I am very pleased to announce that as of today, July 22, 2017, I am an authorized teacher of Neelakantha Meditation as taught in Blue Throat Yoga. This culminates a five-year process of deep study and practices capping 43 years of meditation. I will now offer formal personal instruction in the practice of Neelakantha Meditation. It is very easy to learn and practice. And once learned, it is a practice for life. I celebrate this by offering the following blog post from here at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center:
The Book of Sadhana, a Life Journey
Neelakantha Meditation is the “ever-new” practice. It is new, fresh and different every single day. Thus each meditation and day can be thought of as a fresh “page” in the “book” of our practice life (sadhana). Each page is different and tells a part of our extraordinary personal journey. Together they comprise a sort of book, our book that is still being written. It unfolds page by page as our story unfolds day by day.
The other side of each page is the unfolding of that day’s events. What is happening in our personal lived story? What challenges are we encountering in life? What opportunities and gifts? What unexpected twists and turns? How are we growing and learning through all of this? Alive, awake and engaged: Life is unfolding with the silent engine of our meditation practice impelling us powerfully forward.
There are powerful connections between what is happening in our meditation and the accelerated evolution and growth we experience. How have limiting patterns of thought, judgment and action, and the seeds from past experience that may contain suffering? These are being systematically released during meditation. There is a burgeoning of freedom and increased capacities that emerge and carry us forward. We, and also others, will notice the changes. Knowledge deepens. Capacity for love and compassion start to replace judgmental thought patterns and reactive anger. Our peace and happiness, our health, our relationships, and our well-being are all nourished in a life lived with such a meditation practice..
The end of the book has not been written, of course. It is not fixed. Our destiny will be written by our own hand. This is certain, because of the potency of Freedom that is woven into the very fabric of the source-place of all that exists. This Freedom is inherent in the movements of Consciousness, and therefore also in life. So all limitations and all challenges can ultimately be surmounted. We are supported in this by that which is highest, best, whole and imperishable. It is the journey towards our own highest fulfillment. We are meant to succeed in this. Just as the caterpillar is meant to become the butterfly
The metaphor of the “book” is the telling our own story. Each page is unique: each day and each meditation. This is the great adventure, unfolding at this very moment. I can’t wait to see what is going to happen next!
There are tens of thousands of persons on this earth who are, at this time, awakening. There is no common thread in their stories. All of their life journeys are different and unique. There is nothing of their own doing that was the cause of their spontaneous awakening. They have simply been touched by Grace. So there follows this mysterious inexplicable turning, an arising in the deepest heart of themselves.
The first wakening is so tender and seems so precious but fragile. Like a wave passing-by that momentarily lifts us with a surge, then subsides. But in its wake everything is different. It can never be forgotten nor long ignored.
It may come into the forms of deep questioning and longing: “There must be more to life than this rat-race of chasing after desires, possessions and roles of every sort?””There must be more to me than this amazing yet mortal and limited embodiment?” “There must be more to my own consciousness than just an endless stream of thoughts?””Why is there so much terrible suffering of mankind in this world?””I am surely more than this. Life is more than this. And I must find it: I must know!”
Thus a newly awakened seeker begins to look around. He or she has become the proverbial “hound of heaven” possessing that divine-discontent, a hunger that only the highest and most fulfilling knowledge of ultimacy can ever satisfy. That is the action of awakening by Grace. It will not let us go. It can be ignored for a time but not extinguished. Which is very reassuring, we do not want to go back to sleep.
So the newly awakened seek out the extraordinary knowledge, the means of attaining that liberative fullness, their Heart’s desire. They may look everywhere: in religions, in philosophies, in ancient wisdom texts. In various “yogas”. In renunciation, or in devotion or the satisfactions of family, creating, community and in doing good works. Yet the desire for deep and complete fullness, for fulfillment, remains. Where do we find that? How do we access that?
