A Practical Approach To Tantra
Introduction. The Cosmic Dance
1. Tantra: A Timeless Science
2. Meditation: Directing the Stream of Consciousness
3. Asanas: Yogic Innercises
4. Yogic Ethics: Maintaining a Dynamic Balance
5. Food for Consciousness
6. Taming the Mad Monkey
7. Mind to Matter - Matter to Mind
8. The Unfolding Mind
9. Karma: Your Best Friend or Worst Enemy
10. Stepping Stones
11. Behind the Theory ... The Guru
12. Yours, Mine and Ours
Introduction - The Cosmic Dance
If a symbol could amply express the spirit of Tantra it would surely be 'Nataraja', the image of Shiva dancing the Cosmic dance.
Aldous Huxley chose Nataraja as the symbol through which the characters of his novel 'Island' confront the meaning of life. He wrote:
"Dancing in all the worlds at once. And first of all in the world of matter. Look at the great round halo, fringed with the symbols of fire, within which the god is dancing. It stands for nature, for the world of mass and energy. Within it Shiva-Nataraja dances the dance of endless becoming and passing away. It's his liila, his Cosmic play. Playing for the sake of playing, like a child. But this child is the order of things. His toys are galaxies, his playground is infinite space, and between finger and finger every interval is a thousand million light years ...
"... at play among the stars and in the atoms. But also at play within every living thing, every sentient creature, every child and man and woman."
Tantra represents the endeavour to penetrate the mystic link between the finite and the Infinite, the individual and the Cosmos. Whilst to some, whatever is spiritual may seem to exclude that which is earthly, both are harmoniously reconciled in Tantra. Spiritual enlightenment and the individual's fulfilment of a meaningful existence are both seen as complementary needs. Every aspect of life becomes an integral part of Tantra, whether it be food and health or philosophy and meditation. When channelized with proper awareness, all becomes part of the flow towards human perfection and spiritual liberation.
Even though some aspects of Tantra may come naturally and spontaneously, the vastness of its scope and the intricacies of its practices make it a formidable science to master. Certainly its depths cannot be adequately fathomed by a book, as even the most accomplished writers on the subject have acknowledged. Tantra is a science to be learnt and practised with the assistance and guidance of a spiritual preceptor who is both master practitioner and loving guide. The following chapters are based on the teachings of such a personality, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti. It is by no means an in-depth study, but rather an introduction.
At the risk of over-simplifying some of the more complex concepts, an effort has been made to present them in an easy to understand form, in the hope that they will be understood by a person coming across them for the first time. For similar reasons, the use of Sanskrit has been kept to a minimum. Sanskrit terms have only been used where there is no clear English equivalent. The introduction of each new Sanskrit term is accompanied by an explanation within the context of its use. A glossary of these terms is also included for easy reference.
The inspiration for these chapters came from meditation teachers who felt the need for a handbook summarising the essential fundamentals of Tantra. The twelve chapters are based upon a course format of twelve workshops which used extensively in several countries.
1. Tantra: A Timeless Science
“One must remember, theories are not the liberators of human beings. The liberator is that high competence which helps to keep open and unbarred every small or large vista of sentient existence - that vigorous capability which fuses the hard reality of existence with the ultimate reach of the visionary world.“
- Shrii Shrii Anandamurti
Tantra literally means "that which liberates from darkness". Its spiritual practices, centred around meditation, endeavour to lift the shroud of egocentricity and narrow-mindedness which envelops and stultifies the boundless potential of the human mind. The overwhelming characteristics of Tantra are its profoundly positive view of the universe and its sweeping embrace of the phenomenal world as an expression of infinite and essential Consciousness.
With a view of all existence springing from the same infinite Consciousness, Tantra's underlying principle is that each individual, by penetrating the core of his/her own unit consciousness, can experience the unity of all things and transcend the turbulent flux of sensory perception and its divisive perspective of the relative world. The ultimate objective in Tantra is union with unqualified and limitless Consciousness - a state beyond the inhibiting ego and its segmentation of reality.
We live in a world of fantastic change -a world that leaps ahead in its understanding and knowledge of the mundane. Post-industrial society is touted as the age of information. Scientific advancement, especially computerisation and new means of communication, has placed huge amounts of information at our fingertips.
But while our minds are boggled by a new golden age of information and science, and enterprises scramble in a furious race to dominate rapidly expanding markets, global society languishes from a lack of spiritual understanding of human nature. In amongst frenzied activity, inner harmony and understanding is crushed beneath the weight of overburdened nervous systems.
As the global society becomes increasingly urbanised, stress and tension grow exponentially. People find themselves assailed on all levels, mentally, emotionally, physically and socially. Urban life, the focal point of post-industrial society, presents new and complex dilemmas.
Wedded together are a host of psychological and environmental pressures which have resulted in a disintegration of personality to a greater degree perhaps than any time in human history. The melting pot of stress has brought a realisation of the need for a means of achieving inner cohesion. In psychology, researchers and practitioners have begun to verify the efficacy of mind expanding techniques of meditation practices in reintegrating the personality. Yet, meditation and its attendant practices are, in Tantra, much more than a process of resolving stress factors, and are intended to elevate the individual to a state of liberated consciousness.
Much of modern psychotherapy is based on the notion that throughout life, each person is conditioned by environmental and sociological factors including parents, friends, relatives, work mates and schoolmates, all of whom impose different attitudes on the individual, moulding his/her personality. This conditioning, through variously described mental processes, creates tensions within the human psyche which in turn may result in different neuroses and psychoses.
Many therapies are based on the principle that by locating and recognising the source of a particular mental tension, it may be understood and coped with; or that, by re-experiencing the situation in which a particular tension was formed, the root of the tension may be expressed and thereby eliminated. This gets back to recognising conditioning.
The type and extent of conditioning recognised depends on the school of thought. For example many schools believe the individual to be a 'blank slate' at the time of birth, upon which all likes, dislikes and beliefs are formed. Others trace conditioning and the creation of tension back to the womb and prenatal experiences.
The concept of conditioning and its psychological impact is important to Tantra as well, and helps in understanding meditation. But while some aspects of Tantra's view of conditioning is similar to that of modern psychology, its understanding of the extent of and the binding influence of conditioning is significantly different.
Tantra expands the parameters of conditioning to encompass the entire individuality of a person. All sensory impressions and thoughts, initiated or experienced by the individual, combine to make up his/her ego identity. Thus, in a pure unconditional state, the mind completely sheds the restricting ego and replaces it with the identity of universal Consciousness. Individuality gives way to a feeling of oneness with all things. This stripping away of conditioning from the mind is expedited by meditation. By identifying the mind with essential Consciousness, beyond the ego's preconceived vision, the ego is whittled away, revealing an identity more meaningful and a view of the world which is fresh, clear and unprejudiced.
An Unresolved Question
Leaving aside the complexities of conditioning, spiritual awareness achieved from meditation may be viewed much more simply. During deep reflection we sometimes wonder what we are. Our mind asks the fundamental question of what consciousness is. The contemplative feeling that we possess 'consciousness' is an unresolved mystery to us. Like the physicist who ponders the basis of matter, the uncluttered mind ponders the basis of human awareness.
However, rarely does the thought occur to us of understanding our consciousness, as we are normally too busy running our lives and are plunged into the endless task of satisfying physical and emotional needs, both ours and others. Gradually we are numbed to the idea of consciousness, which we simply take for granted.
