Thursday, December 11, 2008

savoring the unfinished

Yoga traditions have traditionally placed a premium on notions of accomplishment and attainment, evolving a rich, complex vocabulary to describe feats of completion, fulfillment, and ultimacy.  Beginning with verbal roots like /ap, /sidh or /sadh, /labh, and /kram, we find myriad Sanskrit terms ---such as prapta, siddhi, labha, krama, etc.--- derived to mean or imply ideas of gaining, obtaining, procuring, progressing, accomplishing, and, finally and most significantly, perfecting.  However seriously invested they may be in method or process, most yogas are committed to final goals definitively, if not always clearly defined.

An account of what we are supposed to get, receive, or obtain, what is normative to the process and, at the very least, a collection of key words describing the finality, these things are critically important.  Though ultimacy may be deemed ineffable there is rarely a shortage of nominal descriptions for whatever defines such transcendence of the mundane.  While it may be that ultimacy is beyond the range of ordinary description or that it is necessarily mysterious (paroksha), it is nonetheless established (nishta) and "ever-perfect" (nityasiddha) and fully "cooked" (pakva).

Yoga has always been about experimentation, efficacy, and outcomes we can measure, take stock of, and presumably re-create.  I know of no yoga tradition that believes otherwise: we are here to cultivate the prospects that come with the gifts of human embodiment.  After all, why would we do anything that promises results without some reasonable expectation of the difference betweeen before and after, here and there, this and that?  Ultimacy looks to have ultimate value: that is, it must be the most important thing we can achieve because it is, by definition, the last (apavarga, apunarbhava meaning "not occurring again").  If a goal is final then it must also be somehow the same each time it is reached and universal to our experience--- so that all of us reach that very it.

Ultimacy must be true in the sense that it remains so and its attainment, being once and for all (sampanna), can't permit change.  Whether we are talking about moksha, nirvana, buddhahood, or the state of the siddha, it's fair to say that the vast majority of yoga traditions mean to distinguish such feats from all others that can be altered or even further advanced; what is final doesn't co-mingle nor should it be confused with any other sort of success that much be deemed inferior for its mutability.

Even the Kashmir Shaivites, smitten with the visionary Tantra that commits affirmatively to the reality of the everyday world spinning with (vivarta) apparent differences and reflecting (abhasa) the source of illuminative power (praskasha), insist that it is only when we reach the singularity of consciousness, when we re-cognize ourselves as unified and so none other than Shiva Himself that we can re-join diversity without suffering from the unfortunate taints on awareness that will otherwise consign us to rebirth.  In short, they say we gotta' get it or suffer the consequences of not getting it, and so our life's goal is to experience our ultimate freedom, to become enlightened, taste our liberation, albeit not necessarily from the world but surely from within and yet unbound (abaddha, udbandha, unnahana) by worldliness.

So it's fair to ask: do all yoga traditions maintain an enlightenment principle that asserts a version of finality, a finishing off of samsara, lasting liberation (atimukti, carama)?

Let's leave aside for a moment (well, maybe forever) the question how there could be more than one such finality if the goal is truly last and singular.  I mean, since there isn't one answer that suits all schools, are they in disagreement over the true finality or somehow all saying the "same" thing?  The latter poses no plausible solution, only another nominal assertion.  But so long as there is finality, there is truth that does not change ---that too is purely definitional to the claim.  I do think that all the yoga traditions I've ever encountered have some notion that our awareness invites cultivation, degrees and so different kinds of attainment.  And what would happen if truth were ultimately not final or if we just began with that possibility?

In the view of the Rajanaka, albeit perhaps a minority of one among yogas in this respect, we find no claim made for a final, conclusive, singular, or ultimate attainment.  There is instead an evolving (ayana, gatu, prasara), ascending (abhyarodha), growing (anuvrdha, bhuyobhava) state of appreciation, a deepening capacity to savor (asvada) the flavors that hasten near (abhipada, abhitas), that approach our elemental nature but remain asymptotic to the goal, the proximate essential (rasa, svadu, vipaka) we experience as living and moving, as Consciousnss becoming more expressive of itself.  We have been given the opportunity in human embodiment to participate in this process of relentless energy taking infinite form but can no more reduce or reach it than we can contain or prevent it from being itself.  We are that, we can accept such a reality as more than ourselves, receive its nature, and learn to live as it but we cannot make it do something ---like stop or start--- that it does not seem itself to do.  It is the nature of the universe to become and it is Consciousness that never ceases to conceal more in order to reveal itself as the universe we experience.

Ultimacy in the Rajanaka view is encoded with the primacy of the feminine divine: the Shakti isn't a power beyond reach or a transcendent unapproachable but rather the universe itself dynamic, trembling ever so slightly (alola), bending (abhugna), even crooked (krukta, vikrokti) or curled about itself in a round twist (kutila, kundalini).  Such a conceptual loom weaves the form of a dancer and of course Her counterpart Shiva Nataraja whose masculinity is similarly twisted in the profound embrace of the feminine, not as mere complement but as fully (un)contained paradox.  The only oneness as such to attain is fractal recursively expansive, and ceaselessly unrestricted by any boundary of beginning or end.  We don't achieve these gods but we can do what they do.

As my teacher once explained: if oneness were an attainment we would need to presume either an original state to which we could somehow return or a finality within a universe whose boundaries are naturally expanding.  What beginning is ever first?  What conclusion has no afterward?  We can move with the current (anusara, dhara) that tremble or sway (pracalana), and naturally resist containment; we can align, float, or even sustain a presence that joins in this augmentation, escalation, and continuing process of becoming but we don't achieve or acquire what the Rajanaka tells us is always inviting more, an opening (or a pulsation to narrow), an effulgence of power that is complete in incompleteness.  It is truly a dance, not a goal; a serpentine pulsation without resolution, without point or purpose other than itself, a perfectly imperfect offering.

There is nothing to prove nor destination to reach and so perhaps we aren't born to get it but instead merely to revel with its unfinishedness, an incomplete dance, without a reason other than its own innately ecstatic play.  We aren't here because we failed last time to find the solution to bondage, resolve redeath, or overcome rebirth but rather to become the point the universe has been making all along.  We are here as play and, if we choose, to play with the freedom that binds us only to itself.  Savor the unfinished.