Leave enlightenment in the 18th century, where it belongs. The world does not need a single additional enlightened master. Rather, we need humble, compassionate interactions — and most of all, we need to be strong enough to tell the truth about our own mistakes, climb down off our high horses, and sincerely acknowledge our contribution to the mess. A little more of that, and a little less seeking after or claiming of “enlightenment,” wisdom, or spiritual depth, would go a long way to making life mutually bearable; and that is the most enlightened thing that one could wish, by any definition.
Kashmir Shaivism, a school of Tantric philosophy and technique, offers the analytical tool of the three “malas,” or impurities, to help us cognitively unveil the obstacles to the experience of our infinite nature. These malas are likened to veils obscuring the truth. If they were tangible, physical things, they would be easier to overcome, but the fact is they are ever so subtle!
The Sanskrit word vidya means wisdom or knowledge—the wisdom earned through deep practice and experience. The prefix ‘a’ indicates a lack of, or an absence of. In the yogic sense, avidya means something that goes far beyond ordinary ignorance. Avidya is a fundamental blindness about reality. The core ignorance we call avidya isn’t a lack of information, but an actual inability to experience your deep connection to others, to the source of being and to your true Self. Avidya has many layers and levels, which operate in different ways. We see it threaded through every aspect of our lives—our survival strategies, our relationships, our cultural prejudices, the things we hunger for and fear. All forms of cluelessness and fogged perception are forms of avidya But behind all of avidya’s manifestations stem from the failure to recognize that essentially you are spirit, and that you share this with every atom of the universe.
Out of Śiva’s Self-awareness and His joy in that experience, manifestation is created—including us as individuals. The power that Śiva uses to do so, kuṇḍalinī śakti, is the descent of the highest pure Consciousness into form. The practice of Kuṇḍalinī Sādhana is our pathway back to that primordial experience of non-separation. In Tantric practice and tradition, the liberation of kuṇḍalinī is the pathway not only to knowing God but to recognizing that we are God. There are three phases of that realization. The progression of Kuṇḍalinī Sādhana entails the arousal, awakening, and liberating of kuṇḍalinī śakti from our limited capacity and identity in order to realize our highest Self.
A recent article has come to my attention by Chris Wallis concerning his scholarly research into the ancient writings on the chakras, and his debunking of modern or Western writings, including my own. “The Six Most Important Things You Never Knew About the Chakras” is circulating widely among the yoga community and I am very grateful for the opportunity to open up some juicy dialogue on the subject. I hope we can all benefit from this and that the entire subject of the chakra system continues to evolve as a result.
To live a life according to the wisdom of ecology is the most urgent task for humanity today. What can the philosophy of yoga contribute to this critical challenge? How can we develop an environmental ethics according to yogic principles? What would a sustainable ethics based on yoga look like?
Ayurveda takes the philosophical outline of Sankhya and applies it to the art of living, stretching its reaches beyond the confines of ascetic practice to the real world of relationship, career, conflict and even technology. The gunas (tamas, rajas and sattwa) and the five gross elements (earth, water, fire, air, ether) converge to explain doshas, or individual constitutions. This provides a basic categorization process to everything from body type to spiritual practice, disease, human cravings and proclivities.
Rare is the yogic text or scripture that does not extoll Om as a method of Self realization. You will find there that Om is sometimes referred to with synonyms, such as “Pranava” – sound of the prana; “Udgita” – uprising song; “Shabda” – primordial word; or “Nada” – subtle sound. These readings indicate that Om itself is a universal teacher of the enlightened state.
When we’re overwhelmed by our emotions, the most important—and most difficult—thing to recognize is that we can consume the energy of whatever is gripping us. Otherwise we’re just torn apart, like a fish being mauled by sharks. What’s happening is real and painful, but if we recognize that our emotions function within a narrow level of our consciousness, we can save ourselves from being devoured. Even as we’re being bludgeoned by an experience, we can pull back and tune in to a deeper dimension in ourselves.
The human race is a single species at constant war with itself. Strange, isn’t it?
This state of affairs exists for one simple reason: the great majority of individual human beings are at war with themselves. “As inside, so outside; as here, so elsewhere.” The world is nothing but a macrocosm of the inner state of most individual human beings.
Individual human beings are at war with themselves for one simple reason: they are internally divided, and these divisions are not compatible. They do not cohere.
If the grand story of the Mahabharata is the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, then the Bhagavad Gita is “Street Fighting Man.” It gets all the ubiquitous radio play; maybe you’ve even heard it in a commercial, definitely in a Martin Scorsese movie. You likely know the words, even the harmonies, without having had to try at all to memorize them. The story of Draupadi is one of the less played tracks, perhaps “Salt of the Earth,” tucked away on the end of the second side of the album. Let’s throw it on the turntable and take a listen...
