Monday, June 9, 2014

The View from Here

In the course of my work as a spiritual adviser and yoga teacher, I get asked a lot of questions.  One is, "What is the benefit of doing yoga?"  Naturally I am excited to start talking about Divine union, and realizing your spiritual ideals in a tangible way, but given the popular notion of what constitutes "yoga," most often the response is, "umkay... but will it help me lose weight??"  There are, however, rare individuals, especially on the Advanced Yoga forum, who want to know, "If I practice yoga, will it lead to enlightenment?"

Occasionally people ask the amusing question, "Are you enlightened?" or, conversely, they will assert, "You are not enlightened!" [never said I was].  LOL!  It is "amusing" because obviously the question cannot be answered by "me," since one of the features of "enlightenment" is the understanding that this little self, the ego, is a mere mental construct, a sort of lens or filter through which Consciousness at large experiences life.  The statement "I am enlightened" makes no sense, because who is speaking?!  Sometimes, though, they will persist and demand to know, according to certain precise technical definitions, which state/s of samadhi, if any, I enjoy.

I don't particularly care about these nit-picky definitions, but some people are really into them.  I was having a discussion with one such friend about whether or not thought still happens after nirvikalpa samadhi.  My friend said no, of course not!  but I had to wonder, how would the person then function in the world?  Surely the brain must still operate in some manner, with or without ego awareness.

I did some research online and encountered the writings of an advaitan enlightened master who, when interviewed, declared, "there is no sensory input whatsoever, no thinking of any kind, the mind and senses are completely dead!"  Um, if so, then how are you hearing what the interviewer is saying and how are you responding to the question?  One of his students, likewise said to be a totally enlightened master having attained nirvikalpa samadhi, wrote a very beautiful and quite lengthy poem which discussed and analyzed in some detail how "my master destroyed my ego with a glance of his loving wisdom," "I was previously in darkness but now in the light," "my master did this, I responded thusly, this happened, that happened, and now I don't exist at all and my mind is completely dead!"  - went on for pages about how his mind was completely dead and nonexistent.  Apparently the poem basically wrote itself?!

The best one, though, was another enlightened master who, when someone asked about his cigarette smoking habit, replied, "I am not smoking. You only think I am smoking because of your belief in the illusion of separate persons inhabiting these bodies. I do not exist, therefore how can I be smoking? It is illusion on your part." So, I'm not going to discuss or dispute the various definitions of samadhi, other than to say that the idea can be taken to silly extremes and, as with "enlightenment," there may be an inherent linguistic problem in discussing it.

With regard to "enlightenment," my teacher Mark Whitwell, echoing U.G. Krishnamurti, says that the search itself is the problem.  We are fine just as we are.  There is nothing to be achieved.  Mark has said, "It is intimacy we need, not enlightenment."  Yoga is not a means for reaching some far-off goal, to become something that we are not.  Rather, yoga is simply relaxing into what he calls our "Natural State."  And what would that be like?

I don't know exactly what it will be like for you.  Everybody is unique.  There are several different schools of yoga which appeal to various personality types.  E.g., there are those who favor jnana yoga, which I explored for a while in my youth, until I became bored with the mind chasing itself like a dog chasing his own tail; you know he's never going to catch it.  Knowledge can be very freeing, but there's a big difference between knowing something intellectually and knowing it experientially.  But if it works for you, great!  Or maybe you are a karma yogi working tirelessly to make the world a better place, offering up all the fruits of your labors, knowing that God is the only Doer; you find your nirvana in digging wells and building houses for the poor.  Good for you.

All I can really tell you is, how things look from here, from my perspective as a bhakti-tantrika practicing Heart of Yoga technique.  It has given me (among other things) exactly what I had wanted all those years:  Divine intimacy!  The God Whom I had previously experienced only during meditation burst forth into my waking existence as an immediate, palpable and continual Presence.  Oh, there were other perks, too, like the deep, vast inner silence; the quieting of the monkey-mind; the blessed relief of no longer carrying the heavy burden of the self, having been lifted from my shoulders; the end of fear and worry; feeling for the first time in my life, truly comfortable in my own skin.  But most of all, the incredible, infinite Bliss and Love of God, right here, closer than my own heartbeat.

Now I'm not going to get into an argument about the Personal versus the Impersonal Divine which, depending on whom you ask, one is superior to the other.  God delights in manifesting to His or Her devotees in Personal form, as we are persons.  At the same time, God is beyond personal and impersonal.  And while we're at it, God is the only Reality, but everything is a manifestation of the Divine!  God wanted to manifest as us, these personalities, in these bodies, in this natural world, and as tantrikas we celebrate it.  The creation was not a mistake.  The body is not a prison from which we need to escape in order to "get closer to God" if that were even possible which, as Mark points out, it is not, because God is not absent.  Rather, as long as we remain in this body, it is a vehicle for Sacrament.  And our spouse, if we are fortunate enough to be blessed with one, is literally God's Love for us in the flesh.

This is a perfect arrangement for a bhakti-tantrika because all aspects of life become an offering: the kiss of the sun, the caress of the breeze, the smell of the warm earth, flowers and grass, the taste of food and wine, physical and mental labor, surfing, dance, asana and sex.  All love songs on the radio are for Him.  Every experience, each breath an offering to the Beloved!  There is an increasing translucency to the self, which only exists to experience God and to please Him.  As much or as little of the self may be preserved so that it can be given to God in the oneness of lovers, or a drop dissolving into the ocean.

It is a state of being more utterly, completely in Love than one would think possible.  As Mark says in his book The Promise, "Your relationship with Source Reality is extremely private, deeply personal, and utterly passionate. I want you to be besotted with Source Reality, to love your life as passionately as you would a secret lover. And I’m promising you that you can."

With a consistent daily yoga practice, burdens are released, the heart is opened and Love begins to flow as we relax into our Natural State.  Eventually that Love pours through every cell in the body.  And there are absolutely no restrictions on how far you can take this relationship, no limitations on how deep you can go with Divine intimacy.  If anybody tells you otherwise, they are either lying or misinformed.  It just keeps getting better.  Yogani at AYP has said of this state, "like falling into an endless abyss of ecstasy."  At least, that has been my experience.

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