Monday, March 15, 2010

Yoga Sutras compared to Anusara invocation. Classical yoga compared to Tantric philosophy

I want to preface this by saying that I am in no way an expert on this, AT ALL. I am merely a student, fascinated with what I am learning, and I am sharing it with you because you might enjoy these gems of knowledge, it is fun sharing, it helps me remember, and it helps me connect to the knowledge on a deeper level….

Over the past 5 years I focused mainly on prana vinyasa, and Iyengar yoga. I have read, studied and contemplated The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (a classical yoga text) many times. Recently I have been drawn to Anusara yoga, founded by John Friend. I have been studying the universal principles of alignment and the tantric philosophy that underlies Anusara. One of the many things I love about Anusara is the beautiful Invocation that we chant at the beginning of class. As I have been diving into the complex and wonderful meaning of the invocation, I was reminded of the thirty-sixth sutra from Patanjalis first book, “visoka va jyotismati” (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:36). This got me thinking about how this sutra and the Anusara invocation relate, especially the last verse in the invocation, “Niralambaya Tejase”.

So how does Classical Yoga and Tantric Yoga relate? Both of these lines have similar translations, let us looks at them one at a time:

“Visoka va jyotismati” Means there is a blissful luminous, sorrow less, effulgent light within that is ever present. (Translation is a combination from Sri Swami Satchidananda, B.K.S Iyengar and my interpretation).

“Niralambaya Tejase” Means there is a inner luminosity, a blissful radiance of the heart, that does not depend on any circumstance to exist, it just is, it always is. (Translation is a combination from John Friend, Christiana Sell, and my interpretation).

I love how both classical and tantric philosophies agree on this beautiful belief, that we have this inherent shining goodness within us, that this inner essence of bliss that is always present. This inner radiance never leaves us and is present no matter what external situation or emotions we may be experiencing. However, these philosophies disagree about how we go about experiencing this inner divine luminosity. The root reason for their disagreement is that classical yoga believes in dualism and Tantric believes in non-dualism.

(As I summarize these two vast philosophies, I may repeat myself quite a bit but it is only to reiterate what they believe. The beliefs are quite simple but in order to understand them you have to approach them from many different angles and to hear them again and again. If you have additional knowledge or you would like to add or make a correction, make please comment. I would love and enjoy your feedback).

Let us examine Patanjali’s classical yoga first:

Patanjali’s Yoga, Classical Yoga is dualistic and makes a sharp distinction between purusha (Self or Spirit) and prakriti (non-self or matter). Classical Yoga holds that these two radically distinct realities exist: there is one thing, Purusha the Self, and separate from that self, on the other hand there is Prakriti, the non-self. Patanjali believes there is no connection, linkage or interaction between purusha and prakriti, they are separate (dual). Although purusha and prakriti are not connected, they do depend on each other. Without purusha there could be no prakriti. Classical yoga believes the humans suffer because we are ignorant to dualism, to the fact that there is both purusha and prakriti, and instead of realizing this dualism we falsely identify purusha (self) with prakriti (non-self, matter, materialism). Classical yoga says in order to reach liberation (mukti) we must distinguish between the two, we must believe in dualism, we need to release that there is a self, and at the same time there is a non-self.

To summarize (and repeat) classical yoga believe there is duality, two-ness. That there is an inside and a outside, a prakriti and a purusha. Access to the heart is through stepping over a barrier of the body, over a barrier of the mind, and over a barrier of the experiential self. To get to the heart, is to step over the body and mind. This is what classical yoga believes! The body is at best a tool and at worse an obstacle. Patanjali (classical yoga) invites you into two-ness and says that dualism is the answer. The answer, is not mistaking prakriti for purusha, it’s not mistaking the outside for the inside, and it’s not mistaking the material for the spiritual. Sutra 1:36 “visoka va jyotismati” means that in order to experience this inner essence of goodness we must overcome this “otherness” that we need to realize the self is separate from the non-self and matter.

Let us look at Tantric philosophy, the philosophy of non-dualism.

Tantra is non-dual. It does not believe in two, it believes in one. It believes there is this one divine, blissful auspicious energy. The way this divine energy creatively expresses itself is how we get such a variety of different forms. It is like one light shining on a crystal which results in many different lights and a variety of colors; however they are all part of the one light. Tanta teaches us that we don’t need to abstain, achieve, or acquire enlightenment; instead we need to participate in a process of our own recognition. Of recognizing that all there is, is grace and we are an expression of grace. And this grace, this divine consciousness expresses itself through a twisted ecstatic dance that brings beauty into the world. It invites us to realize that there is nothing but this divine dance, and we don’t need to overcome it, we just need to experience the dance for the sake of the dance. Not only do we need to experience the dance but we need to dance with it, to step into the flow of grace. We don’t dance to achieve, concur or prove anything we do it for the sheer delight of it. This is a wonderful teaching we learn from Krishna in The Bhagavad Gita, that when we act for the simple sake or doing it, without worrying about this or that, when you offer your beauty as its own art, this is how to offer something that is meaningful. This dance of consciousness is gift of grace. As Douglas Brooks says “Life is a gift yoga is a blessing. Make yourself a great offering.”

I love that tantra doesn’t say we need to overcome something to get to something. Instead it says there is this one divine creative energy and it is merely expressing itself through the variety of forms we experience. And as humans we have a conscious choice and can resist and label it separating it into two “good” and “bad”. Or we can become part of the dance, we can embrace the differences in life as a blissful expression of the divine, and through embracing this we can then make our self an expression of divine bliss as well. We can willingly become part of the dance and offer our heart to this.

In summary, the tantric view doesn’t see diversity as something you need to overcome. Instead the tantric view embraces diversity because it reflects the divine oneness of the universe. Referring to the Anusara invocation, the tantric view believes there is this blissful radiance, of the divine! That we are part of this one blissful radiance! That everything is a manifestation of this one blissful radiance!

Sources on classical yoga: Raghavan Iyer, Douglas Brooks
Sources on tantra: Douglas Brooks, John Friend, Christina Sells, John Friend

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