in the CHATER SEVENTEEN The essence of karma yoga can be summed up by the following extract from the Bhagavad Gita: “The world is imprisoned in its own activity, except when actions are performed as worship of God. Therefore, you must perform every action sacramentally and be free of your attachments to the results.”
Tantric kundalini yoga
This system of yoga is concerned with awakening the psychic centres or chakras which exist in every individual. To understand the basic operation of the chakras, the reader will have to remember that the mind of every
individual is made up of various levels of subtlety, each higher stage of mind progressively allowing consciousness to illuminate closer approaches to reality. Each level of mind is associated with a psychic centre or chakra, located throughout the psychic body of man. There are numerous chakras, including ones associated with planes below the average human level of mind, and others associated with higher psychic and superconscious states. In other words, within us we have chakras that can connect us to animal levels of mind, to the instinctive realms of being or to the sublime heights, far beyond the scope of our normal mundane awareness.
The chakras which are utilized in kundalini yoga are the chakras that lead to the higher levels of the mind.The aim and object of kundalini yoga is to bring the unawareness of the aspirant to these higher centres of mind, and in so doing to activate or awaken the subtle faculties with which these higher centres are associated. The reader should not think the awakening of these chakras is abnormal and something that is beyond normal experience. All of us spend our lives in the various realms of mind that are connected with a few of the chakras.
Most of us spend part of our lives in the frame of mind where we are concerned with manipulating other people for the gratification of our own needs. Some people spend most of their time in this attitude of mind, some a small part and others none. This level of mind is associated with manipura chakra in the region of the navel. Each of us at some time or other has experienced the feeling of great love for all humanity; for most, however, it comes on rare
occasions. For other people it is almost a continuous state of mind. This level of mind is associated with the anahata chakra in the heart region. When we have a feeling of love for all, then it means that our anahata chakra is in operation and the individual is thinking from the corresponding level of the mind.
It is the fundamental aim, the only aim of kundalini yoga, to overcome the normal inactivity of the higher chakras so that they are stimulated and the individual is able to experience higher levels of mind. The basic method of awakening these psychic centres in kundalini yoga is deep concentration on the centres and willing their arousal.
Asanas, pranayama, mudras, bandhas and mantra repetition are also used to stimulate the awakening of the chakras. Actually, all the methods of yoga eventually awaken these chakras, for as the spiritual aspirant ascends to higher levels of mind, the chakras automatically manifest. Most of the other forms of yoga have the added safeguard that the individual progresses more slowly along the spiritual path and is, therefore, more likely to have removed many of the impurities from his mind. In these cases, undesirable experiences associated with the premature awakening of the chakras, which can be dangerous to persons practising kundalini yoga without the direct guidance of a guru, are avoided.
Hatha yoga is primarily concerned with bodily purification practices which tranquillize the mind and
discipline the body. Traditionally, it consists of the following six groups of techniques called the shatkarmas.
- Neti: methods of nasal cleaning
- Dhauti: methods of cleansing the alimentary canal
- Nauli: practice of abdominal massage
- Basti: methods of cleaning the intestines
- Kapalbhati: method of purifying the frontal portion of the brain
- Trataka: methods of developing the powers of concentration.
Technically, asanas (postures), pranayama (bioenergy control), mudras (body gestures and mental attitudes) and bandhas (energy locks) can also be classified as part of hatha yoga, because they are mentioned in the classical texts on hatha yoga. The asanas included in hatha yoga are far more numerous than the meditational asanas in raja yoga. They include a large number of asanas which beneficially influence the whole mind-body complex.
Hatha yoga is based on the principle that one can become aware of higher states of mind by manipulating the different forces and systems in the physical body. Any stimulation or manipulation of the nervous system will surely have some effect on the mind, for all the nerves in the body are directly or indirectly connected to the brain, of this there is no doubt. For example, the techniques in hatha yoga bring a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which have a large influence on the working of almost every organ in the body. Both these systems are connected to the different
organs such as the heart, lungs, digestive system, etc.
Each system opposes the operation of the other, so that the operating condition of the organs at any given time is a compromise between the two opposing forces. The sympathetic system tends to mobilize the whole body so that it can perform external activities. The parasympathetic system, on the other hand, tends to make the individual become introverted to encourage him to think and reflect. Neither of these extremes is good for meditation. If one thinks too much, then meditation is impossible. If one’s attention is continually directed to the outside environment, meditation is again impossible. The ideal condition is where the two systems are balanced and it is this that hatha yoga does. This is one example; hatha yoga has numerous other effects.
In the word hatha, ha stands for the pingala or solar nadi and the tha stands for the ida or pingala nadi. In the pranic body, the bioenergy body that is finer than the physical body, there are large numbers of psychic passages or nadis through which the prana or vital energy flows along within definite channels, just as blood flows inside the blood vessels. These two particular nadis, ida and pingala, each connect mooladhara chakra to ajna chakra, criss-crossing each other and passing through each of the intermediate chakras.
