It is a misreading to conclude that the Patanjali Yogasutra has, in fact, any interest in directing a moral life. The text uses modalities of behavior, intention, and directives to action for the purpose of creating a method that prepares the aspirant for the achievement of samadhi and/or nirodha.
Friday, April 9, 2021
Friday, March 19, 2021
There is an ironic twist to self-evolution in the traditions of yoga. The more we engage to become that better version of ourselves, the more we must come to trems with living with who we are.
We can claim transcendence, that we have surpassed and relinquished our karmas, accumulated and no longer deciding for us, but is that the task? Are we getting past our past or moving forward because we have a past?
The option to take the bypass and claim that the different person we know ourselves to be is no longer the person that once was. But this is the mistake that will almost surely lead to less than who we could be if we are willing to receive into our ever-new self (Skt. abhinava-) the all of the self of light and shadow.
We'll never see all of those shadows---they hide from us and we hide them, for worse and sometimes better---and we'll never see all of the light, which would blind us with the false conviction that we've arrived, that we're complete, actualized and so discharged from the past.
To invest in progress we have to allow who we have been to become a teacher to the artist we seek to become. In Rajanaka this is, in part, the relationship between the seated dancer Daksinamurti, the teacher, and Nataraja, the artist. One of the most important things that Nataraja shows us is that even our most exquisite artistry is an expression of the hard-won conversations with our shadows.
Instead of mere regret, contrition, and embarrassment, we have a chance to incorporate, literally, to put them in the body so we can connect more honestly, converse more deeply. The further we are willing to step into the darkness that follows, the more light the horizon of the self reveals.
The irony of our unfinished self is that it keeps us moving when we are at once supported and cajoled. No one likes to hear that we need some nudge, that we prefer complacency to being jostled or poked. It can feel like being you're being forced, bullied, or hustled. And it can actually be some or all of those wrong-headed and morally indefensible affronts to the self.
To feel the difference between the charge to act and being shoved is part of the challenge to keep moving. The alternative is a quiescence that is more empty than purposeful. Life itself may have offer no greater purpose but that is why we have to engage to create it.
We are at once called to become a better version of ourselves and that everything about this endeavor is an invitation to burn. That's the Sanskrit tapas. The purpose of making the burn burn is to remember that in the ancient world all light is heat. We burn for the sake of the light.
We can also seek to illumine for the sake of opening to the shadows. Those missing or broken pieces have always been present but too often are left unattended, whether they are before or behind us. It's easier to claim it's all behind us when it should be clear that what we are doing now that is so evidently success is our conversation with the need to engage all of ourselves, with shadows companions of awakening.
Let me say out loud what prompted this little sermon. (Personally I hate sermons but that's why I write them: to try not to hate them when I need to hear them and of course would prefer not to.) I was thinking about President Biden who now some sixty days into his term has not given a press conference. Joe has been in public service nearly his entire adult life and some 44 years in office. He's said and done so much in public that one could select evidence to suits whatever might be the preferred conclusion.
The reputed gaffe-machine however has not gaffed much at all and the strategy to avoid the insipid culture wars that Republicans would prefer (because they have nothing else) is leading to something of a quiet revolution. Much is proposed, important power has been delegated to persons who are not only capable but representative of real change.
Even Mitch is scared of what is coming, so scared he is threatening retaliation knowing he's lost the power he once wielded so ruthlessly. Biden won't be ruthless---that is not Rudra's way. He will howl and weep because he has bled and bleeds. He seems to have some sense of what it takes to make the ruddy into the auspicious.
I am not delivering beatitude, Joe is not beyond criticism, and he may fail. I think he knows this. I am sure I feel that same way about myself. But it's not fear that motivates. It's the understanding that you gotta keep your head in the game and rage on to make the wheels turn.
It's too early to tell if much of what is hoped for will be accomplished but it has led me to think that Joe has in fact learned from the past, both personally andprofessionally, that he burns and seeks to bring more light.
But the key to his wisdom---at least that is my projection---is that he has not forgotten his shadows, particularly his own losses which have alchemized his soul. He doesn't have a future that isn't present but rather a future he hopes to help others realize. He's no saint and may yet not prove "transformational" but there is something more than cleaver politics going on.
I think he wants to make a difference---and we so return to the irony that caught my attention this morning again. You gotta want to do the right thingand do the work to become a better version of yourself for others. We all have plenty of past to remind us what it feels like to stumble, hesitate, falter, tilt, and sometimes fall.
No one likes to do that again but we know we will. That's why we might actually stand a chance. I'm further along in life now. I don't yet see the light coming for me and I'm grateful for that. It will. There's more behind than ahead. But that's what now makes the yoga all the more important.
