Spirit's Path - a sharing


Spirit?s Path
Sharing #1

The Spiritual Life expresses itself in extremely personal modes. I find that its evolution becomes uniquely individual the farther one travels their path. We are truly all-unique manifestations of Spirit. As Teilhard de Chardin said, ?We are not humans having a spiritual experience; rather we are spiritual beings having a human experience?. The paths of Spirit ultimately bring a clear distinction between spirituality and the actions and rituals carried out in the name of religion. The paths of Spirit do indeed culminate in experiences that philosophies and religions call mysticism. From this perspective the seeker is led to say, ?Many are the paths, yet all paths lead to the One.? We are One in our essential nature.(1)

However, I find that to explain the Spiritual Path this one must use generalizations, which are seldom personally manifested. I find that this is the best I can do at my present state of view. So please bear with me and encourage me to find clarity with your suggestions for improvements on my presentations.

There are the three principle paths for a student to undertake. Having numerous representative teachers, scriptural texts, and living followers of these paths characterize each of the three traditional paths. I shall overview some important references to each to assist our mind’s comprehension of the apparent evolution of Spirit as She reclaims Her own.

Head ? Jnana Yoga Heart ? Bhakti Yoga Gut ? Karma Yoga

These three paths are representational of the most vital areas of life. We can see this perspective through the eyes of Ayurveda?s energetic perspective of our psyche ? head is vata, heart is kapha, and gut is
pitta.(2) The head is the path of intellect, seeking and finding Spirit as wisdom, Truth, timeless teachings. The heart is the path of devotion and higher emotions in which Spirit is expressed as love, faith, perseverance, and a connection to a greater sense of Self. The gut is the path of service as Spirit is found through acts of selfless service and doing one?s duty for the benefit of humanity. In all cases the path is rooting out the core experience of the human being that of identify with the body. According to Ramana Maharshi the central fact of ego is due to one possessing identification with their body.(3) Upon losing this experience the feeling of selflessness arises and with it the nature of the True Self shines forth. This produces the individual expressions of the Spiritual path in harmony with the individual?s predispositions.

When these predispositions are motivated by vata then awareness of intellect and mind predominate. When motivated by pitta then expressions of vitality and action are present. When kapha is active then we are focused upon emotional aspects of being.

Another aspect of this is to examine the concept of the 5 bodies or vital sheaths (koshas) as delineated in the Taittiriya Upanishad II, 7. The densest body, annamayakosha (that composed of food) is kapha in nature. When awareness clings here we are drawn to look at the sheath of physical sensations and decide whether our health is content or whether some form of physical activity is required. The second body, pranamayakosha, composed of prana, is vata in nature. When we are here our motivation becomes centered upon discerning the needs for vitality and emotional health. The third body, manomayakosha, is also vata in nature though of a more subtle form. In this place we disregard bodily and emotional input and focus upon the content of our thoughts. If healthy we consider the health of our thoughts and the need for meditation and uplifting input. The fourth body, vijnanamayakosha, is of the higher nature of pitta. Here discrimination has sorted out the vagaries of the mind and we are raised to the place of wisdom and seeking timeless teachings. The fifth body, anandamayakosha, is the subtlest sense of ego as self. Here one transcends ordinary awareness yet still possesses a personal identity with the activities of the higher emotions of bliss and joy. While they are commonly experienced in hindsight as transcendent, not of one?s own creation, these experiences are nonetheless still characterized with the sense of ?I attained this bliss?. It is only when the individual passes beyond these five bodies that the True Self is known to be selfless, free of any agenda about body, energy, mind or emotional concerns.

1)The most beautiful succinct expression of this fact is All is One. Anonymous Tamil author, translated by Valyai Subramaniam. Tiruvannamalai: Ramanasramam, 2000.

  1. Ayurveda is the science of lifestyle and a crucial companion subject for yogis to learn. For a good overview of how to personalize Ayurveda see Robert Svoboda?s Prakruti ? Your Ayurvedic Constitution. For a more in-depth study see David Frawley?s Ayurvedic Healing.