Travelling directly from mooladhara to ajna chakra is the most important nadi in the body. It is called sushumna and it is in this nadi that the kundalini flows when it is awakened. It is found that when the flow of prana in ida is
equal to the flow of prana in pingala, kundalini automatically starts to rise. Hatha yoga, as its very name suggests, is concerned with the two nadis, ida and pingala. It aims at balancing the flow of prana in each nadi. In this way the kundalini is activated, which starts to stimulate the chakras, and meditation automatically takes place.
Many of the hatha yoga practices also attempt directly to stimulate the chakras which are the intermediaries between the different and progressively subtle levels of mind. The lowest manifestations of the chakras are connected with various physical organs in the body. Hatha yoga tries to stimulate, clean and generally improve the condition of these organs so that the chakras can more easily awaken. For example, the practice of kapalbhati physically purifies the frontal lobe of the brain, and the practice of neti stimulates nerve connections in the olfactory bulb of the brain above the nostrils, which is considered to be a major stimulation point for ajna chakra. The methods of dhauti physically clean the whole alimentary canal and stimulate the nerves in the chest region, thereby affecting anahata chakra. Similarly, the practice of nauli massages the abdominal region, which influences manipura chakra. These chakras are directly connected to the different levels of mind; their awakening will surely lead towards meditation.
We can say that hatha yoga considers the body the temple of the soul and as such it should be kept in good condition. Hatha yoga helps to remove many diseases and body ailments, all of which are serious impediments to meditation, for how can one attempt to still the mind or
forget the body when there is pain or discomfort? Meditation is much easier for those persons who have good physical health. If you suffer from any kind of illness such as diabetes, high blood pressure, constipation and so on, we recommend that you begin your practice with hatha yoga, including asanas, pranayama, etc., not only as an effective way of gaining health, but as a preliminary stage on the path to meditation.
The sixth hatha yoga practice, trataka, is often considered out of place in hatha yoga, for all the other techniques require physical action and are directly concerned with the cleansing of the body. Trataka, however, is concerned with developing the power of concentration by gazing fixedly at an external or internal object. However, if we remember that hatha yoga is often regarded as a preliminary to the higher stages of raja yoga, we can see the reason for the inclusion of trataka in hatha yoga. Concentration is absolutely necessary before meditation can manifest and without it meditation is impossible. Hatha yoga can also be considered as a preliminary for the practices of kundalini yoga, for it tunes and stimulates the chakras which are later to be opened and awakened by the kriyas of kundalini yoga.
In summary, we can say that hatha yoga itself does not lead to stages of meditation. However, it is most useful and usually utilized to prepare the practitioner for the higher stages of meditation attained through other forms of yoga.
Mantra yoga is concerned with the audible chanting or
silent repetition of combinations of sounds. These are more than mere sounds; they are sound combinations that were received by realized sages and rishis during states of deepest meditation. The mantras, the names given to these special collections of sounds, have since been handed down from generation to generation.
During the early stages of yogic practice, the chosen mantra (often given to an aspirant by a guru or spiritual preceptor) has to be repeated over and over again with effort of will and full awareness. This awareness or concentration prevents the mind from thinking of other things. Eventually, after continuous and dedicated practice, the mantra is repeated automatically without strain or effort. The mantra spontaneously manifests itself and becomes an integral part of the mind. The mind vibrates with the sound of the mantra. It becomes an integral part of the individual’s being and needs absolutely no conscious effort. It repeats itself spontaneously with every breath and continues spontaneously day and night. This is a very powerful way of approaching meditational states, for the mind is rendered calm and concentrated. The mantra acts as a pathway between normal states of consciousness and superconsciousness.
The best known mantra is the monosyllable Om, which is regarded as the root sound from which all other sounds emanate. The sounds Amen and Amin in Christianity and Islam respectively are derivatives of Om and, similarly, the ultimate God in Egyptian religion was known as Amon. For this reason Amon frequently formed a part of the names of pharaohs: e.g., Tutankamon, Amenhotep. In Hinduism
there are similarly many well known mantras such as Ram, Om Namah Shivaya, Om Shanti and so on. Each of these mantras can be most powerful in inducing transcendence if repeated with constant devotion and concentration.
Tantra is an ancient system that is very closely affiliated with yoga, and in fact it is widely accepted that yoga was initially an offshoot of tantra. As most of the yogic practices such as asana, pranayama, trataka, yoga nidra and kriya yoga are described in the ancient tantras, which precede the Upanishads and Yoga Sutras by many centuries, we can say that the great yogic innovators such as Guru Gorakhnath and Rishi Matsyendranath had in fact simply integrated the philosophy of the Upanishads with the practices of the tantras to create the system that we now call yoga.
In practice, both yoga and tantra have the same aim, the transcendence of the material world in which we now live. They both aim at giving the practitioner meditational experiences. However, in many ways their methods are very different and often seemingly contradictory. For example, most forms of vedantic based yoga advise the practitioner to sublimate sexual energy into spiritual energy. It does not advocate suppression of the sexual energy, but says that one definitely should reduce and control sexual activities as much as possible. Not only will this save the wastage of energy, allowing it to be transformed and utilized to attain transcendence, but it also helps, if no suppression is involved, in removing or at least reducing the great attachment that people have to sex.