The Stages of Yoga, and of Life

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Ausangate Mountain Trek – Peru

In the Śhiva Sutras, the exquisite 9th century source text of Kashmir Śhaivism, sutra I.12 says:

vismayo – yoga – bhumikaḥ  “

“The phases or stages (bhumi) of yoga are marked by surprise, wonder or blissful astonishment (vismayo).”      -Paul Muller-Ortega translation, ©2013)

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.

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Full Moon Over the Sea of Cortez – Mexico

Human Consciousness: Foam upon the Ocean

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In our meditation tradition, we have an additional extraordinary practice called “bhāvanā”. It is a practice that is built upon and becomes actually possible, because of the prior established practice of deep introversive meditation. Simply stated: authentic meditation, which must be learned formally in our tradition, connects us with Source. By “Source” I mean that oceanic absolute field of consciousness that underlies the entire universe. That, which of itself is formless and infinite yet contains all potential forms, expressions and the knowledge of everything. Because it iseverything. An indescribable totality that is where we “go” and what we tap-into and come to directly “know” in our meditations. It is endlessly interesting and nourishes, sustains and enhances life in every aspect.

This practice is called bhāvanā and refers to meditation born insight. The birth of new knowledge being expressed out of that Source and crystallized into new insightful knowledge assembled out of our own inquiries or questions. The method is simple: We formulate what we desire to know, that which we desire to know and are deeply curious about, into a clear succinct inquiry. A question. Then, in the proximity of our introversive meditative state we “place” and release our question there. We offer it into “the deep end” of consciousness itself. We offer it and let it go. We have a specific mantra, a vibratory tool that supports the offering of bhavana, which is repeated just a few times. And then we let it go without strings attached.

The results are such that the Absolute, or Source, which actually contains the knowledge of everything (quite literally), will assemble new knowledge for us shaped around and in response to our sincere inquiry. It is like a crystal growing out of a solution in response to the presence of a tiny seed crystal. The knowledge is tailored to our own consciousness in just the way that it was asked. Then, out of necessity, it is returns back to us. The answer comes back to the origin, that is the person who formulated and offered the question. Time may pass: We will be doing something completely unrelated, at another time and place, perhaps hours later or sometimes days later. But the answer invariably comes back with astonishing clarity and with the certainty of being an expansive answer to our inquiry. It is “new knowledge” for us, which is the meaning of the Sanskrit word bhāvanā. It is not something we “figured out” from the prior contents of our personal knowledge. It is greater than that and filled with wisdom, hence its character of surprising astonishment. That is the hallmark of bhavana.

So I will share here an example of my own bhavana practice from this morning. (I find something to ask in bhavana practically every day!) I have been thinking recently, about the relationship of my own human ever-present field of self-referential awareness: what I am experiencing and knowing, together with the knowledge that it is “I” that is knowing it. The conventional materialistic view is that this experience of conscious awareness that we all have is some product or side effect of the complex neuro-processing of our brains. That it is an epi-phenomenon of informational brain complexity. And I can certainly see that having some constructed idea-of-self has great survival value for creativity and decision making for the human being. (See “The Mirror Within” blog post from November November 26, 2016 in my blog archives.)

And yet I know through my own direct experiences in meditation there is a great Absolute field of Consciousness, that, which is a great mass of Beingness-Consciousness-Bliss. Once “seen” and touched in meditation it transforms our perspective on life altogether. It can never again be “unseen” of forgotten. And its own nature is supreme self-referential Consciousness that has been called the great “I AM”, a realization of totality in unity.

So now, as a personal example, here is a recent bhavana inquiry of my own: “How can I know (with my intellect) that conscious awareness is a prior and universal principle, the ground of being of the entire world, and not an emergent field of qualia constructed by the neural network processing of the brain?”

The first-level answer returned promptly: “In Unity Consciousness, in the Heart, there is the knowledge of everything, sarvajñatva. It abides in Being, in its own Wholeness, in its own Freedom.”

This was very beautiful but seemed obscure and esoteric. So I inquired again:  “Even the one-life fabric of this planet, the undivided biosphere of planet Earth – is a unity. Yet it is a temporary, ever changing and ultimately “mortal”, will ultimately pass away, subside. In all of nature I can see a self-referential operating intelligence that underlies all the creative expressions of complex life. At the same time, there is a fundamental self-referential unity and intelligence in the fundamental quantum physics of this universe; A correlating ‘entanglement’ interconnecting all of the actions and “particles” of the cosmos going back to time zero, to the Big Bang. How are these two orders or levels of self-referential consciousness related? The universal all-encompassing cosmic, and the individual (micro-cosmic) within my own lived experience?

From this another level of understanding came back:  “The proof you seek is contained in your own access to the self-referential knowledge of the Absolute field of Consciousness. Which is an ever-prior universal totality of undivided awareness, alive, independent and free. The experience of even the tiniest portion of this (that is knowable in meditation), and which is beyond a personal human perspective. Your access to universal non-conceptual knowledge within is the proof that you seek. For it is there realized outside conceptual constructed knowledge.

“That is the image of ‘Indra’s Net’: that every node and every object reflects, connects to and contains the knowledge of everything else (sarvasarvātmakatva).”

