Art of Knowing Nothing
2015 Paul Bartholomew
not search for the truth;
cease to value opinions.
not chase the world.
Hsin Ming by Seng-T'san
on the True Mind
love a story!”
book is beyond radical. Radical means pertaining to the roots or
foundation. This book claims there is no such thing as roots or
foundation. There is only the utter clarity of reality as it is. And
that is exactly what I have found to be the case.
To those familiar with my way of describing reality as it is, this
book may shake up what you think you understand. And that is a good
thing. Because goodness knows the last thing any of us needs is
Lott author of Peace Feels Like This and You’re Trying to Hard
Part 1 Mystic
The Ancient Science of Yoga – what is the point? 22
The Yoga of Intelligence- gyan 43
The Yoga of Meditation 56
The Yoga of Lifestyle-karma 68
The Yoga of Knowledge 78
The Yoga of Meditation 102
The Yoga of Desire - kama 125
Is Yoga a belief system? 153
The Vedas Upanishads and Buddhism 183
Indian Philosophy 210
Yoga in the West 225
Quantum Yoga 253
The Language of Yoga 262
Part 2 Classical
Yoga Texts 268
The Middle Way-Buddhist Yoga 270
The Yoga Sutras 278
Beyond Yoga 335
The Avadhuta Gita-hardcore yoga 339
book is about that elusive
and mysterious subject called Yoga. It is dedicated to my father
whose religion was golf and to my mother who was a staunch Catholic
born in Bangalore and rejected everything about India except the
food. I must point out from the onset that this is not a book about
the type of yoga that is most commonly associated with the practice
of yoga, at least in Europe and North America, which is hatha,
a set of postures called asanas
I have up to now avoided hatha yoga classes assiduously, except for a
few months back in the 1980s when I practiced under the tutelage of
the Italian yoga pioneer Carlo Patrian. I do not have the
temperament for hatha yoga. What follows here is my exposition of the
spiritual and philosophical characteristics of yoga which are in some
aspects bound to its Indian heritage but are also universally
relevant to the human condition. Yoga relates to a mystic union or a
bridge between the transient and the infinite and is not defined by
religion. The practice of yoga is not a threat to the precepts of
Christianity, Islam, Judaism or Buddhism. It is not injurious to
health. Yoga is simply a state of mind.
the many translations of the word Yoga – and there are many such as
union, link, synthesis, yoking, unity of consciousness, oneness –
the one that I prefer is ‘all’. But there is a twist. It is all
and nothing. Yoga exists when there is nothing else.
am writing this book for myself. It represents everything I know or
want to know about Yoga. That includes meditation, Indian philosophy
and spirituality, Buddhism, yogic systems, methods and conclusions.
When I am done, that is it for one lifetime. If I ever forget I want
to be able to refer to this book and remember everything there is to
know. None of this information leads anywhere. Before it is too late
I want to master the art of knowing nothing. That sounds kind of Zen.
I know nobody will read this book – of
the making of many books there is no end,
a line that comes from Ecclesiastes in the bible. Swamiji said to
somebody once why bother writing a book if you don’t get paid. It’s
true. It is all ego, vanity, and books like everything else end up in
the bonfire, burnt in the final days of the sun. Just like you. We
all know nothing in in the end. But there is an art to knowing
has always bugged me about yoga as in the many thousands of yoga
classes taught every day all over the world. And that is that it
seems so soulless, like a ritual to some kind of body worshipping
cult. Something is missing, some essence that distinguishes yoga
from Zumba and Pilates. Something that those crazy Indians latched
onto thousands of years ago and hung to tenaciously. And I know what
it is - this essence is the spirituality and mysticism that
constitutes the very inner sanctum of yoga. Without this inner core
of mysticism, yoga would not be any different from simply going to
the gym or jogging or any other dumb arse keep fit workout. It would
just be a physical exercise. Yoga is much more than mere isometrics
and getting a tight but.
Europe and the USA, the default mind of society set is now firmly
secular. As far as history can reach back, approximately six thousand
years, societies had a religious orientation, sometimes little more
than superstition, ritualised, devotional and as time passed
increasingly institutionalised. Now the human experience is at the
center of most people’s lives, with desire, not religion, the prime
mover in society. Social democracies are atheistic. Though a large
percentage of people profess a faith, society has divorced itself
from the precepts of religion, either in practice or by law. Religion
is irrelevant, scarcely mentioned in the media.
practice of yoga reflects this secularism. All spiritual aspects
have been stripped away. There is lip service paid to the masters of
spiritual philosophy such as Patanjali or secular mindfulness
meditation. Reaching nirvana or understanding the vijnana
of consciousness is almost never on the agenda. Destressing the mind
and getting a healthy body is invariably the goal. Yoga has become
detached from its mystic roots. The practice of yoga today has become
branded, barely distinguishable from calisthenics or Pilates. It is
Zumba on a mat.
spiritual element of yoga is usually incorporated into the extensive
training that yoga teachers must undertake to gain a qualification,
but the mystic aspects are often neglected in the classes. Neglected
is probably an understatement. More ignored. There is not much money
to be made from mysticism these days. The Halcyon days of the sixties
are gone for most gurus. The spiritual side to yoga is frequently
compartmentalised as a discipline that someone else’s meditation
classes take care of, if at all, something separate from the yoga
poses. Back in the day
physical exercises of yoga were intended to calm the mind, keeping
the body healthy. They were a part of a bigger process. In the
practice of yoga exercises nowadays there is often a focus on
achieving results, such is the nature of our results orientated
society full of angry and frustrated people. The rationale is, if you
want to be good at yoga, you must practice hard at perfecting the
poses. But the modern practice of yoga has to be placed squarely in
the far wider context of a mystic and philosophical tradition that
goes back many thousands of years. As Bob said, it is time to bring
it all back home.
mystic elements are not so easily gauged in terms of demonstrable
results. Spiritual yoga is a practice of refining your inner being
and opening your everyday awareness to a far greater consciousness
that transcends the limitations of the ordinary mind. There are no
easily identifiable benchmarks to show progress or even target a
well-defined goal. This makes it difficult to promote as a marketable
spiritual side of yoga has been prevalent from the onset going way
back to pre-history when yoga’s mystic core was first established.
