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.
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.)
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!