Yoga and the many ways to Self-Realization: past, present and future

Author: Helder da Cunha Pereira Ref: Zen Flesh Zen Bones, Zen and Pre-Zen Writings. Compiled by Paul Reps. Penguin Books

Helder da Cunha Pereira

 The Vigyan Bhairava Tantra, a Sanskrit manuscript written more than 4000 years ago, begins with the Goddess Devi asking her consort Shiva the following questions:

“O Shiva, what is your reality?

What is this wonder-filled Universe?

What constitutes seed?

Who centers the Universal Wheel?

What is this life beyond form pervading forms?

How may we enter it fully, above space and time, names and descriptions?

Let my doubts be cleared!”

Shiva’s reply comes in the form of 112 verses, each one describing a way to directly know that nameless “life beyond form pervading forms”. These ways range from special awareness to breath, to the body, or to various sensorial experiences such as sounds, taste, feelings, the sexual act, etc. Here are a few examples to illustrate:

“8. Attention between eyebrows, let mind be before thought. Let form fill with breath essence to the top of the head and there shower as light.”

“26. Unminding mind, keep in the middle – until.”

“44. [referring to the sexual union] When in such embrace your senses are shaken like leaves, enter this shaking.”

...or the simply beautiful,

“104. Wherever your attention alights, at this very point, experience.” 

As can be seen, the search was on thousands of years ago, and is likely to continue for a thousand more, for as long as there is a longing, there must be a way. But what are we searching for exactly? What is this elusive “thing” that we search? Well, we can say it is That, the mystery, That which cannot be named, That which can be only felt or perceived, Thatwhich alone can give everlasting peace and contentment - our true nature or Home for short.

The text above describes what can be called a tantric path, a path of ecstasy, a path that does not deny the senses but that rather takes advantage of them to spiritualize existence. However, this is by far not the only existing path. The same way there are many paths up a mountain, so there are many ways to reach Understanding. Taoism, Buddhism, Zen, Advaita Vedanta, mystical traditions stemming from all of the world religions, shamanism, witchcraft, etc. – here are just a few examples of the struggle of man towards deeper understanding. It has even been said that there are as many paths as there are inpiduals, for each one of us is unique.

Yoga is one such system of spiritual realization and self-fulfilment - and it is a very comprehensive and integral system at that. It covers work on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels, and its many branches and doctrines assist in giving guidance on the different aspects of the path. Thus we have doctrines based on devotion (Bhakti), service to others (Karma Yoga), intellectual understanding (Jnana), cultivation of body and mind (Hatha Yoga) or on subtle inner work on the level of energy and consciousness (e.g. Kriya Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Raja Yoga or Prana Vidya). 

These different “set of tools” or frameworks can cater for the personal inclinations and needs of each inpidual (for example some people are more intellectually minded while others can be more emotionally driven, or driven by feeling). They can also provide assistant to the same inpidual at different stages of the path. For example, one may start doing yoga for the purposes of becoming more flexible, while in fact a deeper inner need may be in operation, magically aware of much higher possibilities in our life. In this case, we will find ourselves moving from outer to progressively inner levels of experience - from grosser to subtler levels. Thus, if in the beginning we find ourselves concerned in holding the ideal yoga pose, later on we will find ourselves marvelling at the unfolding of a rich, sacred, and ecstatic inner world, and touching with our awareness every crook and cranny of our inner being, every corner of our subtle anatomy. This is when the real fun begins. But of course this is not the goal itself. We continue to delve deeper and deeper, until all experiences dissolve into That, Us, what we really are, that unnameable mystery of life. This is the promise of Yoga, and at all levels it is there to help, providing the tools and - perhaps more importantly - the theoretical framework from which to understand the experiences that unfold.

One question may arise here: but, amongst so many disciplines and paths, how do we know which one is right for us? What is the ultimate guiding light or guru? While pondering on this, one can not help but realize that the ultimate guidance has always and will always come from within, for herein lies the seeker, the path and the goal itself. It is from within our own Heart that the search first became apparent, and it is from here that it burns like a fire, until we finally find it. It is here that answers are found; that we know what is or is not valuable. How could it be otherwise really? 

Some may also hope that objective science – which has so far already explained so many phenomena - can someday clarify and explain the spiritual path as well. This is in principle possible since spiritual development, as well as an art, is also a science. It is seen from thousands of years of experience that the path develops along recognizable lines, no matter where in the world a practitioner is from or what particular path he or she is following; some milestones and parameters do not vary much. Devotion, understanding, Love, sensorial or energetic experiences – these are usually common amongst people. It is also seen that our invisible nature, although not graspable in most objective ways, appears to be governed by specific and predictable laws, the same way objects are attracted to the earth by gravity. That is how the science of Kundalini or Pranayama or Prana Vidya got to be developed, not to mention others like Chinese medicine or martial arts, which based their whole approach on the movement and management of energy in the human body. 

At present scientists cannot measure this bio-energy, nor can they understand the nature of consciousness, but they have started to look into the subject, and some interesting findings already corroborate what meditators have said for eons. And is predictable that, as spiritual experiences and the need for understanding increase around the globe, so will the need for scientific validation. It may take a while however until this objective outer science arrives at answers that can be useful to so many of us. So, until it does, let’s not wait. It is really up to us to uncover the marvels of our true nature and to fulfil ourselves, in the laboratories of our own lives. It has always been so, and will surely continue to be so until the end of time. So let’s pull up our sleeves and go for it!  

 “The views expressed above are solely those of the author. may or may not agree with these statements.”

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Village Talwade, Trimbak, Nasik

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