The classics of Indian spiritual literature shaped and molded the
development of yoga from its origins. This ancient science of the art
of living dissected with great precision just what it means to be
alive and sought to provide an answer to the burning questions of
life and death. I will examine the various methodologies of mystic
yoga, starting with gyan
yoga which evaluates how we know and experience the world. Meditation
is an integral element in yoga to enable an understanding of
ourselves as individuals and is fundamental to the yogic lifestyle as
lived by the ancient sages of India. This included the traditions of
Karma and Bhakti
and sex is examined through the lens of the kama
that looks at how the practicing yogi deals with these aspects of the
part two I ask whether embracing the spiritual essence of yoga
requires adopting a belief system or religious dogma. To answer this
question, we look at the different schools of philosophy that
developed in India over thousands of years with diverse
characteristics, all sharply focused on achieving an understanding of
the cosmos and our place in it. The role of the guru is paramount in
the Indian spiritual tradition, perhaps uniquely so, and in the last
century when gurus from India first began to travel to Europe and
America things often got a little weird as two very different social
cultures sought to understand each other.
book on yoga can leave out the age of European colonialism when
Britain was the dominant power on the Indian continent. I am a
product of that system. European intellectuals sought to understand
the Indian tradition against the background of the European
Enlightenment. Many of them were in awe of what they found. Some
intellectuals were dismayed at what they interpreted as barbarism,
not understanding the intellectual discipline of the competing
philosophies. Others viewed Indian ideas as inferior to those of a
more evolved European intellect, indulging in a form of cultural
racism that was prevalent in those days of white supremacy and closet
eugenics. Many European intellectuals made a dry academic study of a
fluid spirituality, missing the point entirely. As a result, the
philosophies of India have never been given the universal respect
they deserve, considered as products of an ethereal mysticism which
even many yoga students find a little flaky – and possibly too
challenging - for their liking. And this is perhaps why the spiritual
essence of yoga is often understated in modern yoga practice, in
preference for a more vigorous physical approach.
are many schools of hatha yoga which differentiate themselves by
level of intensity and the cycle of asanas or poses used. Many are
identified with a charismatic founder. Some go as far as to become
marketable brands with extra added value. The most popular are:
or Hot Yoga,
exist striking similarities with the Buddhist and Christian
traditions, both of which have a profoundly spiritual component.
Quantum theory is a relatively recent attempt to understand the
nature of reality. Quantum physics shares more in common with the
metaphysical aspects of yoga practice than meets the eye. Indian
philosophies covered much of the quasi philosophical ground of
quantum theory thousands of years before. Their conclusion was that
there is just one universal consciousness, just one, not division or
separation of mind and matter, or spirit and the world, or abstract
and concrete reality. The quantum community are still wedded to a
dualist version of reality, of a material world that is either a
vibration or a particle, but nobody knows which, for all of their
brilliantly complex mathematical equations which shock and awe those
not in the secret of quantum uncertainty.
study of world literature often overlooks the Indian spiritual
tradition. The Vedas are amongst the earliest works of known
literature, written in a sophisticated system of grammar. The Yoga
Sutras of Patanjali is a manual of a lifestyle that leads towards
enlightenment and a realisation of both the individual and cosmic
self. The Avadhuta Gita is a challenging, even extreme, description
of the mindset of a person who has totally transcended the human
condition, denying the very existence of our perceived reality. The
Verses on the True Mind by The Third Patriarch of Zen, which strictly
speaking is not part of the Indian Yoga tradition, very succinctly
expounds the principles of non-dualism which were deeply engrained in
many of the Indian philosophies and certainly in the one that has
thrived in Europe and the USA. That is Advaita Vedanta, the
philosophy of unity of consciousness.
Oracle at Delphi said know yourself. According to the Indian sage
Ramana Maharshi, the only valid question in life is to ask who am I?
A sign on the window of the Yoga studio says yoga
lessons: inquire within.
often confuse exterior and interior realities. Who exactly is the
person that looks within. It is not the person on a set of identity
documents or that face that looks back at you in a mirror. That
person is a fleeting fiction who will come and go like a cameo role
in some cosmic drama, a kind of celestial actor. Who then? The
philosophy of Yoga teaches that we all have a great tool to discover
who this fictional character really is. And it does so by breaking
down everything that we take for granted, challenging conventional
knowledge and defying orthodoxy.
tool that can crack the cosmic safe where the cosmos keeps its
secrets well hid is the intellect which has the power to discriminate
between objects and situations and make appropriate choices. The
intellect is at its basest level just a highly-evolved survival
instinct which relies on the sense of distinguishing between what is
a source of danger and what is not, and then taking an appropriate
course of action. The intellect is a great tool, but let us not
forget that it is just a tool.
is a product of this tool. The sense of reason, the ability to
distinguish, is a faculty that has evolved over billions of years.