It requires a careful and precise method. A practice method that is empowered and alive and carefully taught. This is our meditation, the true authentic practice of deep introversive meditation that gives access to the treasures of our own highest Self. Such a practice has been available throughout the centuries of human history. And it is available, though not common, today. We can find it described in ancient texts of our (and other) traditions and lineages. But it is only taught directly through living human instruction. By that means it is precisely and clearly conveyed. Person-to-person instruction – just as transplanting a tree must be from life to life. This process of personal instruction in true meditation is called “diksha”. In Sanskrit this means “something is given (“da”), and something is removed (“ksha”). That which is given is careful precise direct instruction. That which is removed is any misunderstanding or obstacles to a successful practice.
I will complete this discussion on “Diksha” and the learning of true deep tantric meditation practice in my next blog entry -Coming very soon. – Paul
The following quote is from the Tantrasara, “Essence of the Tantras”, by Abhinava Gupta written 1,000 years ago in Srinagar, Kahsmir:
“Consider the following: if living beings suppose themselves to be in a state or condition of bondage, such a supposition on their parts arises entirely as a result of the force of a fundamental thought or state of mind on their parts. Moreover, that very supposition [that they are bound] is itself the cause of their continued condition of transmigratory bondage. However, if an opposite mental state or thought arises, it can expel that thought or mental state which is the very cause of continued transmigration and it can thus be the cause of arising spiritual goodness.“And such a thought or mental state is as follows: That which transcends the entirety of all the principles of reality whose nature is limited and bounded, from the earth principle up to the Shiva principle, that is the Supreme Reality composed only of the unbounded and unlimited consciousness. That is the place where all things are established in their respective differences; that is the vital energy of all; by means of that everything breathes, and that alone am I.”
Suppose (verb) To assume or believe or take to be true; To posit as true for what follows. From the Latin supponere; sub + ponere; to “put-under”. Supposition (n.) a belief that underlies or is the foundation for what follows.
Returning now to exploring my previous post’s question for contemplation: “What is that supposition, the deepest unspoken limiting root-belief that binds the infinite imperishable Self into the limited individual and seemingly separate human self?”
In the teachings and philosophy of classical Yoga (~ 500 CE) and in the later tantra-yoga of Kashmir Shaivism (~ 1000 CE), both traditions agree on one central and overarching principle: In both of them, the highest and the only true self-identity of every being is Consciousness itself. In classical yoga this is called purusha. In the later non-dual writings it is called atma. I often refer to it simply as the “Self”( with capital S).
This principle is stated with perfect simplicity in the first Shiva Sutra (I.1):
< caitanyam ātma > “ Consciousness is the Self.”
The field of Consciousness is both the universal Self of all existence, and at the same time, our personal individual field of living awareness. This is declared as our true and final identity, the Self. It is that which “I Am”.
All of reality and all of experience arises and is manifest as vibration-forms within the field of Consciousness. For me, this is the most startling, expansive and liberating recognition of all. It turns any limited view of the world upside down (not to mention of modern physics) and grounds reality in its own transcendent Source.
At a universal level, Consciousness is seen as the ultimate reality principle. That of which there is nothing higher (anuttara). It is the underlying ground of all being. And so it is at the individual level: It is within the light of our awareness that all experiences arise and take place. Thus it is called “The Light of Consciousness.” Not the content of our conscious experiences, but the ever-present light of awareness by which that content is seen and known. There can be no experience that does not take place in consciousness. Without that nothing could be known. So it is indeed the “light” of our awareness.
[Note: While the terms “consciousness” and “awareness” are essentially synonymous, I try to use “Consciousness” when referring to the universal aspects, and “awareness” when speaking of the personal. Even though, from the highest perspective, these are one.]
Now, the individual and personal field of awareness, whether called purusha, atma or the Self, was always and is forever perfect and full. It has no limitations. It is completely free and ecstatically whole. It does not need to be “enlightened”. It just needs to be realized and reclaimed as our own core identity.
So how then does our embodiment into a human circumstance of apparent limitation take place? Where has separation, error and limitation of our knowledge come into play? And the resulting suffering in life that results from such limited access to our own highest nature? And why is that condition of limited knowledge and circumstance so persistently arising in relative human life?
Limited knowledge is the cause, the tradition declares. The second Śhiva Sutra declares “jñanam bandaḥ”, “Limited knowledge is bondage.”
