The Sky and the Reflection

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Today, mid-February of 2017, Finds me in Varanasi, the most ancient and sacred city of India. Located on the banks of the Ganges river, where 3 rivers join together, mid-way between its Himalayan source and the Bay of Bengal towards which it flows. This great river of India has always been revered as the life-giving goddess “Ganga”. And so it is to this day. This morning at sunrise I bathed in her waters, as yet another pilgrim nourished by this place of devotion: devotion to life, to the river, to the practices of yoga, and to welcome again the rising sun.
All of the great eastern traditions of philosophy, of spiritual teachings and practices, and yes, of the religions of India, all of them intersect here. Yesterday our group consisting of meditation teachers visited one of India’s most revered temples: the Kashi-Vishvanath Shiva Temple. In the name “Shiva” refers to the universal principal of consciousness. “Vishvanath” means the lord of that which gives rise to the entire universe (“vishva”). So this is very beautiful. And the visit uplifted me deeply with its living energy of freedom. Just as it does every day for tens of thousands of visitors arriving from every quarter of the globe.

During my internship as a young physician back in 1980, I lived in Denver Colorado. This region is called the “western front, where the Great Plains give way to the Rocky Mountains. It is a land of high snow-capped peaks, cascading rivers, deep pine forests and the promise of adventure at every turn. The Summer mornings here are often crystalline blue and dazzlingly clear. A mountain sky full of light and energy and not a wisp of clouds.
However, on most afternoons, clouds begin to materialize out of nowhere. They gather, thicken and darken, piling upward rapidly into enormous thunderheads. The temperature drops, winds begin to swirl then the first flash of lightning is followed by the rolling of thunder. The wild sudden storm cuts loose with such great and wild energy. Drenching downpours release all of this water in a dazzling display of power. Then suddenly it is over: The sky clears, the sunlight and a vast open sky return.
It is all so astonishing and mysterious. There was nothing apparent in that sky. Where did all of this come from? Of course it was already there in potential, the energy of sunlight on snow, invisible water vapor brought from the surrounding mountains’ snowfields. It only appeared that there had been “nothing” there.
The foundational and most authoritative text of the Shaiva-Tantra of Kashmir, the non-dual “high” tantra that is the source and basis of our deep meditation practice, is the Tantraloka of Abhivana-Gupta of Kashmir, “Light on the Tantras”, written almost exactly 1,000 tears ago. In one of the most beautiful and enigmatic teachings in this encyclopedic book, Abhivana-Gupta articulates a key “view” on the essence-nature of the universe, and thus of our own lived-experience of life. He says (paraphrasing):
This entire manifest universe (“vishva”), everything, all of nature, objects, beings, experiences and knowledge is but a reflected-image or counter-image (“pratibimba”) that arises in the unbounded infinite Source which is celebrated and called the “Light of Consciousness” and indeed the “Sky of Consciousness”.
(The non-dual teaching, to the degree one can attempt to articulate it at all, is that all of the relative objective universe and what is known to us as human life, is nothing else but that absolute principle of consciousness (referred to as “Shiva”). Nothing else other than That actually can be said to exist at all!)
So the hypothetical question that is then posed in this teaching is: “Well then, if this entire world is actually a “counter-image” arising within the “Sky of Consciousness”, then what would be the appearance of the “original-image?” (In reference to the level of the Absolute, beyond the relative). The delightful and mysterious answer of Abhinava-Gupta is: “Why it is absolutely nothing at all!”

So, to me, this is like the vast and empty sky, my own conscious field-of-awareness. Seemingly empty of content, as it first appears in deep meditation. But like the summer mountain sky, it is burgeoning with the potentialities and energies (the “Shaktis”) of every possible gift and form. Of you and of me and of a summer storm.
And it is into that sky of Light, that sky of Consciousness, that we “go” and immerse ourselves in our meditation, so easefully and so naturally. That seeming emptiness and silence turns out to be the fullness, that which is replete with our own fulfillment. This introversive meditative immersion, which is so readily accessed and achieved, is what is known as “samadhi”. Much more on this to come later. For now, from Varanasi, “Namaste”.

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