- Remembering Aparigrapha During The Holidays
In a recent post, we talked about Patainjali and the 8 limbs of yoga. Two of those limbs are Yama and Niyama, a guide to human conduct. I find them to be great tools for living and understanding life. One that stands out to me during these times is Aparigraha. It is defined as non-indulgence in the enjoyment of such amenities and comforts of life which are superfluous for the preservation of life. How I say it is simply to my children is–not taking more than you need. There is a place for all of the Yama and Niyamas in everyday life, especially at the time of holidays.
Yes, it is time for the holidays. Chanukah is fast approaching and each year signs of Christmas seem to appear earlier and earlier. Just yesterday my son asked if we could take out our Christmas decorations. When I told him it was too early, he said “All the stores have their decorations out!” In our culture, come November–whether you celebrate the holidays or not–it is right there in front of you with all of its shiny wrapping, the positive and negative.
As I recognize all of the pressure to consume money, resources, food, and energy in a culture that does not have a lot of these to spare, I also see the magic. I see myself as an optimist that grew up in a “Christmas Tree Christian” family. I, of course, remember all the excitement and pleasure that went with opening gifts and eating sugary foods, but it was not just that. My mom is a lover of “the most wonderful time of the year”. For her, it was about the traditions that were created. When she buys a present, she loves to think about the person and imagines something they will truly love; she gets so much joy from wrapping their present, and seeing their surprise and delight. This time of year always had a special feeling beyond the food, money, and presents. My brother and I would have a wordless agreement to get along and leave our differences behind us. We would get together with family and have special outings and be grateful for what we had. Each season has something special, and winter’s qualities are unique.
Once I had my own family, I had to decide how I would merge my spiritual ideals, my childhood memories, and the pressure of our culture. One way we have merged these ideas is a personal Advent calendar that consists of my children opening up a little paper with a message of an activity of the day. Each day is based around an activity such as crafting, cooking, rendering service, an outing, a book, or a movie. This made the holidays feel more like an experience than consumerism and stress, especially on the days when we were doing service.
Over the years, when it came to gift giving, we have tried a few different things, such as only buying homemade gifts from local craft fairs or etsy.com. For a few years we only gave homemade gifts–it was wonderful to see how creative we could get. We would purchase things that did not cause waste, like a gift certificate for a massage. We also love the idea of service. One of my favorite charities is AMURT. They have an annual gift catalog called Gifts from the Heat where you can buy a gift in the name of a family member or friends. You can make a donation for things such as a backpack filled with school supplies for an orphan in Thailand, fruit trees for a family in Haiti, or breakfast for 125 homeless people in Los Angeles.
I find I have to keep the idea of Aparigraha in my mind or it is easy to consume things that we do not need. Recently I read an article called “The Gift of Not Giving A Thing: Why I don’t want any more presents for my boys” by: Christella Morris. In the article, she talks about having too many toys. She says, “Instead of buying my boys a toy lion, why not take one (or both) of them to the zoo to see a real one? To spend some time with a family member or friend would mean so much more to them than another toy.” My children have spent countless hours playing with trains, blocks, legos, cars, trucks, and play dough. Toys are wonderful learning tools but again, it is good to think about what is actually a necessity. How much of the delight is the toy and how much is the experience. I believe my son loves legos not just because of the joy of building, but also because of the hours that he has spent creating with his Dad. When giving gifts, we can also give experiences or service. Robert Pagliarini gives lots of examples in his article on CBSnews “10 Great Christmas Gifts That Won’t Cost You a Dime! Some great ideas are to take someone on a special outing to a park, teaching them to play a sport, giving them a voucher for shoveling their driveway, raking their leaves, or babysitting.
Lately, I have been thinking about Aparigraha as the unrequested Christmas catalogs show up in my mailbox. It can be a challenge to think of simplicity in a culture that is over consuming, but if I focus on the other Yama and Niyamas and the other 8 limbs of yoga, they have a way of supporting each other. I feel the beauty of the all of the Yama and Nimayas can be utilized during the holidays. I intend to keep them in my thoughts during this season and throughout the year.
