Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Djed Column every day: Yoga

The past several posts have examined the concept of "raising the Djed" (cultivating and evoking and amplifying the spiritual, invisible, divine spark in ourselves and in the universe we travel through), the possibility that we can in some way incorporate this concept into daily life, and some of the multitude of practices for doing so which cultures from around the world have preserved from ancient times.

Part of the reason for this short survey is to bring the discussion of what may seem at times to be a very esoteric and philosophical topic "down to earth" and suggest that it is actually an intensely practical topic and one which may be tremendously beneficial to our seemingly mundane day-to-day existence.

Another reason to look at some different methods from different cultures is to show that no one method should be considered a "monopoly" -- that there probably dozens or perhaps hundreds of different ways that human beings can choose to pursue in this important area of life, and that although they do share some important similarities they are different enough that they can appeal to different people of different backgrounds or needs.

A third reason might be to familiarize readers with some techniques which may be less well known, such as previous "Djed-raising" disciplines explored in the previous posts on qigong and on Tantra and fong zhong shu. If just one reader who has not previously heard of a certain practice decides to examine it further and it becomes a beneficial part of his or her life for years to come, that would seem to justify the entire "mini-series" right there.

The next daily discipline probably cannot be classified as one that any reader has not yet heard about, because it is a tradition that is so strong and so rich in teachers and followers and the level of ancient wisdom which continues to be passed along in its broad and powerful stream, but it is very clearly related to the concept that the ancient Egyptians symbolized by the raising of the Djed, and by the symbol of life carried by almost all of the gods and goddesses, the Ankh -- which may in fact be linguistically related to the name by which this discipline has been known for millennia.

We're talking, of course, about Yoga -- a subject that could withstand a lifetime of deep consideration without ever exhausting its possibilities.

Previous posts which have touched upon the importance of the ancient wisdom and practical application that is preserved in Yogic tradition include:
While most of us upon hearing the word "Yoga" immediately think of the asanas ("postures") which are undoubtedly the most well-known aspect of Yogic practice, Yoga in fact is a very comprehensive discipline of transformation incorporating meditation, concentration, study of ancient texts and tradition,  true conduct in daily life, nonviolence, freedom from anger, and other practices designed to reawaken and elevate the spiritual, and ultimately to lead to deep contact with the divine and the ultimate. Asanas are an important aspect of Yoga but only one of its many "limbs."

In Light on Yoga, first published in 1966, B.K.S. Iyengar explains:
The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning to bind, join, attach and yoke, to direct and concentrate one's attention on, to use and apply. It also means union or communion. [. . .]
In Indian thought, everything is permeated by the Supreme Universal Spirit (Paramatma or God) of which the individual human spirit (jivatma) is a part. The system of yoga is so called because it teaches the means by which the the jivatma can be united to, or be in communion with the Paramatma, and so secure liberation (moksa). 19 
The letter "s" in the final word, moksa, has a diacritical "dot" underneath it, indicating that the "s" is pronounced more like a "sh," and you will sometimes see the same word spelled moksha.

The video above, entitled Yoga Ruins Your Life, by Richard Freeman of Yoga Workshop in Boulder, Colorado, may make you want to take up Yoga, even if you have never wanted to try it out before (that is, if the above passage from Light on Yoga has not already led you to stop reading and start a search for a Yoga shala in your area).

During the video, we hear the perspective offered by someone who has pursued the path of Yoga for many years and who has dedicated a great deal of energy to passing it on to others and helping others on their own Yoga journeys:
So I've often said that Yoga ruins your life, and by that I mean it ruins your Samsaric life, because once you get a taste of Yoga, you kind of "lose interest" in all the things that are kind of dim reflections of that taste. [. . .] Yoga can also ruin your career, because you feel so nice when you do it that you're less aggressive, and you tend to like people more. And when you practice Yoga, you no longer take political extremes in your mind, and so . . . what are you going to fight about? Or, religious extremes either, because, you get to the -- kind of the root experience that all these different religions are looking for, but in a very generic and very natural, human way, so you don't have to clasp onto the fantastic or the otherworldly. 
There are several important concepts in that short video worthy of careful consideration and further examination -- far more than can be pursued here in one sitting. We will explore just a few here.

One concept which is expressed in the opening sentence (and in the provocative title of the video) is the idea that Yoga "ruins" your Samsaric life, the life of attachment to the physical and the temporary into which we are "cast down" upon our incarnation, what the video's description section calls our "auto-pilot" life. It is a vehicle for transforming and transcending the illusions of the material world -- but doing so in part through the vehicle of our incarnation in this material world.

