Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yoga View of the Self


The Sacred Heritage of Humanity

For those places on the planet that are considered to be of outstanding value to humanity, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO declares them as World Hertiage Sites and seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of them. Places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America make up our world’s heritage. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.

Similarly I feel that the collective spiritual knowledge of humanity, from many ancient and wise civilizations, that which descended and was realized at various turn of millenniums in the past must also be considered and honored as Sacred Heritage of Humanity. By the vehicle of science and technology we are increasingly finding ourselves as approaching towards a new unity of knowledge, bonding, sharing and knowing each other, which is a manifestation of "Thy Will be done" of God's diverse creation with the purpose "that various nations shall know each other."

Just like World Heritage Sites, all the spiritual path of humanity must be considered as heritage of common mankind. We no longer live in the age of sectarianism, communalism or nationalism but have become citizen of global village and this must not be limited only to trade and commerce or tourism but that which is far more deeply human, our spiritual traditions. The sacred teachings of Lao Tsu, Gautama Buddha, Krishna, Chaitannya, that of Moses, the countless Hebrew sages, Jesus, Muhammad and his holy companions, Shams Tabrizi, Rumi, Hafiz, Tagore, Kabir, St. John of the Cross, Saint Theresa of Avilla, Guru Nanak and so many other great souls and the inspirations that descended upon the countless illuminated hearts  - they can no longer be viewed as belonging to only this group of people or that sect but truly they are now universal message to a common humanity. The spiritual realization of all these great souls are potentially the spiritual realization of every member of humanity, as it were in the past, so it is of today and so will it be in the future.

The science of Yoga, the Yogic path of union and its knowledge of realization is one of such profoundly significant common sacred heritage of humanity which came into fruition in India, the Motherland of spirituality, over a period of many hundreds and thousands of years through the realization of innumerable sages, saints and God-realized gnostics of ancient Indus valleys.

The seed of knowledge that this particular path carries should reach every corner of the earth and transmitted and received from its authentic teachers by those who's heart is attracted to it. The basic of this sacred knowledge should be part of reading in class rooms. The highest knowledge of yoga concerning the identity of the self and the pathway of realization of the essence of the self still remains one of the most distilled and pure form of sacred knowledge. The knowledge encapsulated in yogic path, if could be shared across the world, regardless whether its east or west, regardless whether the knower is hindu or non-hindu, regardless whether its a Western man or Asian or Australasian - it will surely expand the mind and heart of individual in their appreciation of spiritual truth.

Its unfortunate that these days the postures of yoga often mistakenly thought of everything that yoga offers. The various posture and physical aspect of yoga is only a sub-domain of this knowledge. Yoga is not just postures, but is the very pathway through which the knowledge of union and unity of individual self, the identity of the individual self with the Cosmic and Supreme Self is transmitted. It is the (equivalent) haqiqa (inner reality) component of ancient Indian spirituality.

As various Eastern spirituality came to be know in the west, there have been many western teachers, many of whom remains to be hidden who have received this knowledge from authentic line of Yogic Masters. Like it is said in Sufi Path, “Those who know, does not show; those who show, does not know” – there are many true masters who practice this authentic body of knowledge and work sincerely with those who come to them and some of them now reside in the west.

One of such teacher is Chris Butler (born in 1948) whose initiatory Yogic name is Siddhaswarupananda. Guru Siddhaswarupananda is highly respected yoga guru (teacher) coming in a long line of authentic spiritual masters in the ancient Vedic tradition known as Vaishnavism. He is the founder of the Science of Identity Foundation and has expertly taught students all over the world in the science of yoga. As a long-time proponent of nonsectarianism, Siddhaswarupananda has worked in union with other Vaishnava acharyas (teachers/gurus), including Puri Maharaj, Paramadvaiti Maharaj, Tripurari Maharaj, Tirtha Maharaj, etc., to establish the World Vaishnava Association, an umbrella organization composed of more than 30 different Vaishnava missions around the world.

Vaishnavas recognize that despite the various ways and methods that different acharyas teach, the apex of perfect yoga, and the ultimate goal of the human form of life, is the achievement of pure spiritual love (bhakti). Yoga can be simply compared to a ladder. The lowest rung is yoga asanas and the highest rung - the culmination and definition of yoga - is perfect spiritual love.

The following teachings are collected from Guru Siddhaswarupananda's talks:

All Art Works in this post are by contemporary visionary Artist Alex Grey

The Yoga View of Self

The yoga view of the self is about you - your essence. But what is your essence? Is it matter - a mere collection of material atoms and molecules? Or is it something else?