Rachel Maietta lives in Marshall, NC with her husband and two sons in a great community. She has a passion for uplifting the lives of others. She has had an array of social work jobs and graduated with a degree in Developmental Psychology. When not working happily in the Prama Institute and the Prama Wellness Center office, she is striving to find a balance between her beautiful family, her spiritual path.
- Eight Limbs of Yoga
Astaunga yoga, meaning “eight limbed yoga”, was derived from the ancient tradition of Tantra Yoga that was systematized and taught by Shiva over seven thousand years ago. It was refined by the collective spirit of Shiva’s wife, Parvarti, asking Shiva questions (nigama) and Shiva replying (agama). These ancient oral scriptures are part of the Tantra shastras and were finally written down about 1500 years ago. Patanjali penned the Yoga Sutras two hundred years before the birth of Christ, and he is credited with being the first to codify the ancient tradition of astaunga yoga. This astaunga or tantric yoga was originally a science of intuition pre-dating the integration of yoga into the religious traditions of Buddhism, 3500 years ago and Hinduism 2500 years ago. Thus yoga today remains largely a non-sectarian tradition although disputedly “owned” by later religious traditions.
The tantric tradition of astaunga yoga focused on the eight limbed practices while the Vedic tradition focused on rituals and yoga philosophy. The confluence of these two great streams of yogic practice and philosophy occurred around 4500 years ago subsequently influencing the development of both yogic and religious traditions of today. These two influences are evident in many religious traditions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. In many of the modern expressions of astaunga yoga both Tantric practice and Vedic philosophy are evident but with the emphasis on practice supported by universal philosophy and de-emphasis on dogma.
We find that the eight limbs of astaunga yoga were developed as a system to guide the yoga aspirant towards self realization or unity with pure consciousness or Spirit, a nondualistic goal amounting to returning “home” to the nucleus of creation, a place of eternal bliss, the Supreme Subjectivity. This unity with pure consciousness was not erected as a goal but is the results of the first seven practices of astaunga yoga. While in the body the practitioner who applies themselves to these seven practices is capable of acquiring a glimpse of this blissful state associated with the transcendental eighth limb. Let us now explore briefly the eight limbs of yoga.
We have introduced the first two limbs, Yama and Niyama, of these eight limbs previously in this series as the foundation of yoga. These two limbs constitute the ethics of yoga, Yama, five principles of social balance and Niyama, five principles of personal balance. Without these guides as a rudder, the mind remains frenetic and direction-less, un-guided by an awakened conscience. Thus the agitated mind lost at sea finds it difficult to meditate or make the fine discriminations needed to apply our thoughts, words and actions to benevolently caring for others and ourselves.
The third limb, asanas, encompasses the science of yoga exercises which creates a more subtle body leading to the development of a subtler mind. Besides increasing our flexibility and all the direct physical benefits of asansa, the underlying science of the asanas is the neurohormonal regulation of the nervous and hormonal systems to achieve emotional and psychic balance. The proper applied asanas produce a balanced body-mind that is prepared to acquire the self-knowledge of the inner most spirit through meditation. All of the practices of yoga: ethics, asanas, breath control, mindfulness, concentration, withdrawal of the senses and meditation are to acquire the ultimate self knowledge with leads to the realization of our true identity and oneness with that true self.
To enhance the practice of asanas and meditation we apply the fourth limb of astaunga yoga, pranayama, to give us breath control, allowing for the proper utilization of prana, the vital energy associated with the breath. Pranayama can be applied to asanas by pausing following exhaling for a few seconds when contracting the body in a pose and pausing for a few seconds after inhaling when straightening or opening the body. These pauses of the breath make the mind more subtle, allowing the mind to experience the stillness and subtly of a pause in activity. The same stillness of the mind occurs when we use the pause of the breath when reciting a mantra following inhalation with one syllable and exhalation of another syllable of the mantra. It is during these pauses that clarity of perception and assimilation both physically and mentally occurs. Rapid breathing with little pause between breaths creates an agitated body and mind often associated with stress. Pranayama practices with physical exercise and meditation lead to the reduction of stress and better utilization of our physical and intellectual capacity. At a psycho-spiritual level pranayama improves our intuition and ability to raise the spiritual energy (kundalini) to the higher levels of our mind/chakras.