Meditation comes as a relief, a time in which we can once again make contact with our own consciousness. It is a time we can penetrate the superficiality of our everyday thought processes and go deep within our minds - so that when we return to our everyday existence it has new meaning and significance. The mind in meditation is no longer objectified or engrossed with the phenomenal world but is concentrated on consciousness, which introduces another perspective for us to consider.
Beyond Everyday Awareness
To most, the reality which is perceived with the help of the five senses is ultimate, or at least treated as such. Like the person who lives in one particular locality all his/her life and believes it to be the only place in the world, we believe our limited perception of things to be complete.
Science has shown how severely circumscribed our senses are. Only a very small section of the huge spectrum of light-waves which permeate our everyday existence are perceived by our eyes and similarly only a fraction of vibrating sound-waves are picked up by our ears. In all, we observe only a small part of the reality which science attests to knowing.
Even more surprising is when we analyse what we can perceive we find, on a sub-atomic level, it does not exist in the terms we view it. What we see as solid matter, on a subatomic level, is numerous particles moving at great speeds in huge areas of empty space. Adding to this dilemma is the fact that physicists now explain that they cannot determine if these so-called 'particles' have any real 'substance' at all. So what we once believed to be tangible and definable, on other measurable levels is unrecognisable and makes nonsense of our understanding and perception.
The innumerable wavelengths measured by science with sensitive instruments, did not exist for people of a century or so ago. Science is now discovering these waves and has learnt to utilise this new knowledge. It remains open to speculation as to what science may stumble upon in the future, but Tantra has for millennia recognised the myriad waveforms which exist throughout the universe and has described the process of creation in terms of wavelengths.
Science thus far has only described matter and physical energy in terms of wavelengths. Tantra explains the mind and psychic energy as waveforms as well. What we perceive with our senses and science records with the aid of instruments, according to Tantra is only one level of relative reality, the crudest level. Above physical reality are various mental levels which cannot be explored with the use of physical instruments or the senses, but must be understood with the use of a more subtle instrument, the mind.
Meditation is a means of retuning the mind, of directing it from a purely sensory appreciation of the world. We can then appreciate the subtler realms of existence and recognise the deeper beauty of the world in which we live.
No One Reason
Because meditation is so deeply rooted in a search for the essence of human life, there is no one simple explanation of what it is and no one reason why people begin its practice. Whatever reason, true meditation is not limited by initial motivation. From an initial interest or simple practices, one can proceed onwards.
As the horizons of the mind expand through meditation, consciousness is uncovered and initial reasons are dissolved by the evolving expansion of the sense of spiritual self. Ultimately we find that what we thought were personal reasons for meditation were really reflections of our spiritual nature's desire to express itself.
Meditation is a spiritual practice which has evolved over thousands of years, its earliest known roots being the practices of Tantra, first introduced in India some 7000 years ago by Sadashiva, a great yogi who lived in and around the Himalayan mountains. Even in this ancient time Tantra was an all-round science of life, covering many aspects of personal and social development. The philosophy was not limited to subjective meditation but extended into the fields of literature, art, dance and medicine - it was a" holistic" approach to life.
Over the course of years many different branches and offshoots of Tantra developed. These gradually formed more specialised disciplines known as the different types of yoga. Here, 'yoga' means 'union' and refers to the union of the individual self with the Cosmic Consciousness or Universal Self. The various yogas seek to attain Cosmic Union through emphasis of a particular aspect of Tantra, often to the exclusion of other equally important aspects. The most well-known forms are listed below.
- Jinana Yoga, literally the 'Yoga of Knowledge', which emphasises study and a philosophical approach to increasing intellectual awareness, to the point where realisation of the Absolute is sought to be attained.
- Karma Yoga, or the 'Yoga of Action', is the art of performing service-oriented actions whilst the mind surrenders the sense of doership, vanity and expectation to the Cosmic Consciousness, which is seen as residing in everything and everyone.
- Bhakti Yoga, the 'Yoga of Devotion', seeks to cultivate the pure attracting force of love for the Cosmic Consciousness. It brings the aspirant in close proximity to what is described as the Beloved so that realisation comes easily.
- Hatha Yoga is the approach involving various disciplines for the body, including yoga postures, breathing exercises and purification techniques. This control and regulation of bodily functions helps one gain control of the mind, in order to reach one's goal.
- Raja Yoga, also known as 'Astaunga Yoga', is the name given to the 'Eight Limbs of Yoga': external ethics, internal ethics, yoga postures, withdrawal of senses from the external world, control of vital force through proper breathing, concentration, meditation, and absorption in the Goal. Although all aspects of Raja Yoga have been practised by yogiis for thousands of years, since the time of Shiva, they were systematically codified as the 'Yoga Aphorisms' by Patanjali about 2500 years ago.
The division of Tantra into different, specialised areas led to its decline as an effective and complete way of life. Different schools, by concentrating on particular areas, neglected the overall wisdom of Tantra.
What is Meditation?
Many people mistakenly believe that meditation is an instant product: just sit down and the process works magically, lulling the meditator into a thoughtless world of bliss, stillness and internal beauty. When these experiences do not come in the first weeks of meditation, new practitioners suppose they're doing something wrong or that their technique is defective. Consequently they discontinue the practice because of simple misunderstanding.
So what is to be expected in the first weeks of meditation? "The mind is like a mad monkey stung by a scorpion", said the great yogi Ramakrishna, and everyone who starts meditation and tries concentrating knows this to be true. Especially in the beginning, the mind is uncontrollable and unruly. As you sit down many thoughts arise ... you drift off thinking of something else; sounds and noise from without sidetrack your internal concentration, your body won't stay still and you finally get up thinking that nothing has happened.
But it has! By constant practice your capacity to hold your mind steady is building. Much as the body of an athlete in training acquires great physical strength and stamina, so too the struggling meditator develops mental strength and the capacity to concentrate. It is only after a time that the stage comes when we can truly fix our mind on the object of meditation and hold it there - then true meditation is performed.
Another puzzling experience for some is that the mind appears even more unsteady after commencing meditation. More thoughts than usual arise in the mind and this is taken to mean that the process is not being done correctly. Just the opposite is true. The function of meditation is to internally work on the mind by clearing out all the distortions and impressions our past actions have registered upon our subconscious mind. It's like cleaning house: in the middle of the process the house may look even messier than when we started, but by persevering and not quitting mid-stream we get it clean. So, as we continue to meditate, the mind becomes clearer and clearer.
Meditation is the effort to control and develop the mind to realise one's true nature. It is the means by which we can realise our full potential on all levels of existence: physical, mental and spiritual.
“Spirituality provides humanity with that subtle and tremendous power with which no other power can be compared. Therefore, with spirituality as the base, a rational philosophy should be evolved to deal with the physical, psychological and socio-philosophical problems of the day. “
- Shrii Shrii Anandamurti
“Spirituality is not a utopian ideal but a practical philosophy which can be practised and realised in everyday life. Spirituality stands for evolution and elevation, not for superstition and pessimism.”
- Shrii Shrii Anandamurti
2. Meditation: Directing the Stream of Consciousness
“Real education is that which leads to liberation. “
- Shrii Shrii Anandamurti
Meditation is often viewed as sitting quietly, contemplating thoughts or analysing personal problems. Others believe it to be a practice of forcing the mind not to think, or to think of nothing, hence giving peace associated with escape from daily problems. But none of these images truly fits the yogic concept of meditation.
