All Yogic Approaches are Initiatory

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Part 10 of “How Do You Qualify Yoga?

…I return to a more controversial qualification presented by Georg Feuerstein, in his perennial work, “The Lost Teachings of Yoga“.

Truly the name of this article can also be tilted “Do you need a Guru?”  According to my teacher, Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, “[A] Guru is not considered to be any person, though the force of guru may operate through a person. Teachers may be respected, but are not objects of worship. “Gu” means “darkness” and “ru” means “light.” Guru is the light that dispels the darkness of ignorance.”

However, even my teacher has a Guru.

Georg is adamant, in the aforementioned work–and many others–self-taught, and even incorrect teachings have benefit, the subtle nuances of Yoga tradition are missed without a Guru to elucidate them.

How do I feel about this?  My answer probably will be cryptic–I avoid offering advice.

I know, the old adage, “when the student is ready, the teacher will come”, sounds patronizing–especially, to someone who considers himself  to be an earnest seeker.  The challenge is, especially if you listen to Georg’s audiobook, are we earnest seekers?

The Path, as described by Swami Rama in, The Architect and the Path, ” …Is narrower than the needle’s eye and as sharp as a razor’s edge.”  Furthermore, he explains, a half-hearted seeker will find that their efforts may not bear fruit.  He is assertive in his conclusion, “If your dearest one stands in the way of Self-realization, tread over him, forsake him, go beyond. If your beloved stands in the way of Self-realization, cast her aside. Your trusted friend is Truth and Truth alone.”  These strong words are the rationale behind the celibate, renunciate lifestyle of the Swami.

So, before instead of answering the question, “do you need a Guru?”  I offer, “are you a sincere seeker?”

A wise friend of mine said, “do you have a spiritual path or a hobby?”

I have vacillated on my committment; but, I am striving for complete adherence and surrender.  This adherence is not coming from the fear of punishment, or the hope of reward, from an external source.  It is intrinsic.  The deeper I go, the more I realize that I am looking for something inside of me.  The closer I get to it, the more I understand the need to associate with those who have tread this path.

My teacher is treading this path.  I listen to his advice because I feel the truth resonating in it; not, because I am following blindly.  I see the practices working in my life; but, only, when I am committed to them.

All Yogic approaches account for surprise and/or grace.

Part 9 of “How do you Qualify Yoga?

About a year ago, I was facilitating a workshop and met someone who is now a dear friend.  Our connection was instant; he had been raised a devout Hindu and was very complementary about my ability to simplify teachings he had previously learned.  We culminated our discussion with the idea that, assuming you subscribe to belief in Saṃsāra, how it took everything we had done up to that moment to even be in that workshop–to even be discussing teachings which were, at one time, only available to the chosen few.

According to Swami Rama, “…There is also the activity of grace. Grace is the impulse or the impetus of the energy to dispel darkness. There is the grace of the scriptures, from the wisdom that has passed down from others. There is the grace of the teacher, who imparts that wisdom and helps bring it to life in the student. There is the grace of God, or pure consciousness, that is alive and ever present in everyone’s life. Integral to these three graces is the grace of oneself, having the will to undertake a purposeful journey in life, to do the spiritual work of life, and to prepare oneself.”

What is the source of the impulse?

According to the mahavakyas:

  1. Brahma satyam jagan mithya–Brahman is real; the world is unreal
  2. Ekamevadvitiyambrahma–Brahman is one, without a second
  3. Prajnanambrahman–Brahman is the supreme knowledge
  4. Tat tvam asi–That is what you are
  5. Ayamatmabrahma–Atman and brahman are the same
  6. Aham brahmasmi–I am brahman
  7. Sarvam khalvidam brahma–All of this is brahman

If Brahman–which is an arbitrary word for the Center of Consciousness, the nameless apex, or whatever you wish to call it–and we are one and the same, the source of the impulse is from within.  We heard it said before, “You are who you are seeking.”  Ironically, the picture above says “to serve another”–there is no other.  There is only one.

There is no need to anthropomorphize the Center, I am not suggesting “someone” is pulling strings.  But, to paraphrase Ma Tri, when you done all the preparatory work, when you have gone deep enough in your meditation, eventually it is a surrender and grace that carries you the final distance.

Hence, meditation, affirmative prayer, contemplation, and gratitude–try to do some every day.

The closer we come to Enlightenment the more ordinary we become

Part 8 of “How do You Qualify Yoga?”

