yoga sutras

Pranayama

“This life is empty breath.

If I can hear one clear truth,

I’ll be fortunate.” – Lalla

 

“If you live on the breath,

You won’t be tortured

By hunger and thirst.” – Lalla

 

Prāṇāyāma

Prāṇāyāma is introduced as a discrete practice in the 49th verse of the second chapter of the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. Patañjali begins by pointing out that some āsana work must precede praṇāyāma practice, so that we have a stable and comfortable foundation in our physical body. This does not mean that’s necessary to perform any elaborate acrobatics, but just the ability to maintain a basic posture with the back straight.

In our comfortable and stable posture, we can begin to practice prāṇāyāma by extending and regulating the inhale and exhale. The breath is through the nose and the qualities that we are aiming for are slowness, relaxation, evenness, and smoothness. Gradually, we can extend the breath in this way and extend the pauses between breaths.

Yogic breath practices imply that there is some concentration of mind as well. The breath itself is seen as a cause for the concentration of the mind, so the act of each inhale and exhale bring the mind back to our focus and object of meditation. This should be done first with inhales and exhales, ensuring that the breath meets the criteria above and that some basic focus can be maintained, then we can begin to practice in the stops of the breath as well. The retention of breath should be seen as a close holding of the mind on the object as well.

“The object of concentration should be present in the mind during each act of inhalation and exhalation, or the inhalation and exhalation are to be looked upon as the predisposing causes bringing the thought of the object of concentration; thus union between the breath and the object of concentration has to be practised. When this becomes habitual, then the suspension of the movement (of breath) has to be practised. During this practice, the mind has also to be kept fixed on the object of concentration. That is, suspension of breath and the mind’s fixation on the object of concentration should be made as a single effort. Or the idea has to be entertained that by the suspension of breath the object of meditation itself has been held tightly in mental embrace. This form of suspension of movement of the mind, as long as the suspension of breath is maintained, indicates one real Prāṇāyāma.” – Swami Hariharananda, The Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali 258-259

When retention of breath is practiced after the exhale, it is called an external hold. When it is practiced after the inhale, it is called an internal hold. It can also be practiced at any point within the cycle of breath and this is called a stationary hold.

Holds can be measured by their location, time, and number. The aim is to make the breath long and subtle.

Location

Location can refer simply to the depth of breath that is practiced, but it is usually take to mean where the sensation of breath is felt during the course of the breath cycle. Swami Hariharananda  recommends a pattern where we bring the sensation to the entire body during the inhale, felt especially on the skin, palms of hands, and soles of feet, and then to bring the sensation inward to the central channel or heart space during the exhale. He says this brings a sense of ease to the body.

The breath can also be inhaled into the belly and then exhaled out to a foot in front of the nose. This technique is taught in the Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra and is often taught by Dr. Lad.

Hariharananda argues that location can also be observed as a way of increasing subtlety of breath by imagining that the range of the exhale is shorter and shorter to the point where a fine cotton wool placed in front of the nose would not be disturbed.

Time

Time refers to how long the breath is suspended. This can be observed by counting. Certain ratios can be adopted such as a count of four for the inhale and four for the exhale. We can also include the holds and count four for the inhale, four for the internal hold, four for the exhale, and four for the exhale hold. When the count is even in this way, it is called a samavṛtti prāṇāyāma, or even timing. If we practice with a more complex ratio, such as four for the inhale, sixteen for the internal hold, eight for the exhale, and eight for the external hold, then this is called viṣamavṛtti, or uneven timing. The length of the count can be extended and longer holds can be maintained, but the practice should always feel relaxed and easy to perform.

Rather than simply counting, it is especially effective to use a mantra for keeping track of the time of the breath cycle. For example, the mantra could be internal recited twice during the inhale and twice during the exhale to maintain a simple samavṛtti prāṇāyāma. This practice allows the mind to become fixed in the flow of sound, facilitating both concentration and the rhythmic timing.

Number

Number refers to how many breath cycles are practiced. One could simply count, one could roughly keep track by practicing over a set period of time, or one could use a japa mālā to count repetitions of mantras or breaths.

Gradually through practice, the breath becomes slower and less perceptible, quieter and smoother.