Thursday, March 11, 2021
What has been take from us all and hurt so many over this past year surely cannot be understated. But what has been revealed in these difficult times has not only tested our mettle. We have also been invited to seek out what lies more deeply within our hearts and minds. It's not all light and surely not all joy. But that too is a point the universe never fails to make. What then do we do with all of that?
In body and soul we mean to live through these challenges, with our honest experiences of grief, and stay committed to all the love we seek. We may yet weep and bleed and howl more than we've bargained for and in ways we never expected but that is the Rudra, the Heart that seeks the Auspicious we call Siva. And that is what lies within each of us who breathe to love this strange gift of life.
"When He playfully began His Dance His twisted locks of hair whipped in frenzied ecstasy spraying the water of the Heavenly River in all directions,And with each drop appears an auspicious destination marked by His Presence:Surrounded is That Lord by forms of divine joy and the host of all embodied feelings: I delight in the One's Graceful Curved Foot."
---Kuñchitanghristava of Umāpatiśivācārya
Sivaratri is another seam in the fabric of Being, a Time to create Maya rather than resolve or even puzzle choices. To invite ourselves to the Auspicious Darkness---the literal meaning of Sivaratri---is to turn time inside out and step into another side of one's self: it is chance and the risk we might take to opportune vulnerability.
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
You can "expand the midline" and you can think you've actually found some "middle". Rajanaka uses the word "maya" to remind you that the very best you have and all you need is of human creativity. We're the measurers even when the measure and the measured is more or other than just us---it remains a human process and so unfinished in every mortal life. No one gets out alive and however certain that is, it's certainly ironic that what we can say we know is about processing a process.
One of the lessons you learn quickly when you read real Indian philosophers is that they are ideologues, purists, willing to take on their comers but never willing to concede, budge an inch, or compromise their need for certainty. Before anyone tries to say that Buddhists aren't like that or that _their_ teacher isn't like that (say, me, telling you that Appa was assuredly NOT like that...), I would suggest you spend more time reading in Sanskrit or Tibetan or You Pick. The need to be right is not terribly different in most western writing because who holds an opinion that they don't believe is true? That would be someone else's opinion.
I write about this here for two reasons.
When people talk about after-death in "you never know" tones and smiles, I take that as an effort to feel better about personal extinction. Why should I care to dissuade (to be right?) other than that to remark that I think it is particularly interesting how humans soothe themselves with a world they don't control and by definition can't fully comprehend. The mysteries of non-comprehension lead me to no faith or belief that is beyond or, for that matter, Beyond. Your call? Call? I jest here. I mean to smirk a bit again at what we would like to be true when we have nothing more than the want to write that story. The plane has landed so let me pull up to the gate here.
"...my two cents: direct experience counts too."
My reply: it sure does. The risk of relying on it is that it quickly approaches the boundaries of solipsism---we then use it as an excuse, as in "that's my opinion," or "that's my belief" or "faith." Okay, it's also impossible to argue with because it's not an argument, it's a belief, a faith, an assertion. Arguments aren't perfect, thank goodness, so they can be wrong and righted, but the question Rajanaka asks is if the argument is valuable, not utilitarian as such but does it serve something greater than itself. This is my qualm with Quine's logic strategies---the argument doesn't care about people, it just cares about being right. Your point is superbly taken.
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Tomorrow I'm being interviewed on a podcast about the meaning of yoga. So I offer here a few notes from my journal. I cull notes to remind myself of ideas and phrases.
Our challenges have to do with both traditionalist and modern Hindu interpretations of our common sources, i.e., a broad sense of canon. The reason is that Rajanaka has its deepest ties to the Nataraja/Tillai Kali temple myth (and ritual) tradition and the Srividya goddess Tantra. Our interpretations however take us far from the traditional goals and claims of liberation and supernormal powers---because our goal is humanist: love your life, there is no "problem" of samsara.
Friday, January 1, 2021
New Year’s is, of course, the time of the year we focus---and usually only for a moment---on making resolutions. We’re going to get lots of advice about making resolutions, about how to achieve our goals and why we fail, and we’re going to hear much the same next year. If we make resolutions every year we might want to think about making them just as ever-new every day and what that might mean. If we talk about resolutions principally in terms of success and failure, we’re going to miss what is great. Let’s try for better.
Greatness invariably includes success and failure but it speaks more directly to values, to worth and the possible.
When something has great value, we may succeed and fail time and again. When things are worth it, we measure success more honestly and accept failure as another inevitability. When we take to heart what is possible, we may not have all the choices we might wish for but can receive the grace to create choices we endow with resolve.
We have arrived again at the importance of resolutions because they give us pause. It is in that pause we have opportunity to create further interest---and interest means acceleration and, if we are smart about that, direction.