What the early practitioners of yoga suggested was that the fully
expanded intellect has a single purpose and that is to allow us to
tune into a higher consciousness and thereby reach a level of
knowledge that lesser mortals will never attain, not because they are
stupid but because they remain prisoners of the base intellect. Yoga
is fully compatible with modern theories of evolution.
is cosmic order which equates to moral order. Morality is not defined
by us humans. There in a natural balance of things – Satya - which
must be respected and kept intact. Things are not false but more in a
state of disorder. Truth
is the natural state of cosmic harmony. So don’t mess with it!
early Indian philosophers equated intellect not with reason but with
a universal consciousness. Everything, they said, is consciousness.
Flowers, clouds, reflections of the moon in a pond and the wind
rustling leaves in a forest. Even a slug on a wet summers evening
pulling itself along a pathway is imbued with consciousness.
humans have the highest intelligence in terms of reasoning power. We
tend to think of consciousness as a human attribute. What defines us
as a species is the evolution of our brain structure and our ability
to analyse the world, looking for competitive advantage both over
fellow humans and nature itself. The downside is that the intellect
is constantly searching for meaning to give value to the information
stream that flows into our brains every microsecond. We are designed
to be involved, to get with the programme, with a brief respite in
sleep; and even in sleep, dreams pull us back into the realm of
mental activity. That is the essence of the human condition that the
early Indian philosophers and scientists identified: to be involved,
ensnared, and bound to the world. They realised that to experience
existence without attributing some kind of value is nigh on
impossible. Everything has a name and a definition. Everything seems
so real. But they also saw clearly that the only experience that
cannot be accessed by the senses or mind is the state of existence
after death because that is beyond the power of the intellect.
challenge that they set themselves was to merge
into a reality that is immune to death. This deathless reality
equates to transcendental consciousness. Over many thousands of
years, via diverse schools of philosophy, this challenge was met
through the growth of ideologies that embraced various intellectual
positions. Throughout this process there is one common theme: that a
human life can only be fully experienced to its highest potential by
abandoning any identification with the experience of reality through
the senses and instead re-identifying our sense of self with a higher
consciousness which is resistant to the forces of decay and is
is a huge challenge. And in the following chapters I will look at the
various methodologies that were created to find an answer that we can
relate to without somehow giving primacy to our powers of intellect
which can only define what is experienced by the brain. In short how
to experience both what we were before birth and what we remain as
after death. It is an almost impossible herculean task. To overcome
this challenge, the
ancient mystics challenged the very concepts of life and death as
separate experiences or even as different sides of the same coin. Our
sense reality, they said, is an illusion and a fundamental
misconception. And this begs the question: if this reality is an
illusion, what then is real, if anything?
teaches us that there is just one reality and one knowledge. This
knowledge has no form and no substance and cannot be conceptualised.
To grasp this with the mind requires a higher awareness.
for all of its failings, the intellect is the only tool that can
train us to achieve this knowledge and transform the mind.
language of Indian philosophy and its mystic tradition is in some
respects very much of its time. Light dispels darkness. Brightness,
enlightenment, the illusion of the rope seen as a snake in the dark.
Nowadays we mostly live in cities with light pollution and never a
clear view of the stars in the night sky. The planet seen from space
is all blazing electric light. None of that existed back then and the
analogies and metaphors that uses light, such as the lamp of wisdom,
were so much more cogent and immediate than they are today. We do not
fear the darkness so much anymore. We probably even mourn the loss of
dark places to retreat to from the ubiquitous illumination of street
lightings. Few people in an urban setting or anywhere in proximity
to a city experience darkness. But the metaphor of light as opposed
to dark runs throughout the Vedas and the Upanishads and Buddhism.
Sometimes we can substitute knowledge for light and ignorance for
darkness. One of the books by Shankara, who was the philosopher who
laid down the framework for the type of rational mysticism that we
associate with Indian today, has been translated as the Light of
fundamental term such as dukkha
been translated in all manner of ways – as suffering, as stress, as
misery and woe or by an extended explanation such as ‘the
unsatisfactory experiencing of life due to the essentially
insubstantial nature off all things’. Some words have a basic
meaning and an extended philosophical one that has no equivalent in
for example, can mean simply prior to or before or ‘the moment
before the experience of now’. Neuronal science has explained this
phenomenon – the moment when data hits the brain but before meaning
is attributed - but lacks a word to describe it.
Malhotra is a businessman turned academic who rails against Western
academics interpreting the Indian philosophical tradition and
translating Sanskrit using a Western mind set, accusing Western
academia of indulging in neo-colonisation. Although he frequently
goes over the top and off the rails, he does have a point. We
westerners have often taken stuff from India and claimed it as ours,
not only architectural artefacts but entire spiritual traditions. You
could say that Yoga is one of those cultural thefts.
Take Back Yoga
is a Hindu movement in the US that aims to reclaim Yoga from the
secular modern postural exercises that it has become. I do not know
what they will think of me, a citizen of Britain, taking the high
a disclaimer. This is my interpretation of five thousand years of
Indian mysticism and philosophy from the Vedas to the present day.
None of it is true or correct or claims to be at the center of the
circle of academic truth. I just love this stuff. It makes sense to
me. This is me writing in London, in a room, in a house with
electricity and gas and a road outside, wired up to a global network,
far removed from the ancient night sky and dusty trails and fields of
India where Gautapada, Nargajuna, Shankara and Kapila debated on the
meaning of existence in a universe. These guys are my mythical
heroes. My experience of an objective reality is so different from
back then. But has anything changed apart from the details? We are
born, live and die here, against our will. We claim possession of the
world and have an identity that we respond to. It is just our place
in time and space that defines us. This is a labour of love and we
all know what that means: passion and good intentions but we get it
wrong sometimes. Please forgive me.
is a term used in yoga to describe a shift in consciousness. It has
been described as walking through a door into a new psychological
panorama. This is first contact with higher consciousness. This is
meeting our true self, in our original space. It is the same world as
before but transcended. The birds still sing, the bees buzz, and the
morning dew glistens in the sun, joyous and free. The prisoner is
released from the cage of a former existence. There is no going back.
