsugi, meaning “to join with gold”, is a reminder to stay optimistic when things fall apart and to celebrate the flaws and missteps of life.
The kintsugi technique is an extension of the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabiwhich sees beauty in the incomplete and value in simplicity. The broken pieces’ gilded restoration usually takes up to three months, as the fragments are carefully glued together with the sap of an indigenous Japanese tree, left to dry for a few weeks and then adorned with gold running along its cracks.
In an age of mass production and quick disposal, learning to accept and celebrate scars and flaws is a powerful lesson in humanity and sustainability. – Yasmin El-Beih
Personal life planning, navigating our journey, is an exercise in mistake management more than the pursuit of perfection. Indeed, the best plans are those written in pencil, where numerous erasures are visible. They are novels that remain forever in draft form, in which the author continues to build on the narrative, charting out a series of compelling contingencies and Plan B’s.
But these divergences from Plan A, the unfinished story, the erasures and errors, all add to the texture of the plan more than they detract. The whole amounts to a patchwork of art with more character and visual appeal, not unlike the 500-year-old Japanese practice of kintsugi.
The translation of kintsugi is “golden joinery,” and it is an art form in which broken pottery is fused back together by precious metals, like gold, platinum, or silver. This technique isn’t a mere exercise in scarcity or frugality; it is a philosophy from which we can draw direction and inspiration for more effective—and more enjoyable—financial planning.
Here are four principles of kintsugi that can instruct our own life journey:
That which is broken can be mended. There are fatal flaws in financial plans, but not in financial planning. The most common breakage in financial planning is often overspending. Yet overspending one month (year or decade)—or in one category—can be supplemented by another. The optimal mending agent is margin. Spending less than you earn is a good start, but an even better habit is funding the unexpected. In addition to backfilling overspending, simple savings can fuel spontaneity.
Flaws can be features. The loss of a job sparks an even more rewarding career. An investment gamble gone wrong inspires a more disciplined approach. Being forced to move to a lower cost-of-living area introduces you to a new community. Bankruptcy fuels a passion for financial fluency.
There is “beauty in the incomplete.” Kintsugi draws from the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi—“wabi”, which roughly means ‘the elegant beauty of humble simplicity, and “sabi”, which means ‘the passing of time and subsequent deterioration.’” And our life planning never reaches a point of completion. Some mistake retirement for the financial finish line, but those who are fortunate to reach that milestone inevitably realize it is more a moment of commencement than finality. (And thank goodness!) Many, if not most, will see a depreciation in their assets in their final days, as a lifetime of appreciation is spent in lieu of earned income. And even beyond our time on this earth, the best financial planning impacts future generations through purposeful estate planning and philanthropy.
Lastly, it must be acknowledged that the process takes time. “The broken pieces’ gilded restoration usually takes up to three months, as the fragments are carefully glued together with the sap of an indigenous Japanese tree, left to dry for a few weeks and then adorned with gold running along its cracks.” The one theme that is likely common among the host of intentions activated in your life planning is that they will take time to materialize. Thankfully, we’ve learned that a great deal of the enjoyment we derive from the benchmark moments in our lives is owed to their anticipation.
It is important to note, though, that neither kintsugi nor good life, spiritual, relationship and career or financial planning is formless. There is a mold that is created, an intention that is articulated, an objective toward which we strive. Without intentions, there is no plan and we end up wherever circumstances dictate. Without objectives, we are merely the means in someone else’s planning.
Personal and life planning, like kintsugi, doesn’t encourage aimlessness or glorify failure. Instead, it frees us from the momentary paralysis of missteps, invites us to learn from our mistakes, teaches us how to put the pieces back together, and then allows us to enjoy our ever-improving creation, bonded and adorned by our lessons learned.
Where have we each been broken? How has the patient mending taken place and restored a new sort of wholeness? Can we recognize and honor the beauty of such golden mending in ourselves and in others?
“How, as practicing yogins in modern life, do we modulate and up-level our relationships and interactions with other persons in the sometimes choppy and turbulent waters of our lives?”
We might start with the four “Brahma-viharas” or “Divine abidings” of the Yoga Sutras and of Buddhist tradition as a blueprint. These are Maitrī – Karuṇā – Muditā – Upekṣa.
These are four principles and practices that create a framework or map for our relationships, to guide our interactions with other people in life, in ways most beneficial for all concerned. They are applicable to all persons, whether stranger or family, friend or foe. They were first articulated in early Buddhist teachings and became an integral part of their practices. This began in the 6th century BCE, the time of the Buddha’s life. Before then, in the ancient Vedic writings and early Upaniṣads, there was only reference to “ahimsa” which means “non-harming”. Ahimsa was fundamental to Buddhism, Jainism and Yogic philosophy as a moral abstention. The viharas takes this further into positive actions.
They are very clearly articulated in the Yoga Sutra’s of Patñjali, a foundational text of classical yoga. In Yoga Sutra I.33:
“Be friendly (maitrī) with those who are happy (sukha).