 And finally this morning I received a third level of bhavana, a more clear understanding of the relationship of the universal and the individual consciousness:  “Human Consciousness is as ‘foam’ on the ocean of the Absolute, the small assemblages of self-referential awareness within the contents of human consciousness. These are the operations of the mind’s creativity, the ‘time-travel’ of making decisions on imagined futures and reflections of the past; the theory-of-mind activities that enable communication with others’ minds; the deciding, the planning, the protecting, the gaining or achieving; the connecting with others; the surviving in human life.

That is all just foam of human activity on that ocean -that which holds it all, including this physical quantum-entangled extraordinary universe depending upon so much perfectly self-organized magnificence. And all of it is being maintained by the intrinsic potency of living grace (‘Soma’). All of it arising, expressing, evolving then subsiding in the Absolute ocean, which is of the nature of self-referential Consciousness-Unity-Being. It is arising and is operating by it’s own grace (vimarśa, anugraha). The wholeness of that grace is reflected and fully present in everything else (Indra’s Net). And that is why this natural universe is so beautiful to us.” 

Admittedly this is personal to my personal perspective and questioning. That is the whole point. Such insights, as in this example, demonstrate beautiful gifts of the practice of bhavana. This is why I engage in it nearly every day. It works for personal questions in life, for scientific insights and for esoteric transcendent understandings, for which the mind is of little help in being unable to make the leap to a higher perspective. As Einstein said: “The problem can be solved at the same level that gave rise to the problem.”

(Note: Bhāvanā is taught as an additional, more advanced practice after one has learned the core practice of deep introversive meditation (Neelakantha Meditation) and practiced it for some months on a regular basis. For it is only upon this foundation that bhāvanā can actually work for the individual. Both practices are extraordinary, precious and practical tools for life.)

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Identity: Who Am I? (really)

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Who am I really? What am I? What is the truth of my own existence? These are the essential questions both deeply personal and universal. But where would we find the answers for ourselves? What knowledge exists that could be authoritative and self-authenticating that such knowledge would be beyond any doubt? Is it even possible for us to know as humans living in embodied existence? These are questions for the ages.

There is an additional form of yogic practice that is called “Self Enquiry” (or Self inquiry). Self-enquiry is a practice that can be added to our core central practice of daily meditation. It is taught, with variations, in most religions and mystical traditions throughout history.

In 20th Century India the revered teacher Ramana Maharshi was an advocate for this practice of Self enquiry. He said, “To achieve this, the path of knowledge, the enquiry in the form of “Who am I?” is the principle means.

Ramana lived and taught at the site of a sacred mountain Arunachala in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Thousands travelled to meet with him in his ashram and meditation caves there to speak with him and receive his wisdom. Here are some quotes from his teachings:

“Of that which arises as the thought “I” in this body is in the mind. If one enquires as to where in the body the thought of “I” first arises one discovers that it rises in the Heart. Of all thoughts that arise in the mind, the I-thought is the first. It is only after the rise of this that other thoughts arise.”

“The Self is that where there is absolutely no I-thought. This is called silence. The Self itself is the world. The Self itself is “I”. The Self itself is God. All is Śhiva: the Self.”

“The thought of “Who am I?” will destroy all other thoughts. Like a stick used for stirring a burning fire, it will itself in the end be destroyed. Then there will arise Self-realization.”

“The whole of Vedanta is contained in the two Biblical statements: “I AM that I AM.” And “Be still and know that I AM God.” The Self is not somewhere far away to be reached. You are always that. You have only to give up your habit of identifying your self with the non-self. All effort is only for that.”

 “First it is to explain that the body is not I. If one enquires: Who am I? The Heart of such a one will shine as “I”. That I Am.”

*  From “Heart is Thy Name, Oh Lord” by Ramana Maharshi, 2004. For further study “The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi in His Own Words” available on amazon.com.

The essence of self-enquiry practice is to ask oneself “Who and what am I?” To consider this deeply and honestly (“What do I actually know to be true?”) inviting meditative insight to emerge. Again and again we challenge and discard all false and limited identifications. It is suggested to maintain a journal of one’s own personal exploration as layer after layer of false identifications, of that which is not-the-true-self are recognized and set aside.

In the non-dual Shaivite teachings of our tradition these various false-identities are called “grahas”, a Sanskrit word meaning “to grasp” or “that which grasps”. These “graspers” are the hijackers that literally take possession of our identity. They seize, lay hold of, and take possession of identity who we believe we are in life. They thus conceal knowledge of our true Self beneath inauthentic and false identities. They offer partial and limited categories of identification that are much less than the true limitless nature of Consciousness.

In the Shaivite masterwork The Tantrālokaof Abhinavagupta, there were 8 categories of grahas. This is from perspective of 9th to 10th century India:

1) Grahas of identifying with family line, inherited status or caste; 2) Identifying with social status or groupings (clubs and schools); 3) Domains of conduct and ritual observances (clergy, church or even military traditions); 4) Identification narrowed to one’s individual physical body; 5) Identification with one’s country, land, region, city etc. 6) Identification with a field of knowledge, profession or teaching tradition; 7) Identification with limited concepts of virtuousness or non-virtuousness (impurity, sin); 8) Identification with one’s wealth, material possessions and the trappings of material abundance.