Sometimes we use more complex and specific breath patterns for prāṇāyāma, such as alternating nostrils, but the practice can also be quite simple as well. With specific breath practices, sometimes internal engagements, called bandhas, or locks, must be employed to practice correctly. These can allow the suspensions of breath to be held for much longer. This is the means employed by Haṭha Yoga, the more “forceful” type of Yoga, where the stilling of prāṇa is used to still the mind. The softer forms of Yoga instead employ the gradually stilling of mind as a means of allowing the breath to become more still. Swami Hariharananda explains this by saying that focus and devotion bring about an intensity of joy that we get a strong desire to hold it as if in embrace and this will cause the breath to become more still on its own accord.

“Through practice of devotion to God and Dhāraṇā of the Sāttvika type, the intensity of joy that is felt in the innermost being, gives rise to a strong desire to hold it as if by an embrace of the heart, which producing a Sāttvika form of contraction of the nerve-centres may stop the activities of the Prāṇa. Just as in the process of Haṭha-Yoga the impulse of contraction is externally produced, in this process it is internally induced.” – Swami Hariharananda, Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali p.262

Through whichever means, as the breath becomes almost imperceptible, it seems to disappear on its own. Here we can enter a fourth type of retention that is said to transcend internal and external.

In higher states of meditation, we can start to feel that even the movement of the breath is a disturbance to our concentration. When everything is quiet in our mind, the breath can start to sound like the loudest thing around. So, progressively making it subtler until it starts to almost disappear would be useful for that depth of mental stability.

This special fourth kind of prāṇāyāma can also be interpreted to mean that the movement of life force, or prāṇa, in the body can now be extended to subtler realms and not merely cycled inside and out of the body. The projection and absorption of this energy starts to make ordinary distinctions between outer and inner lose some of their import.

Through this kind of prāṇāyāma, the veil over inner light is thinned and the mind becomes fit for concentration.

Vyasa argues that there is no tapas superior to prāṇāyāma. It removes impurities and makes the light of knowledge shine. He says that the karmas which cause ignorance and prevent clarity of discernment dwindle away due to the practice of prāṇāyāma. This limb can be seen as an elaboration on the breath meditation that was mentioned in the first chapter.

Ayurvedic Nutrition

Ayurvedic Nutrition as Subject Oriented Nutrition

 

Ayurvedic Nutrition is a radically different approach than that of Western Nutrition. I like to call it Subject Oriented Nutrition because in Ayurveda our main focus is how we experience the food we consume and what information we're able to derive from that experience. What our experience can tell us, what the five senses can tell us.

 

This is why one of our first units for understanding food will be TASTE. It sometimes seems strange to those used to Western Nutrition because they think that just because a food tastes a certain way that doesn't mean it has certain nutrients, etc.

 

Nowadays in general, we tend to view our bodies at best as stumbling blocks and perhaps even as enemies. We assume that if something tastes good it must be unhealthy and that healthy food will taste bad by necessity.

 

However, I believe we should have a bit more respect for our bodies. We actually have quite developed instruments for determine how a food will affect us. The Intelligence in the process of Evolution has provided us with a sensory apparatus that gives us a lot of information about our world and even our food.

 

First Look at the Tastes

 

Let's look at what information we can get from food on just the level of tastes. The classic Ayurvedic tastes are Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent (Spicy), Bitter, and Astringent. Though we will go over how Ayurveda talks about each of these tastes, I like to start by pointing out what information on a scientific level they are providing us with.

 

We can detect the presence of carbohydrates, important for our caloric intake, from the Sweet taste.

 

We can tell the pH of a food within a certain range through the Sour and Bitter tastes. If you don't remember or you've never learned Chemistry, pH is the ratio of Hydrogen ions (positive) to Hydroxide ions (negative). Our body needs to maintain  certain pH's in different organs and tissues in order for them to function properly.

 

We can detect the presence of a specific ionic compound: NaCl, salt. This compound is necessary for the proper transportation of water across the cell membrane and is so vital to our systems that we have developed taste receptors just for it! Despite being present at most tables nowadays, it is also reasonably rare in nature and so it was doubly important to detect.

 

What are we detecting when we taste something as spicy or pungent? I think this one is particularly interesting because it relieves how we all are at least a little masochistic. Pungency is detecting through our tongues pain receptors. That means that these receptors respond to spiciness the same way they'd respond to something actually being too hot in temperature. So, it makes perfect sense that we call spicy food "hot."

 

Astringency is a little different because it is not a "taste" per say, but a feeling in the mouth. Here we are detecting whether something is absorbing water. If it does, it makes our mouth feel dry and we call it "astringent."