In yogic terminology, meditation is called 'dhyana', which literally means 'flowing of the mind'. It is a state of pure concentrated contemplation in which the mind flows unobstructedly towards Cosmic Consciousness. At first the meditator may only be able to concentrate for a few seconds at a time, but with each effort his or her ability to direct mental energy increases.
When meditation becomes so profound that all feelings of individuality are consumed by the one thought of Cosmic Consciousness, the aspirant achieves total mental absorption, known as 'samadhi'. In this state the transcendental ecstasy of union with Cosmic Consciousness is felt. Yogis refer to this Cosmic Bliss as 'anandam'. Here the mind is liberated from all bondage and is merged in the blissful realisation of universal consciousness.
The meditational practices of Tantra systematically help to control and direct mental energy. To direct the mind during meditation, we need a point to concentrate on. The mind wants to go towards that which is enjoyable, hence by the use of a 'mantra', or special sound vibration, the mind is directed towards that which is most enjoyable - the bliss of Cosmic Consciousness. Mantra literally means 'that which liberates the mind'; it is a sound vibration upon which the mind is concentrated during meditation. Mantras are in a language called Sanskrit - an ancient language known for its subtlety and exactness in expression. It was developed many thousands of years ago by yogiis while in deep intuitional states.
There are various types of mantras, such as the mantras for collective chants and ceremonies, as well as those for meditation. The most effective mantra for meditation is the 'Ista Mantra' (Ista means goal). It is a personal mantra through which the aspirant identifies him/her own self with the goal in meditation, being the Cosmic Consciousness.
Qualities of the Ista Mantra
- Pulsative: The mantra is comprised of two syllables which can be coordinated with breathing - one syllable is used on breathing in and the other on breathing out. In this way, natural breathing keeps the mantra fixed in the mind and in turn the mantra makes breathing regulated and rhythmic. Deep, regular breathing produces calm and collectedness, conducive to meditation, while breathing which is short, quick and/or irregular we associate with excited or agitated states of mind.
- Concentrational: Merging the mind in pure Consciousness is often misunderstood to mean making the mind void or empty. However the mind cannot function without entertaining some object or thought. The mantra provides a focal point by which one can penetrate beyond the endless stream of thoughts and images which constantly pass through the mind.
- Every word or sound vibration is a symbol. Upon being spoken, or generated, it creates a mental picture. For example, if a person mentions the word 'flower', our minds conjure up images of flowers. This mental association is called psycho-physical parallelism, as the vibration of a particular physical form invokes a similar vibration in the mind.
- "As you think so you become", a simple platitude, in this case has real application. People who constantly associate themselves with limited objects find that expansive thoughts and magnanimous ideas do not come easily. Their outlook is generally narrow and self-centred. On the other hand, those who constantly consider the welfare of others and endeavour to fathom profound ideas are more inclined to broadmindedness and expansive thoughts. Even greater are the vistas of those who reflect on the Infinite, the Universal Consciousness, and Its expression in all things. Such mental association is called psycho-spiritual parallelism.
- To help achieve greater psycho-spiritual parallelism, the underlying meaning of all Ista Mantras is always the Infinite.
- Vibrational: The sound vibration of the mantra is itself adapted to suit the individual's mental vibration. Normally a person likes those things which have a vibration closely parallel to his or her own. People of different nations prefer different music, colours, and so on, according to their own mental vibration. One type of music may be soothing to one person but meaningless to another, so too are individuals more suited to particular mantras.
The method of using the mantra is also important, for if the mantra is used without properly preparing the mind, much of its efficacy is lost. The mind firstly must be freed from the normal tensions, attachments and distractions of everyday life, and then detached from the senses themselves. Only after fulfilling these prerequisites can it have its full effect. Important preparatory processes are taught together with the Ista Mantra.
Mantra and Kundalini
Besides the above-mentioned effects, the Ista Mantra has a further important function, namely awakening the 'sleeping divinity' or latent spiritual energy of human beings. This spiritual energy, known as the 'kundalini' in Sanskrit, is related to the control of different psychic energy centres of the body called 'cakras'. The aroused kundalini passes through the different cakras, resulting in the control of their corresponding psychic and physical functions. Through the control of these psycho-physical tendencies, one can fully control and develop the mind, allowing it to expand to a state of complete realisation - a complete expression of pure Consciousness.
Initiation is one of the most important events in the life of a spiritual aspirant. It is the time the personal technique of meditation is given and, more importantly, it is when the latent spiritual potential is first awakened. In Tantra it is said that, when the disciple is ready, the Master or Guru appears. When a person develops an intense desire for spiritual awareness, it is no coincidence that a teacher appears to provide guidance and direction.
Traditionally, meditation was taught directly by a master or guru. However, for practical reasons, Ananda Marga meditation is taught by persons qualified and following rules of conduct given by the Guru and examined under a system given by the Guru or his representatives. Although the Guru is not physically present at initiation, it is his spiritual power, embodied in the mantra as originally taught, that brings spiritual awakening. Initiation is the beginning. Having been provided with the tools and maps necessary for his or her journey, the aspirant must now tread the path, relying on personal strength and determination.
Meditation, to be effective, means regular practice. So, once initiated, the spiritual aspirant is advised to meditate twice daily, beginning with 15 -30 minutes at a time. The best times to meditate are around sunrise and sunset, before breakfast and dinner, and when the natural vibrations are conducive to spiritual practices.
Morning meditation begins the day in the right frame of mind, with the ideation of the Infinite; evening meditation helps clear the mind of the day's mundane activities, refocussing it on the Infinite. Maintaining correct ideation brings a new perspective, clearing negative emotional stress and anxiety and creating inner calm and contentment.
Although meditation can only be fully appreciated by direct personal experience, the efforts of modern science to understand higher states of consciousness brought about by meditation are yielding useful results. By investigating the physiological changes that take place during meditational practices, practical applications of meditation are being found.
For example, regular practice has been shown to lower the blood pressure of patients with borderline hyper-tension by activating the stimulation of an integrated hypothalmic response known as 'the relaxation response'. This decreased activity of the sympathetic nervous system during the practice of meditation may also carry over into non-meditational periods of the day.
Other effects include: the increase of oxygen delivery, which reduces the production and accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles, thereby reducing muscle fatigue; the significant reduction of the heart rate - electro-cardiogram recordings have shown a mean decrease of 8 beats per minute; increased skin resistance because of relaxation of the body; together with increased auditory perceptual ability and enhanced sensory performance; striking changes in the EEG (Electroencephalograph) recordings -it has been shown that the 'alpha rhythm' increases in amplitude, slows down in frequency and extends to anterior channels of the brain - this has a profound effect in the positive treatment of certain diseases.
“The persons who can dedicate their all to the thought of the Great and the inspiration of the Supreme are verily the greatest heroes. Such heroes indeed are the virtuous and they alone are capable of taking human history from darkness to light. “
- Shrii Shrii Anandamurti
3. Asanas: Yogic Innersizes
Yogic postures, which are popularly known as yoga, were developed over several thousands of years of experimentation. Their long and insightful development has provided them with remarkably diverse therapeutic qualities, for which they are now widely practised.
The postures' physiological benefits include relaxing and toning the nervous system, detoxifying the skeletal joints, maintaining flexibility, especially that of the spine, stimulating circulation and improving respiration. However their impressive physical benefits tend to overshadow their vital contribution to emotional well-being, for which they were primarily designed.