These identities of belief are applicable to anything one might say in the form “I am this or that”: I am healthy or frail, strong or weak, fat or thin, smart or not; beautiful or not, youthful or old. We define ourselves in terms of our attributes and also of roles in life. With jobs and professions -I am a doctor, accountant, businessperson, a builder, a farmer. With our accomplishments and skills – I am an athlete, a musician, an artist. With groupings and roles – a husband or wife, a grandparent, a leader, a soldier, a social advocate. I am American, Canadian, Irish, German or African, etc. Yes, these are aspectsof our individuality and human life experience. But they are all temporal and relative. These all will one day pass away. They are not finally what we are. Can anything that is temporary and subject to change actually be our deepest true identity?

There is also the strong identification with the physical body, this temporary, mortal exquisitely precious instrument of our human lives. Is your body truly what you are? Or is it an instrument that you inhabit, a form and vehicle for life? What is the relationship of the true Self and the body and to the mind? The same question can be applied to the mind, to the operating intelligence and functions of the brain and nervous system. For that also is part of the body. (In the Indian viewpoint there is no essential distinction between body and mind. Rather it is a body-mind unity.) No other person can answer these questions for us. Everyone must explore them and find the answers for themselves. The answers do exist and may be known in life. We may come to know our true abiding Self.

False identities are called the “plunderers” (viluṇṭhikā) of the Heart, That which steals away the wealth of the highest consciousness. Those forces that steal-away access to our deepest true nature as imperishable beings of pure Consciousness. They might divert us into a life spent pursuing lesser activities and priorities, such as the pursuit of unnecessary wealth or power, obsession with body image or with social standing for its own sake. Pursuits that can never be ultimately fulfilling, They cannot in the end fulfill the true purpose of a life.

So this practice of self-enquiry is very interesting and can be explored by anyone who cares to undertake it. Yet having an authentic daily meditation practice should be the “engine” that empowers successful self-enquiry. This gives us the direct living connection to our own source-place of Self that actually makes Self-realization possible. In our tradition we have this additional form of practice called “Bhavana”. This is a practice of forming and taking into the space of meditation specific questions or enquiries, in order to elicit the arising of new insightful wisdom. Bhavana is the practice of accessing meditative insight, and the “birthing” of new forms of knowledge and understanding. It is a beautiful and valuable practice to develop.

Ramana Maharshi in his own teachings repeatedly stated that the only practice you need is self-enquiry, to find out directly who and what you truly are, and to give-up and abandon all false limited identifications. Just as so did many other great teachers, both ancient and modern. Yet Ramana offered this perspective only after his own years spent in daily meditation practice in his caves on the slopes of Mt. Arunachala. There seem to be very few individuals throughout history who have achieved the pinnacle of true Self-realization who did not first have the foundation of a deep meditation practice in their lives. Perhaps there is an important clue for us in that!

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Sun Moon Fire

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I have just returned from another sojourn in India. This time to the North, mostly in Rishikesh where my wife and I did volunteer work teaching at an amazing school for children of the poorest families of the slums. It is an amazing project that we were so happy to see and to contribute to. So now I return to my blog about life lived with a deep meditation practice. (See www.mothermiracleschool.org to learn more about this school.)

The teaching tradition and meditation practices that I teach and practice come from the non-dual Shaiva-Yoga of Kashmir. This teaches the universality of consciousness as the highest principle of existence: that our own ultimate “Self” is actually consciousness. And that the essence nature of the entire universe is the singular “field” of consciousness, which contains and manifests everything. That is our own true and imperishable “Self”, and simultaneously is the “Self” of all, the source of all life. This is the meaning of the first Śhiva Sutra: “Caitanyam Ātma”. “Consciousness is the Self.” It is imminent (fundamentally present) in all beings and objects and simultaneously transcendent, beyond and surpassing all relative living beings and things.

This truth can only be verified and realized in one’s own personal experience. It is within our meditation that we can access direct knowledge of this, see and verify it for ourselves. That knowledge is ultimately liberating, and it fundamentally, permanently changes how we understand ourselves and life altogether.

There is no philosophy or thought construct that can possibly encompass and contain the knowledge and nature of the Absolute. It is said that only consciousness can truly know absolute consciousness. It must be seen in direct non-conceptual experience. Fortunately, we all come equipped with the essential tool for realizing it: our own field of conscious awareness that is present in our every experience in life. All we need is to addthe extra ingredient of a true empowered meditation practice. This is what is given in the initiatory teaching of Neelakantha Meditation. It is the essential and easy “all-access pass” to exploring the highest dimensions of sublime consciousness within ourselves every day.

There are several beautiful teaching systems within the philosophy and practices that come from the Kashmiri teachings of the 8th through 11th centuries. Perhaps the highest of them is known as the “Trika” school. Trika is the teaching perspective on the “three”, the triadic-perspective on consciousness. The Trika perspective teaches that the operation of our conscious experience in normal “relative” life is of a three-fold nature. In every experience of cognition (the act of perceiving and knowing something) there exists these three aspects:

1) The knower or the person, the one who is seeing or knowing it. 2) The means of knowledge or knowing, such as the senses like sight, or the inner perception in thought-forms. And 3) The known object – that which is observed or in some way known. These three aspects are classically illustrated in the example “I see the pot (vase).” “I” is the knower. “See” is the means of knowing it. And the “pot” is the known object. These three are present and always together in every experience in ordinary waking awareness, our experience of relative (material) life.