The season of Navaratri has recently ended, and by spending nine nights with the three primary aspects of the feminine I entered into a softening in my perception of practice. It was as though the Divine Mother moved my body and sense organs for me toward the anchor points of practice that somehow I keep forgetting exist: the Sutras. Not often thought of in connection with the Divine Feminine, the Sutras suggest concrete means of active practice which are expressions of the Divine Mother’s qualities and aspects.
The feminine is revered not only in the embodied forms of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati, but the qualities of Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati, also known as the gunas- tamas, rajas and sattwa. Her force is measurable in the inertia of our gross body: the dense, hungry, woundable layers of flesh and bone. She is also present in the agitation of prana: circulation, breath and thought waves. She is also sattwa or harmony, in the delicate balance of stability in the midst of change we call yoga.
Since the early yogis first withdrew their senses to find higher consciousness; since Buddha first practiced renunciation; since the early Christians retreated into monastaries; and since New Age spiritualism started talking about ascension, the arrow of our attention has been pointing upward, toward transcendence and detachment—saying that the realities of everyday life were not real—that only spirit was. Even the chakras have most often been seen as a ladder for liberation, a means toward an end: to transcend mundane reality.
And what has all this upward spiritual pursuit gotten us? Do we have better command of the reality around us? Are we more effective in our lives? Have we been able to prevent genocide, ecocide, pesticide, herbicide, and collective suicide? Are we becoming an enlightened civilization? I would argue that higher consciousness contributes to solving these causes, but it takes something more than that to actually create a new world.
Love is the easy yoke, the discipline which removes every burden. The yoke of love is known as Bhakti Yoga. Bhakti, pure devotion, is the short cut to realization. Please don't do yoga practices without love. Love is so easy; one moment of immersion in pure love dissolves all burdens. Love immediately centers you in the heart, the dwelling place of the Supreme.
Many folks think that human consciousness has been the same throughout time, but, just as an individual human consciousness can change by re-adapting and re-molding, so has greater humanity adapted and evolved as a species. The world today does not look the same as it did to the ancient horticultural and early agrarian societies. Our collective vision evolved with the advancements achieved by the Industrial revolutions and the overthrow of monarchies and the creation of representative democracies.
We live now in a multiculturally-rich worldview, where all prior worldviews are within our capacity to understand. It is the informational age! Could enlightenment be different for every individual self today, because everyone’s experiences and interpretation of enlightenment are seen through their unique view of the world? And is there a fuller, wider, deeper and more complex understanding of what enlightenment actually is now, today?
Yājñavalkya is one of the most memorable characters in Vedic literature, known not only for his wit, insolence and intimidation – he nearly purloined one thousand cows from a group of renowned brahmins just before shattering the head of one of them –, but also for the profundity and newness of his thought.
For many of us, the last days of traditional schooling are perhaps a distant memory. And yet, even though we no longer live our days according to the cycles of the syllabus, nevertheless we continue to learn. We learn from the jobs we take and the relationships we make. We learn from our failures and the unexpected events that accompany our accomplishments. We learn and grow from every life experience that slaps up against the rigidities that tend to form when we live life habitually.
Indeed, habitual living is fertile soil wherein mindlessness and a sense of “stuckness” begin to grow. The best education we can hope for, then, after the A-B-C days are over, is a continuous process and practice that pulls us out of the deadening grooves of habit and into the pulsating vibrancy of presence.
The philosophies of the “East” and their respective practices are roadmaps to an expanded sense of self, and, thus, a deeper connection to that sacred presence. In the spirit of that connection and this “back to school” time of year, we’ve put together a short list of wisdom books to enhance your studies this Autumn in yoga philosophy, meditation and contemplative practice.
Obviously, none of the books we can recommend should supplant the task of putting these philosophies to practice in your life. So our hope is that this reading list will inspire you to take action and will deepen the insights of your own yoga, meditation, or other contemplative journey.
To be a true yoga master, you need to master the art of negation. That’s Patanjali’s idea, from the Yoga Sutras:
2.33 Vitarka badhane pratipaksha bhavanam
The practice of pratipaksha bhanavam prescribes that, when disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite thoughts should be brought into awareness.
It takes a good amount of logical and spiritual training to know how to approach the art of negation. It’s like when you were studying algebra, and you learned how to use the order of operations. When you are solving for x, you need to understand the operations and their inverses, and figure out where the parentheses are, to really figure out the value of x. And just like algebra, it takes a good amount of practice to do it consistently well.
Language, by its very nature as crystallized concept, can only stab at slivers of experiential fullness. It isn’t fine enough a sieve to completely capture the multidimensionality of any experience, including experiences beyond the familiar. To put something into words is to limit its limitlessness, to pin it down behind glass. The onlooker creates what they see in the very act of observation. If we are limited in our discussion of any experience, how then do we digest and integrate awakening experiences that are beyond language and concept?