Once free, forever free.
is a sacred sound
and a spiritual icon in Dharmic
religions and philosophies. It is also a mantra
in Yoga, Buddhism
In classic Indian philosophies, Om
is a spiritual symbol referring to both Atman
(the soul, self within) and Brahman
(the ultimate reality, the entirety of the universe, the one truth,
and the supreme spirit).
syllable is one of the most important symbols in Indian
spiritual practices and is often found at the beginning and the end
of chapters in the Vedas,
Yoga Sutras. It is spoken or chanted during the recitation of
spiritual texts and during meditative and spiritual activities such
1 Mystic Origins
Ancient Science of Yoga – what is the point?
I should ask what is the point of yoga? Perhaps I should side track.
In Sanskrit, the ancient language of India the word ‘artha’
means purpose, meaning or sense. This Sanskrit word, part of the
Indo-European lexicon of languages, is the distant descendent of the
English word ‘art’. Yoga is art. Yoga is purpose. Yoga is
is the meaning of life? If this
were a cartoon, an ancient hunter dressed in skin and carrying a
club, would be staring up at the night sky, in a state of wonder.
Inside the cartoon caption there is a big question mark: just what
is going on here and what is happening up there? I am here
and the stars are there,
distant, unreachable in infinite space,
separate, billions of years apart.
There is always a sense of otherness. Us and them, separated at
question our ancestor would have asked is what happens when we leave
the world behind? And if there is anything at all does it happen
thousands of years ago mystics experienced a deathless state in which
there is neither ‘here’ nor ‘there’. In this state both
questions and answers exist in harmony. They recognised that such a
state cannot be expressed intellectually in words. But we have to
start with the world around us. That is human reality, the material
world, the one we breath and feel, with oxygen, carbon and the rest
of the elemental stuff. It appears three dimensional with a
beginning and end to everything, all causally related and mostly
predictable. Humans are at the top of the food chain and bacteria at
the bottom, mutually dependent. Where would be without our bacteria?
compartmentalise our reality into little packets of comfortable
familiarity, with a tendency to polarise everything. Rain and
sunshine, pain and pleasure, life and death, love and hatred, peace
and violence, man and woman, child and adult, week and weekend, day
and night, sunrise and sunset. Oh yes – now and then, me and you,
us and them. And just as everyone instinctively knows the world and
how to measure, quantify and compartmentalise the shapes and objects
experienced through the senses, we all also have the innate ability
to know what lies beyond the senses, beyond
all of this.
This is what defines mysticism most succinctly: that we can
experience an enhanced reality as part of our natural condition.
Mysticism is not weird. It just gets a bad press. Never believe what
creates a sense of self-identity from their personal experiences,
bundling up selective memories to construct a personality, and
thereby creating a unique sense of self-identity.
We all do it
-it’s the way the brain works. This ‘me’ seems cemented in a
comprises past individual experiences and dependencies: parents,
a place and date of birth, a social security number, a nationality, a
wardrobe of clothes, a favourite pair of shoes, a set of likes and
dislikes and set of cultural preferences many of which are arbitrary.
And so on, all the way to the grave. Myriad details all merge to
solidify a personal identity. On death, these details disintegrate.
There is no more, it would seem. Rien
ne va plus – no more bets.
remains, and what happens to all that life energy when the machine
switches itself off? These are questions of What and Why and When
and How and Where and Who – and WTF? The questioning state is a
distinctly human experience; we all want an answer. I am begging you,
please. So off we go and create cosmically inspired belief systems
and religions to accommodate our existential doubts and explain away
our feelings of insecurity when confronted with the lack of apparent
big intergalactic questions go invariably in one of two directions:
God bound or human bound.
an all knowing and omnipotent God comes to the rescue, like in the
ancient Greek tragedies when a deus
literally a god from the stage machinery, would appear at the end of
the play to resolve everything nicely so everybody can go home
feeling nice, if not at the very least reassured.
we humans kid ourselves that, because we have the intellectual
prowess of the most highly evolved life system on this planet, there
is some universal principle that ordains us as special case, either
designed by god or self-appointed. Neither option has proved entirely
satisfactory outside of religion. This is not to denigrate the
religions of the world – more on that later. But there is a big
question mark hanging over the planet, not visible from outer space,
but bigger than the great wall of China. This question manifests in
many ways: as doubt, as insecurity, as unease, a restless feeling. It
is what the Buddha called dukkha.
thing is that we are not all that evolved. There are a trillion more
things that we don’t know that we do know. We share most of our DNA
with primates such as bonobo monkeys and orangutans. We are not much
different from frogs and pigs structurally. Our reasoning powers are
not much more sophisticated than that of a chimpanzee. Not compared
to the reason powers of galaxies. We are kind of a dumb arses species
with a chimp mind. We just love all the violence and killing on
television, fascinated and addicted.
is another mind – the mystic consciousness - and it needs to be
thought through first. Yoga is a philosophy of existence that
resolves all doubt and dissolves the questioning mind. It is based on
a system of information that does not require belief in any ideology
or contradict any of the world’s faith system. Not Christianity,
not Islam, not Buddhism, Sufism, Jainism, not Scientology nor the
religion of the Jeddhi. It does not require a particularly
intellectual mind or an academic background. Everyone can grasp this
science just by looking within. It is self-evident.