The fifth limb is pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses and mind from the material world. This withdrawal allows the mind to focus on the more subtle layers of the mind and eventually to have the mind unite with the spirit. This effort to let go of the preoccupations with the world, our body and the everyday chatter of the mind results in the development of our inner being and living in the present beyond the buzzing confusion and attractions of everyday life.
Achieving some degree of withdrawal towards our inner life allows us to take the next step toward deep concentration or dharana, the sixth limb of astaunga yoga. Dharana is achieved by directing our attention toward a mantra or a chakra. Focusing on a positive idea like a mantra or internal psychic center like a chakra, which contains our karma, creates alternatively quieting and burst of energy. Contrary to the myth that meditation is all about relaxing the mind and body, the power of a personal mantra stirs the unexpressed karma or samskarsas and brings the needed reactions to the surface sometimes with a jolt to the body-mind. This personal mantra, as discussed in a previous entry of this series, is given by an experienced meditation teacher along with a systematic method of performing meditation including very often a chakra to focus upon. Thus mindfulness of the breath and concentration on a mantra is part and parcel of the meditation process taught by a teacher.
The seventh limb of astaunga is dhyana which translates as maintaining a steady flow of the mind. This flow of the mind can be likened to a steady stream of oil flowing from a cup. This implies that the mind’s flow state is steady and relatively uninterrupted. This is made possible as the concentration now is upon an image that represents the divine to the meditator. In most traditions this image is that of the preceptor, guru or teacher of the tradition followed by the practitioner. The image of this preceptor serves as a bridge to union with pure consciousness. It is important to recognize that the true guru is none other than the inner most self and not an external personality. In tantra or astaunga yoga the true guru is unqualified pure consciousness. The external guru is a mirror of the true guru which is none other than the internal pure consciousness or our own true self.
The eighth limb is samadhi, the final results, rather than goal, of astaunga yoga. This transcendental state occurs as the result of practicing the first seven limbs and involves having surrendered all desires and attachments to the divine in the practice of dhyana. This personal relationship witb the divine is the bridge that unites us with pure consciousness. The first level of experiencing this transcendental state is called savikalpa samadhi, which is described by Yogananda in his book autobiography of a yogi. In this state the meditator experiences blissful imagery and bodily sensations as the mind goes beyond ordinary consciousness into realms of the super-conscious mind. When the individual returns to the conscious mind they remain in a blissful state and a bit disoriented for some hours. When experiencing the more advanced state of Samadhi, nirvikapla Samadhi, the individual experiences a non-qualitative state during the Samadhi, remembering nothing associated with the loss of consciousness. Upon recovery the individual reports a very deep state of bliss and usually requires more time to recover normal consciousness.
Surrendering everything to the divine is the path to achieving this final state of transcendence and self-realization. One can achieve this state of mukti or liberation during savikalpa samadhi while in this body and return to a normal stare of mind. The second state of nirvikalpa Samadhi is associated with moksa or salvation. This moksa can be temporarily experienced or associated with the death and dissociation with the body as the final act of salvation. Moksa implies having exhausted all of ones karma and remaining in eternal bliss rather than undergoing another cycle of reincarnation.
This cycle of birth and death associated with karma and reincarnation will be the subject of our next article on meditation.
Sid Vishvmitra Jordan
- Yama and Niyama
Yama and Niyama
A Guide to Human Conduct
Ahimsa’- to not inflicting pain or harm on anybody by thought, word, or action. (non-harming)
Satya- to have proper action of the mind and the right use of words with the spirit of welfare.
Asteya- to not take possession of what belongs to others (non-stealing).
Brahmacarya- to remain attached to Brahma; to treat the objects with which one comes in contact with as different expressions of Brahma and not as crude forms. (Seeing everything as Brahma)
Aparigraha- non-indulgence in the enjoyment of such amenities and comforts of life as are superfluous for the preservation of life. (Simplicity)
Shaoca- purity of cleanliness.
Santos’a- a state of proper ease or contentment.
Tapah- service to humanity through sacrifice.