And yet our experience in the “melted” inward state of our deep meditations every day have an entirely different character. The Triad dissolves into a unity-perception: Knower, means of knowledge and what is being observed or known all dissolve into a transcendent and amazingly beautiful unity. This is the transcendent yogic perception. In other words, in ordinary relative perception we know something by coming into relationship with it. It is dominated by the differences. However, in the direct experience of reality in meditation, it is perceived and known in a unity of consciousness. We know it by becoming it or entering into it. We know the highest consciousness as our own self by means of our own consciousness alone.

In the teaching texts of the Kashmir Shaiva tradition this is taught via metaphor: such as the Sun, the Moon, and the fire. Moon represents the “known-object” that which is seen. This very morning there was a beautiful full moon in the sky in the pre-dawn, brilliantly illuminated and magnificent. And yet the light of the Moon was not its own. It is of course illuminated by means of the light of the Sun. So the “light” of our consciousness is represented by the Sun. And fire, a small personal “light” burning here on Earth. Fire represents us, our own individual field of awareness. That, without which, nothing could or would be known.

Sun, moon and fire all melt into the unity that underlies the three. That is the teaching of the Trika: that there is always a fourth factor that transcends, encompasses and unites the triadic structure. In our deepest meditations we call that the “Turya” or the fourth-state: the vibrating sublime and endlessly fascinating state of the direct knowing of ultimacy. It is something which cannot be described adequately in words. It is beyond and behind all conceptual thoughts. It is the “Sky” of Consciousness.

This is ever a transcendent experience of awareness that is profoundly liberating. Access to this is immediately available to us every day by means of the easy method of deep meditation that is taught in personal initiatory learning. Once learned, it is yours for life. It grows by day and by week and by month, changing and uplifting life. Later, it begins to spill over into our outer (open-eyed) experiences in life. Unity perception comes to be predominant over difference perception. Yes, this requires a dedication to regularity of practice. But with that it works for each and every meditator. Those who would like to learn this ancient yet modern practice to enhance and support their own life are invited to contact me for personal instruction.

The Billionaire of Loving-Kindness

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Karuṇā (compassion) and Upekṣha (the art of overlooking)

When my friend Jennifer came for initiation into Neelakantha Meditation last month here in Los Cabos, Mexico, her husband Bode came with her and also learned the practice (Not their real names). It is great when a couple have this deep meditation practice together as it powerfully accelerates their journey of transformation in life. And that is a journey best shared. Jennifer is also one of my fellow cancer survivors. We have waited the last 2 years until I finished becoming an authorized teacher (acharya) of Neelakantha meditation for this initiatory teaching. Now they both have this practice for themselves. For life.

It is now a month later and I have just now returned. We gathered to see how Jennifer and Bode are doing. They both related that their meditations were going beautifully. In fact, they had written to me to ask if they could meditate longer than the recommended 20 minutes. So many meditators report their sessions seem to be over practically as soon as they begin, the 20 minutes passing so fast. For time loses meaning and passes unnoticed while you are in that settled and so refreshing deep repose. That state that we melt into and touch in meditation, called “samadhi”, that is beyond the ordinary flow of time.

Bode had a most interesting story to relate: They have been at a major crossroads in their lives recently. He had decided to retire (or semi-retire) from their profession of very successful acting careers. They also had just moved out from the security of their long-time family home. Of course this brings with it many fears and uncertainties. What would the future hold? But on the basis of his new meditation practice, and channeled through a few insightful evenings of sincere self-reflection, Bode came to a radical and astonishing decision. He decided just not to be afraid. he decided to abandon all habitual patterns of insecurity and doubt within himself. And on this basis to embrace each day going forward in this freedom, even in the presence of uncertainty, and bringing his very best forward. He spoke of the necessity of “doing the work”, of making positive choices in matters large and small each day. It is not always easy and occasionally is very challenging, he rightly observed. It was wonderful for me to see him in this way, with a heart filled with freedom and generosity. I felt great happiness for him, for both of them. And also in seeing how their new meditation practices were powerfully supporting and uplifting them.

I learned, as we talked that evening, that Bode has lived a very interesting life. As a young man he once decided to become a “big-rig” long-haul truck driver. He trained and was duly licensed and worked driving trucks for two years. He said he loved the feeling of being in command of such a huge vehicle and piloting it safely in all conditions. I asked him how that was for him, driving in traffic and on icy mountain roads? He smiled as he remembered a lesson from his trucking instructor who told him, “Remember always that you are a ‘billionaire of space’. That you have, and can draw upon, an unlimited amount of space in every circumstance. If someone crowds you: give them space. If some one cuts you off: give them space. If traffic is jammed up: generously give it space, as much space as it takes. You will never run out of it. For you are a billionaire of space!”

Then Bode related that he has seen how he can now apply this principle in an even deeper way. That he realizes that he is a “billionaire of loving-kindness”. That he can give loving-kindness to everyone in every circumstance. That it will never run out. What a beautiful recognition and way of moving through life that is. That is filled with the Highest. To that realization I bow.

I want to use this to segue into a couple of important teachings from our Kashmir Śhaiva tradition, the yogic tradition that is the source of our meditation practices. The word for “loving-kindness” in Sanskrit is “karuṇā”. Karuna is also the name for “compassion”. I define compassion as that aspect of unconditional love that does not shrink or turn away from suffering. Whether it is the suffering of others or is our own. Empathy, in contrast, is the capacity to be able to feel for oneself, even inhabit, the emotional state of others. But compassion has this important difference: It does not turn away, is not immobilized nor introverted into inaction, by the presence of suffering. Rather compassion calls us into action: to bring loving-kindness, and whatever help or action that is called for to relieve that suffering and mitigate harm when possible. Thus we can rise to do that which our own loving-kindness calls us to do: To give that which love requires. Most often that is simply listening, hearing, caring, being present, and sometimes it demands that we take well considered action to help relieve the suffering circumstances of others. (That is why I was a physician in my own prior professional career. And that is why I now teach meditation.)