 

Refinement of Awareness

 

So, getting back to this idea of oriented our eating from our own experience, even when we talk about unhealthy foods that "taste good", that is not the entirety of our experience of that food. For example, excess of sweet treats might "taste good" at first, but we also experience sleepiness, sluggishness, and maybe even congestion.

 

Coming at Nutrition from a Subject Oriented point of view thus isn't just a simple "Do what feels good!" We have to refine our awareness and use mindfulness to keenly observe what *actually* feels good beyond just the immediate effect.

 

The Purpose of Subject Oriented Nutrition

 

One side effect of some of the aspects of Modern Life is that we often find ourselves disconnected or alienated from our environment, our community, and even our own selves.

 

We see this disconnect in the way we approach food. Many people can much more easily recognize a food by its packaging rather than its origins on a farm. Children in school are unable to identify different vegetables, but they can distinguish between the boxes of dozens of different breakfast cereals (all of which probably contain the same ingredients!).

 

We even see this when we start to think of a food as a mathematical entity: a certain number of calories, a certain number of grams of protein, a certain amount of Vitamin A, etc. This is the strategy of Western Nutrition.

 

Obviously, it *is* useful to be able to talk about the "Nutritional Value" of food in this way, but I believe our scales have shifted so far to that side and that we are at a point where that approach needs to be balanced or it only increases our alienation from our lived experience.

 

We could do with a readjustment towards seeing food as it is in front of us. Towards understanding food by how we experience it on a sensory level.

 

Here I refer everyone to the great Michael Pollan. I think it was Dr. Svoboda who pointed out that, without studying Ayurveda or ever using the word, Michael Pollan has popularized what is essentially an Ayurvedic perspective and has done much to bring our popular consciousness back in line with embodiment.

 

Michael Pollan's famous advice on what to eat, which I will endorse as the simplest Ayurvedic Nutritional advice we can give, is:

 

Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

 

This advice, like a Sanskrit sutra, contains within only a few words a wealth of wisdom. So, like one would do with a Sanskrit sutra, let's break it down:

 

Eat Food.

 

Eat food means two things. It means eat food instead of eating calories, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, etc. It means think of your food as *food* and not as a mathematical entity.

 

Eat food also means eat food instead of "edible food-like substances." Our grocery stores are full of so much processed and crafted food and almost none of it is health promoting. Some more good advice that can serve as a corollary to this is to shop from the sides of the supermarket not the center. In the sides you will find a diversity of foods: vegetables, fruits, eggs, dairy, even meats. In the central aisles you will find a diversity of boxes with mostly the same 4 ingredients: wheat, corn, soy, sugar. Even just from the perspective of having a diverse diet, this is a disaster!

 

Michael Pollan often explains this one by saying, "Eat something your grandmother would recognize as food." I don't know how old any of you are, but unfortunately we're getting to the point where for many we'll have to say "your great grandmother." It was the WWII generation that saw the drastic increase in processed foods and so many of the people of that generation fell hook-line-and-sinker for those flashy new products.

 

I could also add that our grandparents (or great grandparents) were probably culturally more isolated. One more positive byproduct of our globalized world is that we have access to lovely recipes around the world. So, even though my great grandparents might never agree to eat a curry, I can still enjoy them. So, perhaps we can amend "eat something your grandmother would recognize as food" to "eat something *someone's* grandmother would recognize as food."

 

Not too much.

 

Put simply, don't over-consume. Eating too much exhausts our digestive energy (a topic we will return to). It also shows a lack of respect for our environment. The production of food requires labor and resources. If you over-consume you are not showing respect for that sacrifice (a topic we will also return to).

 

Mostly Plants.

 

Ayurveda often gets billed as vegetarian in orientation. This does not have to be the case. Ayurveda accepts vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike and even sometimes prescribes the medicinal use of meat (for those who are not ethical opposed). However, whether a person is vegetarian or omnivorous, in order to be healthy their diet should still consist *mostly* of plants. With some constitutional exceptions, most of us should eat a diet that consists in a large part of vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and other goodies of the plant kingdom. If we decide to have some meat on the side of that or we decide to abstain, that's still well and good.

 

Food & Emotions

 

When we start to attend to our experience of the food we're eating, we will quickly notice that our responses and cravings are not just merely physical. In Ayurveda, we acknowledge that food also has an emotional component.