It is an erroneous dual supposition or belief, says the svatantra-yoga teachings: First is the mistaken belief that what is not our true self is taken to be our true self. This is referring to the physical body, to the limited mind, to our thought-forms, ideas and identifications with what is limited and temporary (such as our professions, possessions, group identities etc.) Then the second mistaken belief is the corresponding false supposition by which we fail to know what is our true Self: Our transcendent imperishable Conscious Self; That which we can come to know by direct personal experience through deep introversive meditation. This is the Light of Consciousness: the Self.
There are three primary mechanisms of contraction or limitation of knowledge. They are called the three “malas”. These are the means by which the unlimited Self is “bound” into the play of circumstances with the character of ordinary human life and suffering. Mala in Sanskrit is often translated as “stain”. But I find it can best be understood as forms of erroneous beliefs and thoughts. The three are the anava-mala, the mayiya-mala and the karma-mala. These are the dimensions of the “ignorance” or limited knowledge of our true nature. They exist only in our body and mind. And they veil or conceal the fullness and perfection of what we already are as purusha, the Self.
The anava-mala is the root of all of it. Anava means “small”, atomic or infinitesimal. It is the result of our transcendent Self becoming embodied as a limited human being. It feels very, very small. It feels like a big mistake. We arrive in this life and feel somehow incomplete and imperfect because we are not in touch with our fullness and universal nature. It is the primordial inferiority complex. And everyone has it. It is intrinsic to being a limited human being living a mortal human life. And, as one of my teachers put it, “It is the most untrue thing that we ever could possibly believe.”
The progressive untangling and release of the anava-mala through a life process of study, yogic practices, and refinement of our knowledge until the “erroneous supposition” is clearly viewed and released from our self-identity, is rightfully called “Self-realization”. That is the path of liberation. And it is indeed a heroic endeavor. The process begins only when we are touched, at some point in our life, by the call of Grace. That is the initial awakening.
The other two “malas” arise as a direct result of the anava-mala, the mala of diminution. The second, the mayiya-mala, is the error of distinction or of discrimination. It is the habit of mind and judgment that sees otherness and differentiation: me vs. not-me. It says “This is higher and that is lower. Other persons and groups are seen as separate and different. Every form of separative distinction is the thought-habit of the mayiya mala. It is that which isolates us.
Yes, differences actually do exist and are manifest in the relative dimensions of life. But there is an overarching and more fundamental unity underlying all things and beings at the most subtle and transcendent levels of reality. That “unity-consciousness” is the transcendent and permanent recognition that progressively comes into living focus. “Difference” is then seen to arise and exist only within a much great preponderance of “non-difference”.
The third mala arises directly from the first two. Out of the pervasive experience of smallness or diminution (anava-mala), and of being separate and distinct (mayiya-mala), arises the feeling that we are acting as isolated and distinct agents. This sense of individual “agency” accompanies all of our actions in most persons’ lives. It says: “It is I alone who is performing my actions.” Separative perception does not recognize that the entire universe is acting through and with us. Our actions are not separate from the whole. This supposition that we act as separate agents is called the karma-mala. It is the error of limited action. It is “arrogation”, taking on the operation of the universe as being our own. There is a subtlety here: This does not negate nor deny our absolute freedom to act. We are completely free in the Self. Freedom is fundamental and intrinsic to Consciousness. “Svatantra” means literally “self-weaving”. But when we act the whole universe acts in concert with us. Our own wholeness cannot be breached.
These three dimensions of limitation are the foundation of how the universal unbounded Consciousness becomes embodied as an individual sentient being. Untangling these erroneous suppositions of the three malas through meditation and progressive refinement is a path to direct knowledge towards liberation and the highest fulfillment. For me, this perspective provides a sort of roadmap for my practices and unfolding progress in life.
“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.
I have been reading the Indian epic, Mahabharata, and was touched by the moment when Arjuna meets Krishna for the first time. (This is well before their conversations comprising the Bhagavad Gita.) Arjuna the warrior prince is profoundly struck by the recognition of the Supreme in Krishna: of God-consciousness fully embodied in the fullness of its own freedom, knowledge and power. And of the awesomeness of the compassion and love which that is. Arjuna recognizes that from that moment his life will never again be the same.