Toward the One,
the Perfection of Love, Harmony, and Beauty,
the Only Being,
United with all the Illuminated Souls,
Who form the Embodiment of the Master,
the Spirit of Guidance.

I find such comfort in this prayer from the Sufi master, Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan.  Especially when I contemplate the line, “all the Illuminated Souls who form the embodiment of the Master”.  Pause to savor that concept.  There is not one Master, there is not one path.  When the Buddha was asked, “who are you”?  He replied, “I am awake”.

Self-realization is an experience shared by numerous individuals from numerous traditions.  One can argue that the Buddha, the Christ, and Rumi were all describing the same level of consciousness with different words.  To believe that the omnipotent Ultimate Reality is confined to one tradition belittles it.

One hallmark on enlightened Masters is simplicity.  Not merely renunciation; because like a dry drunk, mere physical renunciation without renouncing internally is playing a role.  Internal renunciation is the letting go of the attachment to the outcome; yet continuing to strive for ultimate Reality, as described in my previous post.

All illuminated Masters incline towards simplicity.  Furthermore, the closer they are the less they are drawn to the fleeting transient world.  They taste what is “real” and tasting leads to savoring.  What could be more satisfying; to know the Ultimate Reality or to go on with the mundane temporary–even if it is stimulating to the senses.  Everything “out here” is subject to change.  The only constant is that core, “the perfection of love, harmony, and beauty”.

All Yogic approaches require the implementation of Discipline and Detachment.

Part 7 of “How Do You Qualify Yoga?

People think that sadhana–the yogic path–means the day-to-day process.  In a way it does, it is what practices you do (meditation, breath work, etc).  But, abhyasa is the moment to moment committment to this way of being and living.  It’s the cultivation, not obsession, of remembering your committment to reach Yoga.  But, all of the work you do has to be done with surrender–if you expect an exact outcome you are living in the world of control.  Control is an illusion.  There are many factors affecting us at any given time; our karma is coiled and spiraled in ways we cannot imagine.  So we do the work, we commit to the path, and we let go.  We make mistakes and we try again.  Life throws curve balls and we still meditate, contemplate, pray, and offer gratitude.  We are not bargaining with the Center of Consciousness– we are trying to connect to it.  Although, the irony is, we are never away from it.  Let the trials help you remember that every moment is Holy and Divine.

From Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati

Yoga is a Continuum of Theory and Practice

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Part 6 of “How do you Qualify Yoga?”; this should have been Part 5. I accidentally skipped a section… Oops

We will, ultimately, put this whole series on its own page in the menu bar. In addition to guest contributors, we’ll be moving older post into pages that can more easily be accessed for future reading.

This is probably my favorite post in this series. It reminds me of a quote I learned almost twenty years ago, when I was a member of Siddha Yoga, “Muktananda, put down the book and meditate”.

We live in an amazing time where information is accessible instantaneously. If you’re like me, attachments are a real issue, a hindrance as the Buddhist described them, even attachment to more “knowledge”. I can easily find myself listening to an audiobook during my commute, taking numerous workshops, and trying out new techniques.

It’s not that this is wrong–it’s simply that it is, according to Ma Tri, “mere knowledge”.  Furthermore, the quest for acquisition is insatiable–whether it is material or intellectual.

According to the Yoga Sutra 1.7, there are three ways of gathering correct knowledge, “…there are three ways of gaining correct knowledge (pramana): 1) perception, 2) inference, and 3) testimony or verbal communication from others who have knowledge”.

Swami J goes further to explain, “…you should not believe what you hear, but should seek direct experience… The second part is that of reasoning, whereby you want that experience to be understood in the light of your own inference or reasoning. The third part is that you seek the validation through some respected authority or testimony [scripture]… When you can get these three to converge, meaning that experience, reasoning, and authoritative validation all agree with one another, then you know, and you know that you know…”

Swami J draws a metaphor of Yoga Meditation and mastery of an instrument.  A virtuoso knows the technique and theory; but, the also play from the heart.

My teacher will often appear cryptic when I ask a question, recently, when I was perplexed he said, “You’ll find it in the light of Atman”.  In other words, I needed to go inside–I am the one I am seeking after all.

Swami Rama described us scientists and encouraged us to “experiment” on ourselves.

The Buddha famously explained, his path was working for him.  But, if it doesn’t work for you, don’t do it.

But, how will you know if you don’t go inside–often?

All Yogic approaches require a commitment to radical self-transformation.