Svadha’ya- clear understanding of any spiritual subject.
Iishvara Pran’idha’na- to become established in in the Cosmic idea.
Taken from the text of “A guide to Human Conduct” by Shrii Shrii Anandamurti
- 3 Ways to Practice Tantra.
The spirit of Tantra implies a dynamic effort to overcome the dominance of Avidyamaya, the forces of ignorance and lethargy that keep us away from doing the inner work needed to attain transformation and enlightenment.
These dynamic, physical, mental and spiritual efforts can be carried out in largely three ways and are characteristic of the three main paths of Tantra.
1. The Right-hand Path
Termed Dakshina Marga Tantra in Sanskrit, this so-called Right-hand Path attempts to overcome Avidyamaya, or ignorance and darkness, through the use of idols, devotional chanting and prayer to the Gods and Goddesses. It is imperative on this path of Bhakti Yoga to realize that the symbolic representations of the Divine are just gateways to the Spirit realm.
They are internal archetypes of the mind and Spirit realm. Religious people with a pre-rational mentality often interpret their symbols and ideas literally. This is a potential limitation with such worship. It can lead to religious literalism and, even worse, to fundamentalism and dogmatism.
People on this path also tend to pray to receive boons from God, rather than to praise the Divine with chants, music and poetry in order to feel oneness with God. So, in order to harness the spiritual potential of this path most effectively, it is important to understand these potential trappings.
Yet even for those of a rational or even transrational (mystical) state of mind, such as the great sage Ramakrishna, there are subtle aspects of this popular path to consider.
Ramakrishna, who was famous for his worship of Mother Kali, or Shakti, and who worshiped Her as a gateway to the realm of pure Consciousness, achieved high states of spiritual enlightenment, but not the most sublime state of nirvikalpa samadhi, or complete enlightenment.
It was only when the naked wanderer and Tantric guru Totapuri initiated him in the practice of nondual mantra meditation that Ramakrishna attained oneness with Cosmic Consciousness. He did so after Totapuri pressed a piece of glass into his forehead, gave him a mantra, and told him to concentrate his mind in that point.
Then, by piercing through the dualistic veil of Goddess Kali, Ramakrishna attained nirvikalpa samadhi, or nirvana.He remained in this mystical trance for three days continuously, a state that Totapuri himself had taken many years to attain. After that seminal experience, Ramakrishna was, according to his closest disciples, able to move in and out of this exalted world of nondual bliss with effortless grace for the rest of his life.
2. The Left-hand Path.
Termed Vama Marga Tantra in Sanskrit, this path attempts to overcome the deceptions of Avidyamaya by “any means possible” but sometimes without a clear goal of attaining yoga, or spiritual union.
This path is legendary for its highly advanced sexual practices and the explicit use of occult powers. Hence, it is also often considered a path of Avidya Tantra, or the kind of occult magic common in shamanism. The main challenges on this path are the many temptations for misusing one’s physical and psychic desires and powers.
Some Tantric adepts on this path claim they have transcended all worldly attachments while making a show of doing whatever they wish—they may drink heavily; they may have sex with multiple partners; they may live in poverty or riches.
While some gurus on this path are enlightened and authentic teachers, it is nevertheless a risky path. Fraught with many contradictions and dangers—both for student and teacher—this path has many pitfalls and often lacks any clear ethical or cultural customs to be guided by.
In some schools of Left-hand Tantra, however, a disciple will follow strict codes of discipline and morality until he or she is allegedly enlightened and ready to lead the unconventional life of a Crazy Wisdom teacher.
Because the Left-handed Path appeals to our contemporary excesses of sex, ego, fame and entertainment, it is often this path’s gratuitous excesses that are labeled Tantra in the West. In reality, this path is quintessentially not representative of Tantra, and its exaggerated practices are not required.
3. The Middle Path
Termed Madhya Marga Tantra in Sanskrit, this so-called Middle Path is the most common school of Tantra Yoga. It originated with Shiva and has been further advanced throughout the ages by various gurus and adepts.