Yoga postures, called 'asanas' in Sanskrit, come from a branch of yoga known as Hatha Yoga. This was originated as a means of controlling the mind through purifying and disciplining the physical body. Yogis recognised an inter-relatedness of mind and body and maintained that if the mind was to be made more subtle, so too must the body. Asanas were developed to produce the necessary harmony.
In this harmonising of mind and body, the central feature of asanas is their subtle effect on the glandular system of the body. The glands of the endocrine system are like emotional substations and have profound and dramatic effects on a person's emotional state. Each of the major glands, such as the thyroid, thymus, pituitary, pineal and gonads, secretes hormones directly into the blood-stream, which in turn produce mental and behavioural changes. When hormonal secretions are either too high or too low then mental and/or physical aberrations are likely to occur. Many of the physical aberrations caused by malfunctioning endocrine glands are well known to medicine. However only recently are the psychic problems being explored and recognised.
For example, a condition which is becoming particularly well documented in medical and psychological journals is hypoglycaemia, a dysfunction of the pancreas. Hypoglycaemia causes blood sugar imbalances which are connected to many behavioural problems including manic depression, hyperactivity and other tensions leading to anti-social behaviour.
A vicious circle develops when behavioural patterns are entrenched over years, habituating the glands to imbalanced secretions which then reinforce and aggravate the mental condition. For example, stressful situations cause the adrenal glands to release adrenaline, but over-secretion of adrenaline stimulates the limbic system, the section of the brain associated with behavioural functions, which may then produce responses such as anger or rage.
Emotional stability created and maintained by asanas is fundamental to meditation. Emotional imbalances disrupt the mind, making effective meditation difficult if not impossible. The goal of yogic practices is to create the most conducive environment, both internally and externally, for meditation. Asanas attune the body to meditation, just as a guitar is tuned before a performance.
The practical effects of asanas on the glands have been well expressed by Dr Steven Brena in his book 'Yoga and Medicine'. Describing the shoulderstand posture (sarvaungasana) he writes:
"The visceral muscles, metamerically corresponding to the lower back and abdominal muscles, are constituents of all the organs contained in the abdomen. Their contraction and relaxation, therefore, revitalise in an excellent way the functioning of the stomach, the intestines, the liver, the pancreas, the spleen, the kidneys, the bladder and of the uterus in women, eliminating digestive, metabolic, urinary and uterine deficiencies and ailments ... and finally, the contraction of the fore muscles of the neck combined with the pressure of the chin on the chest, leads to a redistribution of the blood in the upper part of the trunk, with important results. For, while the arterial circulation to the brain remains normal through the vertebral arteries, the arterial thrust in the carotids and the venous deflux of the jugulars are slowed down. Consequently, the thyroid, the thymus and the parathyroids receive an increase in blood flow, which stimulates and improves their function."
The right combination of asanas stimulates and corrects a lethargic, underactive gland or, alternatively, regulates an overactive gland. The harmony produced by proper hormonal secretions is supported and aided by the asanas' other benefits, which combine to produce a perfectly balanced state of mental and physical health.
Below is a reiteration of some of the direct physiological benefits, but this time in relation to their value to the meditator.
- Respiration: Good respiration is of utmost importance to the meditator. Breathing is linked to mental calmness and is vital for taking in energy from the air. Each posture incorporates into its movements deep breathing. By bending and twisting, areas in the lung which are not normally exposed are put to use. The resulting rejuvenation of the lung cells increases the intake of oxygen and energy into the body. Exercises affecting the torso also develop chest and diaphragmic muscles which facilitate better breathing.
- Nervous system: Asanas are not fatiguing, but work to relax the nervous system and increase and help the flow of subtle body energies. Yoga exercises work on the important area of the spine. The spine is connected with the central nervous system, and asanas keep the vertebrae properly adjusted and tonify the nerve fibre. Strengthening the nervous system helps us overcome mental weakness and obstacles, which are actually due to nervous debility, i.e. nerves that cannot tolerate forceful sensory input.
- Blood circulation: Many postures send blood, which has a rejuvenating effect, to areas normally deprived of a strong blood flow. For instance shoulder stand allows more blood flow to the brain. It also drives blood from the thyroid area so that when one alternates shoulder stand with fish pose (a posture done parallel to the floor) the blood pours back during that latter pose. This stimulates and aids the functioning of the thyroid gland. Asanas stretch the limbs and joints in ways not usually achieved in day to day activities. They also remove deposits and toxins from the joints, keeping the yogi free from arthritis and rheumatism throughout life.
- Vital organs: Yogic postures have a therapeutic effect on the vital organs: heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, stomach, spleen and intestines, by massaging them and strengthening their functional apparatus. The pressure put on the organ generates a reaction which balances its activity. The weak organ becomes stronger, the sluggish organ more vital, the overactive organ properly controlled and well-regulated.
Which Asanas to Practise?
There are actually more than 50,000 different asanas one could choose from but one need only practise a regular set of the more important ones for improving and maintaining good health. At the same time, when selecting the appropriate asanas many factors need to be taken into consideration: one's physical health, dominant mental tendencies, flexibility or rigidity of the body, age, diet and amount of time at one's disposal each day. For this reason asanas should be prescribed by personal consultation with an Acarya - a trained teacher.
There are however a few basic asanas which can be performed safely be everyone. Diirgha Pranama, Yogamudra, Bhujaungasana (the first three illustrated below), and any of the meditation postures, may be practised by anyone until they are prescribed a personal set of asanas.
- Ardhakurmakasana (half tortoise posture) or Diirgha Pranama (long bowing posture): Kneel down and, holding the palms together, extend the arms forward, keeping them close to the ears. Then bend forward in a posture of bowing down, touching the floor with the tip of the nose and the forehead. The buttocks must continue to touch the heels. While bending down, breathe out and stay in a state of complete exhalation for eight seconds. Then rise up, breathing in. Practise eight times.
Ardhakurmakasana or Diirgha Pranama
- Yogasana (yoga posture) or Yogamudra (yoga gesture): Sit in Bhojasana (simple cross-legged position). Pass both hands backward and grip the left wrist with the right hand. Then bring the forehead and nose into contact with the floor, breathing out during the process. Maintain this state for eight seconds and then rise up, breathing in. Practise eight times.
Yogasana or Yogamudra
- Bhujaungasana (snake posture): Lie down on your chest. Supporting the weight on the palms, raise the chest, directing your head backwards. Look at the ceiling. Breathe in while rising and after having risen, hold your breath for eight seconds. Come down to original position while breathing out. Practise eight times.
Here are some more examples of asanas.
- Sarvaungasana (all-limbs posture): Lie down on your back. Gradually raise the entire body and keep it straight, resting its weight on your shoulders. The chin must be in contact with the chest. Support both sides of your trunk with your hands. The toes must remain together, the eyes must be directed at the toes.
Sarvaungasana (shoulder stand)
- Urdhvapadmasana (inverted lotus posture): Start in Padmasana (lotus posture), and then lie down on your back in Padmasana. Gradually raise the body above the floor and rest its weight on your shoulders. Support both sides of the body with the hands. Practise three times, up to five minutes each time.
- Matsyamudra (fish gesture): Lie down in Padmasana (lotus posture). Rest the crown of the head on the floor and grasp both the big toes with the hands. Practise three times. Maximum time for practice is two and a half minutes.