 

Sometimes, what we desire is not the food per say, but instead the food as a surrogate for a certain kind of emotional nourishment. This explains why we might overeat or undereat or have cravings or aversions that aren't due to physical needs.

 

A mindful approach to food can then start to parse out when we actually have hunger for a food itself and when we have a hunger for something less tangible. The easiest example is that, in Ayurveda, we associate the Sweet Taste with Love. So, often a person will over-consume Sweets because what they really want is to feel loved. Cultivating good relationships and even developing a healthy sense of Self-Love is thus critical for overcoming this craving.

 

Digestion as a General Metaphor in Ayurveda

 

People often say, "You are what you eat." In Ayurveda, we say, "You are not so much what you eat as what you actually *digest*."

 

When you have started to develop a good understanding of your experience of food, you will also naturally start to develop an understanding of your own appetite. You will notice wen you feel full, when you can longer put something to proper use. When you can't "digest" any more.

 

This becomes a larger metaphor in Ayurveda, where we discuss not just digestion of food, but also digestion of experience or information.

 

Everything we experience is only so much "raw data" (note the term here) until we can digest it into information. Hopefully, we can digest that information into Knowledge, and, if we're *really* lucky, we can even digest that knowledge into Wisdom.

 

And so, we must not only feed ourselves right (physically and mentally), but also work to foster and caretake our ability to digest.

 

In Ayurveda, we use the metaphor of AGNI or FIRE to talk about this. Ayurvedic students and practitioners are thus always going on about our "agni." "Oh, my agni is feeling a little taxed today." "Wow, my agni was so strong today that I almost bite my co-worker's head off when he tried to talk to me when I was on my way to lunch." etc.

 

Just like making a campfire, you can put fuel on a fire that will help it grow, or you can put things on it which will put it out. If the fire is strong, it may be able to take a heavy log, but if it is not, it might require some kindling.

 

Building a healthy fire takes care and patience and time.

 

 

The Ritual of Eating

 

For our final topic here I'll try to be brief. Basically, Ayurveda will also emphasize not just "what we eat," but also "how we eat."

 

There is some good advice that I have given in your manual to help with this, but one thing I'd like to discuss a bit further is the idea of Gratitude.

 

Gratitude is essential for maintaining strong agni.

 

Gratitude not only orients us towards our food like the spiritual equivalent of our mouths watering, it also causes us to prioritize other people and our environment as well as ourselves.

 

If we have true gratitude for the food that is placed in front of us, then we won't over eat or eat things which are very unhealthy. We will realize that sacrifice and labor has gone into everything we eat and that, to a certain extent, everything we eat is coming at the expense of someone else. Even if we are vegetarian, we must still kill or harm plants to eat.

 

Gratitude is what transforms that process from one of taking to a cycle and a circle. We give as we take. Food that we eat is sacrificing itself to become our bodies and even our consciousness. In our own individual ways, we should all live lives that are worthy of that sacrifice!

Mantra in Tantra

One of the most common tools used in Tantra to cultivate a relationship with Śakti is Mantra. So much so, that Tantra was sometimes referred to as the Mantra Marga, or the Path of Mantras.

A mantra is a verbal formula that is recited, recited internally, or subtly “vibrated” to connect with Śakti, and perhaps even Śakti in a specific form. Even when they are made up of words or statements that can be translated, a Mantra isn’t meant to “signify” anything. It is not about saying something in particular or speaking to a deity. In fact, Tantra states that the Mantra itself is the deity. A deity may have a gross form as an anthropomorphic image, and a geometric form as the Yantra, or sacred diagram of the deity.

Similarly, the Mantra, when properly activated by someone properly initiated into it, creates an energetic signature that is the subtle form of the deity. The is the Śakti of that Mantra and it can be felt as a powerful energy or sometimes just felt as a subtle shift in awareness. The first chapter of the Paraśurāma Kalpa Sūtra, a 14th century tantric text on ritual gives us some sense of how Mantras are conceived of within Tantric practice:

Mantrāṇām acintyaśaktitā I:8

“The power of the Mantra is unthinkable.”

The “meaning” of a Mantra is not its most important aspect. In Tantra, it is said that a Mantra expresses a deeper and higher level of Reality than the mind itself can fully grasp.