I am today completing a pilgrimage in India of three weeks visiting traditionally sacred sites with a group of Acharyas, authorized teachers and practitioners of Nilakantha meditation. I came on this pilgrimage because I was called to it, despite all of my doubts and small fears. I came to support the Acharyas and our own meditation teacher who was also there. And I received something very precious and essential along the way.
My thinking, my mind’s biases, would like to say that location does not matter. That Consciousness is truly expresses and fully present in every thing, person and circumstance. And that is completely true. Yet for how long have I wandered about failing to recognize that? What does it take to open whatever remains of the doors of my very own heart?
Location, sacred places, can act as transformers or lenses, as catalysts by the very intensity of Grace they bestow. Arunachala, a sacred mountain in southern India, is the location or vortex of the Agni lingam, the Divine becoming manifest as the power of fire. This mountain contains the meditation caves of the 20th century saint Ramana Maharshi. These caves still contain his presence, his love for it. And here we connect to this form of support.
But beyond the caves the route upward is more challenging with giant boulders and confusing choices. How do we get to that summit that calls us? Then we see that those who have gone before us are showing the way. There are actual arrows painted on the rocks showing: “This way”, “This way to the top”. And others indicate “Not this way. Don’t go this way!”
So we have the support of those who have gone before us, ancient and recent teachers. Just as I am following close behind you, my dear Acharya friends. Because this is the only service that calls me. This direction of becoming a teacher, to stand in my own freedom and embody the knowledge and love contained in these teachings. That is my mountain and life path.
This journey has provided so many extraordinary gifts and unexpected pivots that it would indeed read as chapters from the Mahabharata. I will mention just two.
The first was when we finally stepped into the inner-sanctum of the Kashi-Vishvanath temple in the ancient and most revered Indian city of Varanasi. As I entered the small space I glanced to my right and glimpsed the black monolithic linga, there naturally emerging from the earth. Being in its presence broke some dam deep within my individuality. Some unseen walls came tumbling down. I was laid bare to a great depth of freedom and love that had always been there, but now I was naked before it. So here I am.
It was disorienting and part of me was terrified by it. But another part so grateful said “Yes. This yes. Thank you yes.”
Then we all walked to the great cremation grounds of Manikarnika, the cremation grounds of “the dropped earring of the Goddess”, which has been operating 24/7 for over 3,000 years. And this, these cremation pyres and the relatives’ devotion, resonated with what was going on inside me. I felt a sacred sort of peace and even beauty in the fires that burn away the temporary- freeing life and lives to move onward. I am already in that fire, burning away that which is unnecessary. But as for this body: Not yet.
Later, in the purifying life-giving river “Mother Ganga” (the Ganges), I immersed myself completing a ritual for accepting the liberating gift of fullness I had received. This is what happened in Varanasi in the company of the Acharyas (who certainly also received them, each in their own way.)
The second pivotal, what I would call an initiatory moment was at a fire-offering ceremony, called a “homa”, at another sacred location and temple a few days later. This was at the Nataraja temple of Chidambaram, home of the dancing form of Shiva, the Absolute Consciousness. It was on the evening of an extraordinary day of honoring and invoking Ganesha, the intelligence that governs and removes our obstacles. During this elaborate fire-sacrifice ceremony, while the temple priests were performing the rituals, I was there silently offering my own limitations into that fire, all of my own separative and limiting individuality into that fire. I did this systematically.
I offered, released and burned my own 3 malas (root errors), that of smallness and inadequacy; that of difference, separateness and differentiation; and that of arrogance, of thinking it is a separate person and not the Whole that acts.
I offered my doubts and my fears (Yes all of them.) and my holding-back. I offered my false identifications. The ideas that I am this body or this mind or my roles in life, etc. I offered all my obstructing-patterns in life: patterns of fear, of anger, of hatred, of depression, of refusal. Then my opinions, my ignorant judgements, ideas and suffering-laden beliefs and karmas.