  2. Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) is one of India?s greatest sages. His teachings are the apex of Yoga and are summarized in The Spiritual Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, with an introduction by Carl Jung. A catalog of books, videos, and a free bi-monthly newsletter are available at Ashrama@aol.com or call 718-575-3215.


Sharing #2

Or we can examine this perspective according to the classical teachings of the various yogic paths. By classical teachings I am referring to texts making up the tradition that extend in excess of 1500 years. Many people doing a spiritual practice may be uninformed of these texts. However, no matter how far removed from their practice, these texts are the basis for success in deepening one?s spiritual practice.

The path of Karma Yoga is most clearly expressed in the Bhagavad-Gita. Of the numerous editions available, my favorites are these four ? The Song Celestial ? 42 verses selected as the principle teachings and reset by Ramana Maharshi, Ramana Ashram, 1995; The Gita According to Gandhi ? Anasaktiyoga by Mohandas K. Gandhi, San Francisco: Dry Bones Press, 1993; Bhagavad-Gita - Thus Sang Lord Krishna by Sant Keshavadas, Tyler, Texas: All Faith Fellowship, 1975; God Talks with Arjuna ? the Bhagavad Gita by Paramahansa Yogananda. Los Angeles: Self Realization Fellowship, 1995.
Other prominent writings on this path are Karma Yoga by Swami Vivekananda.

The path of Bhakti Yoga is defined by Narada?s Bhakti Sutras. Two editions are currently available ? Narada Bhakti Sutras, Swami Tyagisananda, Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1967 and Narada?s Way of Divine Love, Swami Prabhavananda, Hollywood: Vedanta Press, 1971. The path of Divine Love includes Tantra Yoga. Along these lines is
The Path of the Mystic Lover by Bhaskar Bhattacharyaya with Nik Douglas and Penny Slinger, Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 1993. In the Bible this path of love and faith are seen in the book of Job, which is a clear example of the fire of yogic tapasya, and the book following it the Psalms, an example of the other side of the Divine test. I would also recommend the writings of Swami Ram Das of Ananda Ashram in South India, Ammachi (www.ammachi.org), and Abbott George Burke of Light of Christ Monastery, Borrego Springs, CA (ishajyoti@aol.com).

The path of Jnana Yoga is expressed in several texts notably Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (see my new edition published by Weiser) Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali ? Swami Hariharananda Aranya, SUNY Press) and the texts of Kashmir Shaivism. The writings of Swami Lakshman Jee (Joo) – notably Kashmir Shaivism ? The Secret Supreme (SUNY, 1988) – and Swami Muktananda ? Siddha Meditation and Introduction to Kashmir Shaivism (SYDA Foundation, 1977 and 1982) ? are most helpful overviews of this tradition. Jaideva Singh has translated most of the texts. Siva Sutras ? The Yoga of Supreme Identity. Jaideva Singh, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1979 Pratyabhijnahrdayam ? The Secret of Self-recognition by Jaideva Singh. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980; Vijnana-bhairava (The Yoga of Delight, Wonder, and Astonishment ? Jaideva Singh. Albany, SUNY Press, 1991; and the Spanda Karikas ? The Divine Creative Pulsation. Jaideva Singh. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980.


In addition to the three traditional yoga paths to Spirit, there is a Fourth Way. In that Way, Spirit directs and the seeker (Sadhaka) follows. The seeker is often touched during a time in life when they are not willing, disinterested, confused, or lacking purpose in their life. So the path comes as a shock as they are dragged, pulled, and pushed into the presence of the Spirit. This way is characterized by an unknowing, an uncertainty, a disbelief in what is happening. Clearly something is happening to them that is outside their normal perception of being in control of life. Now somehow life is out of control and they are being taken in a direction that cannot be comprehended.

The reluctant seeker must find counseling through ministers, spiritual friends, yoga and/or meditation teachers, books, and/or search the Internet for answers. Rarely is an answer forthcoming that is comforting to their experience. Instead the confusion increases, and with it uncertainty about the sanity of one?s mental state. Some go so far as to consider that some demonic force might possess them or that they have some mental illness or perhaps a brain tumor that is responsible for the altered reactions to the world.