Be compassionate (karunā) with those who are suffering (duḥkha).
Be joyous (muditā) for those who are virtuous or who enjoy success (puṇya). And bring equanimity and overlooking (upekṣha) for those who enact un-virtuous acts (apuṇya).
By this means the mind becomes lucid (prasādanam).” *
A “lucid” mind is one that is clear and untroubled. At peace with oneself and able to see truth without effort. This is a great foundation both for living one’s best life.
These are beautiful guidelines for relations with all other persons. This is easy to see and appreciate, but difficult in real life to practice consistently. Certainly they will make for smoother sailing in life! The four viharas are worthy of contemplating and trying to enact in our relationships with others in both positive and negative circumstances.
Upekṣha, in particular, can be challenging. For it invites us to not react negatively when others are acting negatively towards us or others. Sometimes, of course, we must challenge and call out harmful behavior. This requires discrimination and good judgment (lucidity!) But in many, perhaps most, circumstances it is more effective to just “raise our vision”, to overlook erroneous behavior. To let it go and give others space to recognize and ultimately surpass their own smaller thoughts and actions. We overlook it, let it go, forgive and don’t become entangled by being reactive. It can also be called “detachment” (vairag), a careful non-reactive neutrality that yet stays present and caring if the relationship is to endure and grow. Upekṣha is a valuable emotional tool.
Muditā, is bringing our own joy in sharing and celebrating in others’ successes, accomplishments and right actions, also a very high and mature practice. It requires being secure in one’s own Self. It is the opposite of envy and jealousy. The opposite of what is called “shadenfreude” in German, which means literally “joy-harm”. That is taking secret pleasure, joy, or satisfaction in the troubles, failures, losses and humiliations of others. That is no doubt a natural emotion in a competitive and socially-stratified society. Even among animals and children it can be seen. But it stems from insecurity, competitiveness and low self-esteem. For those seeking the highest fulfillment in life, we know that our growth can never come at the expense of others. Life and the universe is supporting us all, providing everything we need in the “big picture”. So in that wholeness we can place our trust and know that we are not diminished by others’ success. Nor are we lifted up by their troubles, even for those who may have harmed us.
Now some further considerations. It appears to me that there are these three domains in each individual that governs or limits capacities for enacting our highest freedom and the ability to create and live our fullest life. This is in the three domains of knowledge, what we may know and realize (called jñana in Sanskrit), of actions and our choices of actions (kriya) and of our will or intentions (iccha). These are the primary three “potencies”, śhaktis or powers for the expression of our fundamental freedom (svatantrya).
Consider the following three axioms regarding limitations in these three domains:
1) It is our beliefs, what we take to be true, that limit our knowledge.
What knowledge can we actually recognize, take-in and accept? If it is in conflict with our fundamental beliefs we will not accept nor even recognize it as knowledge. The larger and more aligned our beliefs are with highest truth, the more we can know reality.
2) It is our values that limit our choices and actions.
Values being our priorities, what we would choose over any lesser value. Our values determine how our lives will look. How happy and fulfilled we will be.
Consider how one who values financial success, power over others or fame more than love, peace and contentment and spiritual fulfillment. WE all have very many values. It is in how we rank them that is the key. What will we prioritize?
3) It is our identities (Self-identifications) that limit our power of will and intentions. This is deeper and more subtle. “Identifications” refers to our sense of who and what is it that “I am”.
If we think we are our body, mind and emotions, rather than having a body, minda nd emotions, this will produce entirely different capacities and experiences in life vs. one who thinks of their truest Self as a unique expression of universal Consciousness. Identity as a mortal body vs. identity as transcendent and immortal consciousness. There are many other relative identifications. All statements that begin with “I am” (this or that) are relative identifications. They are not “wrong” but are not ultimate. Many are useful but they are temporary enactments and the roles we fulfill. They are not ultimate identity: That which truly I AM.
The nice thing for me is the power that these recognitions provide. We can interrogate our own beliefs and values and modify them consciously to align with our highest realizations and principles. We can choose higher beliefs and values and let lesser ones go.
Here is an exercise to try:
Write down your own values as a list, as many as you can think of. To name a few in no particular order: Love; Family; Relationship, Health; Service; Learning; Wealth, Security”; Admiration/approval of others; Reputation; Spiritual realization; Being: thin/fit/beautiful etc.; Legacy; Art; Success in business (or other); Money; Friends; Travel; Leisure; Peace; Saving the planet, and so forth.
Then, put them (or just the top 10) into an order from highest to lowest. How? Ask yourself “What value would I sacrifice to some degree in favor of another?” – That is your higher value of the two. For example, if you would say: “I would sacrifice my reputation to protect my family.” So then family is a higher value for you than reputation. continue this process comparing any pair on your list until they are all in the proper order of priority. It can be very empowering to make this explicit for yourself. It simplifies decision making to explicitly know your value priorities.