It is generally considered the most mindful and dependable path. This middle path toward realizing the spiritual effulgence of Brahma removes Avidyamaya’s veil of ignorance through an integrated and balanced set of physical, mental and spiritual practices. Some also refer to this as The Direct Path since it employs mantras and visualization techniques to focus the mind to go beyond the mind and into a state of pure, flowing meditation.
Nondual sages such as the revered Ramana Maharishi and Nisargadatta can be said to promote a direct path to realization. While their path is generally considered more Vedantic than Tantric, the directness of the teachings of I am That, of meditating on the idea that I am Divine, I am Brahman, I am Spirit—that practice is essentially Tantric.
They advise us to inquire into our own deepest self, into our own state of pure being by bypassing the analytical mind and its false sense of egoic self.
But to achieve this state of pure Being is not as easy as it sounds. It is much easier to think that you have achieved pure Being, to have an intellectual idea of what that means, than actually to be in a state of pure Being. The Tantric Middle Path circumvents this spiritual dilemma in a radical yet indirect way: by focusing the mind through meditation on the breath with a mantra.
While using the breath and the sonic sound and meaning of a mantra to still and focus the mind’s chatterbox, you gradually transcend the mind itself. To use the mind to transcend the mind, a seemingly contradictory practice, represents the real essence of Tantric transformation.
In this practice, one is essentially combining the various limbs of asthanga yoga—pranayama (breathing exercise), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), and dhyan (flow meditation)—and, if gracefully attuned to the possibility, samadhi (blissful absorption, or union)
According to contemporary sages as Swami Satyananda and Shrii Anandamurti, the Ashtanga or Raja Yoga practices of Patanjali are essentially Tantric. It is for this reason the Tantric Hatha Yoga texts, such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Shiva Samhita and Gheranda Samhita would advise people to also practice Raja Yoga.
In addition, Tantric meditation also employs chakra and yantra visualizations as well as devotional chanting and dancing.
Dr. Chris Kang is a Tantric practitioner who holds a doctorate in Religion and has written extensively on Tantra and Buddhism. Once, during an e-mail exchange we had about Tantra, he emphasized yet another equally crucial element in Tantric meditation: to use the meaning of the mantra to direct the mind’s attention toward its own nature.
That is, we are not simply focusing or stilling the mind in one-pointed awareness, but also clarifying and sharpening our awareness so that it sees and knows directly the ultimate nature of the mind itself. This type of insight is possible because the mantra’s meaning activates the mind’s innate reflexivity and catapults the conceptual mind beyond itself and into its underlying, blissful luminosity.
Hence, our awareness sees and knows itself by becoming itself in its natural state.
Mantra ideation facilitates this process. Deep breathing, or pranayama, in combination with a mantra, is another practice that aids in the process of accessing the deep waters of spiritual illumination, since pranayama makes it much easier to concentrate and thus facilitates the mind accessing its own spiritual luminosity. In addition, Tantric meditation also employs chakra and yantra visualizations as wells as devotional chanting and dancing.
In addition to these three paths, there are broadly five different schools of Tantra that developed during the early Middle Ages, thousands of years after Shiva.
These are the Shakta, Vaesnava, Shaeva, Ganapatya and Saura Tantra schools. Moreover, when Jainism and Buddhism flourished in India, various branches of Buddhist and Jain Tantra, developed, which again sprouted many independent branches.
The early Middle Ages also spawned such fabled paths as the Left-handed Aghora Tantra—today popularized in the West by the books of Robert Svobodha—as well as the well known Buddhist Vajrayana Tantra.
By this time, many Tantric schools had synthesized with the Vedic tradition, and Shiva Tantra lost some of its original form until it again was revived during the 20th century by teachers such as Swami Satyananda and Shrii Anandamurti.
Ramesh Bjonnes was born in Norway and lived for nearly three years in India and Nepal learning directly from the masters of tantric yoga. He has written extensively on tantra, yoga, culture and sustainability, and his articles have appeared in books and numerous magazines and newspapers in Europe and the US. His forthcoming book on Tantra will be published by Hay House India soon. He is currently contributing editor of New Renaissance and a columnist for Fredrikstad Blad, a Norwegian newspaper. He lives in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Visit his blog here: Eight Fold Path. His book Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit: A Personal Guide to the Wisdom of Yoga and Tantra can be purchased here.