I offered my entire limited individuality into the fire. I was enacting my own cremation. And I was inwardly shuddering and grieving for what was being “lost” to the fire. All of this will certainly one day be consumed in fire. So it may as well be here and today in this sacred place surrounded by these friends. I knew and trusted that what was essential would not be burned but would arise.
I celebrate life! I want to live fully and free. All live is indeed one. So I live in everything. In this very body that you see I am most honored and grateful for the opportunity to step forward again to serve. The highest is to offer oneself in service to the Highest: In Sanskrit “atma-samarpana”.
Postscript: A few days later I felt that I was still in the process of “sifting through the ashes” of my own fire-offering, to see what shards of my relative and temporary self still remains among the ashes. Most of it was of no use and is happily let go. Certainly there are some necessary fragments to be kept, such as the wisdom hard won from past experiences. So I will finish sifting through the vibhutti ashes. Who knows? Perhaps I will find a jeweled-earring there amongst the dust!
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”.
In his 10th century masterwork on Kashmir Shaivism, the Tantrāloka (“Light on the Tantras”), the sage Abhinavagupta succinctly summaries the argument for knowledge as 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.” (Paraphrased from Ahnika V, v. 105-107, after Paul Muller-Ortega.)
What is known as “limited knowledge” (“jñanam-bandhah”, of Shiva Sutra I.2) is not just the knowledge of limitation, of the forms of partiality, of the lived relative small self. It is rather that which precludes the knowledge of fullness, the knowledge that bestows liberation. When all limited and limiting knowledge dissolves (through our sustained authentic meditation practice), then what remains is the already-present and prior non-dual direct experiential knowledge of Wholeness, of the Great Self (“caitanyam-ātma”, of Shiva Sutra I.1).
In the same manner, the dissolution of all forms of contraction and suffering, of the three modes of limitation (mala) [1. of the limitation of smallness and lack of fullness (anava); 2. of the limitation of differences or discrimination (mayiya); and 3. of the limitation of arrogation of doer-ship (karma)]; When these all dissolve into the fullness of that lived knowledge, what remains when all suffering is dissolved, is known as “Bliss” – Ānanda.
A person might ask: If everyone is already perfect and complete in our essence-nature as imperishable Consciousness, then what is the need for pursuing a life of practice (sadhana) in order to achieve spiritual liberation (jivan-mukti) in this lifetime?
Bliss is the opposite of suffering. It is the way we live that intersects and determines the experience of our life: the fullness, the satisfaction, the meaningfulness and the fulfillment. That is what permits the establishment in our lives of the moment-by-moment lived values of highest love, of bliss, of knowledge and the capacity to enact our own highest forms of service to life.
Some of my fellow meditation students have been asking me, “What is the single most important gift or revelation you received when you were in India recently?”
There are several that were truly extraordinary, completely unexpected and precious gifts. So it was difficult to answer. Yet first and foremost, I told them that it is important to understand: You do not need to go to Chidambarm. Yes, it is an exquisite temple with an extraordinary history that is a sort of “spiritual home” a place of grounding of our tradition on the planet. The place where Shiva Nataraja, the Dancer who is dancing the dance of all life and being into existence, within our own highest Consciousness. There in that temple He is praised and recognized in ritual and personal homage, as has been done for so long. (Perhaps since the second century of the common era.)
But there is nothing that you must go there to receive. As an initiated student and practitioner in our tradition, that which is “there” already lives inside you. You do not need to go there to receive it. If that were the case then it would be problematic. If you had to go there to receive this blessing and knowledge, then you might need to return again and again to renew it.
But it is not so. Visiting Chidambaram is a celebration and witnessing of a certain configuration and tradition of that celebration. It is a recognition (Darshan) of your own Highest Self which you access every day in your Nilakantha meditation.
That said, this was my highest gift from Chidambaram: When my friend Patrick and I first arrived there we went to our Dikshitar priest (our advocate and guide here), Sundaramoorthy Dikshitar. He took us first to the Thillai Kali temple located about one mile from the main Nataraja Temple.