- Matsyasana (fish posture): Lie down in Padmasana (lotus posture). Grasp each shoulder with the opposite hand from behind. The head will rest on both forearms. Practise three times, each time for half a minute.
- Janushirasana (head to knee posture): Press the Muladhara (base of the spine) with the right heel. Extend the left leg forward. While exhaling, touch the left knee with the forehead. Then, interlocking all the fingers firmly, press the left sole with the hands. There should be complete expiration when the forehead touches the knee. Maintain this position for eight seconds. Separate the hands and sit erect, while breathing in. Then press the Muladhara with the left heel and repeat the above process exactly. One round comprises practising once with the left and once with the right leg. Practise four rounds.
- Matsyendrasana (Matsyendra's posture) - generally for males:
- Press the Muladhara (base of the spine) with the right heel. Cross the left foot over the right thigh and keep it to the right of the thigh. Grasp the left big toe with the right hand, keeping the right arm along the left side of the left knee. Reach backwards from the left side with the left hand and touch the navel. Turn the neck to the left as far as possible.
- Then press the Muladhara with the left heel and reverse the process. One round comprises completing the process on both sides.
Practise four rounds, each round lasting for half a minute.
- Naokasana (boat posture) or Dhanurasana (bow posture): Lie in a prone position, face down. Flex the legs to bring the lower legs close to the thighs. Directing the hands over the back, grasp the ankles. Raise the entire body, supporting the weight on the navel. Extend the neck and chest as far back as possible. Look toward the front. Breathe in while raising the body and maintain yourself in that state for eight seconds. Resume the original posture while breathing out. Practise this asana eight times in this manner. The body assumes the shape of a bow during this asana.
Naokasana or Dhanurasana
- Utkata Pascimottanasana (difficult back-upwards position): Lie in a supine position and extend the arms backwards, keeping them close to the ears. Inhale. Raise the upper part of the body while exhaling and insert the face between the knees. Make sure that the legs remain straight. Grasp both the big toes with the hands. Remain in this state for eight seconds. Now resume the original posture while inhaling. Practise eight times in this way.
- Bhastrikasana (bellows posture): Lie on your back and while breathing out, bend the right leg and bring the thigh into contact with the chest. Grasp the leg firmly with both hands. Maintain this position for eight seconds, holding the breath. Resume original position while breathing in. Practise similarly with the left leg, and then with both legs together. One round comprises this process with the right leg, the left leg, and both legs together. Practise eight such rounds, being 8x3=24 positions.
- Viirasana (hero posture): Kneel down and sit on the heels. Bend the toes downwards. Rest the backs of the hands on the thighs, the fingers pointing towards the groin. Direct the vision at the tip of the nose. The Acarya will give directions as to the duration of this asana.
- Padmasana (lotus posture): Place the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh. Clench the jaws and press the tongue against the roof of the mouth. You can maintain this posture as long as you like.
Guidelines for Asanas
To get the most from the asanas and to guard against any adverse reactions, certain basic principles and guidelines need to be followed.
(1) Before practising asanas, take a 'half-bath' or a full bath. A 'half-bath' is taken as follows: after passing urine, pour cold water over the urinary organ, then urinate again to expel any excess urine remaining in the urinary tract; wash hands; then splash cold water into the eyes 12 times; wash behind the neck and ears; cleanse the nose with water; wash the arms from the elbows down and the legs from the knees down. This practice cleanses the body, cools and relaxes it, and revitalises it into awareness for spiritual practices such as asanas and meditation. In 'half-bath' the use of soap is not required.
(2) Asanas should not be practised in an open place as this may result in a chill. The room in which one practises should have an open window so that fresh air can enter, but not to the point of having a draft.
(3) There should not be any smoke in the room, including incense. Fresh air is needed for the breathing processes associated with asanas.
(4) Men should wear a 'lungota' - special tight fitting underwear, and there should be no other clothing on the body. Women should wear firm underwear and a bra.
(5) Practise asanas on a clean blanket or a mat.
(6) Most asanas require that the left nostril, or both nostrils, be open for flow of breath. The left nostril is associated with the 'ida nadii', an energy flow without which most asanas should not be practised. Hence only the following asanas can be practised if the left nostril is blocked: Padmasana (lotus posture); Siddhasana (siddha posture); Ardhasiddhasana (half siddha posture); Bhojanasana (cross-legged sitting posture); Viirasana (hero posture); Diirgha Pranama (long-bowing posture); Yogasana (yoga posture); and Bhujaungasana (snake posture).
(7) Follow a yogic vegetarian diet. Those not practising the yogic diet may practise the asanas mentioned in point 6 above.
(8) Asanas should be practised on an empty stomach. They should not be practised for at least three hours after a meal.
(9) After practising asanas you should massage the skin (not the muscles) of the body over as much of the body as possible.
(10) After the massage is completed, remain in Shavasana (corpse posture) for at least two minutes.
(11) Oil should not be massaged into your body, although it may be rubbed lightly over the skin.
(12) After Shavasana (corpse posture) do not touch water for at least ten minutes.
(13) After practising asanas it is beneficial to walk in a solitary place for some time, preferably in the fresh air.
(14) Pranayama, a breathing technique used in advanced meditation, should not be practised immediately after asanas.
(15) Other exercises, running or sports should not be practised just after asanas.
(16) During menstruation, pregnancy and within one month of delivery, women should not practise asanas. However the asanas for meditation: Padmasana (lotus posture); Siddhasana (siddha posture); Bhojanasana (cross-legged sitting posture), may be done under all conditions.
These asanas and related practices are from the book Caryacarya - Part 3, by Shrii Shrii Anandamurti.
4. Yogic Ethics - Maintaining a Dynamic Balance
In the changing, dynamic movement of life, new situations and circumstances arise in which decisions must be made as to the most appropriate course of action. However, in making these decisions, a constant dilemma confronts us - what is appropriate for each individual under different circumstances. Issues are complicated as not only do different people in different cultures at different points in history have different ideas as to right and wrong but individuals in similar circumstances act on the basis of different sets of values. Yogic ethics, as we will see, help to overcome these dilemmas and provide a viable structure for mental harmony and the expansion of consciousness.
To make any decisions as to right and wrong requires the application of certain objectives or values. The values we apply may be egocentric or altruistic, they may be of our own making or adopted, but regardless of their source or apparent nature we cannot avoid their conscious and unconscious effect on the way we conduct our lives.
Indeed if we analyse our actions we realise how far personal and social values constantly influence them. We normally overlook the role our values play because they are assumed in our everyday lifestyle and culture. Values affect the way we relate to relatives, friends and neighbours; they determine the way we relate to our physical environment and they even influence what we eat and drink.
So omnipresent are values that those attempting to abandon them find themselves adopting new values to reject their old ones. The person who tries to escape the dilemma of right and wrong by refusing to take any action at all finds no solace, as non action too is a form of action and, consequently, morality. Even those who place their own pleasures and interests at the pinnacle of what they consider is right and good, while appearing to many as totally unprincipled, are still operating in a value system, albeit perverse. However, rationally we know that these diverse and often diametrically opposed value systems cannot all be valid, as even on a superficial evaluation of social relationships there are rights and wrongs which by nature are applicable to all people.
