By Bruce Martin: The Vedic seers investigated and delineated the methods by which attention is shifted from the ephemeral and temporal to the real and eternal. Although different methods were devised for people of different temperament, the common thread running through them is higher order integration of self into an ever more encompassing Reality.
By Bruce Martin
The Vedic seers investigated and delineated the methods by which attention is shifted from the ephemeral and temporal to the real and eternal. Although different methods were devised for people of different temperament, the common thread running through them is higher order integration of self into an ever more encompassing Reality. The methodology that facilitates this higher order integration they termed as yoga, or the process of linking consciousness to its source.
This linking process may be summed up as that which enables attention to turn from a constricted, space-time-bound ego identity, to direct cognition of the conscious Whole, of which the individual atma is an infinitesimal spark. In Bhakti Sandarbha, Jiva Gosvami refers to this linking process as sammukhya, turning attention, as one would turn the face, from the phenomenal to the numinous, from insubstantial projection to underlying substance. This offers a simple yet effective measure to evaluate specific methods across a broad range of disciplines. Valid methodology is simply that which enables the radical shift from distortion to truth. In order to facilitate this shift of context for people of various dispositions, yoga has been divided into numerous branches, of which four are prominent: karma-yoga, jnana-yoga, raja-yoga and bhakti-yoga.
Karma-yoga is the path of consecrated action leading to detachment from desire. The proponents of this path recognized that all desire-based actions produce inevitable results that bind consciousness to an inextricable web, whirling relentlessly about the vortex of life and death. Since action is inevitable, the quality of action itself needs to be transformed from one that binds to one that liberates. Karma-yoga involves a highly sophisticated set of rituals to purify the performer of desire and the sense of doership, in which both action and its result are offered to the Supreme.
From a developmental point of view, the path of karma is designed to offer stability and order to the self system by clearly defining its role in relation to society within the larger framework of the mythic order. In ideal, this trains morality and responsibility to an entire network of social interactions, tying both individual and culture to God. Through the process of offering action and its fruit, egocentrism is gradually reduced, and the performer begins to recognize a vaster reality of which he or she is part. This leads to a falling away of desire that transports one to the gateway of the transpersonal. Karma-yoga, then, is geared primarily to the ego realm of development, supporting the maturing of ego into an integrated self-system that stands, finally, on the threshold of transcendence.
Jnana-yoga concerns itself with the path of transcendence proper. It begins where karma ends. Whereas the path of karma lends stability and organization to the self-system, jnana-yoga shatters it altogether. The strength of this path lies in its ability to expose and dismantle all false representations of reality. Thus even its descriptions of the Absolute whisper songs of denial, neti neti, “not this, not that”. By this stripping away, the Absolute can be only that which is devoid of everything conceived of as material imposition or limitation, such as name, form, action, feeling, thought, and quality.
Effectively, however, this is a denial only of material forms and qualities. The realm of transcendence that accounts, not only for oneness, but for variegatedness as well, is a higher order emergence lying beyond the purview of jnana. There is perhaps hidden significance in the reference to this path as Kevala-Advaita, or unadulterated nondual awareness. Kevala also means only, and, in fact, this path discloses the Absolute as awareness “only”, also known as Brahman.
Raja-yoga, otherwise known as the ashtanga-yoga of Patanjali, is principally concerned with the training of awareness, from preliminary practices, such as ethical and emotional training, to cultivation of breath and posture, through to advanced meditative states. In these enhanced states of awareness, technically known as samadhi, the subject-object dualism of “normal” waking state consciousness breaks down, revealing a unified field of consciousness.
In essence, this path discloses the same truth as that arrived at by jnana. The unique feature of this path is that its subtle-energetic and psycho-dynamic practices allow for optimization of health, activation of higher order mental faculties and profound integration of the body-mind system. This optimizes the potential of that system as a vehicle for the expression of Spirit within the manifest realm. For just this reason, however, raja-yoga is sometimes disparaged by the proponents of jnana. Because it brings considerable physical and mental well-being, practitioners may seek those benefits only, ignoring altogether the core transformation that the path is meant to engender. Considering the modern conversion of yoga from path of transcendence to a technology for health and sculptured physique, this seems a not altogether invalid critique. Yet when properly understood, both transcendence and a suitable vehicle for its expression within the world are of immense value, perhaps more so today than at any other time. Like jnana, yoga is directed primarily toward Reality as consciousness or Brahman, though it does accommodate a generalized sense of devotion through the principle of Ishvara-pranidan, or offering of the self to God.
Bhakti-yoga is the path of surrender and love, and like jnana, it too begins where karma leaves off, at the demise of the separate self sense. Unlike jnana, however, bhakti is marked not by absence of ego-based desire but of thirst for the transcendent. In the beginning this thirst takes on the aspect of shraddha, or trust in, and hence, active surrender to, the Absolute. This is based on the understanding that an inseparable connection exists between the infinitesimal consciousness of living beings and the infinite consciousness of God or Ultimate Reality. This awareness matures into sambandha, or relation with the complete Whole that is of the nature of awareness in love. In ordinary experience, when two beings feel consciously attuned, it allows for the growth of intimacy and love. Conscious attunement, devoid of love, would seem, somehow, still wanting.
Love, in the supra-mundane sense, is understood as an aspect of nondual awareness itself, endowed not only with all-consciousness, but the potency of all-bliss. Surrender of the self to God is the constant and total, loving submission of all faculties, and of awareness itself, to that of which we are intrinsically part. This offering of the essence of the being, accompanied by the emptying of all artificially acquired designations, allows consciousness to be permeated with the divine energy of love. Love in this sense, as a unique potency of transcendence, is inclusive of awareness, yet extends beyond it to encompass the hidden and mysterious domain of ecstasy. This love in transcendence, uniting the individual being ardently with its source, thus penetrates through the monochrome dimension of conscious at-one-ment to a multilayered weave of ecstatic and intimate relation. This radically alters the whole conception of love, from a force that necessitates and preserves the dualism of lover and beloved, to one that exists in the nondual state that recognizes no “other” to begin with.
Returning to our original point, that yoga involves higher order integration of self into ever more encompassing Reality, these various branches of yoga can then be seen to fit together to support various phases of Spirit unfolding, from the stabilization of ego in the personal realm, to the transcendence of ego and awakening of conscious unity in the transpersonal realm, to the pervasion of love in the realm of ecstatic all-knowing Being. From this perspective, love represents the highest potential of awareness itself. It is this transcendent love only that discloses the hidden, interior aspect of nondual awareness, in which one undivided, all-encompassing awareness itself becomes the vehicle for love’s infinite depth, tone, hue, freshness and variety. Awakening to this mysterious dimension of the transcendent allows for the highest completion of the being in regard to Reality, the Complete.
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