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Mystic Yoga

The Art of Knowing Nothing

Copyright 2015 Paul Bartholomew

Do not search for the truth;

Only cease to value opinions.

Do not chase the world.

Hsin Hsin Ming by Seng-T'san

Verses on the True Mind

Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.”


You love a story!”

Swami Shyam

"This 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 understanding."

Joey Lott author of Peace Feels Like This and You’re Trying to Hard

Intro 8

Opening 10

Part 1 Mystic Origins 22

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

Gurus 162

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


This 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 and mudras. 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.

Of 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.

I 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 nothing.


Something 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.

In 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.

The 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.

This 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.

These 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 product.

The 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 Raj, Karma and Bhakti yoga

Desire and sex is examined through the lens of the kama sutra that looks at how the practicing yogi deals with these aspects of the human condition.

In 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.

No 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.

There 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:



Bikram or Hot Yoga,






There 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.

The 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.

The 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.

We 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.

The 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.

Reason 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.

Rita 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!

The 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.

Of course, we 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.

The 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 therefore eternal.

This 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?

Yoga 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. And for all of its failings, the intellect is the only tool that can train us to achieve this knowledge and transform the mind.

The 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 Knowledge.

A fundamental term such as dukkha has 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 English. Purva, 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.

Rajiv 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 ground.

So, 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.

An opening 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.

Om is a sacred sound and a spiritual icon in Dharmic religions and philosophies. It is also a mantra in Yoga, Buddhism and Jainism. 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).

The 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, the Upanishads, and the Yoga Sutras. It is spoken or chanted during the recitation of spiritual texts and during meditative and spiritual activities such as Yoga.

Part 1 Mystic Origins

The Ancient Science of Yoga – what is the point?

before I start, 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 meaning.

Why me?

What 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 birth.

Next 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 here or there?

Many 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 somewhere.

Let’s 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?

We 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 you read.

Everybody 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 reality that 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.

What 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 answers.

These big intergalactic questions go invariably in one of two directions: God bound or human bound.

Either an all knowing and omnipotent God comes to the rescue, like in the ancient Greek tragedies when a deus ex machina, 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.

Or 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.

The 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.

There 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.

Self-inquiry 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.

Causal reality is the conditioned world where everything and everyone impacts on everything and everyone else. It is the reality of an involvement in a cycle of misery and joy, of creation and disintegration.

This 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.

These are bold statements indeed. Yoga boasts of impressive cohones.

According to yoga, all 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.

Such 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. We, the human race, is addicted to logic, despite being primarily motivated by illogical desires. We have broken down logic to nice little departments: syllogistic logic, mathematical logic, modal logic, philosophical logic, computational logic, logical positivism, Boolean logic, even Fuzzy logic and so on. It is an accepted truism that logic is good and illogical is less good.

There 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.

What’s the matter with this cruel word today?

The 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.

Political 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.

And 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 thousand 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.

So perhaps we are not the cleverest species on the planet after all. Our logic and sense of reason is fundamentally flawed.

The 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 to be 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 this.

Logic 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 Yoga

Yoga 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 living 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.

These 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.

However, 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.

In the 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

This 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.


Aryan Mist

Yoga 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 years later.

This 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 battlefield.

Arjuna 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.

Krishna 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.

So 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.

The 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.

The 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.

So, 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 the dead.

The Self, manifest in a physical form, just casts off that form, like changing clothes. Nothing really changes. There is just the appearance of change.

The Self cannot be cut or burnt or drowned or blown by the wind. Nothing affects the Self. It is immortal and indestructible.

Always keep God in mind as eternal, omniscient, unmoving, ever present.

The Self is unmanifest, beyond our comprehension, beyond change. So do not worry or fear, Arjuna

The 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.

It 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.

Krishna introduces the concepts of yogah karmasu kaushalam, efficiency in action and samatva-buddhi, mental balance.

Be steady in yoga, Arjuna, do whatever has to be done; give up attachment, be indifferent to failure and success. Mental balance is yoga.

A 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 error.

With 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.

Krishna is 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, the master of the 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 higher self.

One definition of yoga, therefore, is the skill of acting in the world.

The Bhagavad Gita contains several notions of Indian thought: maya as illusion, the psychology of yoga, the philosophical system of Samkhya philosophy, the lifestyle of karma and the knowledge of gyan1.

These 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.

There 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 together.

Buddhism evolved as a non-conformist philosophy and a reaction to many of the dogmas prevalent in the Indian sub-continent circa 500 pre CE.

Yoga 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 Advaita Vedanta, the so-called philosophy of oneness. Advaita means not two or non-duality. ‘A’ means ‘not’ and ‘Dva’ is two, which in the Indo Germanic languages has come down as two and dual in English, Due, Deux, Dos in the Latin based European languages. Not two, non-dual. We can expand this to mean oneness or unity of consciousness.

Vedanta 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.

The 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.

The 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 identity

Core 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.

Everybody 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.

Mystical 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.

Advaita 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.

Yoga 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.

The Shiva Samhita

One 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 conclusions.

Where 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.

There is 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.’

The 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.

Equal 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.

From 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.

At the 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.

The 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 farfetched in 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.

Seeing duality.

Yoga 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.

Let 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.

This 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.

If 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 self-identification.

By 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.

Now the question arises: what is the point of all this reductionism? Reality seems to work just fine so why try and dissect it?

The 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 absolute consciousness.

The Yoga of Intelligence- gyan

Our World Vision

The problem with reality as 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?

Advaita philosophy begins by examining what it means to be alive in the world and identifies three elementary states of human consciousness: the waking state, the dream state and the dreamless state. At any one time, a person lives in one of these three states.

This 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 universe.

At 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 about medicine.

Added 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 psychological identity.

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