This was the “home” of the extraordinary expression of the innate power of nature and of the universe known as Kali. Here are housed murtis (statue forms) of Kali, both in her benign pleasing and gently form, beautifully adorned. And yet just off to the left of this, facing the opposite direction, is her fierce and terrifying form. One glance at Kali in this form shakes me to my core.
She is buried completely in a small mountain of red cumcum powder to keep her appeased, only her eyes are uncovered. They are an abyss. They are the primordial abysmal eyes of the mother goddess, utterly black and bottomless. It is a knowing that one day they will swallow you in death and take you back. For it is she that breathes life into you as an embodied person, for this time on earth. And yet that abyss is utterly filled with the most astonishing love. It beckons. That is Kali.
Historically, it is revealed that originally, this whole central Kali Temple, together with Kali in her own form as the Dancer of Life, was actually located within the main temple directly in front of Shiva Nataraja. They faced each other, and the temple tradition indicates that they loved to dance to each other. The great cosmic dance “contest” was their sport. Shiva dancing the totality that held the entire universe within Himself. And Kali, the maha-Shakti, the great wheel of potencies that is the operational expression of everything. They are one. But the arrival of Brahmin priests of the Vedic tradition at one point of history objected to this. The compromise was that the Thillai Kali Temple be removed from the main Nataraja Temple of Chidambaram and be re-located to the outskirts of the town where it is today. (They also introduced at this time the ritual worship of the “crystal lingam” as a symbol of Shiva worship, even thought the Nataraja form of Dancing Shiva could never be displaced there.)
My own personal experience at the Temple, one that was very intimate and lives in me now, is just precisely this: the restoration of Kali to the temple within-my-own-Heart, to Dance again, before and with Shiva Nataraja. When I went to the main temple for my first darshan there, the first of many in the earliest morning. Where the town’s worshippers assembled to visit the Dancer before beginning their daily activities. Gathered with them, to the sound of the amazing bells of the temple, ringing in praise and celebration of life.
Kali and Shiva dancing before each other forever, and at this very moment, within the temple of my own Heart. That was my most astonishing and beautiful gift from Chidambaram. (And I can still hear those beautiful bells ringing, ringing.)
A dear friend recently visited us in Baja for a few days. She is a young lady that my wife and I have known for about a year. We did medical volunteer work together in the Peruvian Andes. She is currently healing from a relationship break-up and needed to have time away for some support and some fun. She has been receiving valuable insights from therapy and making a personal study of her “attachment-issues” as she calls it, and how these have impacted her relationships. Of course this is a very fruitful area for personal growth.
During our conversations I was trying to articulate the difference between how therapy differs from the transformative effects of a regular deep meditation practice. By “therapy” I am generally referring to cognitive recognition and re-alignment of one’s operating patterns of thought, feelings and actions in life, as explored with a competent guiding professional.
I too have had the benefit from working with insightful therapists in the past. So I have great appreciation for their work and the value that they give. Primarily, this was in the form of recognitions of my own patterns of relationship to myself and to others. Then developing methods to improve them, to replace less-than-optimal patterns with better life and relationship strategies. This creates more freedom, more capacity and happiness.
One limitation to insight-type therapies, however, is that we operate in therapy as in life, from within those very same limiting thought patterns. We are using the relative mind to try to transform the relative mind. And it is very difficult to “get outside” of our own limiting viewpoints and reactive patterns. So changing them is likewise inherently difficult.
Meditation is fundamentally different in that it is a process of transcending the whole field of thought-forms and reactive patterns. It is a connecting, for a few minutes each day, with the deep non-conceptual source-place of our own highest Consciousness. This place of meditative repose (samavesha or samadhi) is full of the Wholeness and the “soma-value” of life, of Consciousness. This is naturally uplifting and healing. And it is inherently intelligent in its operation for our highest benefit. The “soma-value” is that aspect of Consciousness that is operative in protecting and uplifting life. It is a form of what is called “Grace”, or the “maha-shakti”, among other terms in the tantric traditions.