Yoga is also low
on its quota on moral and ethical imperatives. Morality and ethics
are always relative. The one moral ‘commandment’ is ahimsa, the
principle of non-violence, the one that Martin Luther King adopted in
the Civil Rights struggle in America.
has been the bread and butter of philosophers since the dawn of
philosophy. Yoga just happens to express this in a way that somehow
makes perfect sense when experienced through the filter of a
spiritual mysticism. All sense of reason is sublimated to a
transcended consciousness. And this does not come easy to the average
man and woman, indoctrinated in the supremacy of causal reality.
reality is the conditioned world where everything and everyone
impacts on everything and everyone else.
is the reality of an involvement in a cycle of misery and joy, of
creation and disintegration.
transcended consciousness cannot be defined purely intellectually as
it embraces contradiction and does not rely on rational thought or
the intellect for the validation of a self-evident truth. A
troublesome proposition, no? It is both a knowledge of the world
and of the one reality that created this world. This knowledge is
formless. Furthermore, it is not a knowledge of anything.
are bold statements indeed. Yoga boasts of impressive cohones.
truths are true and not true at the same time. This is polar logic –
embracing both poles of logic simultaneously. Nothing is entirely
true or false, merely relative.
stuff is extremely perplexing to the rational mind wedded to the
three-dimensional world of a space time continuum where everything
has its proper place.
the human race, is addicted to logic, despite being primarily
motivated by illogical desires. We have broken down logic to nice
little departments: syllogistic
modal logic, philosophical
logical positivism, Boolean logic, even Fuzzy logic and so on. It is
an accepted truism that logic is good and illogical is less good.
are some very good grounds on which to challenge this truism that
raises logic to its lofty position in our civilisation as if it is
the only game in town.
matter with this cruel word today?
human disease of war and genocide which infects nations and cultures
with an irrational impulse towards violence lead to some 200,000
million dead just in the last century alone. And that is excluding
casual murder, just organised slaughter. The total deaths of World
War I, World War II, and the Russian Civil War were 80 million, 16%
of all Europeans dead due to warfare. War and genocide are carried
out by governments acting irrationally in the name of logic. The
disease of war is an irrational disease of the logical mind.
ideology is not immune to the irrationality of some logical policies.
In China, Mao’s Great Leap Forward resulted in 20-40 million
deaths, most by needless starvation but 6-8 percent as a result of
politically motivated torture and murder. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia
murdered a quarter of the population in the name of an ideology.
Stalin whose death tally could be as high as forty million, once had
a hundred and twenty thousand Poles killed for being in the wrong
place. It all seemed very logical at the time.
of course, slavery from Europe’s dark past, the epitome of human
cruelty. Business logic dictated that trade. The Nazis applied the
logic of the perverse ideology of eugenics to their murderous
activities. The USA and Russia between them have over twelve
nuclear warheads. Ten of which would destroy civilisation. A hundred
would change the ecosphere. We have the capacity to exterminate the
species – it is no longer the act of wrathful god from the Bible
but the stupidity of the human intellect.
perhaps we are not the cleverest species on the planet after all. Our
logic and sense of reason is fundamentally flawed.
Indian philosophers for the most part, going back two thousand years,
have always argued that logic is never absolute, but subservient to
a greater cosmic consciousness. From the yoga perspective, everything
in the human experience is relative and conditioned, including logic
and reason. Nothing in the physical realm is by itself a stand-alone
truth. And this is because things only appear
real. Logic only appears
to be logical. Some branches of quantum physics have reached the same
puzzling conclusion with no sign of ever being able to prove any of
is just the mind in operation. Yoga proposes that our sense of
reality is neither true nor false, but only relative. It is all in
the mind and it is all an illusion, which is neither true nor false.
Logic would dictate that illusion relates to something false and
unreal, but in the mystic vision of the world there is a distinction
between illusion and falsehood. Illusion is not the opposite of truth
or reality. It is simply a misunderstanding as to the real nature of
existence. It is a misconception on a cosmic scale.
The origins of
today is sanitized but yogic practices originated in a deep mystic
frenzy thousands of years ago during magical rituals dedicated to
Lord Shiva and his consort, the goddess Kali, performed on
cremation grounds many thousands of years ago. Kali was a fierce
fetish god, worshiped as the mother of life and death by a sect
called the Aghoris
at the edge of civilization near cemeteries. Aghoris
based their beliefs on two principles: that Shiva is omniscient,
omnipresent and omnipotent and is also the primal cause of absolutely
everything. Consequently, everything that exists must be perfect. To
deny the inherent perfection of anything is to deny the sanctity of
all life in its full manifestation. Even death is perfect.
fetishists were really weird and liked nothing better than a fresh
corpse for some odd ritual stuff. Meditating seated on a corpse was a
badge of honour and eating cadavers showed contempt for fear of
death. Yes, these guys ate dead people to prove something to someone
(make me a corpse burger). A fierce warrior cult developed out of
these fetishistic practices and in time a view of the body as a
temple became integral to the practices of Kali worship. Yoga
poses were originally militaristic. This primitive form of Yoga
evolved and adapted to local cultures and deities. Gradually, this
civilization became more structured, and the death cult origins were
marginalized. Yoga was made safe and accessible to the ordinary
householder in an organised society.
the secrets of the death cult were carefully codified so their
essence could be transmitted during ceremonial initiations. The
performance aspects of this tradition became ritualised and more
sophisticated. First orally and later in scriptures, the arcane
secrets of reuniting life and death, matter and spirit, morphed into
teachings of a higher existence. The emergent philosophies were
practiced by a literate intelligentsia. The death cult origins were
preserved in the martial arts performed by an army of wild monks,
skin daubed in grey funeral ash and faces painted orange.