“Who am I?” Maybe you’ve never even asked yourself this question. You might think you already know who you are. Unfortunately, however, it’s likely that you don’t know who you are at all. And if you don’t know your real identity, you’re in trouble. You’ll spend your life in a kind of dream state - you’ll falsely identify yourself as something or someone you aren’t. Then, on the basis of this false identification you’ll determine the goals of your life and the purpose of your existence. You use these goals to gauge whether you are making “progress” in life, whether you are a “success”. And you are aided and abetted in this delusion by a complex network of relationships with other dreamers. Of course, at death (and sometimes before), the whole thing turns into a nightmare.

So knowing who you are is a very practical necessity. The question “Who am I?” is not a philosophical football meant to be kicked around coffeehouses by pseudo-intellectuals. It’s a real life question. Nothing is more important and more relevant than to know who you are.

Are you your body?

You are your body, right? You are chemical in essence ... right? At least, that’s what one of America’s most influential scientists claims:

“I am a collection of water, calcium and organic molecules called Carl Sagan. You are a collection of almost identical molecules with a different collective label.” (Carl Sagan, Cosmos [New York: Random House, 1980], p. 127.)

Like Sagan, most people believe that they are their body. So if you ask them who they are, they think and respond in terms of bodily labels.

“I’m Susan. I’m blond, 29 years old, a mother.”
“I’m Henry. I’m a white American male and proud of it!”
“I’m John. I’m a lawyer. I’m 40 years old and getting older every day.”
“I’m Alice. I’m a female student. I’m fat and I’m a Methodist.”

Name, race, age, sex, religion, nationality, occupation, height, weight, and so on - all these are bodily labels. Therefore, if you consider your body to be yourself, you automatically identify yourself with such labels. If your body is fat and ugly, you think, “Woe is me! I am fat and ugly.” If your body is 60 years old and female, you think, “I am a 60-year-old female.” If your body is black and beautiful, you think, “I am black and beautiful.”

But is the body really the self? Are you really your body?

The Body Is Yours - But It Is Not You

The body is yours - but it is not you. The body is a garment that you are wearing, a machine that you are using, a vehicle that you are driving. The body is your possession.

Just as a person does not identify himself as being the shirt he is wearing, he also should not identify himself with the body that he is wearing.

A famous football player in the United States who recently retired was discussing the particular event that made him decide to quit playing. He had been running with the football toward the goal, with two tacklers chasing him. As his legs started giving out, he thought, “Come on, you old legs - don’t give out on me now!” This is like a race car driver who talks to his car: “Keep on going, Betsy - don’t let me down now!” In other words, you use your body as a type of vehicle; but like all vehicles, it is bound to break down sooner or later.

And just as any other garment, tool, machine, or vehicle is subject to wear and tear, sometimes malfunctioning and sometimes breaking down completely, so your body undergoes such changes during its existence. Yet despite the loss, dysfunction, or transformation of different body parts, you, the self, remain a constant factor throughout. You, the self, use the body. The body is not you - rather, it is yours.

Scientific Evidence That You Are Not the Body

Let me ask you a few simple questions: Do you exist at this moment? Did you exist five years ago? Are you your body? Most people would answer “yes” to all three questions. But if you identify your body as yourself, and simultaneously accept that you exist now and also existed five years ago, then you have a problem: The body you had five years ago does not exist today. There is a dynamic turnover of atoms and molecules that make up your body. There isn’t a single particle of matter - not one atom - present in your body today that was present five years ago. The body you have today is not the same body you had five years ago. It’s not that the body you had still exists but has now changed somewhat. No. The body you had is gone. That collection of atoms appearing as flesh, bone, blood, hair, and so on no longer exists. Yet you still exist.

Studies at the Oak Ridge Atomic Research Center have revealed that about 98 percent of all the atoms in a human body are replaced every year. You get a new suit of skin every month and a new liver every six weeks. The lining of your stomach lasts only five days before it’s replaced. Even your bones are not the solid, stable, concrete-like things you might have thought them to be: They are undergoing constant change. The bones you have today are different from the bones you had a year ago. Experts in this area of research have concluded that there is a complete, 100 percent turnover of atoms in the body at least every five years. In other words, not one single atom present in your body today was there five years ago.