To make this clear to my friend, who has a beautiful and very refined religious perspective, I offered this metaphor: “That going into deep meditation is like taking a “big drink of pure Grace”, and then bringing it back into our life, into our body, our mind and our relationships. It then acts naturally to untangle any knots of limitation. It permits and causes us to heal and to rise towards our own highest expression in life, automatically, naturally and beautifully. For it only ever acts for our highest possible benefit.
So the transformation from meditation does not require that we “figure out” and find specific solutions to each of our limiting patterns, and the past forms of suffering that give rise to them. Yes, we certainly will have insights and gain the wisdom of our experiences, even as we release them into a greater and happier configuration of our own life. I compared it to “pouring cream-rinse” over the mats and snarls of our own various mental “tangles”. They just start to release. The patterns of limitation, which we all hold, begin to let go. And yes, this can be powerfully supportive for someone who is also working in therapy. The practice of meditation is complete and belongs at the center of our personal mandala of practices.
For students and practitioners of yoga and tantric meditation, we need a simple and clear definition of what is meant by the word “mind”. In the traditional and modern literature of the many esoteric traditions, the word “mind” is used in various and sometimes confusing ways. It is often mixed up with what would properly be called the principle of “consciousness” or the experience of embodied sentient awareness.
To address this ambiguity I have found the following to be a practical working definition of “mind”: “Mind”, (n) is the sum of the activities and mechanisms that give rise to our though-forms and feelings: The contents of consciousness, but not Consciousness itself.
This includes the sensory perceptions as encoded in our brain and nervous system. It includes all of the “processing” that creates consciously-accessible content. It includes the processing and encoded brain activities that represent our past memories, our imaginative constructs of the future, and our conceptual representations of objects and events. This includes our constructed conceptual image of our self. That is what I call the “operating-relative self” (or ego), which is but a conceptual construct within the body-mind. That is not the “Self” that is our true and abiding nature, our highest and imperishable Self.
What is not included in this definition of “mind” is the power of conscious awareness itself. Consciousness, the ever-present field of awareness or sentience is prior-to and not dependent upon the operation of mind. It does not arise from the neurologic processing of the brain. (Even though many neuro-cognitive researchers think otherwise.) Rather, Consciousness is the universal and fundamental underlying principle of all existence.
“This entire world, and our very own Self, arises, manifests and abides within the Absolute Light of Consciousness”, the Tantrāloka declares. And simultaneously, Consciousness is the fundamental essence-nature of our own personal Self. It is the ever-present (yet often overlooked) field of personal living awareness within which all our experiences of life arise and exist. Mind, via the brain and nervous system, produces the contents of thought. But consciousness is the source of the experience of those contents.
So if mind is the source and the sum of all of our thoughts, the content of our consciousness. Then consciousness is that essential faculty which illuminates, sees and knows that content. That is what is meant by “the Light of Consciousness”. It is that by which all experience is actually known. And it is taught that there is actually no other existing light. For even the sun would not “shine’ except that it is illuminated, seen and known in that Light of Consciousness. (From the Tantrāloka, Ahnika I)
This definition and perspective on “mind” is confirmed in the teachings of classical Yoga and Samkhya philosophies. In their scheme of the 25 tattvas or “reality principles”, the highest principle is Consciousness itself in its personal aspect called “Purusha.” That is the individual or personal aspect of pure Consciousness.
Beneath this, in the realm of relative existence, are three tattvas that together comprise the “mind”. First there is the “buddhi” which the most subtle level of the relative mind. It corresponds to what western psychology would call “sub-conscious” in that much of it is not readily accessible. It includes all of the subtle memory-traces (samskaras) from our past experiences. And it determines what is permitted to arise up into the level of our accessible thoughts. Second is is the “ahamkara”. This means the “I maker” or ego. It stamps our experience with the recognition of belonging to our self: “This is my experience.” “These are my actions.” etc. Finally is the “manas”: This is the operating-mind of consciously accessible thought, concept formation, emotional coloring, and executive organizing, etc.
So these three, buddhi ahamkara and manas, are the 3 levels of function that together comprise the “mind”. But Consciousness itself (“purusha”, or “atma” in the later tantric non-dual view) stands apart, ever-free, ever-radiant, in its own illuminating Light of Consciousness. This distinction is of the utmost importance for us.