In our various gatherings and retreats of Neelakantha meditators, when we gather for teaching and sharing we open with the following Sanskrit invocation:             “Jaya Jaya Karuṇābdhe Śhrī Mahādeva Śhambho.”

Translation: Jaya! is an exclamation of joyous exaltation, like “Victory!” or “All Hail!”; karuṇā is compassion or loving kindness; and abdhe refers to an “ocean”;

śhrī – is “honored”; mahā – the great; deva -divine or transcendent; śhambho – that which brings great abiding happiness.   So in translation: “All Hail that Great Transcendent Oceanic Consciousness, that grants all happiness, that which is a limitless Ocean of Compassion and Loving Kindness.”

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Upekṣha: Overlooking and Over-Looking

 Now that we have thus considered karuna, I want to turn to an expansion of this. This is one of four modes of conduct to enact in human relationships. This is a very simple and elegant blueprint for human interactions, something valuable to consider. This teaching comes to us from the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali (4th-5th Century c.e.). The Yoga Sutras were accepted as foundational in our later Shaiva-tantric yogic tradition. This teaching has also been prominent and respected in Buddhist teachings since the 5th century.

Yoga Sutras # I.33 offers us an approach to our relationships with other people in life (and with ourselves). It has many layers of meaning and is as applicable today as it was 15 centuries ago. In Sanskrit it says:

“maitrī-karuṇā-muditopekṣāṇāṁ sukha-duḥkha-puṇyāpuṇya-viṣayāṇāṁ bhāvanātaś citta-prasādanam”

Translated:”By cultivating an attitude of friendship toward those who are happy, compassion toward those in distress, joy toward those who are virtuous, and equanimity toward those who are non-virtuous, lucidity arises in the mind.”

In other words:

With people who are happy (sukha), we should be friendly (maitrī).

With people who are suffering (duḥkha), we should be compassionate (karuṇā).

With people who are virtuous (puṇya), we should be joyous (mudita).

And with people who are non-virtuous (apuṇya), we should practice equanimity or “overlooking” (upeksha).

We have already taken a closer look at karuna. So now let’s consider the very valuable practice of upeksha – “overlooking”.

So we choose to manifest these states in our relationships with others. We choose to manifest happiness when we are with friendly people; To bring forth compassion with those who are suffering; To manifest joy in appreciation and recognition for the virtuous behavior of others, as well as in celebrating their successes in life (For this is also the cure for, and inoculation against, jealousy.) And yet when we are confronted with some attitude or expression that is non-virtuous, that is harmful or injurious or just plain ignorant and unwise, then we can choose to bring equanimity. We can choose to overlook. Overlooking is a raising of our vision, of looking for and calling forth something higher.

It is not a matter of ignoring something damaging or evil. It is not a matter of failing to stand up to abuse and bullying, or the even greater systemic wrongs in societies. We do stand up. We do speak out. And it is not a matter of “spiritual bypassing”. We do have to deeply consider at times our stance and position on things that may be ugly, or unfortunate or outright damaging. We stand up for family, friends and community with our highest courage and integrity. And we stand up for, stand beside our human brothers and sisters, especially the weak.

Upeksha means that we choose to not inhabit the negative emotions within ourselves. We choose not to be harshly judgmental of normal human failings. We choose not to hold onto pain and resentments.

We want to bring forth that which is most noble and uplifting in ourselves and in others. If someone has simply made a mistake or enacted a contracted old habit, we can understand that. So by overlooking, we give them the space to reconsider and the time to turn themselves around. We give them the space to self-correct, or if needed, to move on and part from us. It costs us nothing, for we too are “billionaires of space”. We give them the space or room to reconsider, to self-correct, or if needed, to go.

Well this sounds very simple and admirable, these four modes that in Buddhism are called “The Divine Abidings” (Brahma Viharas). But of course it is seldom simple in actual practice. Their perfection is difficult and subject to continuous refinement. We have our own patterns of reacting and our own entanglements and areas of self-blindness. So it may take some time for us to settle and reconsider and to finally arrive at the equanimity of appropriate “overlooking”, of granting upeksha. And it is a conscious decision to generously give that space and grace to others and to ourselves. It is not ignoring something that requires addressing or pretending that it does not exist. Words and actions can and do inflict pain and cause harm. But at some point we want to release and no longer hold onto the pain and resentment of blaming. We decide to release it from our hearts. We give ourselves a gift of great freedom when we decide to finally forgive. “Radical forgiveness” is a noble and powerful act. Just as it is noble when we take full responsibility for our own mistakes. We self-correct. And meditation, practiced with regularity over time, increasingly makes us more and more capable of spontaneous right-action in all circumstances. You are truly a billionaire of loving-kindness, of compassion, as well as of space!