As a community we know that what affects one person affects the next and that people cannot live as islands unto themselves. In the last decades, in the West, a general awareness has grown as to the holistic nature of life and the universe - that all things, right down to the minutest atomic particle, interact with each other in an amazingly complex fashion. Physicists tell us that if a single atomic particle changes course the chain reaction created changes the possibilities of all other things. On a larger and more significant scale, at least to us as social beings, each human changes the potential fate of other humans and we are responsible to one another for our actions.
On a less apparent, personal level, the way we conduct our lives automatically affects our own growth. Negative and positive aspects exist in each of us and what we do determines which of these aspects will predominate and how we will evolve. For the spiritual aspirant, the direction he or she takes is, in a sense, even more crucial, as spiritual practice is based on mental harmony. Meditation, the key to spiritual practice, needs a strong base to be effective. Mental equilibrium is a precondition to meditation, for without mental equipoise the mind will be hopelessly disrupted and concentration and meditation will be an impossibility.
Because of a duty to themselves and others, human beings are thrust into the difficult position of having to use the intellect with which they were born, and to truly discriminate between right and wrong.
The inescapability of moral judgement makes the establishment of a benevolent and viable value system a must. But, despite its inescapability, morality is an increasingly unpopular concept. Although we know that the way we conduct our lives affects our welfare and that of others, we have become concerned with the validity of our judgements.
The subjective nature of morality makes us wonder if our principles are well formed and just. Right and wrong often seem arbitrary and relative to those making judgements. The argument being an act may be good for one person but bad for another, or good in one cultural setting but bad in another. Of concern also is the way personal psychic complexes influence our judgements and values. Judgements about ourselves and others can be distorted by personality.
Compounding the dangers of faulty subjectivity is the pseudo-morality found in most cultures and social groupings. Pseudo-morality comes in the form of absolute dictates of good and evil, which are indiscriminately rigid and tend to reflect the exploitative interests of a dominant class of people. Recognising moral choice as an imperative of human life, yoga strives to overcome these pitfalls by providing an approach to ethics which blends universal and relative principles together.
Maintaining a Balance
The significance of morality according to Tantra Yoga lies in the need to maintain a balance between inherently opposed and conflicting characteristics of the human mind. Tantra points to two fundamental aspects of the human mind. On the one hand there is our deep seated egocentricity - our identification with our physical and mental self, including the primitive or instinctual aspects of the mind. On the other hand there is the powerful sense of something cardinal on the more highly evolved and subtle aspects of the mind, which manifests as a thirst for spiritual contentment - a thirst which cannot be satisfied by the physical and mental spheres of enjoyment.
The juxtaposition of these two characteristics makes morality an imperative, firstly because human beings mistakenly try to satisfy their limitless spiritual longings by limited physical and intellectual means, and secondly because we feel out of harmony with our own nature when we do things that are opposed to the natural flow or evolution of our own mind or consciousness towards the sublime, towards cardinal values, such as love for all. Morality mediates between our potentially contrary mental tendencies, neither neglecting one aspect for the other but rather regulating conduct so as to guarantee mental and social harmony and, in turn, providing a conducive environment for personal and social evolution.
Negatively stated, morality is intended to prevent the cruder and egocentric aspects of the human mind dominating the subtler, more magnanimous aspects. Used properly, the instinctual mind supports existence and the evolution of consciousness. For example, the physical body requires instincts such as sleep and hunger to be satisfied. But if satiating the instincts becomes a focal point of activity then degeneration of the mind results. Constant association of the mind with instincts hinders the development of the mind's subtler realms.
Similarly the ego, from the earliest stages of development to the point of spiritual attraction, supports human evolution at higher levels of consciousness. Controlled properly, the ego motivates us to greater aspirations but if allowed to run riot, say in the pursuit of power over others, the ego accentuates feelings of separation which militate against spiritual growth. That spiritual growth being dependent on the development of cardinal human values.
Positively stated, morality is intended to provide a personal and social environment facilitating the maximum growth of each individual. Thus moral actions are those which support mental harmony and expansion, while immoral actions are those which cause tension, narrow mindedness and contraction. Socially, morality includes those actions which promote social harmony and cooperation, while immorality precipitates exploitation and distrust which destroys the social fabric and prevents human progress.
Unlike concepts of ethical relativism, which hold moral values to be purely arbitrary and culturally bound, according to Tantra morality in its true sense is based on the capacity to maintain mental equilibrium and to expand one's consciousness. These concepts are universally applicable but, at the same time, relative in their application.
The relative application becomes apparent when we consider that every person is at a different stage of development. What may be uplifting to one person may not be to another, what may be harmonious to one person may not be to someone else. Similarly, at one time in history, an action may be acceptable while, at another time, it may not. Relative application avoids ethical absolutism, which applies an absolute set of principles to all people and circumstances without exception. Such absolute rules precipitate hypocrisy, bigotry and inhumanity.
In applying ethical values it is incumbent on each person to remember that he or she is using the limited tool of intellectual analysis to do so. The intellectual process is restricted, firstly by the information that is available to it as no-one has perfect factual knowledge, and secondly, ego is inextricably bound up in the intellect so that the ego always relates things to its own experience and colours the judgements we make accordingly.
But despite the limitations of the intellect, human beings must use it. To abandon it leads to much greater disaster than the occasional mistaken decisions we may make. To make a truly unbiased and knowledgeable decision a person must develop what is known in yoga as 'viveka' or proper discrimination. This viveka is an attribute of a much higher state of mind than we are used to. A person who has this viveka is above intellectuality regarding what is moral and immoral. Such a person intuitively 'knows', based on benevolent understanding, the most relevant and benevolent course of action to be taken.
Thus far we have considered morality in a very abstract form. To provide a practical guide to conduct, yoga defines ten principles which are called Yama and Niyama. These are described in such a way that they can be applied to everyday situations and can adjust to all relativities of time, place and person. They are not absolute principles, but do possess the sense of being cardinal principle, and so give a benchmark from which to guide actions and thoughts.
Yama, which literally means 'control', has five parts which relate to one's dealings with society and the objective world. Yama highlights obligations to others and also expresses the idea that each living entity is part of the same Infinite Consciousness and that all entities are part of the same family. To injure another is essentially to injure oneself.
Niyama, meaning self-regulation, also has five parts and relates to the maintenance of personal mental balance and harmony.
For the spiritual aspirant, Yama and Niyama are the foundations of meditation.
"Whenever considering doing good works, do not hesitate - do them immediately. Whenever contemplating doing bad works, linger and delay, so that the thought of performing them will wither away from the mind. "
- Shrii Shrii Anandamurti
Ahimsa means to guide one's conduct and thoughts carefully in the absence of any intention to cause harm to others.
Whilst Ahimsa is the effort to consciously avoid harming any life form, it is impossible to live without causing some harm. Simply to survive we must eat and to eat we must kill other organisms. Ahimsa acknowledges the needs of preserving life and defines duty as doing the least amount of harm possible.
For example, a person who understands animals to be more evolved life forms than plants, and therefore to have greater perceptions of pain and suffering, will consume vegetables, fruit and grains rather than flesh. Similarly that person will tend not to wear clothes made from animals' skins and furs.
Yet in saying this we must also recognise that the vegetarian diet and the avoidance of animal products and clothing are not possible in all circumstances (such as very cold climates). Ahimsa represents an ideal which requires application in different situations. An Eskimo, whose only source of food and clothing is animals, cannot be said to be violating the principle of Ahimsa by making provision for his or her essentials of life.