- Spiritual Progress: The Role of Emotions in Developing Devotional Love
Spiritual Progress: The Role of Emotions in Developing Devotional Love
Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, the preceptor of the Ananda Marga international yoga society, has stated, “Spiritual practice is transforming fearful love into fearless love”.
Transformation and change on all levels involves finding a balance between chaos and order. Emotions represent some portion of this chaos and devotional love reflects order. This discussion will explore a methodical approach to transforming emotions and their allied body/mind expressions into devotional love, defined as expressions of compassion and benevolence that serve the general welfare.
Chaos on the physical and psychic planes actually contributes to the development of higher levels of organization. A balance between chaos and order creates the needed dynamism and opportunity for change. This change may devolve into a regressive movement of static emotions or evolve into a higher order of sentient devotional love. These polarities constitute the well-known dynamics of crisis theory, which postulates an internal and environmental circumstance that represents simultaneously opportunity for positive growth, or danger of regressive and chaotic movement. Given a proper systematic methodology that includes a holistic and synthetic approach one can more often succeed in producing benevolent results. This holistic approach needs to be a goading and blending of service, self-knowledge, emotional expression and sublimation of these emotions that result in devotional love. The intuitional practices of Astaunga yoga with its universal values and practices provide this holistic and systematic approach that fosters benevolence towards self and others.
The eight limbs of Astaunga yoga helps us identify, sublimate and transform chaotic emotions into the calm flow of devotional love on the spiritual level, culminating in unity with the Divine. Yama and Niyama, the ethics of yoga, constitutes the first and second limbs of Astaunga yoga practices that lead to a collective balance through service to all animate and inanimate entities and personal balance through meditation. The third limb, asana or yoga postures, help us fully inhabit our bodies and identify our emotions as well as balance hormones that control our thoughts and allied emotions. The fourth limb, pranayama or breath control, allows us to properly utilize our vital air to energize the body, find relaxation and exercise subtle mental discrimination when the breath is in a pause. This subtle discrimination allows us to act in a calm and methodical manner to think, speak and act in a manner that expresses devotional love from our hearts. The fifth limb, pratyahara or withdrawal, allows us to step back from the world, our bodies and mind to be guided by our inner most self. This guidance is achieved internally through the practice of dharana or concentration and dhyana or meditation, which constitutes the sixth and seventh limbs of astaunga yoga. Meditation involves developing our intuition by identifying with our wisdom self or higher self as our guide to benevolent actions that culminate in the expression of devotional love. Concentration is achieved by giving the mind a mantra and a chakra to focus on to help deepen the meditation. All these practices help calm and focus the mind so that the more whimsical and erratic emotions are transformed into a more smooth flow state associated with expression of benevolence and devotional love.
Our birthright or dharma is to become one with the divine. On this path of realizing our divine nature we acknowledge every human thought and emotion, not as obstacles but as friends in expressing our true nature. Suppression of emotions usually makes them stronger and they often become expressed in unconscious manners such as projection onto others or some other form of imbalanced emotional complex.
Devotional love implies that we see everything as an expression of the divine. Those people, plants and animals we serve and everything that it means to be human is transformed into the divine. Awareness of our human emotions and thoughts creates the opportunity for us to own them and transform them into loving expressions. Shrii Shrii Anandamurti suggest this approach to sublimating or transforming our thoughts and emotions: “Absorb the forces of your organs in your vital force (Paraná), and the dormant potentiality of your sensory power will make you more energetic – more mentally powerful. ……Mingle your sensory potentiality with your mental potentiality and your mental potentiality with the potentiality of your I-feeling (ego). Then identify all the collective force of your microcosmic intellect with your great I.”…Merge all the potentiality of your unit-I, in that Cosmic I.” This allows you to own everything that it means to be human in achieving self-realization. Maharshi Narada reminds us that devotion does not represent “blind devotion” but rather an ideal blending of knowledge, action and devotion. This blended devotion known in yoga as Bhakti enables spiritual aspirants to attain self-realization.
Sid Vishvamitra Jordan