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Joshua Tree Retreat Center Sunrise

The Fear of Dying and Meditation- A Case-Study

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Ganges in Varanasi

This past weekend I went to Portland to visit my friend Ron and his wife Sharon (not their real names). Ron is nearing his death in this life from lung cancer. Ron was a commercial airline pilot, an accomplished lifelong surfer, successful entrepreneur, yogi and so much more. And he is a great and treasured friend. He was diagnosed with lung cancer 6 years ago (not related to smoking) and has been fighting it heroically using every form of advanced medical and natural methods available. But it is not curable.

Ron had his own meditation practice for decades. And it provided him some degree of support over his life’s journey. But it was not of the depth of support and transformation that is provided by a deep and refined practice such as Neelakantha Meditation. I wanted Ron to have this practice to support him powerfully for the remaining span of his life. For I too have a diagnosis of cancer, while fortunately in remission, is not curable. And I have seen how my own meditation practice has actually freed me from the fear of death. And that is such a precious and liberating gift! Naturally, I wanted Ron, as well as his wife, to have the support of this powerfully supportive practice for themselves.

I was at my home in Cabo (Mexico) when Ron went into home hospice care. So I arranged with another teacher of Neelakantha meditation to meet with them for the formal initiatory instruction in this practice. (Many thanks to my fellow acharya Heather from Portland.) Their initiatory instruction took place over two sessions, just two months ago.

When I arrived for our visit this weekend it was clear that Ron’s cancer was taking its toll. He had lost much weight. Previously robust and muscular, he was now gaunt, sallow and frail of body. And yet, though his eyes were a bit sunken, they sparkled with energy. He spoke with a smile and humor and was 100% engaged. He appeared filled with life.

I asked him how he was doing: How was he feeling about his circumstances now and about his approaching death? And how was his new meditation practice supporting and working for him? Here is what he said:

“Paul, actually I feel totally happy, profoundly happy. I am filled with an abundance of overflowing gratitude that surges up almost all the time. I feel great love and peace and even joy. My life feels fulfilled and meaningful.” He said that when he looks at the span of his life and all that he has accomplished he sees that he has done everything that he has set out to do. He can see now clearly, how he has been supported in an extraordinary way throughout all of his life.”

And he has certainly not given up: Even now he is engaged in the process of selling his remaining businesses so that his beloved wife will not have to deal with that when he is gone. So he is, as ever, so very much alive.

I then asked him about his new Neelakantha Meditation practice. And also about any fears he may have surrounding his death. He said his meditation has been working wonderfully, giving him great repose, peace and upliftment every day. But that it was somewhat difficult for him to sit upright (because of pain); And also difficult to concentrate because of the strong pain medicines. I reassured him that he only needed to be as comfortable as possible for this practice – reclining with elevated head is fine. And this deep form of meditation does not actually require any concentration. As it is completely effortless to do and natural in its operation.

I was very happy, of course, to see how my friend was and that any fear of death was being dissolved. He said there were occasional moments of fearful thoughts – but these seemed to dissolve as fast as they would arise. That has been my own experience as well.

The ancient Indian text, The Yoga Sutras, teach that one of the great “afflictions” or “impediments” in human life (the kleśas) is “abhiniveśaḥ”, defined as “clinging to life” or the fear of dying. It is very interesting that this sutra (II.9) states that, “Even the wise ones are affected by the tendency of clinging to life.” That it is an inherent tendency in all humans. Well this certainly makes sense, because some fear of dying is part of our deep genetic instincts. It is something that helps to protect our lives, unto making wise and safe choices to preserve life.

And yet, the fear of death in the larger scope, vs. dying, is somehow different. When we regularly go into deep meditation, to access the source-place of our highest true being, we come to experience directly, beyond all doubt, that we are of an undying nature; that our Conscious-Self is something eternal, beyond the temporal limited circumstances of this embodied (and yes, wonderful) life. This cannot be conveyed in words. It can only be known in direct experience within. This is a gift of deep meditation: The liberating knowledge of our own true, highest and imperishable Self.

Blue Throat Yoga, the modern expression of deep authentic meditation, has authorized acharyas (teachers) such as my self to offer and teach this meditation practice to those who are at the end-stage of life for free. Those who are under hospice care may request and receive this beautiful supportive practice at no charge from participating acharyas. (Visit www.meditationbend.com or www.bluethroatyoga.com)

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El Arco at Land’s End  Cabo San Lucas

Vinyāsa

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Many of you are yogins (practitioners) that include asana (physical postures) as part of your circle of yogic practices. Some of you are amazing Yoga teachers as well. Namaste!

This morning I was thinking about the Sanskrit word: vinyāsa. It is often used in yoga classes to mean a practice that is a physical flow that connects the movements and postures to the flow of the breath. This is a beautiful and beneficial practice.

But it occurred to me that this word vinyāsa has a much larger meaning in the broadest perspective on yoga. It is a model for how we, as meditating practitioners, brings the coherence and orderly up-liftment into the larger sphere of our daily lives.

 vinyāsa – is a noun. Its meaning comes from the prefix “vi” – out, separated or away from, combined with “nyāsa” – meaning placing or establishing (Such as the tantric practice of “placing” mantras on bodily centers).

Here are some of the various Sanskrit dictionary definitions of vinyāsa:

“An arrangement; a configuration; putting-together; foundation; display; placing-down; exhibition; attitude; a receptacle or holder for placing something; establishment; spreading out; display; assemblage; connecting; movement; collection; order; or a composition.

