Universal Love & Compassion

A man works and can only work for himself. When he feels he is working for someone else he is either immature or foolish. ~ Sri Swami Rudrananda

Much-touted in modern spiritual circles is the notion of universal love. Yogis in particular — whether we or others call us Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, or anything else — are supposed to cultivate compassion (or loving-kindness, depending on your preferred interpretation) above nearly all other virtues. I am not here for the clickbaiting task of “disabusing my readership of that mistaken notion”, but I am interested in exploring the concept further. As I’ve said before, I write primarily to process my own experiences, but I share what I write in hopes helping others to do the same. We needn’t always come to the same conclusion to help one anothers’ process.

The yogi is under no obligation to display universal kindness. Kindness is not goodness. It has no inherent value. It is a social lubricant which can be good in its place and time, but in excess or used in the wrong circumstances kindness makes it difficult or impossible to understand the real dynamic of a situation.

The Christian thinker C. S. Lewis — if I am remembering correctly in his book The Problem of Pain — puts it that “Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness.” Though I no longer call myself a Christian, the wisdom of C. S. Lewis will stick with me on many points; it is perhaps his vision of Christianity which has colored my perception of what Christianity ought to be quite distinct from what it in fact is. To this point, Lewis does not mean to denigrate kindness, but to put it in a much greater context. Kindness is neither the only nor the greatest of virtues, and like any other virtue we can easily lose sight of all the others by digging into it exclusively.

Love is “more stern” because it is ready to support the growth of its object. If I am merely kind to my wife, I wish just to keep her contented and quiet, but if I love her, I will support her as she works to learn and grow and better herself though it requires some sacrifice of us both. A good marriage is one in which this love goes both ways. The same is true of authentic friendship, and so on. (In principle, each member of a Christian congregation is supposed to feel this about the congregation as a whole; we see in practice how rarely this is so, as this sort of love is fairly uncommon in any relationship.)

Vitally, kindness would prefer the status remain quo. For most of us, kindness is merely laziness of feeling.

Individuality and individualism are troublesome ideas to grapple with, but are immediately relevant to the present discussion. Individuality is not itself a problem. The yogi must, in fact, recognize their own individuality and come to grips with the components of it. Individualism, however, makes a religion out of one’s own identity. American culture and the many — many — diseases within it are largely the doing of the cult of individualism. Where a mature individual can see how their own difficulties are similar (in some ways, at least) to those of others and therefore display empathy and compassion, the individualist is so caught by their own (ironically) group or population identity that the difficulties of anyone outside those identities is that of a distant alien at best or of a hated enemy at worst. Usually it will switch from one to the other depending upon how much those “others” try to better their own position…

I wrote in another article that “I am very much of the mind that social pressure, whether exerted by one person or by an entire culture, is something like the interaction of the balance of kleshas among all the people involved.” In other words, much of the time even when we think we are doing good when we put social pressure on others we are projecting our own kleshas on to other people and the world at large. Unfortunately, when those who actually hold the power perceive others as threats to their hegemony, this pressure invariably becomes violence — a physical projection of their kleshas upon the world.

Violence breeds violence. This trite cliché is no less true for how much we hear it and think we understand it. When a hegemonic power lashes out to protect the egos of its constituents, it cannot be surprised when the response is a violent resistance. We needn’t condone violence to understand its causes and even to sympathize with those who see it as their only recourse in the face of a real existential threat presented by those who use it to protect against a merely conceptual threat to their little reified selves. When the kleshas get rolling, it takes a monumental effort to break their momentum. And, like a virus, they spread.

The healthy individual can make a conscious decision in the midst of all this not to allow the infection to take hold in them. That does not mean that the healthy individual will never display force, but that they will do so deliberately rather than reflexively. Violence for them will be a last resort, and to be used decisively like a great general might, so that the harm to both sides may be minimized and the rebuilding begin as soon as possible. The coward alone wants to extend or expand violence because the coward cannot imagine wanting the good of his opponent once the fighting ends; the coward is so afraid that he cannot even imagine cooperation with anyone who is unlike himself.

Mahasiddhas, Rishis, etc., sometimes showed very intense anger and disrespect. Famously, masters of Chan and Zen Buddhism will use brief but intense bursts of force to produce a shock in their students. Sri Dadaji Dhuniwala and Sri Chellapaswami were both known to yell and throw things at those who approached them for teachings or blessings when the asking would be vain. My own lineage currently features a sincere but gnomish “gatekeeper” whose job is explicitly to allow applicants for instruction to filter themselves out. My first mentor in said lineage was very kind and patient — except for a few moments when being pointed produced better results. It is worth noting that an individual of my acquaintance who most glorifies in the unnecessary use of violence against those who are already hurting was the first to tell me that the harsh but helpful words of a teacher were “inappropriate” on the grounds that for him to have one’s identity and assumptions challenged is as bad as death.

Sri Rudrananda’s quotation at the head of this entry may seem extremely selfish. In fact, it is a call to radical responsibility. If I join an organization or a movement, even if I just give to a charity or another individual in need, it is as much a part of my process as is my daily meditation practice. If I am smart about it, I can engage with this fact directly and make the most out of it. If I am naive and think that my actions are only external, I miss a great opportunity to learn about myself and to grow inwardly. I am most truly useful when I am in touch with my individuality. Apart from that, I do incredible harm through all of my kindnesses. It is better to be truthfully angry than (self-)deceptively nice. Of course, I must eventually grow through that anger, but if I acknowledge that it is there, and know why it is there, it becomes so much fertilizer to my root system. If I am dishonest with myself and ignorant of my own motives, everything is poison.