The greatness of resolution is that it does not resolve so much as invite us to direct our deliberations; it prompts us to initiate design, foster purpose, and so bring us to terms with choice. What do you want? Why do you want it? What are you willing to do to make what is possible possible?
Greatness, like resolve, resides in the questions we ask that will encourage, entice, and provoke us. Greatness entreats us not to finality but to inclusion, inclusion that compels us to receive change as opportunity rather than reversal, as invention and advance drawing us more deeply towards what is light and shadow. The more greatness, the more shadow kindles illumination---and so more shadow with which we must sooner or later contend. That the gift of light burns is resolve.
In Sanskrit we call such resolve and the act of resolution-making vrata. The simplest translation is “vow” and the reason that suffices is because, if you think about it, we make very few vows in life, take even fewer oaths, and likely spend far too little time thinking about what we are doing when we do. This is where the traditions of India can help again: we must never underestimate the power of contemplation to encourage clarity even if it cannot produce certainty.
Now one who makes a vrata is called a vrātya and that too is worth further consideration. One old meaning of “vrātya” is a person of ordinary or low stature deciding to act in ways that propose change for the better. However we assess our self-worth, we might arrive at the better if we begin with our ordinary self. What is extraordinary isn’t other than that ordinariness, it is what happens when we make a vrata, ourselves vrātya.
The extent of the word “vrata” should help us further understand what is at stake. A vrata is an inner act of the will, it is a soul-yearning for soulfulness; it is self-command made on the inside meant to be brought outside; it can mean laying down a law, which may in fact be the original meaning of “law”---something that is laid down so that it can be seen and considered and made known to one’s self and others.
Sometimes the vrata is the commitment, that to which we commit and our obedience, our service, and the sphere of action in which it all occurs. In other words, a vrata is an environment, a domain for change. No one changes significantly by being coerced but rather by receiving change as an experience of choice and circumstances that will define boundaries.
A vrata then is a sphere of action, a function not of mere code and conduct but of practice and creativity. Taking vows is a personal matter. Turning a vow into an oath is meant to objectify, to instantiate for public or institutional purposes. Thus we vow personally, but we make an oath with the promise of accepting public accountability. A vrata means to connect the two, that is, it implies the yoga, the connection between our self-promise and the oath’s self-endorsing powers that apply, whether or not we can keep our promise. To wit, the vrata binds us to freedom by inviting karma to take its proper place between what we feel inside and what we commit to doing for all to see.
In Rajanaka tradition the making of vratas is an everyday yoga, something that prevents the ordinary from becoming anodyne and the extraordinary from becoming merely balmy. We ask ourselves to do hard things not because they are hard but because they are worth it. Sometimes that can be just getting out of bed and getting dressed in the 11th month of pandemic isolation. Sometimes it involves making a plan a year, two years, ten years in advance to do something worth it, to follow up, follow through, like making again a pilgrimage that you know invites being more uncomfortable that you need to be.
Difficult things are rare because we rarely do what is difficult unless we have to. The purpose of a vrata is not to make the difficult more easily done but rather to do what is difficult. For that we are going to need help, no matter how much we try to help ourselves. This is why a vrata is made personally but is expressed in virtual terms like an oath. This is why a vrata is best made by reaching into the soul and making soulful what you claim for yourself with others.
A vrata can be individual---it might even have to originate there, inside you, even if it is suggested or offered or comes from circumstance rather than self-invitation. But the soul of the vrātya belongs to the community that sees in vrata that some things are worth the trouble, worth the effort, are difficult and rare---and that our best hope lies in the ways we support one another.
However alone we are, our best self is made plural by the relationships we create to live in dignity and through resolutions. Our vratas must be living, which means they must move, adapt, do their work with a dynamic temporality that combines the merely mortal with purpose that out outlives the moment. We participate in something more abiding than what time can rot when we bring our vrata into time knowing that it too is like the plural self: time is not one, not two, and achieves its only form of “perfection” by replacing itself with itself, time and again. When we cannot do that for ourselves, memory will achieve it if the resolution meets the demands of greatness head on.
Our recursive self brings resolution to life again and again so that little by little we can open to more selves, to deeper relationships, to the prospect that in this brief, moral life we have made promises worth keeping. Should we succeed, we live to do it all again. Should we fail, we live to do it again.
The greatness of our vow lies in how we decide for ourselves and for each other what is worth our intention and actions, what is worth loving and so with it the prospects for grief that come with true experience.
If this sounds too solemn or portentous then let us be gentle with one another, let us ask no more from ourselves than is possible and no less than we should. How that is decided is up to you. We will be here for you, which is why you might consider your next resolution. Make every resolution ofand ever-new resolution. Be that vrātya, the maker of the vow, to be more than you are right now because that is possible, again and again.