Identifications can also be explored and modified, giving up the lesser for the greater. That is our life practice (sadhana) and is a reflection of our progressive unfoldment. It is less overt than re-evaluating beliefs and values. For it requires the progressive realizations of higher states of consciousness and the perspectives these give. That grows from a life lived with an authentic and effective meditation practice and a commitment to our spiritual evolution.
We may also consider how others’ beliefs, values and identifications limit their access and capacities for knowledge, choice and actions, and intentional capacities respectively.
For example, consider the implications of living in an “Honor-based culture” vs. a “Dignity-based culture”. An honor-based culture is one that places high value on the perception of the group. The group being a cohort of peers, a family, a gang or an entire culture. The group requires that any perceived insult or challenge must be met and revenged. If it is not, if an insult or challenge is unmet then “honor is lost” and the person may be ostracized and exiled. Better to die than to be dishonored.
A dignity-based culture (Dignitism) places the highest value on each individual. Here are the three tenets that characterize a dignity-culture:
1) “I am infinitely valuable.”
2) “All persons and beings are equally as valuable as myself.”
3) “Each individual is completely unique.”
Consider how if we choose to value these 3 principles or tenets of dignity, of each individual as a higher value-set than defending honor, how this makes for such an enormous difference in choices and actions.
My dear wife this morning brought me a viewpoint that is also worth considering: In just what ways are the people we are interacting with limited? We might recognize and accept these limitations in our interactions with them and in the application of the 4 Viharas towards others. “Remember that people are only able to: – Love to the level of their Self-love. – Communicate to the level of their Self-awareness – And behave to the level of their healed traumas.”
Recognition, acceptance and forgiveness of our own and of others’ limitations is part of upekṣā. It is the overlooking, raising our vision and accepting ourselves and others just as we are, with dignity and with compassion (karuṇā). Let us not forget to practice these towards ourselves as well as towards others!
“By cultivating and attitude of friendship towards those who are happy, compassion towards those in distress, joy towards those who are virtuous, and equanimity towards those who are nonvirtuous, lucidity arises in the mind.”
How do “conventional” spiritual or religious traditions, which bring their devotees into relationship with their Deity as it may actually exist, beyond concept and form? How may it be approached? At first quite often it is through images, icons, or stories to provide an initial connection, a pointing towards, the deep and real spiritual (non material) Source: That which the icons, images and mythic or religious literature are referring to, teaching and indicating.
This is the difference between the exoteric practices, meaning “outward”. Devotion towards a deity-form whether representational, as in Hindu deity forms ( Śiva, Śakti, Ganapati, Durga, Kali, Saraswati or Mahā-Lakṣmi, etc.)*. Or towards a human form as embodiment of the deity, and hence able to give voice to the teachings of the tradition, such as Kṛṣṇa as “Avatar” of the Divine in the Bhagavad Gita: Or Jesus the Christ, the Son of God of:”Our Father”; Or the historical Buddha as the exemplary “Enlightened One”, who teaches the path to Nirvāṇa. These representations are teachers and initial points of access. Millions are enriched and supported by their devotion through these means. Offering prayers, celebrating rituals, making offerings, chanting verses, lighting incense and candles. It is beautiful and can be seen and honored wherever we may go.
Yet all of these religions and religious traditions also have an esoteric path, the “hidden” or internal path. In Christianity it is the Gnostics. In Islam, the Sufis and others. Kashmir Śhaivism and Tantric “Yoga” in the Hindu world. These “mystical” paths of coming to know within one’s own experience, and coming into unity with, realizing, that inexpressible Highest Spiritual Truth. To know, and to be, that the transcendent Supreme is one’s own highest and truest nature.
This is a progressive (or sometimes sudden) process of stages of realization, combining the subtle teachings of the tradition with some effective and authentic practice of introversive meditation to connect with that higher source of truth within. And gradually taking possession of it, to the degree we are capable. Coming into alignment with the highest, and by this means our human personality and relative “operating self” becomes progressively more refined.
Where does this lead? Towards becoming, “transparent to the transcendent” in our actual lived life. Towards the realization that our Self is not different from, nor separate from, the Source-Self-Consciousness of all. How extraordinary! xThat is the ultimate reality and only divinity. This is known as “Self realization” (ātma-vyapti) and is a stage on the way to “Unity Consciousness” (God Realization or Śiva-vyapti). It is also known as Jivan-mukti (liberation while still living), Nirvāṇa (enlightenment) and can be recognized in saints, siddhas and bodhisattvas throughout history.
Can this actually be achieved by us practicing (and struggling) human beings? Can you point to or identify just one person that you can recognize was completely enlightened? A true Guru or a Saint? A Jesus or a Buddha? Someone who shone with such love and compassion that they touched the heart of everyone they encountered? Perhaps touched yours? Such ones are still present on the earth today as they have been throughout history. The scientific and philosophic principle I am pointing to is “The one is proof of the class”. If any one caterpillar ever was transformed into a magnificent butterfly, then that proves that any caterpillar contains the potential to become itself a butterfly. (My favorite example.) If ever a single human became an enlightened and liberated person in life. Then that proves that the potential exists in all humans. We must take possession of it through our own practices, studies and life journey.