Indian Vedas there is no doubt about the reality of the world. The
early gods were related to a force of nature. Humanity was completely
at the mercy of the gods who were not bound by morality. They were
powerful entities corresponding with nature and it was considered
sensible to buy favour with these amoral gods. The cosmos had a
natural order. Piety was practical if you wanted the gods to look
after your family
practice of sacrifice and the primeval ritualization are still
evident in our increasingly secular age. The sacrifice of the ego on
the altar of meditation is a throwback to the age of animal
sacrifice. Mantras are a substitute for superstitious spells. Just as
animal sacrifice presumes the gods have human attributes with a belly
to fill, mantras assume the universe has ears to hear.
philosophy developed in the wider Indian tradition which spanned two
distinct civilisations, the Aryan North and the Shivait South. Some
of the earliest writings in the history of humanity originate in the
civilization of the Indus valley of the northwest region of India in
the Bronze Age period 3300-1300 BCE. This era was globally the big
bang of human consciousness with a flowering of higher thought.
Little is known of how they lived and what they believed in but we do
know their civilization was technologically sophisticated with
flushing toilets and a sewer system that most European cities could
not compete with until the twentieth century, some four thousand
ancient civilization produced the Upanishads
and the Vedas,
first transmitted orally down through generations and then in
writing. This oral tradition includes songs of poetry and philosophy
called gitas, the most famous of which is the Bhagavad Gita.
This tells of a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna on the eve a
great battle, with Krishna explaining the true nature of life and
death and how to act in this world, to Prince Arjuna who is
understandably having a psychological melt down at the prospect of
having to kill old friends and relatives the next day on the
is a great prince who has been unjustly deprived of his birth-right
by his wicked uncle. He leads a great army into battle and rides to
the front line with his charioteer Krishna to survey the opposite
army. There he sees many of his relatives and former teachers and
friends and he realises that he is fighting real people, not
imaginary villains, and that he will have to kill some of the people
so dear to him if he is to win the day. He turns to Krishna and says
he just can’t do it. He wants to go home and forget about this war
and the killing machine.
sets him straight in a comprehensive exposition of the various
schools of Indian philosophy. He tells Arjuna that the real situation
is that he is not killing anyone because there is nobody there to be
killed (life and death being all part of the big illusion). As long
as Arjuna thinks that he is the one doing the killing, he will be
plagued by fear and doubt which just guarantees misery, not to
mention an inefficient use of time. Although there will be a whole
heap of violence on the battlefield, Arjuna in
the true essence of his nature
is not involved. He is just not part of it, even though someone who
answers to the name of Arjuna will be slashing away with his sword
and doing all that battlefield stuff. That Arjuna is not who he is.
first of all this is not about non-action. One might imagine that the
principle of nonviolence (ahisma) would dictate that Arjua simply not
fight. That is not the way forward Krishna says because these guys
want to string you up. Krishna tells Arjuna to give up
self-identification with the fruits of his actions. The Self cannot
be killed. These people, his teachers, friends and relatives, are
manifestations of a consciousness that is totally unidentified with
what is about to happen on the battlefield.
person who thinks that the Self causes the killing or that anybody
kills the Self has not grasped the truth, because the Self neither
kills nor is killed.
Self, or God, is not subject to birth or death. Even when God has
become manifest in some form or other, seemingly having been born,
the truth is that God remains eternal. When a body appears to be
killed, it is only the earthly form that changes. The Self remains
forever the same.
Arjuna, as you now know the Self or God is eternal and not subject to
the changes of the physical form in birth and death, who is it that
is doing the killing and being killed? There is no need to grieve for
manifest in a physical form, just casts off that form, like changing
clothes. Nothing really changes. There is just the appearance of
Self cannot be cut or burnt or drowned or blown by the wind. Nothing
affects the Self. It is immortal and indestructible.
keep God in mind as eternal, omniscient, unmoving, ever present.
Self is unmanifest, beyond our comprehension, beyond change. So do
not worry or fear, Arjuna
big battle scene is just part of a larger heroic epic but the
dramatic confrontation with imminent death allows Arjuna a moment of
epiphany of the truth of his existence and his whole assumed raison
d'être. Krishna dismantles Arjuna’s idea of who he thinks he is,
thereby allowing him to rediscover his true being, while still
remaining the Prince Arjuna character who circumstances have brought
to that moment in time, on the eve of a huge and bloody battle.
is not really about the battle- this is partly a literary device as
this is all part of a much larger epic about warring tribes. This is
an extreme situation and in such moments of high drama people are
open to revelations and insight. But it could be any situation that
we face in modern life – battles are not so much in vogue these
days – like a confrontation with someone or a job interview or any
situation that you would much rather avoid.
introduces the concepts of yogah
efficiency in action and samatva-buddhi,
steady in yoga, Arjuna, do whatever has to be done; give up
attachment, be indifferent to failure and success. Mental balance is
balanced mind is not motivated by desire; defend your mind with
mental balance and poise, Arjuna. People who are obsessed with the
results of their actions end up stressed and uptight and prone to
this mental poise, you will be free from worrying about what is right
and what is wrong. Devote yourself to this yoga; it is the secret of
success in everything you do.
calling up a higher mind or buddhi.
This buddhi or 'intelligent will', is indifferent to results.
Consequently, there is no desire for gain or power. The mind rests in
equanimity and even-ness,
technique that is to be adopted for doing work, be it planting seeds
peacefully in the garden or facing down the opposition on a
battlefield. A higher mind is the guide to becoming united with the
of yoga, therefore, is the skill of acting in the world.