If they are exposed to yoga they might read about the major forms of spiritual paths. Or they will encounter someone who presents themselves as an authority, due to many years of spiritual practice under the guidance of a great master. Such guidance is worthless for one truly on the fourth path, except in cases where the guide is clear that Spirit is in charge of this seeker. That their role is one of comforting, affirming that these experiences are valid signs of being touched by Spirit, that Spirit is real and that She does come to claim Her children. Of the three traditional paths, the devotional approach is the safest mindset for the seeker who finds themselves on the Fourth Way.

The Fourth Way is characterized by spontaneous experiences that were not taught in the normal sense of learning. One might be doing a practice of asana or prayer and out of that comes an involuntary understanding or a profound sense of energy captivating ones attention. The varieties of experience encompass all the forms of the senses for one is within the realm of the vital sheaths, the koshas. Persons experiencing this way are often atheists or agnostics. It seems to me that these seekers are the most reluctant, the ones needing proof after proof of the reality of Spirit?s presence. For them accepting help is much more difficult than acknowledging the senseless behaviors indicative of our common addictiveness to ego. And they are no different from others. We all go about life pretending that it is real, that what we do matters. This is in contrast with plenty of evidence to the contrary that a life built upon acquiring possessions, fame, physical and intellectual development is dry, empty, and hollow. In fact we ignore history. We deny (as the great devotee and Beatle lead guitarist George Harrison puts it) ?all things must pass?.

In response to this Spirit says ?time to wake up?. She gives one direct realizations of the transience of life and of the importance of waking up to the reality that She is the one running the only game there is.

Among the writings that are helpful in demystifying the spontaneous Kundalini/pranic experiences that come to the seeker are The Kundalini Experience by Lee Sannella, MD; Play of Consciousness by Swami Muktananda, SYDA Foundation; Science of Meditation by Swami Kripaluanand; and Yoga Vani ? Instructions for the Attainment of Siddhayoga by Swami Shankar Purushottam Tirtha, Ayurveda Holistic Center, Bayville, NY, 1992. From a Christian perspective a beautiful book is He and I by Gabrielle Bossis, Editions Paulines, Quebec, 1985 and An Eagle?s Flight by Abbott George Burke of Light of Christ Monastery, Borrego Springs, CA. The later is a remarkable account of a man following depth Yogic spiritual practices and circling his way back to an awakened path of knowing the living Christ.


Experiences of the Fourth Way
Sharing #3

Sometimes during sadhana we are blessed with the Divine Presence. This blessing is to be encouraged and an attitude of gratitude is the most appropriate response we can have. Here is one Jewish yoga student?s recent experience of this moment.

"Namaskar Mukunda, I must share this with you …

Yesterday, in my Shabbat morning sadhana – always my longest and deepest of the week – I received a beautiful gift … a spontaneous visit, I feel, from the Divine’s Presence. I was standing in Samasthiti, (erect standing pose) waiting to feel ready to begin Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), feeling the ground supporting me, energy coming up and into me, and down and into me. Expanding on each inhale, condensing “home” on each exhale. Just waiting.

Spontaneously, I began to move, and with each of the 12 steps of Surya Namaskar, I uttered one of the words of the “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad” prayer (Hear Oh Israel…) and the follow-up line (“Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto L’Olam Va’ed” - Blessed Be His Name and the Honor of His Reign for all Time). In all, these two phrases, recited one after other, contain 12 precious words affirming God’s Presence and supreme Majesty. For each of the 12 movements of the Sun Salutation, I uttered one of these 12 sacred words, ending with my hands at my heart, at the 12th and final word. Complete.

I repeated this for some time, I am not aware of how long this went on – I was unconscious of time, in a time warp of sorts – a moving prayer/meditation on the Surya Namaskar, each word and gesture a salutation to the Divine’s presence, completely surrendering myself to Spirit. Tears welled up, and yet I continued, completely “absorbed in Spirit” as described in the sutra. Though I am trying to capture it here, it is an indescribable experience.

When it was enough, when I felt complete, I sat in stillness, trembling. I sat for a long time, not needing to move, barely needing to breathe at all. I was completely in a state of bliss, immersed in Spirit.
I am still bathed in Light."