(This is an invitation to learn and to practice an authentic and deep personal meditation practice. Dr. Paul Van Camp, Āchārya, an authorized teacher of Neelakantha Meditation as taught in Blue Throat Yoga.)
* Note: Because Hinduism has so many different names and images of deities it is mistakenly thought that it is polytheistic- Has many rather than one deity or God. Whereas the various Hindu religions and spiritual traditions understand that each of these is a “face, aspect or access-point to the one abiding divinity which is beyond conception. In Hindu literature it is referred to as Brahma, in Buddhism as the Shunyata (Emptiness or Void).
The Weaver and the Weaving,at the Loom which is Himself.
All that exists, all objects and beings, all that is expressed is woven in and of that Weaving, in and of that cloth:
The fabric of the underlying Absolute.Its nature is One: Unity. The perfect interconnectedness of All.
It is Self-Weaving: “Svatantra”*. Like the harp that play itself.
A specific form that arises and is embroidered on that weaving-
In some time and place, such as this very body and mind and life, is a temporary form.
It is an expression of the All upon the fabric of Itself. The Weaver, the Weaving, and the Woven.
One day to be unwoven. Simply to be released without diminishment. Nirvāṇa.
Back into the Wholeness. To be again what and as it ever and always has been.
I am also the Weaver- And the fabric is My Self.
* One literal meaning of “Svatantra” is Sva = self; and Tantra = a weaving, that which is woven or expressed.Because it is self-weaving it is called svatantrya, the power of perfect freedom in Her expression.
“Nirvāna” means “blown out”, like a candle. It is the extinguishment, not of the Self, but of the illusion of separation, of being separate from the Wholeness that is the fabric of life and being. Blow out the candle to see and know the sky.
These are some of my thoughts on the question of “suffering” and whether it can be surpassed in life. This is a personal prospective from my own life experience and as a practitioner of deep Tantric meditation and from a lifetime of study and practice in various Indian traditions, especially of Kashmir Shaivism. My medical career including 9 years as an emergency physician taught me much about suffering, and about compassion. – Paul Van Camp MD
Starting with some Definitions:
Suffering: n.1. The state or experience of one that suffers. 2. Pain.
Suffer: v. to submit to or be forced to endure; to feel keenly; to labor under; to put up with especially as inevitable or unavoidable; : to endure death, pain, or distress; to sustain loss or damage; to be subject to disability or handicap.
Notice that to suffer or suffering refer to the subjective experience(s) of the one who suffers. And not about the specific circumstances that cause the suffering.
Duḥkha in Sanskrit is the corresponding term. Unhappiness, uneasiness, pain, sorrow, trouble, difficulty, distress. The fundamental unhappiness of life. The opposite is sukha: n. ease, easiness, comfort, prosperity, pleasure, happiness.
Some of the types and sources of suffering include:
Existential – A fundamental and pervasive unhappiness of human life. Includes alienation. Fear of death and its approach and inevitability. Lack of meaningfullness in life. Fundamental doubt (śanka). Unquenchable dissatisfaction or non-fullness of being. Bereft. Fear of rebirth (saṃsara), or of hell, damnation, or non-existence after death. Feeling of having been abandoned by God. etc. Painful emptiness. Futility.
Mental / emotional – Mental distress (from intrinsic or extrinsic causes). From mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, etc. Worry and fears about the future in any arena including disappointment of expectations or hopes, etc. Stresses in one’s present circumstances. Feeling overwhelmed or incapable. Regrets and ruminations, resentments, anger etc. over one’s past or past traumas. Effects of being victim of emotional abuse (personal, group or systemic). Guilt, shame, resentment and blame. Painful memory traces (saṃskara). Disappointment and grief from losses of all types (loved ones, opportunities, livelihood, wealth, health. Loss of hopes or expectations. Enslavement, exploitation, repression.
Interpersonal – Suffering imported or taken on from others in suffering. Empathic suffering, communicated or witnessed. (Also is a source of compassion.) Suffering for the plight of other groups, communities, all humanity, animals, etc. Suffering inflicted by others, whether intentional (abuse, torture, exploitation, repression) or incidental and unintentional.
Physical – Physical pain from injury, trauma, or a physical condition. Effects of injury from accident or caused by oneself or by other(s). Torture. Illnesses of every type and their myriad painful effects. Physical hunger and thirst without the means of satisfying basic needs. Environmental pain from excessive heat or cold, exposure, etc.
Overcoming Suffering- Is it possible and how?
In considering all of these and certainly other sources of suffering, most of them appear inherent in human (relative) life and therefore: It may be seen as inevitable that life will be accompanied by multiple forms of pain, difficulties and challenges. However, suffering abides in the subjective experience of the one who suffers and not in the events or circumstances themselves. So is it possible to transform the experience by some means, some transcendence of suffering, to abide temporarily or permanently beyond suffering altogether?