Part 5 of “How do you Qualify Yoga

While I understand why Georg expounds, Yoga requires a committment to radical self-transformation, I also feel as though it can be stated differently: Yoga requires committment to self-recovery.  There is an alchemy to it; but, there is not really anything to transform, you are already who you are seeking.  However, our lives, karma, addictions, experiences–whatever you want to call them have veiled the Truth that we are seeking.

About a year ago, I cannot believe this endeavor began a year ago, I wrote a post “Setting it All Down“, in which I shared how my beloved teacher reminded me that the gift of Yoga meditation is setting aside all of the false identities to, hopefully (and with consistency and committment), gain realization of who we truly are.

Sometimes these false identities are so heavy; especially, when life isn’t doing what YOU want, when people aren’t showing up how YOU want, when you realize that in our current incarnation we don’t control– we are part of the karmic wheel– the goal of Yoga being to un-yoke ourselves from this, potentially, never-ending journey.

Yoga is about using every moment in your life to become fully present to what is really going on.  To see the only locus of control is your inner environment.  It’s not about getting limber on the outside.  It’s about limbering up inside.

And, as I mentioned in the posting, “The Practice is Perfect“, you have to do this every day, every minute, every second.  And when you slip, you say “Ah, I have something to learn here”.

This has been a time of slipping for me; my life isn’t showing up how I want it to.  But, it’s showing up how I, obviously, need it to.  Divine consciousness makes no mistakes.  So here I go again, maybe one step closer to who I truly am.

A Special Visit

MaTri Flyer

Ooh Formless Divine Mother…. hear my longing, hear my prayers for strength to keep going to use every moment for increasing awareness and to allow the surrendering into formless Love. None of the sensory impressions are me, none of the thoughts are me… ooh take me in Your formless arms, take it all, as I have nothing to loose as none is my. Most deepest gratitude for the sages and the selfless offerings to show us the path… humbly I walk in these golden footprints together with my fellow sadhakas friends, which company I value tremendously. Standing ever stronger for what I know to be true: Aham Brahmasmi ♥ And so are all of you! We are all sparks in the divine ocean of bliss, splashing around but One is true essence. See the Absolute smiling, giving and sharing through the human beings… What a joy to be aware in Vaishvanara!  Have a wonderful day ahead full of play, love and giving ♥

 Swami Ma Tripurashakti BharatiWorkshop Registration

All Yoga Paths Subscribe to Dharma

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Part 4 of “How Do You Qualify Yoga

Please let me forewarn you, this may be a polarizing post.  Humans, on many levels, enjoy their misidentification with nonself (to borrow a Buddhist term).  We cling desperately to all that we are not–all that we are attached to.  The ego is a collection of false identities, which the teachings of Yoga systematically deconstruct.  The ego gets particularly obnoxious when we perceive we are being told that we are doing something “incorrectly” (or at least differently from how it was intended).

Dharma is a Sanskrit term which is utilized in many traditions; however, it has no true English translation.  Dharma can mean, law, right-way, and order; Feurestein ascribes it to morality.  Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Hinduism are all called “dharmic traditions (or religions)”.  Truthfully, there really is no “religion” called Hinduism.  Hinduism is a term that originated from the British trying to describe the various traditions of the people Sindhu River.  Hinduism is a collection of philosophies, among them: Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and Shaivism–all of whom, like the branches of Yoga, describe the Ultimate Reality in different ways.  Sanatana Dharma means the “Eternal Way” (or law, morality, etc.).  It is the wellspring out of which the dharmic traditions sprung.

Yoga and Sanatana Dharma cannot be separated.  Their lines are intrinsically blurred.  While it’s possible to practice Yoga and still adhere to other religious tenets–Christianity is very much a Bhakti Yoga practice–the origins are one and the same. Conversely, it is possible to be a Hindu and not practice Yoga; however, they originate from the same source.

All types of Yoga (not mere asana practice), have a dharmic component.  In some paths the tenets are spelled out in recommended actions and restraints.  In other paths, there is a call towards looking inward towards ones own moral compass.  Regardless, there are no Yogic recommendations towards: competitiveness, hyper-sexuality, greed, or lying.  However, that is often the case in the contemporary Yoga scenario.  Studios are selling expensive clothing, hyper-mobility is lauded, scant dress is praised, and teacher’s don’t have a personal sadhana.  It’s not a judgement, you aren’t bad if you’re doing these things.

Yoga is not about a punitive deity waiting to judge–it’s about becoming so clear and so aligned that you wouldn’t want to do these things.  Patanjali calls this the “great vow”.  It is not about becoming pious either; but, there is nothing wrong about being aware of what Yoga is and is not.