Tantra Yoga views all life in terms of its evolutionary position. The more evolved a species is, the greater is its mental development and therefore its capacity to evolve further. Evolution of mind and the corresponding expansion of consciousness are, according to Tantra, the essential purpose of existence. Thus Ahimsa opposes the slowing down or termination of any organism's life expression, where life can still be expressed. Wherever possible the taking of any form of animal life should be avoided, and plants should be treated with care. However, if life must be taken, for example for food, then the least evolved form of life should be preferred. The same evolutionary argument answers the rationalists' question as to why human life should be preserved at the expense of animal life or, for that matter, plant life.
Violation of Ahimsa may be seen as both passive and active. To actively contravene Ahimsa is to unjustifiably harm another organism; to passively contravene Ahimsa is to not prevent harm where it is possible to do so. If a person has the ability to defend an innocent victim from a violent attacker but fails to do so, either out of apathy or mistaken convictions of pacifism, then Ahimsa is violated. By not acting to prevent harm, one can also be morally responsible for that harm, as every individual has a responsibility for the welfare of every other individual. This duty extends to all human beings and to all life forms.
Ahimsa is clearly not to be confused with narrow and irrational concepts of absolute non-violence. Irrational concepts only bring the whole idea of morality into disrepute and suggest that principled conduct applies less in some cases than in others. In fact Ahimsa, as a dynamic principle, applies equally in all situations but requires different applications. The principle is not compromised by the circumstances but rather demands different expression in the circumstances. Simple dogmas about the use of force only serve to destroy peoples' sense of discrimination, which is in reality vitally necessary for the application of principled conduct and Ahimsa.
Human history shows that individuals and communities who are subjected to aggression and oppressive domination are humiliated, degraded, brutalised, tormented and deprived. Experience also shows that oppressors do not relinquish their domination easily or as a result of reasoned debate. To overcome aggression and exploitation, be it economic, political, military or criminal, people have had to resort to force in the name of their own human survival. Such a struggle cannot be condemned in the name of Ahimsa or any other realistic moral principle. However, whatever form a personal or collective struggle takes against aggression and exploitation, the means employed should be those that cause minimum harm to all concerned, including the aggressors. This is Ahimsa.
In any discussion of non-violence there is a tendency to overlook two major areas, namely institutionalised violence and mental violence. Institutionalised violence is that violence carried out by social institutions, for example some instances of harassment of prison warders against inmates or the violence of military regimes against minority groups. This also extends to the institutions of scientific research where violence is unnecessarily inflicted on animals. These situations also cannot be ignored or rationalised, rather in following Ahimsa it is important to be aware of this disguised violence.
Ahimsa, avoiding a narrow interpretation of 'violence' and harming, also extends its values to include the prevention of mental violence. Much of the violence committed in modern industrial society is of this type. Here also the aim should be to prevent the harmful application of any force, or the minimising of any such harm.
The principle of Ahimsa does require a sense of human discrimination, in the sense of determining action that will involve the least possible harm or use of force. In this discrimination lies a responsibility for principled conduct that cannot be delegated or avoided.
Satya means the benevolent use of words and action of mind.
Erroneous translations of this principle as 'speaking the absolute truth' or 'stating the facts' are inaccurate and fail to capture its true spirit. Satya directs one to think and speak honestly and straight-forwardly, but in a way tempered by consideration of the welfare of others.
Situations arise in which it is far better to tell a 'white lie' because factual information may cause harm. For example, a woman seeks refuge in your house as she claims to be escaping a molester. A few minutes later a wild looking man appears with a knife in his hand and asks if you have seen the woman. In this situation, unthinkingly stating the facts could result in harm to the woman. Apart from any other action that might be taken, the far better approach is to mislead the man that is apparently pursuing her.
Or suppose your mother is standing on a ladder washing the windows when a message arrives informing her of the death of her father. If she asks you what the message contains, what reply would you give? In her position and whilst she is under physical strain, stating the fact could result in harm due to the shock, and she may fall. It is better to avoid the issue for a while, so as to be able to break the news in a gradual way when she is more relaxed.
To deliberately distort the truth for selfish reasons, however, is contrary to the principle of Satya. Thus, where there is no conflict between Ahimsa and stating the fact - that is, where stating the fact will not result in a violation of Ahimsa - then strict honesty should always be practised. No harm will come from that and the words and actions will be benevolent.
Asteya means not to take property that rightfully belongs to others.
This principle of non-stealing includes actions which deprive others of their dues. Not paying one's fare for the bus, or the underpaying of employees by an employer, both amount to stealing. The principle further extends to mentally planning theft, even if the theft is not actually committed. Where fear of discovery and punishment may have prevented a person stealing, the mind is affected as if the theft had actually been performed.
Asteya is based on respect for the equal rights of others. Greed, the motivation behind most stealing, denies this respect and develops selfishness, which is an obstruction to spiritual progress.
To remain attached to Brahma, the Cosmic Consciousness, is Brahmacarya.
Shrii Shrii Anandamurti states:
"The meaning of practising Brahmacarya Sadhana is to treat the objects with which you come into contact, as different expressions of Brahma and not as the crude forms. By means of such conception, even though the mind wanders from one object to another, it does not get detached from Brahma because of the Cosmic feeling taken for each and every object. "
The degree to which people appreciate life depends on their level of awareness. The less generally aware people are, the narrower are their perspectives on life and their understanding of things around them.
Narrow-mindedness leads to an intolerance of new ideas, inability to communicate freely with others and self-centredness. In advanced forms, these turn to anti-social behaviour.
Qualitative appreciation of life increases as one's awareness expands. Cultivating the fine arts or probing into the various sciences may add new dimensions to life, opening horizons which one never knew existed. Expanding awareness increases one's appreciation of things on all levels. Finally spiritual awareness is attained as one realises that every living form and even non-living forms are composed of a singular causal energy and are permeated by a singular, Cosmic Consciousness. Maintaining this deep feeling of spiritual awareness even whilst actively engaged in external actions is the essence of Brahmacarya.
Spiritual awareness affects the totality of a person's attitudes and motivation by forming a Cosmic relationship between the individual and the universe. When a person adheres to Brahmacarya, the other aspects of Yama sadhana (effort) become natural, spontaneous modes of behaviour, but until then we must help ourselves to become established in it.
Brahmacarya has at times been misinterpreted as meaning to practise celibacy or even as the preservation of semen. Such misinterpretations are usually promoted by a religious elite which seeks religious superiority by putting spiritual attainment outside the scope of family persons. Whilst it is true that one has to exercise a balanced control in all walks of life including conjugal relationships, spiritual awareness is equally attainable by family persons and celibates alike.
Aparigraha is both an ecological and a psychological principle. It means to not indulge in comforts and amenities which are superfluous to the maintenance of a reasonable standard of life.
According to the wealth, resources and progressive nature of a society, that which is considered a minimum standard of living will vary. Seventy years ago in Australia a bicycle may have been a common necessity, whereas today an automobile is accepted as a minimum. In India, however, where even basic necessities such as food and shelter are in shortage, the bicycle is still a basic common necessity.
Variations in the needs of individuals must also be taken into consideration. For example where a bicycle is reasonable for the greater proportion of people, an automobile may be a necessity for a doctor.
The collective responsibility of society is to ensure that: firstly, every individual has the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care; and secondly, everyone has access to increasing amenities such as cultural, sporting and recreational facilities, transport and communication facilities, and other utilities. In the fulfilment of this second commitment, society must take its future generations into account, especially in areas such as energy, mineral and natural resources, as well as in respect of soil, forests, air and water conservation.