I find this very interesting and inspiring. Like a carefully composed arrangement of beautiful flowers, we create the ordered arrangement and sequence of our days and how we move through our lives. This is yoga and this is the wonderful fruits, the outwardly expressions of our daily meditation practice. We move from the introversive, closed-eyed practice of deep Neelakantha meditation, which is so effortless and so powerfully uplifting. And from there it flows outward into the open-eyed yoga of our embodied lives, our creativity, our work and all our relationships.

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Bryce Canyon Trail – Utah

The Refinement of Knowledge

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In the 8th century source text of Kahmir Shaivism, the Śhiva Sutras, it declares:

“dānam ātma-jñanam” “Knowledge of the Self is the gift.”   (III.28)

The highest and most complete knowledge of the very nature of life and of reality, the knowledge of our own Self, this is what is called realization. The self-authenticating knowledge born of the wholeness of our own direct inner perception is that which banishes all doubt, all partiality and erroneous perspectives. It is this refinement of our knowledge which sets us free.

The refinement of our knowledge, of our understanding of our own circumstances in life altogether, is informed by the transcendent non-conceptual knowledge, the “spiritual” knowledge, that is accessed so easily and directly via our daily Neelakantha meditation practice. Day by day in successive stages of higher understanding, we are refined and we rise.

This is a core teaching in non-dual Shaivism, as articulated by its greatest proponent, the 11th century Kashmir teacher Abhinavagupta in his masterwork, the Tantrāloka. (“Light on the Tantras”). In the very first chapter he writes:

“Here, in our system, we hold that ignorance is the cause of saṁsāric transmigration, (that is) within the relative worlds of embodied and bound existence. Moreover, we understand knowledge to be the one cause of liberation. This is what is proclaimed in all the treatises.”

So it is only our own limited knowledge that stands between us and liberation, What is called “enlightenment” is nothing other than attaining full knowledge of our always-already-present highest Self. That limitation in knowledge is what is called “bondage”. Its character is the perception of ourselves as limited imperfect and small (rather than whole and universal), as separate and defined by difference (rather than abiding in underlying unity) and of being separate “actors” in life (rather than as unique expressions within the unbroken totality of existence.)

Later in 5th Chapter, Abhinavagupta provides the argument for just how knowledge is the direct path to liberation:

“Indeed bondage consists of the habitual enactment of a persistent double false presumption that is persistently enacted in ordinary awareness:

First, we take what is not our True Self to be the authentic self. (the body, the mind, our roles in life and other partial identifications, etc.)

“Secondly, we persistently animate the opposite false habitual presumption: We fail to recognize that which actually is our true and authentic Self (perfectly full Consciousness) as being our true and abiding Self.

“Liberation consists of the dissolution and eradication of this double erroneous presumption. First there must occur the dissolution of the false and ignorant limited identifications. Only then can we proceed to release the blindness that prevents the full realization of the highest, imperishable and authentic Self.

“This is what is known as the Great Fusional Pervasion (mahā-viapti) and is how it is established.”

The sequence of these two processes being highlighted is important. Meditation dissolves progressively the false identifications arising from limitation, separation and arrogation that is the cause of all spiritual suffering. These forms of ignorance or limited knowledge are dissolved and seen to be false. Then we can be pervaded by the supreme and extraordinary direct knowledge of ultimacy, of the highest and universal Consciousness. This is the great span of our practices. And the knowledge of the Self is indeed the gift.

(If anyone would like to have direct personal instruction in Neelakantha Meditation please contact me. I am currently teaching in the Los Cabos area of Baja, Mexico.)

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Questions.

What are the most important questions in life? (And for some possible answers – see below.)

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I returned recently from a visit to Cuernavaca, near Mexico City. My friends there had invited me to come and give some teaching about meditation and how that daily practice can transform life and give access to true fulfillment.

This was in the very recent aftermath of the devastating earthquakes in that area. My first day with them was devoted to supporting their ongoing service to the people of Jojutla, a community that experienced some of the worst destruction and loss. It was a sobering day of reaching very deep into the well of compassion, again and again. The work of healing and rebuilding there continues every day.

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We also had a week of wonderful teaching and discussions. I met many new friends and was privileged to formally teach Neelakantha Meditation to over 30 individuals and some whole families. Now they are a group of dedicated meditators. My ongoing support of them to refine and perfect their practices continues as part of my commitment.

I received a question today from one lady about her new meditation practice. It is a very universal question so I shared my answer with the whole group, and now with you. (While keeping her identity private of course.)

Her question (edited) was: I been doing my meditations as you told us, twice a day for 20 minutes, but I still have doubts about the practice and exactly how it is working. I really don’t yet feel a strong assurance with how to meditate, and am not sure that I am practicing correctly? Thank you for your time.”

And my response was:

“Thank you for writing with your question. It is quite common and normal to have some doubts initially about the practice and whether you are doing it correctly.
That is because it is quite delicate in the beginning weeks. When I return there next time we will review the instructions together. It is so natural and effortless to practice in this way. (Remember that you also have support resources from Blue Throat Yoga included with your personal instruction.)
I can assure you that for 95% of persons who are unsure or have doubts, actually they have it and are practicing perfectly. It will progressively reveal its gifts in supporting your life. So you should trust it for now and we will recheck and confirm this when I return there for teaching in early 2018.
Doubts are good and normal to have. You should accept that your doubts must be taken into your meditation. For it is only there that the practice itself (or the Goddess of Consciousness as we often call it) will take your doubts and dissolve them into the certainty of your own knowingness. Take your doubts within and release them into your meditation. And before long you will likely be filled with the certainty of how your meditation is teaching you, sustaining your, uplifting you!