In Vedic Mantras, the exact pronunciation, intonation, and even rhythm of the Mantra is what gives it its power. In Tantra, proper pronunciation is important, but Mantras instead get their power through initiation and lineage. They are charged with the Śakti of the adepts who have received them and worked with them. So, it is not usually advisable to learn a Mantra from a book or any written source.

Saṃpradāyaviśvāsābhyāṃ sarvasiddhiḥ - I:9

“Through tradition and faith there is every fulfilment.”

The term sampradāya means a lineage or line of authentic practitioners. So, tradition here indicates that there is an unbroken oral transmission of the Mantra from teacher to student. The student must also have trust and confidence in this lineage. These are the two components that bring attainment in Mantra.

Viśvāsabhūyiṣṭhaṃ prāmāṇyam – I:10

“Abundance of faith proves its authenticity.”

Mantras exist in their fully realized form, but can also be condensed into single syllables. These are called Bīja Mantras, or “seed” Mantras. Many deities, elements, and other constitutive powers have their own Bīja Mantras. Many of the more extended Mantras contain one or more of these Bīja Mantras as well, often in particular orders.

Mantras are not “created” per say, they are considered to be eternal.

Varṇātmakāḥ nityāḥ śabdāḥ - I:7

“Eternal are the words constituted of letters.”

Considering the sacredness of Mantra and sound itself within Tantra, the entirety of Sanskrit alphabet is seen to have mantric potential. The Sanskrit alphabet is called the Varṇa Mālā, or the garland of colors. The letters are also called Mātṛkās, which can mean “mothers” or “measurers.” Each letter has its own energetic potential. So, the Varṇa Mālā itself can be used as a Mantra.

Mantras are sometimes merely recited, but there is an additional practice called Nyāsa where the sounds are energetically placed onto the body. There are countless ways that this is practiced, but there are also specific traditional forms of Nyāsas that can be done with the Varṇa Mālā itself.

Nyāsa also encompasses other practices of consecration with Tantra, such as anointing oneself with ash from fire ceremonies or other sacred substances that might serve as a way to reinforce the patterns of Śakti cultivation.

Ultimately, a Mantra is a powerful tool for achieving Yoga and it is all the more powerful for the ways in which its power seems difficult to define or delineate. With grace, may we receive the Mantra (or Mantras) which awaken our highest potential!

OM.

Svecchācāra

There is a concept in Tantric thought, especially of the Avadhut or Nath streams, of “Svecchācāra” (स्वेच्छाचार), or the following the path of one’s own Will. It has been expressed similarly in the West by writers such as Saint Augustine (“Love and what thou wilt”), Francois Rabelais ("Fais ce que voudras"), and later by Aleister Crowley ("Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be the Whole of the Law."). Guruji Amritananda was also fond of saying, “Do as you like, just minimize harm.”

Within the Avadhut and Nath streams, this is seen as the highest way that one can live one’s life, though it usually seems alarming or frightening enough that many will rush to either condemn it or explain it away. Mahendranath described it as "an injunction which strikes fear and terror in the hearts of the moralists, ministers, and mini-minds." However, it is not some libertine fantasy that relishes in hedonism and depravity.

In many ways, it is merely a statement of fact: we always do what it is in our nature to do. It could even be compared to the dictum of the Bhagavad Gītā to perform the actions that we are suited for. As Lord Krishna says, Karmaṇyevādhikāraste, “Perform the actions that are right for you.”

It is also, perhaps, actually the strictest of all moral codes: to make sure to do only what is right by your own estimation and examination.

Looking a bit more extensively at how the concept is used by Francois Rabelais, the wonderful 16th Century French writer, humorist, and humanist, in his hilarious and insightful book Gargantua, may help to shed more light on the idea. In the book, a monk helps Gargantua to win a war and so Gargantua wishes to reward him by giving him his own monastery:

“But the monk gave him a very peremptory answer, that he would never take upon him the charge nor government of monks. For how shall I be able, said he, to rule over others, that have not full power and command of myself.”

He instead asks that he be allowed “to found an abbey after my own mind and fancy.” This Abbey is built to be entirely the opposite in structure from other monasteries. For the monks and nuns of this “Abbey of Thelema” (Thelema being the Greek word for “Will”):

“All their life was spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure. They rose out of their beds when they thought good: they did eat, drink, labour, sleep, when they had a mind to it, and were disposed for it. None did awake them, none did offer to constrain them to eat, drink, nor to do any other thing; for so had Gargantua established it. In all their rule, and strictest tie of their order, there was but this one clause to be observed,

                        DO WHAT THOU WILT.