The spiritual traditions that have originated in India teach that this is possible in life. These include Vedic teachings (Vedas and Upanishads), the Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita (Vaishnava), the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the teachings of the Buddha (Pali Cannon) and subsequent refinements of Buddhism (Madhyama, Zen, Dogzen), the non-dual teachings of advaita vedanta and the Tantric teachings including Kashmir Shaivism.
This achievement is called mokṣa meaning liberation, enlightenment, complete essential or spiritual freedom. It is taught explicitly as a state beyond all suffering. Further, that this can be achieved while still living in the human body (jivan mukti). It is also famously named nirvāṇa. Not only is it taught that this liberates the person from saṃsara, meaning “wandering” as lost in life and in afterlife, cycles of rebirth, etc. This is taught as a state free from all forms of suffering including “illness, old-age, and death”! How can this be? Is it possibly true that such a state exists and is accessible?
Well it appears to be so that at least some humans have achieved this state of nirvāṇa or enlightenment in life and have reported and taught others that this it is truly available and achievable. I cannot doubt that the Buddha (“Awakened One”) himself achieved this state as is well recorded. Certainly there are others throughout history, saints and masters of consciousness throughout history, and on into our own century. For it is true that “One example proves the entire category.”: If one person has ever achieved such a state in their life, then this is at least a possibility or evolutionary potentiality for every person. It is perhaps the evolutionary destiny of human beings.
The means of achieving this (upayas) are the entire practice traditions and teachings and lineages devoted to liberative practices (sadhana). But just a few points are consistent keys or themes to be considered for oneself. These I will briefly highlight:
Identity – The fundamental and highest teaching in all of these traditions is that the true and deepest Self, that which one truly is, is not the mortal body nor mind. Nor any form of limited identifications, such as limited ideas of “myself”. Rather the True Self (capital S) is the field of Consciousness Itself which is transcendent to, and prior to, any temporal limited embodiment. “Consciousness is the Self” (Caitanyam ātmā) declares the first Shiva Sutra. Other forms include: “Tat tvam asi” (“Thou art That.”), “Aham Brahmāsmi” (“I AM Brahma”) and “Śhivo’ham nanyo’smi” (“I am nothing that is not Shiva”). Brahma and Shiva being mythic deity names that refer actually to that Absolute Consciousness, which is the Self. So dissolution of all limited identifications through profound practices, towards abiding in a state of knowing that the Absolute Consciousness, unchanging and unconditioned, is truly what and who we are, even as we continue our life’s journey at relative levels. We “transcend and include” the relative through meditative realizations.
The anava mala – Teaching on the three malas. So if we are immortal, boundless, unlimited and utterly free individual manifestations of the universal oceanic Consciousness, an individual light-life-wave manifested out of the Absolute, then why cannot we easily melt back into unity with that highest essence from which we came? Just as a wave subsides back into the oceanic wholeness? This is the teaching of the anava mala, of the sense of atomic smallness and perceived imperfection or non-fullness of the individual self, embodied into relative life. This is the actual root source of suffering. And yet it is necessary in order to be embodied as an individual. The release from the anava mala is the entire journey of sadhana that begins with śaktipata when one’s life is touched by Grace and the journey begins searching for ultimacy, ultimate truth of our being and connection with the divine.
The root anava mala of smallness, imperfection and non-fullness in turn gives rise to two other forms of deluded perception. These are the mayiya mala, that the conceptual mind and thought are bound structures of differences, of one vs. another, etc. and is unable to perceive the underling unity of all life and all beings. Then the karma mala which constructs the perception of being separate authors of our personal actions. This is the delusion where we fail to recognize that the entire universe is interconnected and acts with and through us, supporting our actions. These ideas are all explored elsewhere in depth (including some of my blog posts). What is certain as that they give rise to much of the forms of suffering in life.
Desire – The Bhagavad Gita and the Buddhist “4 Noble Truths”, as in many other eastern teachings, declare that “desire”, craving or grasping (kāma) is at the root of all suffering. Is this true? Certainly much suffering is the result of desire and the pursuit of limited, ultimately non-fulfilling and ever changing desires. St. Paul the apostle said: “I have learned in whatever situation I am therewith to be content. . . For it is easier to abandon the first desire rather than deal with all of the other desires which follow.” The practice of contentment in Sanskrit is called saṃtosa, and the state of contentment is tuṣṭi. This leads to the state of one who is outside of or away from all desire, vairāgya, defined as absence of worldly passion, freedom from all desires (vi -away from + rāga -desire). It is a carefully calibrated sort of detachment. (See also Yoga Sutra III.50 and others.)
Kriṣṇa taught Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita that to achieve liberation, unity with Brahma Absolute (Brahmanirvāṇa) required a certain type of detachment. This was not renunciation altogether, as is often misinterpreted. Arjuna was a warrior and not a sannyasi renunciate. Rather it is an “abandoning” (tyagata) of attachment to the fruits of one’s actions. Famously: “karma phala tyāgata“. (Bh.Gita II.47, II. 71-72, IV.20). In other words, we are responsible for what we do, but not for outcome.