If you were the molecules and atoms of which your body used to be composed, you would now be a personality divided into the many new bodies that those atoms and molecules have become part of. And, of course, the molecules and atoms that make up your present body are not “new”; they too are used. Your body is made of recycled material. The matter you now call “yourself” was once part of many different collections of atoms and molecules that went by different names. This way of looking at the situation reveals the absurdity of Sagan’s conclusion. If the body is the self - if you are a collection of molecules and atoms - then when those particles disperse, that’s the end of that particular “collection.” That collection of atoms and molecules that went by a particular, distinct, collective label (your name) no longer exists. If you are the body, then when the body is gone, you should also be gone. But this doesn’t happen.

So when you look at a picture of “yourself” taken only seven years ago, you are looking at a body that no longer exists. Every single molecule that was present in the body shown in the photography is now gone. Yet you still exist. You are not gone. Now, since the body you had seven years ago no longer exists, yet you still exist, you must logically conclude that (1) you were not the body you had on seven years ago, and (2) you are not the body you have on today.

The material body has sometimes been compared to clothing worn by the self. At one point you had a baby body; then you took off the baby body and put on a child body; later on, you wore an adolescent body; and after that, you put on a young adult body. In all cases it was you, the same self, who was wearing those different bodies.

You, the self, are the constant, unchanging principle in the sea of physical, material changes. You know that you existed seven years ago; you were there. You also know you exist right now. The same you, or self, who existed then also exists now. And this same self will exist when the present body is gone.

Full but still empty

If you identify your body as yourself, you will try to satisfy yourself by trying to satisfy your body. You’ll think, “I am the body and I want to be happy, I want to be satisfied.” Thus, you’ll try to satisfy the belly, the tongue, the genitals, the ears, the eyes, the nose, and so on, believing that this will bring you the inner satisfaction and happiness you crave.

But sense gratification does not satisfy. This is further evidence that you are not the body. No matter how much sense pleasure you have, you are still never satisfied within.

Techniques to Help You Realize that You are Not the Body

Yogis have a meditation technique that helps them to realize that they are not the body. They say to themselves, “I am aware that I am doing such-and-such.” By doing this they experience a type of detachment from their body and its activities. While a yogi is eating, for example, he’ll say to himself, “I am aware that I am eating … I am aware that I am tasting something sweet.” He doesn’t dive into the taste - rather, he is a little apart from it. Through this technique, he gradually becomes detached from all the body’s activities, sensations, feelings, and so on. He is aware that things are happening, but he’s untouched by them. He’s free from the movement of the waves of sensations, thoughts, and so on that pass over him. He’s the calm center of the storm that rages all around him.

Such a yogi and a hedonist are exact opposites in consciousness. The yogi stands apart from the body and the hedonist dives into it - trying to savor every pleasant sensual tingle. And by diving into the sensual gratification, he is diving into the material senses - that is, he is becoming more deeply immersed in false bodily identification.

Are You the Brain?

Many people believe that a person is the brain or some part of the brain. You may be one of them. Paul Weiss writes this about the rapid change of the molecular particles that make up the brain cells.

“Recent studies on the turnover of the molecular population within a given nerve [brain] cell have indicated that ... their macromolecular contingent is renewed about ten thousand times in a lifetime.” [In other words, the matter making up each brain cell is completely renewed every three days.] ~ Paul Weiss, “The Living System: Determinism Stratified,” in Arthur Koestler and J.R. Smythies, eds., Beyond Reductionism (London: Hutchinson, 1969), p. 13.

This means that your brain - that mass of matter which is contained in your skull today - is not the same brain that was in your skull last week. The brain is used by the self; the brain is not the self. Of course, the brain is a very special part of the body - you, the self, use it to direct and control the rest of the body machine. It also serves to carry and process information coming from the different parts of the body and the external environment to you. But you are not your brain. You are the user of your brain.

Are you your brain?

The attempt to control the mind also illustrates that the mind is not the self. Sometimes you want your mind to concentrate on a particular topic—like what you are reading right now, for example. But the mind may keep wandering off, causing you to try to drag it back. Or sometimes your mind is filled with thoughts and feelings that you don’t want but just can’t get rid of, no matter how hard you try. So you are the person who is trying to control the mind; you are not the mind itself.

“We get ample proof of not being our thoughts when we try to control and to direct them … If the mind is rebellious and undisciplined it means that the “I” is not the mind.” ~ Robert Assagioli, Psychosynthesis: A Manual of Principles and Techniques (New York: Hobbs, Dorman & Company, 1965), p. 117

If the mind is undisciplined, who is trying to discipline it? If the mind is to be controlled, who is to control it? Who is trying to control the mind? It is the self (the atma).