Sincere and caring regards,   – Paul”

This got me thinking about the topic: What are the most important questions in life? What is so fundamental that everything else, all forms of knowledge and understanding, pivot on the answers? (See also the previous post on the Mirror of the Mind.)

Johnny Depp said in the title role of the movie Don Juan de Marco: “There are only four questions of value in life: What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for? And what is worth dying for? The answer to each of these is the same: Only love.”

The Buddha is said to have asked (Great Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness) “Is any value in life able to retain its meaning even in the face of our mortality? What has meaning that does not wither, even beyond death?”

For theoretical physicists, exploring the deepest nature of the physical universe, perhaps one ultimate question is: “Why is there something, and not nothing in the universe?”

And in biology, the science of life itself: “What is the essential nature of the life-force itself? How is it a being can be alive and not inert?”

And in the domain of neuro-biology and neural-brain science (and artificial-intelligence and quantum physics for that matter): “What is the nature of conscious awareness? How can self-aware consciousness actually arise from the activities within the brain?

These are wonderful questions to study and to contemplate deeply. Questions that only human sentient beings could even consider.

For the meditation masters of Kashmir-Shiva Yoga of 1,000 years ago they found their own answers within their practices. And the Heart of it is expressed in the first Śhiva Sutra, “Caitanyam-Atmā”. “Consciousness is the Self.”

Consciousness itself, free and independent, is the foundational reality principle underlying all life and all existence. Consciousness is the Self. It is the Self of all, and of our own individual, imperishable and splendorous Self.

That is what we do come to know through deep meditation. That is our practice: the immersion within our own Consciousness by means of our own Consciousness. It is there that all doubts are banished and replaced with the joyous, bliss-saturated certainty of ultimacy.

To invite you forward in exploring the questions above, consider that this ultimate principle of Consciousness is said to have 3 primary aspects: “Sat-Cit-Ānanda”.

“Sat” refers to the “truth” of actual existence. Consciousness actually exists, and therefore the entire world exists. It is not an illusion!

“Cit” (pronounced chit) refers to conscious awareness. It is aware. It knows it is aware, it is self-referential in its awareness, just as we are. Awareness does not arise from the brain. The body-brain-mind and nature all arise within and of Consciousness.

“Ānanda” is the complete Bliss-Essence character of the Absolute. This is synonymous with Love in all of its forms. Supreme unconditional Love.

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Meditation is not a Selfish Practice

We are faced with so much suffering in life, especially full with turmoil, destruction and with grief in this season, in the late Summer of 2017. Several powerful hurricanes have devastated, flooded and killed in North America, in the Caribbean, in the Southern United States, especially Texas and Florida, and in Baja California, Mexico. Now a terrible earthquake has struck near Mexico City, burying hundreds beneath collapsed buildings, including hundreds of innocent children trapped beneath their very own school. This is tragedy and suffering that seems too much for us to bear. Too much to even witness. Our compassion tears open our hearts for all those affected.

There are those who have been waiting to receive personal instruction from me in Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City. This is to happen very soon. And this raises an important question: To many persons it may appear that practicing meditation seems a selfish or self-centered practice. To sit for a few minutes each day and go within our own selves, to contact our own Source-Place of Consciousness deep within: How can we do that when there is so much trauma, disruption and suffering going on?

It is an important question. These events in our communities call for all of us who are able to rise to the challenges of helping our communities and our neighbors. And I mean this from an entirely global perspective, for we are all neighbors. We are all one community. No, we cannot all be rescue workers on the scene. But we all can offer our support and compassion in one way or another.

But the practice of deep meditation (Neelakantha Meditation) does something very valuable, important and irreplaceable, not just for ourselves, but for our communities and ultimately for the world.

Human life is filled with suffering, just as the Buddha and so many other teachers have taught. Everything we witness and experience, every trauma, every loss and every suffering leaves a trace within the fabric of our deepest mind. This affects us. Even if the suffering is happening to others, and we experience it just by witnessing it, seeing and feeling it. It leaves a trace impression in our minds too.

Neelakantha Meditation is a practice of effortlessly going deep within our own selves and accessing the very highest Source-Consciousness within. It is our own true and imperishable highest Self. It is beyond all relative human activity and dwells eternally in its own state of perfect Wholeness and Bliss. We access this and drink from it, are nourished and uplifted by this, every time we sit and do our meditation. It is of the character of Divine Grace. This aspect or value of Consciousness is called “Soma”. It is the nectarean power of healing and wholeness. It is imperishable (amrita) and cannot be tarnished, diminished nor destroyed. It acts always to release the traces of suffering from what we have experienced in life. It does not erase our experiences: What happened in life did happen. The loss, pain and the grief are real. But the wounds in the heart begin to heal when the traces of suffering are released. We are in the end left with only the wisdom, the compassion and the love that remains. Though this will often take place progressively over some time. That is our practice. It is this that enables our very presence and highest benevolent intentions to support, hold, and uplift our neighbors and communities. From this we become more capable of holding them in the highest Light and Love of Consciousness.

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We face the storms together, supported by the Highest from within.