The blessing is of the Presence, which is with you. My role as your teacher is to encourage you in this immersion into Spirit as Light. For Shechinah, the Divine Feminine is with you and Her blessings are waiting for your calling Her to be with you. As Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutras I, 21
Mukunda Stiles. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Boston: Weiser, 2002, pg. 7.)

“For those who have
an intense urge for Spirit
and wisdom,
it sits near them

This is the finest, the highest form of Yoga. This Yoga begins with what appears to be Bhakti Yoga, a reverential attitude while doing any action. But the unexpected response occurs; it is this response that is the sign of the Fourth Way opening God/dess arms to you as Her child/seeker.
One of my spiritual friends sends out a daily emailing of his uplifting thoughts. Here are some relevant lines from a recent send.

“Finding the love is the task before us. Always, always, always. There is no other work. Find it and be it. It is like this: Love is not something you come upon, like a strange rock, or a tree, or a lake, or a sunset. It is something that comes into you, takes you over, and becomes the essence of your being. The longing for love is itself love.A teacher was asked the fastest way to God. His answer: Cry.That aloneness is a doorway for God. God seeks your need. Emptiness and hunger are magnets for the divine. They attract angels and friends. But it is the prayer that comes deeply from these things that does it, not the whining loneliness that resents others. It is the divine wonder seeking the companionship of God that invites epiphany and miracle. Inviting God is like finding love. God will come into your being as love does, opening you and jumping in, becoming your driver and your horse.
It takes listening, reading, learning. There are spiritual muscles that are strengthened by seeking.
They work backwards though, the strength to let go, and let go, and let go. When you find love, let go and it will grow. Let go and it will grow. Finally you are saying only one thing to yourself and to God: I love you”
(Eman8tions 11/24/01 Copyright ? 2001 by John MacEnulty. Subscriptions are free. Email your request to Eman8tions@aol.com)


Summary of Spirit?s Path
Sharing #4

Yoga Path:…Jnana - wisdom
Body Region:…Head
Action:…Knowledge of True Self
Text:…Kashmir Shaivism, Writings of illuminated masters

Yoga Path:…Bhakti - devotion
Body Region:…Heart
Action:…Love of inner teacher or God/dess
Text:…Bhakti Sutras of Narada

Yoga Path:…Karma - action
Body Region:…Gut
Action:…Selfless service
Text:…Bhagavad Gita

Yoga Path:…Raja ? royal path
Body Region:…Central nadi
Text:…Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


Techniques for Awakening

Pranayama ?

The key element for achieving effectiveness in pranayama and meditation is to form a strong resolution. The Sanskrit word for resolution is sankalpa. It means to form a determined mental effort, a resolve, or a vow that you are certain to complete and get to a defined goal. If the goal is not defined for pranayama, in fact for any yogic process, the result of the practice is subject to the whim and fancy of many variables. The Yoga Sutras reveal that each technique has a goal, an attainment that comes from consistent practice. As you read the Sutras you will see that the initial description is a definition of the practice and the final line on the technique is a description of the attainment that is to come. By resolving to achieve the specified goal, it is within your grasp. Without a goal it is like sailing a ship without a rudder or a destination.

Experience - the sea
Thought - currents of wind and water
Mind/Body ? a sailing ship
Will - the captain of the ship
Peace ? the port of destination

The Captain knows the sea and the vessel he guides through the currents of wind and water. A good captain and a worthy vessel, he shall guide himself through the currents to his port of destination.

To know the goal and all the elements cited above, takes consistent earnest effort and experienced guidance. God is the guide for all, and the outer teacher is in service to that guide. Keep in mind Patanjali?s Yoga Sutras as the guide for all teachers of Yoga. For asana practice, the Sutras (II, 48 ) say the goal is to be ?free of duality?. For pranayama the goal is regulate the prana so that it ?will become prolonged and subtle? (II, 50).

Shambhavi Bhastrika

Bhastrika Pranayama is described in the Hathayoga Pradipika II, 59-67 and the Gheranda Samhita V, 75-77. It is characterized by a quick expulsion of breath producing a sound like a fireplace bellow. The practice is a continuation of training that was begun with Kapalabhati. In an ideal situation, the student will have had a season of training with Kapalabhati Kriya first before attempting Bhastrika. In this manner they will be well prepared and avoid the most common difficulties and deleterious side effects.

