This might seem like a rather unusual correlation. However the notion of Christmas Spirit and all the mythical and mystical beings that this time of year invokes has got me thinking about how adults have lost (for the most part) that belief in all things unseen, in spirit, in magic. It’s relegated to child‘s play and fairytales. Yoga on the other hand obviously encourages your belief in spirit, a universal being, an ultimate force, a nature connection. Just as Christmas encourages children’s belief in Santa, Mother Christmas, the Elves and flying reindeer. How do you reconcile spiritual belief in such a material world?
Coincidentally my yogic studies this month focus on how to assimilate a belief (or lack of a belief) in spirit or a higher power with yogic principals. I often hit a wall with my circle of Christian friends, God worshiping and fearing people, who unfortunately through misinform believe that yogic beliefs and spirituality must fall into the realm of dark arts and any spiritual connectedness through the practice of yoga must be to some form of demon, masquerading as a God like spirit or angel. It’s a very common misconception that any spiritual practice outside the limitations set by organised religion must therefore be evil. I was in fact raised to believe this too. The historic texts by various regions and cultures demonstrate many religions beliefs and practices have very similar foundations. It’s important to understand why certain religions chose to dictate an approval or disapproval of certain practices. Often it’s power based and control driven. We can’t have everyone going around communicating with a higher power believing they have equal ability to communicate with a divine being if we want to retain power and control. Hence many religions outlawed certain practices of rituals, use of incense and oils, drawing upon natural energies and spirits, because let’s face it there would be ill informed individuals practicing rather powerful rites. So in some ways I understand but don’t necessarily accept this practice.
These days with powerful communication tools, many are learning the practices of the old ways. Be they 5000 year old Sanskrit text yogic practice as I am, or be they herbal and spiritual rites, energy grounding and frequency use in healing. Many of the old ways are returning to main stream, which is going to cause all manner of issues for organised religion whose ability control information and practices is now like the proverbial cat out of the bag.
So I thought I’d share some of my scribbling on spirit and consciousness for my yogic study. It’s interesting to have to evaluate the Sanskrit texts and translate the information into a way I can communicate with yogic students the underpinning principals of belief systems and how they might consider them in relation to the spiritual (or lack of spiritual) upbringing they have.
The goal for me is to ensure my yogic teaching allow students to fully emerge themselves in the yogic ways in a modern way without yoga becoming an exercise class with relaxing meditation devoid of the true intention and traditional teachings of yogic practice.
The Gurus’s or teachers role is to faithfully transmit to their students teachings that retain their original value and potency of yoga. Retaining the purity of the teachings and preserving the traditions. The Guru is a living source revealing wisdom with a view to creating students whom retain that same wisdom. Which is exactly why I wanted to study the authentic teachings of yoga.
The next hurdle for most is getting their head around the notion of Spiritual presence. What is it? Many are not raised with it, so it’s a new case concept. Think of it as a non tangible consciousness and awareness. Be it God or some other divine being. A spiritual presence can exist on different realms and within and without individuals, and communicate with the self and others on a paranormal level. This concept is a very normal thought concept to me having been raised in a Christian home that embraces and accepts all religions and beliefs and had complete faith in a spiritual presence. However for those raised with little or no spiritual environment this is the beginning of a new aspect of life and learning.
So can you still practice true yogic values if you don’t have a traditional belief in organised religions version of God or the unseen? Yes of course. God is different to everyone, every person, every religion, every culture. Devotion to a divine being is possible if one accepts our place within a Universal existence. The notion that humans in their bodily form are the ultimate supreme beings does not align with yogic theory. So it would be necessary to accept some superior or ultimate force, or as it’s described as ‘transcendental ultimate’, universal energy or connection, divine being, God or Lord is present in some form. Devotion to the higher power requires some level of acceptance of spirit. The existence of something or some being that is the role model or standard one wishes to achieve in omniscience, reaching transcendental knowing and understanding, it is necessary to become a part of or connected to that lofty entity.
Where does personal hard work to achieve one’s goal fit with grace of a divine universal presence and it’s returning good fortune in a karmic sense?
Grace in my experience and learning on theological theory implies an achievement of favour from a supreme being. The greater focus on developing awareness, consciousness and attainment of a bliss state through purely yogic practice of meditation, asanas and lifestyle aligned to the 8 Limbs (see previous articles of yoga practice) the presence of grace in various forms, calm, peace, good fortune, connectedness to spirit, earth connection becomes a natural karmic energy return. Whether you believe that to be God’s grace or simply a spirit energy return is entirely your choice.
Personal effort to establish a mindset of commitment to the yogic path is however required, but developing faith through the experience of feeling a sense of grace through your practice is as if the next phase in your developmental process has begun. Where the logical conscious choice shifts to a spiritual journey. As with Iyengar’s statement. “Through surrender the aspirants ego is effaced, and the grace of the Lord pours down upon him like a torrential rain”. Whether your practice identifies the Lord as a transcendental being, spirit or Universal Energy does not matter. The same sense of grace may be felt when one has risen to this level of commitment and thus awareness. This is where self effort and grace become almost as one.
If grace may be achieved through opening our heart and mind to the spiritual dimension or the transcendental being, the effort of dedication and focus to practice is actually the path to attaining grace. I believe there to be a link between grace and karma which in some instances, say for those with less inclination to practice devotion to a God or a Lord as such, it might be perceived to be the same thing.
There are several important attributes and terms used in yogic practice that need to be observed in order to fully immerse yourself in a true yoga within spiritual context. A belief in duality, of body, mind and spirit is necessary. If Spirit (purusha) is eternal Awareness, The buddhi is the higher mind. Activation of the higher mind is through the practices of spiritual development and self awareness. When we develop a higher consciousness we open aspects of the higher mind previously locked when in the normal state of consciousness. The higher mind is the doorway to wisdom beyond the physical realm hence the organ of wisdom. If Prakriti is the natural form (in this instance the body) devoid of conscience, buddhi is the awakened version within the self (the spiritual higher mind).
Purusha can be defined as the Universe as a whole or pure awareness and spirit, or maybe even God. It’s the defining standard for transcendental awareness, so you can see the similarity to organised religions version of God. Atman in yogic terms is the ‘self’, the entity in which your consciousness dwells. Atman is Brahman, the cosmic ultimate or principle within the individual person. Therefore the two terms Purusha and Atman while referring to transcendental awareness purusha refers to the ‘ultimate universal consciousness’ whereas the atman refers to the ‘individual spiritual consciousness’.
Some adopt various yogic styles as a form of religion with set rules, set belief systems just as any other theological framework. However it’s up to the individual to decide where their belief starts and finishes, however unlike a belief in Father Christmas and flying reindeer developing spiritual belief is based upon personal experience, commitment and practice to making a connection confirming your beliefs through a karmic or grace return. Until you experience true karma or grace it’s hard to imagine it is real. So it’s a good idea not to turn off your belief in paranormal or supernatural because you have reached adulthood or adolescence and definitely don’t put spiritual belief into the same box as the Easter Bunny and Father Christmas. There is no correlation despite popular culture tending to lead us to believe this.