Because men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions, and withdraws them from vice, which is called honour. Those same men, when by base subjection and constraint they are brought under and kept down, turn aside from that noble disposition, by which they formerly were included to virtue, to shake off and break that bond of servitude, wherein they are so tyrannously enslaved; for it is agreeable with the nature of man to long after things forbidden, and to desire what is denied us.”

And so the argument here is that much of the discord we see in our lives and world is due to authoritarianism, repression, oppression, and dogma and that, if we were actually all following our own truest wishes, we would actually live in far greater harmony, peace, and happiness. Most of us spend much of our lives hemmed in by various rules and injunctions, either imposed externally or from within. If we were to be truly free to live our lives as we pleased what would that actually look like? Perhaps it does require some hard work to develop the insight into our own selves to determine what we actually desire and want and to develop the courage and strength to live to that end, but what are we without those things anyway?

The development, as best as possible, of liberated, empowered, and conscientious humans seems to me to be the best social end we can attain in this world because it seems to be the only way to any kind of justice and social harmony, but the real Svecchācāra is the inner path of individuation where each of us learns to do the work necessary to pursue our own happiness, development, and sense of meaning.

It seems to me that the colorfully written inscription over the Great Gate of the Abbey of Thelema would be a powerful motto for any Temple or Community:

“Here enter not vile bigots, hypocrites,
Externally devoted apes, base snites,

Puffed-up, wry-necked beasts, worse than the Huns,

Or Ostrogoths, forerunners of baboons:

Cursed snakes, dissembled varlets, seeming sancts,

Slipshod caffards, beggars pretending wants,

Fat chuffcats, smell-feast knockers, doltish gulls,

Out-strouting cluster-fists, contentious bulls,

Fomenters of divisions and debates,

Elsewhere, not here, make sale of your deceits.

 

“Here enter not attorneys, barristers,

Nor bridle-champing law-practitioners:

Clerks, commissaries, scribes, nor Pharisees,

Wilful disturbers of the people’s ease:

Judges, destroyers, with an unjust breath,

Of honest men, like dogs, even unto death.

Your salary is at the gibbet-foot:

Go drink there! For we do not here fly out

On those excessive courses, which may draw

A waiting on your courts by suits in law.

 

“Grace, honour, praise, delight,

Here sojourn day and night.

Sound bodies lined

With a good mind,

Do here pursue with might

Grace, honour, praise, delight.

 

“Here enter you, and welcome from our hearts,

All noble sparks, endowed with gallant parts.

This is the glorious place, which bravely shall

Afford wherewith to entertain you all.

Were you a thousand, here you shall not want

For anything; for what you’ll ask we’ll grant.

Stay here, you lively, jovial, handsome, brisk,

Gay, witty, frolic, cheerful, merry, frisk

Spruce, jocund, courteous, furtherers of trades,

And, in a word, all worthy gentle blades.

 

“Here enter you, pure, honest, faithful, true

Expounders of the Scriptures old and new.

Whose glosses do not blind our reason, but

Make it to see the clearer, and who shut

Its passages from hatred, avarice,

Pride, factions, covenants, and all sort of vice.

Come, settle here a charitable faith,

Which neighbourly affection nourisheth.

And whose light chaseth all corrupters hence,

Of the blest word, from the aforesaid sense.

 

“The holy sacred Word,

May it always afford

T’ us all in common,

Both man and woman,

A spiritual shield and sword,

The holy sacred Word.

 

“Alluring, courtly, comely, fine, complete,

Wise, personable, ravishing, and sweet,

Come joys enjoy. The Lord celestial

Hath given enough wherewith to please us all.”

Samarasa

There are many words that are used to describe Liberation in Indian Philosophy. One word that is favored within Tantra is Samarasa. The word Sama means equal or balanced and the word Rasa has a host of meanings, many of which are richly used within Tantra and also Āyurveda. It can be summed up as meaning “taste” or “essence.” Samarasa then refers to the state of experiencing everything as being of one essence. It is a state where one tastes the world in a balanced and ultimately undifferentiated way. It is when the awareness rests in a state of pure Śiva and Śakti.

It is the culmination of Tantric Yoga, the ability to see oneself in the world and the world within oneself, both in perfect harmony. In the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, it is said to be a synonym for samādhi, a state of perfect equilibrium where the individual soul exists in union with the Cosmic Reality.