This idea of being on "auto-pilot" for a certain part of our life in this world, and then beginning to wake up more and more to a higher reality is expressed in the extended passage of a lecture by Alvin Boyd Kuhn quoted previously in "Easter: the Birth-Day of the Gods," in which he traces the cycle of the soul which is "cast down" at the fall equinox (representative of being incarnated in the body) and continues to plunge downward even after that until it finally reaches a turning point at the winter solstice, the very point that creates the "vertical line" of the annual cross of the zodiac which represents the "raising back up" of the Djed column, and the point at which the inner divine is esoterically described as being "born in a manger." Kuhn says of the incarnate soul:
It is born then as the soul of a human; but at first and for a long period it lies like a seed in the ground before germination, inert, unawakened, dormant, in the relative sense of the word, "dead." This is the young god lying in the manger, asleep in his cradle of the body, or as in the Jonah-fish allegory and the story of Jesus in the boat in the storm on the lake, asleep in the "hold" of the "ship" of life, with the tempest of the body's elemental passions raging all about him. He must be awakened, arise, exert himself and use his divine powers to still the storm, for the elements in the end will obey his mighty will.
This "sleeping semblance of life," which Kuhn also says is life "unawakened" and "inert," "dormant," and "dead," is the condition that the video above promises that Yoga can "ruin."

In case you're new to this theory, Kuhn is arguing that the story of Jesus asleep in the boat on Lake Galilee in the storm, or Jonah asleep in the hold of the ship of Joppa bound for Tarshish, are both allegorical or esoteric stories intended to describe a condition which each and every one of us experiences -- the condition of our own soul upon being "cast down" into this life, wedded to a human body like Prometheus nailed to a rock (to use yet another picture from a different set of allegorical myths), and temporarily "unawakened," "inert," "dormant," and "in the relative sense of the word, 'dead'." From this condition, Yoga promises a path that leads to liberation, or moksa -- but in doing so, it "ruins your life" of comfortable dozing in the hold of the ship.

Those stories, Kuhn tells us, are not literal and historical accounts -- and they were never intended to be taken that way (they are, he says elsewhere, "a thousand times more precious" as myths than as supposed histories). They are pointing to a profound truth that is in many ways even more mysterious than any fantastic or otherworldly story -- a truth that you can experience for yourself and a truth that "all these different religions are looking for," in the words of the Yoga video above.

In the words of someone who has walked the path of Yoga for decades, in pursuing that path you get to actually "get to the root experience" that these sacred myths are pointing to. In doing so, you lose the need to "clasp" onto someone else's story about it, because you experience it for yourself -- you know it. This is the concept that was anciently contained in the word gnosis -- first-hand experience of the ultimate, rather than second-hand faith in it.

The same idea was expressed by Gerald Massey (1828 - 1907) in a passage cited previously here and here, when he says:
What do you think is the use of telling the adept [. . .] that he must live by faith, or be saved by belief? He will reply that he lives by knowledge, and walks by open sight; and that another life is thus demonstrated to him in this. As for death, the practical Gnostic will tell you, he sees through it, and death itself is no more for him! Such have no doubt, because they know.
And yet, to make one more observation on the wonderful avenues of discussion that this subject opens up, those stories are not to be disdained on account of their being "fantastic" or "otherworldly" or simply "allegory" -- those powerful metaphors can help us to grasp the meaning of these spiritual concepts which deal with things that by their nature are invisible and which in fact are even beyond the ability of the mind to reason out using ordinary logic.

In fact, in attempting to convey the meaning of Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar himself alludes to the "fantastic" or "otherworldly" story contained in the Bhagavad Gita, which is a portion of the ancient Hindu Mahabharata, in which Krishna expounds upon the meaning of Yoga to the disciple, Arjuna, and calls it a knowledge that the yogi (one who follows the path of Yoga) will experience that is "beyond the pale of the senses which his reason cannot grasp" (Bhagavad Gita 6.21, cited in Light on Yoga 19).