Gita contains several notions of Indian thought: maya
as illusion, the psychology of yoga, the philosophical system of
the lifestyle of karma
and the knowledge of gyan.
strands of thought merged with the mysticism of Shiva or Shaivism,
which was predominant in the south of India, distinct from that of
the Aryan north. The philosophy of Shaivism was Samkhya
from which much of Yogic philosophy stems. Pedantically speaking,
Yoga was a strand of the Samkhya philosophical system before the
genius thinker and debater Adi Shankara blew the whole thing open and
introduced a new dimension of Yoga into Advaita philosophy in the 9th
century. At which point Yoga stopped being Yoga-Samkhya and just
Yoga in its own right. The main point here is that Yoga was a
philosophical thing before it became modern Yoga.
are six main branches of Indian philosophy: the six orthodox systems
and three non-conformist (or heterodox) systems. The two orthodox
systems that have continued to flourish are the Yoga and Advaita
schools which are interrelated and share many basic assumptions on
the nature of existence. Dogmatic philosophers may point out that
Yoga is essentially dualistic in that it is a 'yoking' or union of a
finite existence with an all pervading infinite reality, whereas
Advaita is a non-dualist philosophy that holds that there is just
ever unity of consciousness and therefore there is nothing to yoke
evolved as a non-conformist philosophy and a reaction to many of the
dogmas prevalent in the Indian sub-continent circa 500 pre CE.
can be described as the ultimate philosophy of union and to back up
this outrageous claim it is useful to take a side step and look at
Vedanta, the so-called philosophy of oneness. Advaita means not
or non-duality. ‘A’
means ‘not’ and ‘Dva’
is two, which in the Indo Germanic languages has come down as two
in English, Due,
in the Latin based European languages. Not two, non-dual. We can
expand this to mean oneness or unity of consciousness.
quite simply means the end of the Vedas, the mystical poems from
early Indian history. It proclaims that Vedanta is the culmination of
the Vedic teachings.
Vedanta system of philosophy had various branches, the main
differences being in how much they adhered to or diverged from the
idea of non-dualism. There was qualified dualism, strict dualism and
neither dualist nor non-dualist, all disagreeing on some facets of
Vedanta but all essentially harmonising that moksha
or enlightenment is the goal of life.
teachings of Advaita are essentially a method to acquire knowledge
how to experience personal liberation by reducing the bombardment of
sensory data into the one transcendental experience. Yoga has come to
be the means to realise this vision of oneness.
A sense of
to Indian philosophy is the tenet that human experience with all of
its joy and delights is ultimately an unsatisfactory experience
because of the transitory nature of all things. The mind and
intellect is compelled to identify with the material world as that is
the only apparently substantive reality. There inevitably comes a
time when the intellect is redundant as well as defunct and the
experience of this reality comes to an end. To paraphrase Charles
Dickens, we all make a lovely corpse. If anybody thinks about the
happening of death, no doubt this is an experience slated for some
time in the future, and as far away from now as possible.
has a sense of self, a personal identity. In yoga this sense of
being somebody existing as a unique individual is called asmita.
The individual asmita
is based on sense-impressions and memory. The process of
identification creates a sense of an individual and a unique self
that is by its very nature impermanent, and doomed to fail
spectacularly. It really is a case of putting all your money on the
wrong horse, one that runs the wrong way.
yoga teaches that enduring happiness is achieved by becoming aware of
an infinite consciousness that permeates this seemingly fragmented
world. And through the practice of meditation the essence of reality
is revealed as an unchanging, indivisible and infinite consciousness.
This experience is said to be beyond words and description. It is
beyond mundane experience and therefore considered transcendental.
is the philosophy at the heart of this spiritual experience. Advaita
is essentially a simple philosophy with one premise: that every
situation, every question, and every predicament can be reduced to
one element. That single element is unbounded existence, a seemingly
ethereal proposition of a single consciousness that permeates all
matter. Despite the apparent simplicity of this proposition, the
Advaita philosophers and mystics developed a detailed system of
didactics to explain these esoteric ideas. They left no stone
unturned and analysed every aspect of the minutiae of existence.
and Advaita Vedanta have emerged as increasingly part and parcel of a
shared philosophical system. Some aspects of this system are
distinctly associated with Advaita from the 9th
century CE, particularly the emphasis on knowledge. Yoga, as a strand
of the Samkhya school, was initially a competing materialist
philosophy. However, from the 19th
century the philosophical languages of the Yoga and Advaita started
to merge, with some additional influences drawn from the Shiva and
Vishnu religions. When we see Indian gurus, we are seeing
predominantly teachers of Advaita, albeit often an eclectic hybrid of
other strands of Hindu spiritual traditions. At the risk of being
simplistic, Advaita is a knowledge based system, while Yoga is the
practical methodology of that knowledge.
of the earliest expositions of what morphed
into modern postural yoga is found in the Shiva Samhita from the 15th
century which every yoga aficionado should read at least once in a
lifetime, if not annually. It is one of the craziest treatises on the
yogic science ever written and makes the most incredible claims about
the benefits of the practices described therein. You can hold your
breath for hours on end, rest your body weight on one thumb, be free
from disease, decay, asthma and arthritis, fly, talk to animals, and
finally defeat death at its own game. Are we to take this literally
or are these claims just metaphors? Unfortunately, the author the
Shiva Samhita is dead so we cannot ask, merely draw our own
this text excels is its descriptions of the breathing practice of
pranayama, some basic asanas and mudras, and meditation. Reading
these words is to be transported back in time to an age of yogis
doing hardcore exercises with the single goal – to achieve unity or
synthesis with the one knowledge, without superimposition of the
senses. The mission statement is there in the opening lines.
one true knowledge without beginning or end. No other real entity
exists. The diversity in this world appears through the imposition of
the senses on knowledge and for no other reason.’
most accessible translation is by James Mallinson from YogaVida
publications. He does not try to water down the meaning for a modern
audience who might find claims such as yogis being able to fly a
little unbelievable but tells it as it is, as strange as it may seem.