The ideal posture for Bhastrika is Lotus (Padmasana). Since this practice can bring out the deeper impurities of both the physical and psychic body, the Lotus posture can help one to rise above the unusual sensations that are bound to arise from its continued practice. There are many variations that are to be learned from a qualified certified pranayama teacher as this practice can profoundly deepen meditation and enhance purification of the nadis when done correctly.

For the first level of practice begin as in Kapalabhati Pranayama exhaling by a forcible contraction of the central abdomen. Allow the inhalation to occur without effort. The amount of force on the exhalation is moderate yet insufficient to flare the nostrils or create tensions in the neck or facial muscles. Your posture will remain stable and relatively motionless once the practice is proficient. Begin to increase the pace yet maintain a steady rhythm.

Practice to your capacity, but not more than 60 seconds. Then after the last expulsion take a very deep inhalation followed by the pause and apply first the root lock then the neck lock. Hold the pause as long as is comfortable, then let the exhalation release slowly and gently without strain. This is one round of Bhastrika. Practice no more than three rounds without a qualified supervisor. Bhastrika Pranayama increases Agni and Pachaka Pitta.


Sharing #5

The second level of practice can begin after you have spent at least two weeks polishing the instructions for the Cleansing Breath (Kapalabhati). Once you are stable at keeping your abdomen contracting during every exhale, then you can increase that rate that you can sustain steadily for 30 seconds. This constitutes the pace for doing Bhastrika. They key for providing the most benefit from the practice is to hold the intention to increase the energy and heat level of the digestive fire (Agni) centered in the abdomen.

To practice the method sit in the most stable posture you can and breathe with an abdominal focus. After three to six breath cycles, begin to increase the pace while intensifying the force of the exhalations for half a minute. Then take a deep inhalation and reverse your hands turning the fingers backward straightening your arms, pulling back and down on your shoulders, while pressing down on your knees to set yourself for the bandhas. As you exhale pull all three bandhas beginning with the Root Lock, Stomach Lock, and completing with the Neck Lock. The Root Lock (Mula Bandha) is formed by an upward pull on the pelvic diaphragm musculature between the coccyx and the pubic bone (back to front) and the sitting bones (ischial tuberosity) side to side. The Stomach Lock (Uddiyana Bandha) is an upward pull of the thoracic diaphragm accompanied by and abdominal hollowing. The Neck Lock (Jalandhara Bandha) is the final lock applied by pulling the chin down the sternal notch at the top of the breastbone. If you have not received personal instruction seek that before too much time goes along with practice. They are safe provided one does not have elevated blood pressure, hiatal hernia, and are not pregnant. Adjust the effort level of the bandhas so they are all pulled equally. Pause from breathing as long as you can sustain yourself comfortably. Then relax the locks and your arms to breathe naturally. Continue with steady abdominal breathing for a minimum of three cycles then repeat the Bhastrika at least three times.

It was highly recommended by my spiritual teacher, Swami Muktananda, as a practice to do this practice immediately following chanting and preceding meditation. I have found that it catapults me into a deep state quite consistently.

?This is called Shambhavi Bhastrika because Lord Shiva first taught this technique to the Goddess Shambhavi. It has tremendous value, and is highly mysterious. It destroys all disease; particularly the diseases of the stomach . . . the essence of food will permeate your entire system more effectively. You will be filled with fresh oxygen, and the prana will be purified. . .

First of all, you should learn it from a very good teacher, one has learned it perfectly. Then to do Bhastrika you should sit in a good posture, either Padmasana (lotus), Siddhasana (adepts pose) or Sukhasana (easy pose). Your spine must be straight. The head, the heart and the base of the spine should be in a straight line. Beginners can sit against a wall to keep their backs straight. Place your hands in Chin Mudra (with thumb and index finger touching) down upon your knees. Your mind should be quiet, and you must have an empty stomach. ?
(Swami Dayananda with Janaki Vunderink. Hatha Yoga for Meditators. South Fallsburg, NY: SYDA Foundation, 198l, pg. 86.)


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