Your mind is your possession, just as your gross physical body is your possession. Your mind is yours—it is not you. The mind is a subtle material body. As with the gross physical body, the mind is like clothing that covers the self. The difference is that the gross physical body is like the outer garments and the mind is like the undergarments. So you, the atma, are neither the physical body nor the mind; you are actually encased in both the gross and subtle material bodies.

Techniques to Help You Realize You are Not the Mind

Watching your dreams

Tonight, as you are lying in bed almost ready to fall asleep, watch your body fall asleep. Mentally say to yourself, “I am aware that my body is falling asleep.” As you fall deeper and deeper into sleep, there is a good chance that you will begin dreaming. In this state you will be half-awake, half-asleep. Watch these dreams. Mentally say to yourself as the dream begins, “I am aware that I am dreaming.” By persisting in this practice, you will eventually be aware that you are dreaming, even in deep sleep. But this ability is only a side benefit; the real point is to experience yourself as the viewer of the stream of mindstuff.

Silent witness meditation

Relax, and sit or lie in a quiet place. Don’t attempt to control the thinking process by trying to think certain thoughts and not think others. Instead, let your mind think about whatever it may. Now watch your mind and become aware of how you are actually aloof from the thinking process. Say to yourself, “I am the silent witness. I make no effort to think, but thoughts come automatically. I am watching thoughts flow through my mind, but I am aloof from them. I am the silent witness to my mind’s activities.” In this way, you’ll be able to experience that you are separate from the mind.

You can also watch the passing emotions, feelings, desires, fears, and so on as they rise to the surface of the mind and then pass away. The stream of mindstuff thus flows along, and you are the viewer of it. Just as a person sits by an ever-moving stream, so you, the self, sit by the stream of mindstuff. Just as a stream may be very clear or very polluted, so the stream of mindstuff may be very clear or very polluted. In either case, you are the witness of that stream—not the stream itself.

You may not be content to watch the stream of mindstuff flow freely, but instead may try to control it, redirect it, or stop it completely. But the very fact that you can try to redirect or control your mind, combined with the fact that it is so difficult to succeed in the endeavor, further shows that you, the self, are not the mind or stream of mindstuff.

Controlling the mind

Gaze intently at some nearby image in your immediate environment. Now close your eyes and look at the picture of that image in your mind. Try to hold the image in your mind and look at it for quite some time. If it begins to move around, try to steady it; if it begins to fade away, bring it back. This exercise should make it quite clear how hard it is to control the mind - to keep something in your mind that you want to keep in your mind.

If you can think thoughts you do not want to think, this further illustrates that you are different from your mind. Sometimes after a painful love affair, a man will tell his friends, “I just can't stop thinking about her. I just can't get her out of my mind.” Similarly, your mind may sometimes be filled with desires so disgusting that you would be embarrassed to have anyone suspect you were thinking them. When such thoughts and emotions go through your mind, you do not like it. You may feel, “Why is my mind filled with such thoughts? I don't want to think like this.” However, trying to push such thoughts out of the mind usually doesn't work.

If the mind is to be controlled, who is to control it? Who is trying to control the mind? It is the self. You, the self, try to control your mind. The mind is your possession. It is not you.

Your Body Will Die … But You Will Always Exist

If you erroneously identify yourself with your body, you will conclude that your existence will end with the destruction of your body. But if you know that you are the eternal self within the body, you know that your existence will not end when your body dies.

Your body has a beginning and an end; your body is subject to birth and death; but you, the spark of life within the body, are eternal. You have no beginning, nor will you have an end. The material body will cease existing, but you will never cease existing.

The Body Has No Value Without the Presence of the Atma

Without the presence of this atma, without life, you see a body for what it really is: just a hunk of blood, guts, flesh, bones, teeth, stool, mucus, hair, urine, bile, and so on - a bag of chemicals.

It is the presence of the life particle  - the Person - that makes the physical body valuable. If this Atma (SOUL) is not present in the body, then the body has no real value. As soon as the Mysterious Person, the Atma, leaves the body, the body becomes worthless. The closer you are to this understanding, the closer you are to wisdom and sanity. The material body is valuable only when the infinitely valuable Being is present within the body.


All the materials shared here are from excerpts of talks given by Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa, may God bless his work. This and many more can be explored at The Science of Identity Foundation (Science of Yoga) website. Also visit: Science of Identity Foundation
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