Yoga Has Many Branches

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Part 3 of “How Do You Qualify Yoga?”

Sorry for the delay in posting this–full-time life happens…

Go back to the bumper sticker I mentioned in post 2 of this series, “I Love Yoga”; we have clarified, ad nauseam, Yoga is the Ecstatic State–Yoga is Union.  But, even in philosophical circles, it can also mean the practices and the path that lead to the State.  If I asked the driver what type of Yoga they practiced they may say, “I do Power Yoga”, “I do Vinyasa Yoga”, perhaps, “I do Ashtanga Yoga” (that is a whole other posting– Ashtanga classically denotes the eightfold-path of which posture is only one rung), or, “I do Bikram Yoga”.  All of these are styles, some debatably more than others, under the umbrella of Hatha Yoga.  Let’s park that for a moment and come back to Hatha…

Again, Yoga is a liberation teaching.  Unquestionably, the goal of Authentic Yoga is to end the continual cycle of birth and rebirth, to realize the True Self and attain Enlightenment.  I know that it’s heavy; but, it’s true.

No how are you going to do that…

The Yogis, in their infinite genius, have devises several avenues to this Penultimate Goal.  They are based on your inclinations and where you are in your life.  But, the goal of all is the same–YOGA.

According to Georg Feuerstein, and other scholars (there is debate of the number of paths), they are: Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Tantra Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and Raja Yoga (Authentic Ashtanga Yoga)–I am focusing on the “Hindu” Yoga Pantheon.  We can debatably add: Buddhist Yoga and Jain Yoga, too.

I will briefly summarize each path and provide links for further reading.  Notice each definition refers to the Ultimate Reality as the Goal.  I would at least need to do a full posting to do each one any justice–let’s see what the future holds…

Karma Yoga: A major branch of Yoga, expounded in the first third of the Bhagavad-Gita, is the liberating path of self-transcending action. All actions are given selflessly (seva) with the understanding that all actions come from the Ultimate Reality.

Jnana Yoga: A major branch of Yoga, expounded in the second third of the Bhagavad-Gita, (and numerous other texts, such as the Upanishads) which is based on the cultivation of wisdom as the path to liberation.  This wisdom is derived through direct experience of the Ultimate Reality as the Transcendental Self (atman) and  through constant discernment of what is real and what is unreal.

Bhakti Yoga: A major branch of Yoga, expounded in the final third of the Bhagavad-Gita, (and numerous other texts, such as the Bhagavata Purana ) is the path of liberation through devotion.   Through cultivation of this deep devotion, Bhakti, the seeker connects with the Ultimate Reality as a Supreme Being or Supreme Person.

Karma Yoga: A major branch of Yoga, expounded in the first third of the Bhagavad-Gita, is the liberating path of self-transcending action. All actions are given selflessly (seva) with the understanding that all actions come from the Ultimate Reality.

Tantra Yoga: By far the most complicated branch of traditional Yoga.  Tantra focuses on the feminine energy (shakti) as the source of the Ultimate Reality.  Broadly speaking Tantra can be broken down into two categories: Left-hand, which uses ritual and deities, and right-hand which is practices internally without ritual and iconography.  However, as with many other traditional teachings, Tantra has often been reduced to a mere mockery of itself with focus on increasing sexual prowess.

Mantra Yoga: A major branch of Yoga, which is sometimes grouped as part of Tantra Yoga.  This path uses mantras as a path to Ultimate Reality.

Hatha Yoga: A major branch of Yoga, the most renowned in the West, which is sometimes considered to be a part of Tantra. Hatha Yoga was developed by Goraksha and expounded in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.  In the HYP, one-quarter of the text is dedicated to postures (of which only four asana are described), one-quarter to cleansing and breath lengthening (shatkarma and pranayama), one-quarter to seals and locks (mudras and bandhas), and one-quarter to samadhi (the direct experience of Ultimate Reality).  

Raja Yoga: A major branch of Yoga, considered to be the most complete methodology of practice.  Raja Yoga is also known as Classical Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga (the eightfold path).  This classic treatise of this tradition is the timeless Yoga Sutras, codified by Patanjali.  The text describes the entire practice and potential experiences of meditation practice.  As well as outlines the eightfold path of sadhana: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi–which lead to direct experience of Ultimate Reality.

Despite the many branches the goal is the same.  If Ultimate Reality is not the goal, it’s not Yoga.  Now what is Ultimate Reality?  That’s for the sadhaka to decide… See the chart at the beginning, it’s a question mark…