One particularly exotic practice is that of semen retention and
drawing up female ejaculate as if this were divine milk through the
urethra and a full-on description on how to do this.
balance is given to pranayama, the physical asanas and mudras and
meditation. It is not clear if this is an integrated yoga system or
if any one of these aspects can be practised in isolation because
after the description of a component – for
example, kumbhaka in pranayama, Siddhasana in the asanas or
meditation on the Sahasrara lotus – description of infinite
perfection is assigned.
a philosophical perspective, the underlying thesis is full blown
Vedanta which by then in India was the default doctrine (Buddhism
having been sent packing to Tibet and China). The guru is revered as
a semi deity. True and faithful practice of the Shiva Samhita
absolves the yogi of all sins including the murder of one’s own
guru or, even worse, still sleeping with his wife. The yogi not only
gains super human powers but becomes a sex magnet.
sight of the practitioner who repeats this mantra one hundred
thousand times, women tremble and become sick with lust. They fall
shameless before the yogi.’
It is not clear
what effect female yogis have upon men- possibly the opposite.
Shiva Samhita is not a text to take too literally or understand in
rational terms. The best approach is to consider it like diving into
an ocean full of brightly coloured fish and sea creatures and marvel
at the wonder of it all before coming back for air. It is so
its high octane claims of the benefits of yoga to seem almost a
comedy at times, but that would be to miss the point of a theme that
flows throughout, contained, as in many of the opening lines of the
Indian sutras, in verse one: there is just one truth, one
consciousness, and the rest is all imagination.
spirituality is based on the proposition that division and duality is
the fundamental characteristic of the human experience. Duality is
multiplicity, the world seen as comprised of multiple objects. In a
non-dual view of the world, this multiplicity of objects is known to
be an optical illusion because of a misconstruction of what’s
actually going on.
us look at duality in operation. The eye sees an object – let’s
say a table. This is known as a distinct item, a separate object in
its own space. Next to the table is a chair. So now there are two
distinct objects, each in their own space. Break it down to one
element and the concept of furniture emerges. But the furniture is in
a room, so there are two separate objects again, the concept of
furniture and the physical space of the room. Break it down again,
reducing duality to the one component at each step: furniture, a
room, a house, a street, a town, a country, earth, sky, space. Sooner
or later there is something else constructed from a collage of
separate objects, down to the invisible chemical make-up of objects -
cellulose, carbon and other elements. And this can be further broken
down physically, sub-atomically, mathematically and theoretically
until there is no division, just the one component, one existence,
one space, and one being. This is the perception of consciousness.
is a consciousness that is self-knowing. There is no perception as
that would require something else other than consciousness to do the
perceiving. In the final analysis, this is simply experience.
the idea of birth and the idea of death is condensed down to the one
experience, there can be no concept of a separate birth and death.
There is just the concept of existence. But it does not end there.
The idea of you as a person existing to experience this consciousness
is still rooted in duality. Even the idea of you as a person has to
be broken down until there is just existence with no
ceasing to believe that we exist as a person, a name, with a fixed
identity and all the trappings of individuality, the self-imposed
constraints on our existence are lifted. However, the logical mind
seems designed to complicate everything it interacts with, sucked
into a world of multiplicity. Logic is the circuit board of human
existence that yoga aims to rewire.
the question arises: what is the point of all this reductionism?
Reality seems to work just fine so why try and dissect it?
answer is that there is no point. This may be an incredibly
frustrating assertion, but it remains so: there is no logical reason
for our existence. There is a physical and scientific explanation on
how life evolved and so on but none of this will explain the
underlying rationale of existence. I will endeavour to explain this
in a simple language that does not rely on complicated
intellectualisms. Ultimately there is no meaning other than
consciousness. Mystic yoga defies conventional logic. Initially a
suspension of disbelief is required because from childhood we are
taught that the world is real. Everybody has a given name that they
answer to. To doubt reality can be an unsettling experience, even
dangerous. Therefore, the Advaita philosophers went to great detail
to explain their mystic findings and provide a solid platform to
start the journey towards self-identification with a formless and
Yoga of Intelligence- gyan
Our World Vision
problem with reality
we know it is that it is dependent on time. Yoga proposes a reality
that is not defined by time in space, one that exists timelessly
before birth, during life and after death. How then to define this
reality with the usual points of reference of the time-spatial
dimension in which we are living, breathing, thinking and existing?
philosophy begins by examining what it means to be alive in the world
and identifies three elementary states of human consciousness: the
and the dreamless
At any one time, a person lives in one of these three states.
may seem to the modern mind as simplistic. Contemporary science uses
a different language altogether. Deep sleep is explained as silent
neocortal neurons measured in terms of hertz or slow-wave sleep.
Different wave patterns have been identified which determine our
conscious awareness. The Indian three state theory was proposed in an
age when the technology of today was not available. It has to be
considered as a metaphysical explanation of the human condition.
This does not make the theory any less valid, simply less
sophisticated in its scientific analysis. But where it may seem
deficient from a scientific viewpoint, it more than compensates in
its metaphysical investigation into our relationship with the wider
the heart of our experience is a sense of who we are. We tend to
define ourselves in terms of what we know: our set of skills. And
what we know is usually what we do for a job. An architect knows all
about the science of architecture, a plumber about plumbing, a doctor
to this, there is another skill about aspects of the world that we
are interested in and usually require some specific knowledge. This
combined skill set constitutes this conscious ‘you’ that is your