So I arrive at the perspective that indeed life, relative life lived in the circumstances of a householder human being, is inextricably filled with ongoing challenges, losses and pain. They are simply a part of life. And yet huge sources of pain and suffering can be removed and set aside through correct liberative practices such as our deep tantric meditation. For by that means we daily remove or “burn” the seeds of suffering arising from impressions (saṃskaras) of past experiences containing traces of suffering. (dogda bījā niyaya) And at the same time we receive the impressions of connecting to the transcendental Source in meditation and accumulating daily vāsanās (positive impressions) for liberation. And by this means suffering that has yet to manifest may be avoided. Heyaṁ duḥkham anāgatam declares Yoga Sutra II.16.
Additionally, the transformation of lived identification with the physical body, the mind, and the ever-changing circumstances of life give way towards identity with and as the Highest Self. The ātma or puruṣa which is our own ever-present Consciousness that is identical with, and never separate from, the Absolute Universal Consciousness. This comes to be known and realized directly, however gradually (usually) or suddenly (occasionally). And with this the fear of death and the circumstances of the limited and temporary association with the body/mind are dissolved. That is indeed freedom. And through whatever circumstances: difficulties, challenges, losses, physical pain, illness and even “old age and death”, those lose their power of us and allow one to live in contentment and existential peace at root and at depth.
In the rich lore and stories from the mythology of Indian spiritual tradition there is one that I have been contemplating as an acharya (teacher) of Neelakantha Meditation. It is the story of the wandering mendicant who was the sage Durvasa, an embodied form of highest Consciousness or Shiva. This story is very pertinent to our meditation practice.
Indra, the King of Svarga, once while out riding on his 3-headed elephant Airavata, came across Sage Durvasa who offered him a special garland given to him by a nymph. This garland appeared as a necklace of flowers, but was actually a jeweled necklace of mystical potency and priceless value. Indra accepted the gift at first, but then tossed it carelessly onto the trunk of the elephant in order to demonstrate that he was not an egoistic deva. Of course the elephant represented Indra’s ego. The flowers of the necklace had a scent that attracted some bees. Annoyed by the bees Airavata threw the garland down and stomped it into the ground. This enraged the sage as the garland was a dwelling of Śrī (goddess of all goodness and fortune) and was to be treated as a prasada or religious offering. Durvasa cursed Indra and all devas to be bereft of all strength, energy, and fortune.
[Some of you may recognize that this episode is the opening that sets the stage for “The churning of the ocean of milk” myth (Samudra Manthan) that is a metaphor for our meditation practice and source of the name Neelakantha (Blue Throat).]
The Jeweled Necklace represents the gift of our meditation practice for indeed it is the treasure of a lifetime. How can it be that some who have received this true liberating practice would not recognize its value and cast it aside, abandoning it? Yet this sometimes happens. They do not recognize its value because they do not understand how it actually works. And this is in two ways or domains of action.
First, the effortless and innocent practice of our meditation provides connection to, and opens us to the direct experiential knowledge of the transcendent nature of our own true Self: That great Light of Consciousness, the deepest truest Source is our identity, and not the temporary and limited body-mind and personality. That is the great “I AM” which is utterly free and Whole and one with all life everywhere. This liberating knowledge comes in degrees unfolding over time. Or it may come all at once one day. This happens. But it certainly does come, through deep and regular meditation that is our Neelakantha practice. And through it, this life is transformed and liberated (set free) by the lived connection and knowledge of one’s own highest Source-Self.
The second way that our meditation “works” is through the domain of our embodied human apparatus or nature. It is the up-leveled flow of the very life-breath-force, the pure energy (Śakti) or Grace that sustains us. Every time we go inward in meditation, even to the tiniest degree for the briefest moment, it flows very strongly into and through us. Like a river that is in flood it streams into every layer of our being, our person. From the most subtle levels of the deep mind, to our operating or thinking mind, our emotions, our breath and through our physical body it flows. And this river of goodness we call Soma systematically removes any limitations, errors, imperfections, patterns and traces due to our past experiences, the residues of stresses and traumas. Thus it aligns and refines our human body-mind apparatus so that, as unique humans, we can become transparent to the transcendent.
So do not ever cast aside the jeweled necklace of your Neelakantha initiatory meditation practice. Persist! Make it your companion and support for life.
You may invite others that you may encounter in life and recognize they are also seeking fulfillment and Wholeness in their own lives. Those whose hearts have been touched by Grace perhaps, who are no longer satisfied with the pursuits at the surface of life. Invite those ones to connect with an acharya to receive this practice for themselves. In this way you are offering them the jeweled necklace, the treasure practice of Neelakantha Meditaiton for themselves. Once learned, it is their own practice for life.
There is this beautiful teaching metaphor from Yogic traditions of the empty jar or vase. And of the relationship between the emptiness or space within the jar to the emptiness or space without. This is worthy of our deep consideration.