The successful application of Aparigraha depends upon action by both the collective and the individuals of society. Cosmic ownership, the concept on which Aparigraha is based, is the best benchmark here. The earth is our common home; no-one owns it in any absolute sense but all have the right to share in the utilisation of its wealth. We all have rights to appropriate use.
From the point of view of mental equilibrium and spiritual progress, Aparigraha is a basic outlook. If we cling to objects that we don't really need, we develop materialistic values and set our priorities accordingly. It becomes harder to free our minds from thinking about the external world during meditation, and spiritual progress is retarded. A proper balance must be maintained. For example, being deprived of food leads to physical and mental weakness and creates strong physical and mental craving. Eating excessively leads to indigestion and disease, as well as to mental dullness and attachment to taste.
Eating properly, however, furnishes both body and mind with strength and health, and the satisfied mind can then be employed in higher pursuits such as meditation.
The essence of Aparigraha is simply to meet one's needs yet avoid excesses.
Shaoca means to maintain purity and cleanliness of mind, body and environment.
Besides the obvious health reasons for maintaining proper physical cleanliness, personal hygiene has a subtle effect on the mind. When wearing soiled clothing, living in a dirty house or walking along a littered street full of exhaust fumes, we feel ill at ease and mentally dull or agitated. A shower, change of clothes, a clean house and a walk along the beach or in a park can change all this and promote a feeling of purity and clarity of mind.
From this explanation it is clear that Shaoca is primarily a principle concerning one's mental outlook, and therefore the other side to Shaoca is directly maintaining mental purity. Impure thoughts and negative mental tendencies militate against elevating spiritual sentiments and taint the mind with impressions which adversely influence one's behaviour.
Shrii Shrii Anandamurti states:
"The intelligent would not, therefore, allow their mental purity to get stained even for a moment. One must always be cautious against the tempest of passion. You must not yield to such storms. One more difference between external and internal cleanliness is that for removing external dirt one also has to come in contact with such dirt for some time ... but in the mental sphere the cleansing process does not require your coming in contact with any crude abject."
This begs a practical question that, if a negative tendency or desire does arise, what should one do? Going along with a detrimental desire in the hope of gradually working through it or exhausting it seldom succeeds. More often it becomes an addition, weakening will-power and making it extremely difficult to control the tendency in the future.
Suppression, the opposite extreme, never succeeds as the unexpressed desire builds to the point where one is driven to express it either by violently rebelling against self-imposed restraints, or by expressing it in a secretive way - a common cause of psychological complexes and unbalanced behaviour.
The yogic approach to control consists of tackling the problem at all levels. It removes the causes, redirects tendencies in a positive way and establishes the mind in a higher, more content and stable state. Tantra Yoga has a multi-lateral approach to overcoming mental complexes. Briefly, yoga's approach recognises that the roots of mental problems are found on all levels of human existence: physical, mental and spiritual, and only when all three levels are tended to can lasting mental health be attained.
Santosa means to maintain a state of mental ease.
Mental ease or contentment is not possible as long as the mind is allowed to move unrestrained towards material objects. Lack of control over the objectward propensities of the mind keeps it in a state of instability and restlessness. The superficial layers of the mind are continually rippled by desires, the efforts to gratify them, and the pain or discomfort of the absence or ending of such enjoyment. Constant extroversal activity of the mind obscures the tranquillity of the deeper inner peace that lies within the innermost Self. This has often been illustrated by comparing the Self to the reflection of the moon on the sea. Only if the sea is perfectly calm can the beauty of the moon be seen and appreciated.
While it is our nature to seek happiness, it is necessary to understand what happiness is, otherwise our efforts to find it may result in unhappiness instead. Happiness is usually viewed in terms of enjoying a desirable object or experience and so to have more happiness, people try to possess more or experience more. However, deeper observation shows that real happiness is a state of mental peace. This peace is natural to the mind, so whenever it is disturbed by desires or tensions, it wants to be relieved of them in order to return to a state of peace. Therefore equilibrium must be maintained in all aspects of life to achieve mental peace and happiness. A lack of basic necessities activates instinctual action, disturbing mental peace, while searching for lasting happiness by creating and fulfilling desires for finite objects is to remain in a state of constant agitation.
So, according to Santosa, we should meet our needs but not engage in the pursuit of superfluous objects. For example, this means not allowing ourselves to be exploited by pressures of advertising or cultural expectations such every next fashion trend. Learning to keep the mind in a state of peace or happiness, regardless of the external conditions, is the sadhana of Santosa. Meditation is obviously benefitted by Santosa, and vice-versa.
Tapah means to alleviate the suffering of others by personal sacrifice.
If our entire energy is spent in our own personal pursuits, the mind becomes egocentric. A Hassidic saint nicely summarised the situation: "One who would go to heaven alone will never get there."
It is said a true measure of spiritual progress is how much one loves all living beings and creation. A person who feels, or strives to feel, the oneness of all existence, must be motivated to help those who are suffering. Genuine interest in the welfare of others and taking upon oneself the burden of alleviating their suffering is the quickest and most efficacious means of mental expansion. Accordingly, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti has said:
"One who looks upon the served only as an expression of the Cosmos, and looks after their comforts selflessly, develops a devotion or love for the Supreme Bliss in a short time."
In the practice of Tapah one must adopt an appropriate form of service in accordance with the type of suffering. Primary consideration should be given to the weaker, poorer, less educated, less capable and downtrodden. For example, giving gifts to those not in need, such as to one's employer, may be a gesture of friendliness, but it doesn't fulfil the purpose of Tapah.
Svadhyaya means the clear understanding of any spiritual subject.
It is necessary to study spiritual philosophy as part of spiritual practices in order to keep intellectual awareness in step with the growth of intuition achieved through meditation. The object is to penetrate the meaning of a subject whether a discourse, book or ancient scripture. Open mindedness is a prerequisite to any learning process, but this should be coupled together with the power of logical reasoning so as to avoid the traps of dogmatism. One should not blindly accept the words of others, however illumined they may seem, without personally penetrating deep into their meaning.
"Even if a child says something logical, it should be accepted; and even if the lotus-born Brahma (the mythological creator of the Universe) says something illogical it should be rejected like a straw."
- Shrii Shrii Anandamurti
5. Iishvara Pranidhana
Iishvara means the controller of the Universe. Pranidhana means to understand clearly, or to adopt something as a shelter. Iishvara Pranidhana thus means the acceptance of Cosmic Consciousness as the ideal or goal of life.
This last and most important principle is entirely internal, entirely a mental effort. The mind is detached from its worldly preoccupations while meditating on Iishvara, the Cosmic Consciousness. In this regard, the process of meditation must be adequately undertaken.
"The indomitable mental force aroused as a result of collective Iishvara Pranidhana will help you in solving any problem, small or big, on this earth."
- Shrii Shrii Anandamurti
Before leaving this principle we should stress the advantages of collective meditation. In collective meditation the mental subtleties of those involved combine, causing a type of synergy where the total experience available to each meditator is greater than if meditating alone. Thus every opportunity to meditate collectively should be eagerly pursued.
Yama and Niyama compliment other spiritual practices, facilitating greater and more rapid progress. This accelerating progress culminates in the absorption of the mind in the limitless, eternal ecstasy of blissful Consciousness.