Interestingly enough, in a different part of the same Bhagavad Gita (a passage not, to my knowledge, cited by B.K.S. Iyengar, at least not in the book quoted above), Krishna tells Arjuna:
O Arjuna, now I shall describe different paths departing by which, during death, the yogis do or do not come back. Fire, light, daytime, the bright lunar fortnight, and the six months of the northern solstice of the sun; departing by the path of these gods the yogis, who know Brahman, attain nirvana. Smoke, night, the dark lunar fortnight, and the six months of southern solstice of the sun; departing by these paths, the righteous person attains lunar light and reincarnates. The path of light and the path of darkness are thought to be the world's two eternal paths. The former leads to nirvana and the latter leads to rebirth. Knowing these two paths, O Arjuna, a yogi is not bewildered at all. Therefore, O Arjuna, be steadfast in yoga at all times. Bhagavad Gita chapter 8, verses 23 - 27 (translation online here).
This is very noteworthy. Krishna has just revealed to us that the annual wheel, with its "upper half" consisting of the six months containing the summer solstice ("the northern solstice of the sun") and its "lower half" consisting of the six months containing the winter solstice ("the southern solstice of the sun," both of these expressions being geared towards an observer in the northern hemisphere) are esoteric allegories for two different paths through this life, one of which will lead to reincarnation (the cycle of Samsara) and one to liberation and nirvana.

This is the exact same cycle that we have seen formed the allegory of the "casting down" of the Djed column (into the lower half of the year) and the "raising up again" of the same (on the way back to the upper half of the year, and the summer solstice):

Clearly, Yoga is a discipline designed to "raise the Djed column" (to use the terminology of ancient Egypt) and ultimately to transcend the cycle of being "cast down" into the lower half of the wheel.

Elsewhere in Light on Yoga, and in reference to concepts described in other sacred ancient texts, we see hints that this "transcending of the lower half" involves transcending the "shifting forms" or the "endless changes" that characterize the material half of our dual universe and a reconnection with the realm of pure potential. B.K.S. Iyengar says that the Kathopanishad tells us:
When the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not -- then, say the wise, is reached the highest stage. This steady control of the senses and mind has been defined as Yoga. He who attains it is free from delusion. 20.
Patanjali, Sri Iyengar notes, calls this condition chitta vrtti nirodhah, which means "the restraint (nirodhah) of mental (chitta) modifications (vrtti)," or the "suppression (nirodhah) of the fluctuations (vrtti) of consciousness (chitta)" (20).

And in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna describes this concept to Arjuna thusly:
When his mind, intellect and self (ahamkara) are under control, freed from restless desire, so that they rest in the spirit within, a man becomes a Yukta -- one in communion with God. A lamp does not flicker in a place where no winds blow; so it is with a yogi, who controls his mind, intellect and self, being absorbed in the spirit within him. When the restlessness of the mind, intellect and self is stilled through the practice of Yoga, the yogi by the grace of the Spirit within himself finds fulfillment. Light on Yoga 19, citing Bhagavad Gita, chapter 6 and verses 18 - 20.
This concept appears to be very closely aligned and perhaps even essentially identical to the practice that Peter Kingsley discusses in his 1999 text In the Dark Places of Wisdom, and which Dr. Kingsley believes was being practiced and passed down through a "master to disciple" method of transmission in certain groups of mystic philosophers prior to Socrates and Plato, and including Parmenides (or Parmeneides). It is interesting that Yoga as well is traditionally passed down through just such a master-to-disciple relationship (the Guru, whose name literally means "light out of darkness," and the sisya, or disciple).

Fortunately, unlike so many other ancient traditions for the transmission of such profound transcendental gnosis, Yoga has survived into the present day, and can be followed as a means of daily transformation and "raising of the Djed."

Note, however, that B.K.S. Iyengar tells us that:
All the important texts on Yoga lay great emphasis on sadhana or abhyasa (constant practice). Sadhana is not just a theoretical study of Yoga texts. It is a spiritual endeavour. Oil seeds must be pressed to yield oil. Wood must be heated to ignite it and bring out the hidden fire within. In the same way, the sadhaka must by constant practice light the divine flame within himself. 30.
But, he also quotes the following encouraging passage, from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chapter 1 and verses 64 - 66:
The young, the old, the extremely aged, even the sick and infirm obtain perfection in Yoga by constant practice. Success will follow him who practices, not him who practices not. Success in Yoga is not obtained by the mere theoretical reading of sacred texts. Success is not obtained by wearing the dress of a yogi or a sanyasi (a recluse), nor by talking about it. Constant practice alone is the secret of success. Verily, there is no doubt of this.  -- Cited in Light on Yoga, 30.
So, that is encouraging, and argues that it is probably never to late to consider this ancient path.

Just beware that it may "ruin your life"!

Below we see Arjuna, in a typical "raising the Djed" posture (compare to the upraised arms on the Ankh in the image in this previous post -- an Ankh which surmounts a "vertical Djed column"):

image: Wikimedia commons (link).