“Consciousness is not the foam playing upon the surface of human existence and activity. It is the Ocean.” -Paul Van Camp
A few days ago I returned from a very challenging and rewarding month of travel in the Andes mountains of Peru. When I went to my desk this morning I found a note I had written to myself on the day of departure 4 weeks ago. It was a question I had posed for myself to explore. I call these “Bhavana questions”. Such questions act as seeds for arising insights, insights fueled by the ongoing and regular practice of deep meditation.
That bhavana question read: “ I suppose. What is the supposition, the deepest unspoken limiting root-belief that that binds the infinite imperishable Self into the limited individual and seemingly separate human self?”
In other words, How does the already perfect and unbounded field of my own conscious awareness, which at the highest level is at once both personal and universal in essence-nature, become limited into the individual embodied and lived human existence? How does it become so persistently bound in limitation in this life? That is a question that goes to the heart of yoga. And by “yoga” I do not mean any particular tradition or form of practice. But rather every path and means in every tradition that seeks to unfetter and free the Self to know itself as the Divine.
My trip to Peru with my wife was our second in two years. We went with two objectives. First we would go on a trekking adventure along Inca trails in the high Andes mountains. Some years ago we did a four-day trek along the traditional Inca Trail to visit Machu Picchu. I wanted to return to some less traveled trails and visit Quechua communities living their traditional lifestyle. Last year we did a two-day trek that was extraordinary and filled with astonishing beauty of both humanity and the natural wonders. That was followed by 10 days of voluntary medical service in small communities of the Andes around the Sacred Valley.
This year we wanted to “up the ante”. We trekked the highest and most challenging of the standard treks in this region, the 6-day loop around the highest and most sacred mountain in this region, Mt. Ausangate. We crossed 7 major passes including two at or above 17,000 feet. It was hard. It was amazing. And it was a joyous adventure we shared.
Again this was followed, after two nights of rest in Cusco, by embarking on another 10-day medical mission with a team from Project Helping Hands. The team of doctors, nurses, physician assistants, and dentists worked very hard. We followed narrow tracks to remote villages, llama-trekked to others, to spend long days giving careful medical care and education to these beautiful and appreciative people.
On the last morning of our journey, meditating in my little tent, I had another bhavana-born insight about all of the work and challenges that our team had shared. It filled me with admiration for the members of this team who worked so well together. It goes to the very heart of what is called “yoga”. Even though (to my knowledge) no other member of the team had any ongoing daily “yogic practice” such as meditation, other than asana (yogic posture exercises and classes).
The Bhagavad Gita is one of the oldest source texts of the yogic traditions of India. It was believed written down perhaps in the 8th or 9th century BC. The conversations that it comprises are between Arjuna, the great yet conflicted warrior, representing the human side, and Krishna, as the avatar providing a voice for sublime wisdom. Through these conversations it describe the various types of yoga, and a universal wisdom that transcends religion and culture.
At our farewell luncheon I told our team of how inspired I was by each of them. You see, this team embodied yoga on three levels during our service mission. It is something that we all do in our varied lives, within our own work, with our families and in our service to others.
The first level is yoga of action. This is called Kriya Yoga. It is the way of “doing”. Every person on our team, for example was doing something extraordinary. They had left the comfort of their homes at significant personal expense and effort to travel to Peru. To trek into the high Andes, bringing medications and supplies. Then spent long days in service to all that showed up. (We treated over 2,000 medical patients, and nearly 1,000 dental patients individually.) This is kriya, the yoga of action. We show up, and we do what is needed. We give that which we have to give.
But behind and supporting this is a higher yoga, Jñana Yoga, the yoga of knowledge. This ultimately refers to the highest or most refined knowledge that leads to a liberating understanding life and Self at the deepest level. It is the knowledge that bestows fulfillment, even enlightenment. For this is the birth-right and destiny of every human. This is the very purpose and goal of deep tantric meditation.
In the context of this team I saw that their capacity to “do” was entirely supported and arose from their prior and existing knowledge. The hard-won knowledge acquired over years and even decades of study, of college and professional schools, of internships and residencies, of the patient teaching from uncounted teachers and preceptors. This professional knowledge is what gave rise to the capacity for these individuals to go to Peru and bring this very knowledge into their most capable service. This is Jñana yoga, moving from knowledge into the sphere of action.
Yet there still is a higher and deeper yoga underlying even this. It is this the Bhagavad Gita praises as the highest form of yoga. This is Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion. It is also the easiest, most natural and simplest mode of yoga. It does not have any separate parts: just the simple and empowering engine of one’s own spontaneous devotion to the highest in life and being. Devotion is the unspoken primal desire for fulfillment, the desire or power of will that longs for fullness. Without this there would not even be the interest much less the driving motivation to achieve knowledge. Without devotion underlying a desire to serve there would be no path of learning, no higher schooling, no careful and orderly acquiring of knowledge.
So it is these three yogas that combine together: devotion, knowledge and action; Bhaki, Jñana and Kriya, each giving rise to, and supporting the next. That is the beautiful sequence of yoga I came to see in my Project Helping Hands Peru team members this past month. And to that I bow.
“To those who are devoted to the imperishable, the indefinable, the unmanifest, the omnipresent, the unthinkable, the immoveable and the eternal are the best of yogins.” – Bhagavad Gita XII.3
Dear reader, I realize I have left you dangling with the very question with which I opened this posting: “What is that supposition, the deepest limiting root belief that that binds one’s infinite imperishable Self into the limited individual and relative human self?”
So I will continue and address this in my next posting, to be called “The Three Malas”. It is a fascinating consideration.
Best and Highest to each of you, – Paul