The ancient Yogic Sage Ashtavakra said: “Boundless as space am I. And the phenomenal world is like a jar. This is knowledge. So it has neither to be renounced nor accepted nor destroyed.” (Ashtavakra Samhita VI.1)
The human body, especially the brain encased in our skull and the myriad extraordinary connections via the nervous system to our sensory and action capacities, may be seen as an instrument to create a representation of the world, of reality as we encounter it. The activities of the brain and senses that we experience as “mind” assemble limited conceptual constructs set in time and space: Concepts that reflect our experience of objects, of places, of persons and of events. Through this activity we create a workable internal model of the external world that facilitates our living. Enabling us to find food and mates; To recognize and remember the locations of resources and of threats; To coordinate with others for mutual benefit or protection; To learn and remember and therefore to plan. (See also myprior blog on The Reflected Image within the Skull.)
However, this reflected image of external reality and our place and roles in it that we create within our skull, is not the actual reality in its fullness. Rather it is a limited, extracted (and limiting) representation. But this world within the darkness of the skull is where our ordinary experience of the world takes place. It is but a reflection, a mirroring:
“The image of the moon reflected upon the waters, is not the actual moon.” (Vijñana Bhairava Tantra, v. 135)
Now let us perform this thought experiment: Picture or imagine before you a very delicate thin-walled translucent vase or transparent jar, open at the top and of a graceful shape. The “space within” it fills and is of the shape of the vase itself. It is demarcated or defined by the vase. This is the character of the individual self, the personal sense of “I” and “me”. The universal and unbounded Self, the “Self of all” within which the entire universe unfolds would be the space without.
Now the magic. Imagine taking a delicate little hammer and hitting, shattering the vase. What happens? What remains? This is an interesting metaphor for liberation. What is the relationship between what was “the space or Voidness within” and “the space of Voidness without”? Considering this makes me feel very happy! Be safe. Stay healthy. Be happy.
In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic which puts such constraints on everyone’s lives and activities, it turns out that this is an excellent time to learn your own deep and authentic meditation practice. Neelakantha Meditation is a life-supporting and life transforming personal practice that is thoroughly modern, non-religious, yet comes from an ancient lineage. Once learned, in just two sessions, it is your practice-for-life. It is a magnificent beautiful practice that goes far beyond “mindfulness” practices. It opens the practitioner to Ultimacy, to connecting daily to your own Highest and universal Self. This transforms life altogether, benefits and bestows freedom in every dimension of life.
At this time I can offer “distance” initiatory personal instruction on Zoom. Furthermore, I can offer scholarships (25% or even 50% reduction) of the “normal” fee for this instruction, which is $450 for most adults, for those who may not be able to afford the full fee in these trying times. This is for individuals who truly want to learn and practice deep, effortless meditation in their own life.
The world of our ordinary (extraordinary) experience is what is called the physical universe. Our ability to perceive it and function in it has evolved our capacities for perception, knowledge (thought) and action that are efficient and sufficient for our extraordinary natural survival. This is our natural world of lived experience.
It takes place in the perceived world of four dimensions: three familiar dimensions of space and one of time. Space in three dimensions are the “x, y and z”: before us and behind us, above and below, to the left and right. The three dimensions of space, whether vast or small scales, are perceived in this way. For that is how our brains evolved. That is what we needed to survive and thrive. Then we have the dimension of time, that which throws it all into motion: the sequence of events as we perceive them in our expending, evolving universe. Operating in these four dimensions we are able to survive and to thrive and to live, as individuals, as a species, as all of nature.
And our brain activities, the field of thought constructs we call “mind” is able to time-travel, to interpret remembered past experience and to project alternative future scenarios to be chosen for our enactment. This gives us the freedom of self-perception as agents enacting our choices in life, participating in the actions and experiences of our amazing unfolding lives.
And yet this actual universe is not necessarily limited to these four dimensions. In fact, very much of it does not make scientific sense and consistency in four dimensions only. Rather this universe of our experience seems to be arising from a greater dimensionality. Everywhere present and completely real, yet we only see how it is manifesting in the 4- D world of experience. How many dimensions are there that might constitute our actual physical universe? I certainly do not know and cannot perceive (like you). String-theory, the leading proposal for a “theory-of-everything” that is consistent with quantum physics, gravity and all the known mysteries of the universe, indicates that at 11 dimensions all of the equations resolve into seemingly perfect mathematical symmetries. So, perhaps.