The person who permanently resides in this state while still embodied is called an Avadhūta, or someone who has shaken off all worldly concerns. Since an Avadhūta has no need of any kind of convention or ordinary worldly involvement, they are sometimes known to behave in strange and inscrutable ways. To encounter such a being is considered to be an enormous blessing, no matter how they may appear.

The Avadhūta Gītā is a Sanskrit text which sings the praise of the Avadhūta and describes the state of resting in Samarasa:

Nirmūla-mūla-rahito hi sadodito’haṃ nirdhūma-dhūma-rahito hi sadodito’ham |

Nirdīpa-dīpa-rahito hi sadodito’haṃ jñānāmṛtaṃ samarasaṃ gaganopamo’ham || III:3 ||

"With fuel and without fuel, I am always burning; with smoke and without smoke, I am always glowing; with flame and without flame, I am always shining; I am immortality in knowledge (the knowledge of immortality), I am equality in essence (samarasa), I am like the sky."

Durbodha bodha-gahano na bhavāmi tāta durlakṣya lakṣya-gahano na bhavāmi tāta |

Āsanna-rūpa-gahano na bhavāmi tāta jñānāmṛtaṃ samarasaṃ gaganopamo’ham || III:8 ||

"I am neither too mysterious nor too difficult to understand; neither too mysterious nor too difficult to contemplate; I am not mysterious, for I live so near; I am immortality in knowledge, I am equality in essence, I am like the sky."

Niṣpāpa-pāpa-dahano hi hutāśano’haṃ Nirdharma-dharma-dahano hi hutāśano’ham |

Nirbandha-bandha-dahano hi hutāśano’haṃ jñānāmṛtaṃ samarasaṃ gaganopamo’ham || III:10 ||

"I am fire that burns religion and irreligion, I am fire that burns merit and sin, I am fire that burns bondage and privilege; I am immortality in knowledge, I am equality in essence, I am like the sky."

Niṣkarma-karma paramaṃ satataṃ karomi nissaṅga-saṅga-rahitaṃ paramaṃ vinodam |

Nirdeha-deha-rahitaṃ satataṃ vinodaṃ jñānāmṛtaṃ samarasaṃ gaganopamo’ham || III:26 ||

"I always work as though the greatest work is no work, I always honour my body as though it exists and does not exist; my greatest sport is to renounce my renouncement; I am knowledge of immortality, I am essence of equanimity, I am like the sky."

Nirjīva-jīva-rahitaṃ satataṃ vibhāti nirbīja-bīja-rahitaṃ satataṃ vibhāti |

Nirvāṇa-bandha-rahitaṃ satataṃ vibhāti jñānāmṛtaṃ samarasaṃ gaganopamo’ham|| III:31 ||

"Constantly shining free from life and death, constantly shining free from seed and seedlessness, constantly shining free from bondage or liberation, I am the knowledge of immortality, I am the essence of equanimity (samarasa), I am the highest sky."

Dhyātā n ate hi hṛdaye na ca te samādhir dhyānaṃ na te hi hṛdaye na bahiḥ pradeśaḥ |

Dhyeyaṃ na ceti hṛdaye na hi vastu-kālo jñānāmṛtaṃ samarasaṃ gaganopamo’ham|| III:41 ||

"Within you there is no one to meditate, no Samādhi yet to be attained. There is no inner meditation, no outer meditation; no object of meditation, no joy of meditation. I am knowledge of immortality, I am essence of equanimity. I am like the sky."

Muñca muñca hi saṃsāraṃ tyāgaṃ muñca hi sarvathā |

Tyāgātyāga-viṣaṃ śuddham amṛtaṃ sahajaṃ dhruvam || III:46 ||

"Give up, give up worldly illusion. Give up renunciation altogether. Cleanse the poison of both renunciation and indulgence and the nectar/immortality of spontaneity remains."

In his Twilight Yoga treatise, Mahendranath says that Samarasa is one of the four key words of the Nāth way of life. The others are Sama or balance, which we have already discussed, Sahaja or spontaneity, and Svecchācāra or doing one’s own true will.

Lessons from Saturn

Both Indian and Western Astrologers often emphasize the special importance of Saturn. Our Saturn Return, our Saturn period (Daśa in Sanskrit), and the period when Saturn passes over the sign of our moon and its surrounding signs (called Sade Sati) are seen as significant times in our life. The influence of Saturn in our life is often accompanied by hardship and so these periods are usually seen as bitter medicine and even sometimes feared.