My question for her came from my own inquiry: had I met anyone who was enlightened and what criteria would be used to judge it. Would it be the gal who inspired me to become a yoga teacher and to return again and again to her classes with her ecstatic chanting voice who, when I saw her a few years later, seemed to be off- her- rocker? Was it the dharma talking, sharp-tongued beauty with the celebrity packed classes who I later saw drunk at an Irish bar in the East Village? How about the lady who, after twenty years as a respected yoga master and words-of-wisdom author who may be in hiding because of the sexual harassment suit against her? Or the friendly gentleman who created one of the largest hatha yoga brands in history, inspiring thousands of devotees, who went down in flames and disrepute for money schemes and sexual misconduct?
This article offers an overview of meditation research: its history, recent developments, and future directions. As the number and scope of studies grow, the field has converged with cognitive and affective neuroscience, and spawned many clinical applications. Recent work has shed light on the mechanisms and effects of diverse practices, and is entering a new phase where consensus and coherent paradigms are within reach. This article suggests an unusual path for future advancement: complementing conventional research with rigorous dialogue with the contemplative traditions that train expert meditators and best know the techniques. It explores the Nalanda tradition developed in India and preserved in Tibet, because its cumulative approach to contemplative methods produced a comprehensive framework that may help interpret data and guide research, and because its naturalistic theories and empirical methods may help bridge the gulf between science and other contemplative traditions. Examining recent findings and models in light of this framework, the article introduces the Indic map of the central nervous system and presents three testable predictions based on it. Finally, it reviews two studies that suggest that the multimodal Nalanda approach to contemplative learning is as well received as more familiar approaches, while showing promise of being more effective.
Over the last several decades, the popularity of yoga has grown tremendously in the West. An emerging need to manage the stress and dissatisfaction of busy lives by looking inward for peace and stillness has motivated many to participate in the yoga revolution, which has become a multibilliondollar industry in America. People of all ages are turning to yoga to relax, recover from health problems, ease the difficulties of pregnancy, improve sexual vitality and intimacy, sharpen mental focus and generally look and feel better.
More recently, there has been a similar upsurge of interest in meditation, particularly in a Buddhist form of practice called mindfulness. On the heels of the yoga boom, the mindfulness fad seems to mirror the motivating factors that initially drove people toward yoga: namely enhanced health and happiness. While meditation offers less immediate gratification (no endorphin rush or imageenhancing results) than its physical counterpart, it also leads to inner peace. During the mid-1990s, rising interest in mindfulness meditation culminated in an explosion of scientific investigation by healthcare professionals and researchers seeking to determine the clinical effects and health benefits of this ancient practice. Nothing has been the same since. Focus on meditation has reached critical mass.
As a gay man, the events of June 12th, 2016 hit me like a knife in the heart. It is unspeakable, unfathomable, unbelievable - the grief, the anger, and the horror acknowledging that someone could contain within themselves the desire, let alone the ability, to wreak such incomprehensible violence.
One man murdering forty-nine people and gunning down countless others is a devastating and abhorrent event, no matter the community affected, but it feels more personal for me being my LGTBQ brothers and sisters who died.
A good night out, something our community has appreciated since the hushed days of closeted life, should never be met with anything other than joy, and yet on June 12th, a place of freedom became a symbol of hate.
I have a love-hate relationship with the aphorism “happiness is a choice.” On the one hand, the saying has wonderful potential: it can speak to the power we could have (or already do have) to lift ourselves out of emotional quagmires. But on the other, it can completely dismiss the power that anger and pain can have over a person. Repeating these words to a loved one when they are going through a difficult time can tell our loved one that we think their painful experiences are invalid, regardless of whether they think we might have meant well.
Buddhism is a vast, sprawling heterogeneous and internally inconsistent tradition dying and flowering over and over in various times and places over around 2500 years. Anyone who tells you its “core” teachings or practices is ignorant or lying. This is okay; as long as you know it is so.
I am not making any such claim here. These are some notes on a few aspects of Buddhist terminology and its translations. Many important and beautiful flowerings of Buddhist doctrine are absent. These wordings and explanations are based on my own understanding; they are not especially controversial, but differ, in places, from the mainstream. I offer them in humility to those who may be interested.
The teachings on emptiness (Sanskrit sunyata or shunyata) find their most articulate development in the Kadampa branch of Mahayana Buddhism (Madhyamika Prasangika philosophy). To the Kadampas, nothing exists 'inherently' or 'from its own side'. All functioning phenomena exist in dependence on three factors:
(i) their causes, (ii) their parts or relations with other objects, and (iii) their imputation by the mind of a sentient being.
There’s a common conception that Buddhism is a moderate religion. Buddhism avoids extremes, doesn’t it? It’s the spiritual path that takes the “middle way” between self-indulgence and self-deprivation. Buddhism is all about moderation, right?
And then there’s the six times book, which is a pretty intense practice. It can really wear you down, and it’s very extreme. And you should totally do it. Anybody who has taken vows—whether they’re formal Refuge or Bodhisattva vows, or a less formal commitment to the yamas and niyamas outlined in Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras—can benefit from the practice of a Six Times Book. The practice is simple to describe: learn your vows well. And check your morality six times a day. And write it down.