I do know that there is an additional “dimension” available to our direct and immediate experience that is beyond the 4-D world of time and space. And this is the dimension of Consciousness itself. It is the dimension of our own conscious awareness – the knower of our thoughts and perceptions – That which is our ever-present sense of a timeless and non-contingent “Self”. For convenience I am designating this as “Dimension zero”. For in deep meditation we can “melt” effortlessly beyond time and space, melt beyond perception of the body and senses, melt beyond thought forms, ideas and concepts altogether. In meditation when our awareness rises in a new direction (neither up, down, left, right, forward or back) beyond time and sequence. We “melt” into the immediacy of the silent splendor of our own beingness. Beyond into the “sky of Consciousness”. Only there is the fullness and peace and aliveness of a being of Consciousness, not contingent upon the mind and senses. Only there is the nourishing joy that is called “Ananda”, a non-contingent timeless bliss of being. There is the fullness of experiencing unity with all of life everywhere. There is the knowledge of our own Self: as Consciousness alone, within Consciousness, by means of Consciousness. And in that the “dance” of this whole universe is magnificently taking place.
Learn and practice deep meditation. Go see for yourself.
This is true in yoga, authentic life practices that include meditation at the center. And it is true in the life of the individual meditator or yogic practitioner.
This morning I was thinking about the joys and wonder of life’s phases. In the Indian tradition there are four main stages or phases of life. First is the brahmacharya phase, this is the phase of studentship from adolescence to the early or mid 20s. It is the phase of preparation, learning and maturing into the responsibilities and capabilities of adulthood.
This is followed by the second phase: gṛihasta, literally meaning “householder”. This is the phase of work, of building one’s business or profession, of marriage and of raising children (for those who so choose). It is the phase of making an income, of participating in and supporting (feeding) your community, of developing your arts, talents and gifts; of making your contribution in an active way.
Then there follows the third phase, the vana-prasthaor “forest-dweller” stage. This corresponds to the beautiful time of life when we can relax the striving in outer life. It corresponds to semi or full retirement, to when one’s children are grown and (mostly at least) on their own. This period can extend from one’s late 50s or 60s into one’s 70s and beyond into later life. Now the problems of work and of making one’s mark in life have been largely solved. There is a turn towards a quieter life-style. Perhaps a downsizing and simplification occurs (hence the term forest-dweller). Wisdom matures and there is deepening of both intellectual and spiritual priorities. It is a time to consider and address what is most important in one’s life. What have we come here for? What is important to fulfill in this life? What is the fullness of who I am? In traditional culture the become the source of teaching, counseling, the source of wisdom for the clan or community. It is time for the fullness of life to be realized, embodied and enjoyed.
There is a fourth phase in the tradition called “sanyasa“, which for non-renunciates like the vast majority of us, refers to the stage of preparation for death, the withdrawal from social and cultural engagement and of spiritual focus at the end of life.
Authentic deep meditation practice, such as the practice of Neelakantha Meditation supports all of the stages of life. In ancient India the formal teaching (called dīksha or initiation) would be given at adolescence. This is the yogic tool that supports life and the growth of the individual through every phase.
Unfortunately, this has been largely (though not completely) lost even in Indian culture. I had the honor this year of teaching Neelakantha Meditation to some bright teenagers at the school in Rishikesh, India that my wife and I help to support. (Mother Miracle School: http://www.mothermiracle.org). It was very fulfilling as an acharya (teacher) to re-introduce this authentic traditional Indian practice back into India in this small way.
“vismayo yoga bhumikaḥ” also applies to the many stages and phases of our own life as an individual meditator. Daily meditation practice powerfully and automatically catalyzes our deep personal growth in every arena of our lives. It is truly progressive and transformative. And this is indeed filled with “surprise, wonder and blissful astonishment”.
Our growth as a meditator is certainly not a linear process. Rather, it is like a spiraling process of many stages, ever changing and ever new. It is a living practice. This means that the practice grows with you throughout all of the stages of life. We never outgrow it. It evolves and grows with us. It does not need to be replaced or recharged. It is renewed every time we sit and practice. It is a self-sufficient “adult” practice that is so effortless, so enjoyable and so easy to do. There is no forceful concentration and no effort to still the mind. These are unnecessary. We practice with effortlessness, with innocence, and with surrender to our own highest self within. Then the process all unfolds naturally over time.
We come to recognize that there is a pulsating character to our own process and sequence of unfoldment. It is not a straight line. But it is relentlessly progressive and is ever for our highest benefit.
It is reminiscent of the path of a hawk soaring on the wind. Watching it, sometimes it races forward when going downwind. Then may appear almost to stall as it turns back into the wind. But ever it is spiraling upward, rising on the thermal current that supports it.
We too will have periods of rapid change and transformation. We ask for these. They inevitably bring some challenging character to our journey. Sometimes this can be confusing and disorienting. As though the rules of life have somehow shifted on us. We are operating in a new and greater, though unfamiliar way. Things that no longer serve us will be set aside.
Then there are the periods of relative rest and quiet. These are times for assimilation and stabilization. We ask for these too. It may feel like our meditation is no longer working or is stagnant. It is not so. We pass through these times also. It is necessary. For still we are spiraling upward, each stage is necessary and fueling the next.
For those who have learned Neelakantha Meditation, whether from me or from another acharya, remember that you have access to the entire Śhiva Sutrastext and English commentary in your Blue Throat Yoga support library. They are gems of wisdom that will support your path.