One of the names for Saturn in Sanskrit is “Śanaiścara,” which means he is slow moving. The word Śanaiḥ means “with slowness” or “slowly.” There is a curious crossover where the word “Śanaiḥ” is also used quite often in Yoga texts to refer to the method of practice. We are told to practice “Śanaiḥ Śanaiḥ.” The word is repeated not just to emphasize “slowly, slowly,” but also to mean both “gently” (in an individual practice session) and “persistently” (over time).

Anyone who is even a little familiar with Saturn or his influence might think “gentle” sounds like the last word they’d use, but hardship can be seen as a reminder for us to continue to practice diligently, but to have a bit more practice and care as well. We have to be patient and persistent with set-backs and sometimes resistances are signs that we have been trying to bulldoze our way through something that requires more finesse.

So Saturn reminds us to practice slowly, gently, and persistently. As Charles Baudelaire says, “Nothing can be done except little by little.”

Oṃ Śaṃ Śrī Śanaiścarāya Namaḥ!

Sama

सम – Sama

Yogathaḥ Kuru Karmāṇi Saṅgaṃ Tyaktvā Dhanaṃjaya |

Siddhyasiddhyoḥ Samo Bhūtvā Samatvaṃ Yoga Ucyate || II:48

“Fixed in Yoga, perform your actions having abandoned attachment and being indifferent to either success or failure. It is said that evenness of mind is Yoga.”

Generally, if you ask someone who knows a thing or two what Yoga is, they will usually refer to Patañjali and say, “Yoga is the stopping of the fluctuations of the mind.” This is a very good definition and there are good reasons why it is the standard. However, there are other possible classical definitions to which we can also refer. Definitions of Yoga as “union” of microcosm and macrocosm abound and can be another excellent way to frame the process or state. The Bhagavad Gītā has a few of its own definitions. One is the line quoted above, that Yoga is “samatvam” the quality of being “sama.” The word “sama” comes from the same root as our English word “same” and so we could define this to indicate that Yoga means “sameness” or “evenness” in a particular sense. The word can be more distinctly defined as “balance.”

Sama” is a word that also makes a notable appearance in Āyurveda, particularly in Suśruta’s definition of Health:

Sama Doṣāḥ Samāgniśca Samadhātu Mala Kriyāḥ |

“Balanced physiological processes (doshas), balanced digestion (agni – fire), balanced tissues (dhatus), balanced action of elimination (mala kriya).”

Here the word is repeated enough to indicate that Suśruta regards balance as the key to health of the individual.

Proper balance is important for health and probably useful in any context, but in the above verse from the Gītā, Lord Kṛṣṇa specifies that the balance of Yoga is an attitude of sameness towards the successes and failures of one’s own actions. Can we do what is right without a need for external validation? Can we take a success or even a compliment without letting it inflate our ego? Can we learn from a failure or even an insult with deflating into defensiveness? Are we afraid to act because we are too worried that we might fail? Can we begin to see clearly without our perceptions being muddled by our attachments and aversions?

The Yogi aims to retain balance in all things, not merely to be thrown about by the varying circumstances that are encountered. The guidance for our actions should be our internal sense of what is truly right at that moment, rather than merely what is popular, easy, or will give us what we want. So, practicing balance and equipoise is essential.

We even see this in the physical practice of Yogāsana, where balance in a physical sense is required in almost any posture. We practice balance directly when we stand on one leg in Vṛkṣāsana, or tree pose, and we can even see balance in the simple but poised posture of someone sitting tall in their meditation seat.

Mahendranath in the first of his Twilight Yoga trilogy wrote that Sama is one of the key words that “express the essence” the Nath Yogi’s approach to life. The other three are Samarasa – Equanimity, Sahaja – Naturalness, and Svecchacara – the Path of one’s True Will.

Cultivating Positive Attitudes towards Others

Cultivating Positive Attitudes towards Others

Near the end of the first chapter of the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, there are descriptions of different techniques for starting to calm the mind and overcome difficult mental states.

One of the things that Patañjali says is helpful is to cultivate positive attitudes towards others. He explains four different kinds of positive feelings that we can learn to cultivate in ourselves and which types of people that it would be most beneficial to have those feelings towards.