Living in Kali Yuga: Part 5 — Staying Positive

"If one remains at peace oneself, there is only peace all about." ~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 453
image from https://www.facebook.com/RamanaMaharshi

There seems ever to be a war playing out between those who take themselves too seriously and those who do not take themselves seriously; the latter better understand the gravity of life while the former are merely subject to it. Though many depictions of the War in Heaven have made it seem as if Heaven itself is of unsmiling countenance, legends of the Fall of the Angels make clear that it was the lead Antagonist who thought himself more personally significant than any one can be and, taken with such self-importance, cast himself out by failing to see the joke in mankind’s creation and chaining himself to a heavy anchor.

A sense of humor about oneself is not the same thing as not taking anything seriously. Instead, one may smile and laugh at their own imperfect efforts while knowing that one must act somewhere, somehow, so screw-ups will happen. Such humor needn’t pick at another’s armor — though it will when this is authentically helpful. It is not mere trolling, it is light-hearted poetry.

I used to criticize, at least in my own mind, those yogis and other seekers for enlightenment who lowered themselves to remark upon social and political things. I saw this as being drawn unknowingly into the mire of samsāra. I have since come to realize that since each yogi requires different sādhana, each of us must also determine which involvements fit our sādhana and which do not. And no mere observer can tell the yogi if they’re making the right choice. Like all things in Yoga, it must be proven out in experience.

In Yoga, we work to generate tapas — inner heat. This is both literal and figurative. During meditation the body does often become quite warm, even to another person who touches the meditating yogi. But the heat is also a metaphor. Yoga is analogous to a fire sacrifice in which we toss everything of ourselves into the fire for Lord Agni to translate and Siva to return as prasad. The yogi therefore turns their whole life into an offering and God gives it back as a sacrament.

For some, then, involvement in movements for reform, justice, and a compassionate society is as much a sādhana as is puja. When pursued for the benefit of people and without expectation for mere personal gain, it is tapas. It generates internal heat which, properly focused through devotion and meditation, breaks down the blockages within. It is another form of meditating in a cold running river. The yogi must be in the midst of the rush and maintain equipoise.

This is not the way for everyone, just as the river is not the way for everyone. But the template holds no matter which sort of life one finds oneself in. Humor and optimism are irreducible necessities on the spiritual path as well as being outgrowths of it. Humor lets us see the world more honestly and laughter shakes us out of untenable positions. Optimism reminds us that we can learn and move, that we are not stuck in place, and impels our steps.

Be clear: optimism does not mean denialism. It is not optimistic to pretend that everything is fine; it is optimistic to recognize the problems and seek for solutions. Sometimes those problems are social, sometimes material, but they are always spiritual insofar as they are always mirrors of states of consciousness.

An easily misunderstood teaching is that when one attains peace of mind, the whole world is peaceful. As with so many things expressed in “twilight language”, we must look through the words to the experience itself. A peaceful mind doesn’t make the events of the world vanish; it does, however, let us see that the ground of those events is not different from our own mind. The peaceful ground allows for peace in what grows from it. Without a peaceful mind, peace in the world seems impossible; with a peaceful mind, peace in the world is instantly realized at least within a single body-mind and that’s all that is strictly necessary for it to be realized elsewhere. Laughter allows the body-mind to instantiate the peace of the depths just as gently shaking a vessel of sand settles the grains. Positivity is not so much a natural consequence of peace but its reflection into the world.

Whether we are in Kali Yuga, in ascending Treta Yuga, in the Age of Iron or the Age of Aquarius, or anything else, conflict and chaos are inevitable in this world. Surrender is only momentary; the fight may always be entered fresh. But to do so, one must have some sense that it is worth it — and the capacity to laugh at the absurdity of the whole endeavor, however important it may be.

Living in Kali Yuga: Part 4 — The Astrology of Politics & The Politics of Astrology

I have lately been putting my astrology studies to a very hard test: a thorough analysis of how my own personality has developed and how it will develop in the future. This includes, of course, the extraction of workable information for my own development and daily Tantra practice. But on the front of introspection, it’s been a process of seeing how much of who we are is determined. I know a lot of magicians and Westerners broadly really hate the thought of determinism, so let me say that I don’t mean that everything is 100% determined; rather, free will is contoured and channeled by many factors of which we are often not conscious, and even when we are made aware of them we can’t do that much about them except respond to them more intelligently.

In the present reality of alarmingly divisive party politics in the United States of America — divisions which go very deep into the hearts of the country, of local communities, of families, and of individuals — it is interesting as an astrologer to ponder why we each think and feel the way we do and how and why our opinions change as we move through different stages of life. I can very clearly see, looking back at my own astrological developmental phases, which planets impacted my beliefs at any given time. Seeing this, I can tease them apart and see why I believe what I do now, and how much or little those beliefs serve me and those around me. Here’s an example of where properly guided free will can find its place to play. I can see in my chart, for example, how I have always been naturally inclined toward conservatism, but that conservatism doesn’t often serve my own ideals. Moreover, when I would change my mind, it would swing wildly to the opposite extreme — about which I would again become conservative. So as I have aged and Jupiter has gotten more play, I’ve begun more and more to question what is really worth conserving. This has brought more flexibility to my thinking; rather than ping-ponging as I am convinced of different ideas, I can be selective, taking what seems to really work about a given idea and figure out how to build it into other ideas rather than feeling like I have to reject or accept whole hog.

Of course, the character of a nation or community has its own karma. This is usually read not only with its own natal chart, but also with an annual mundane chart cast from the capital or seat of the collective body in questions for the day and time of the entrance of the Sun into Aries. From this it is possible to read the course of the community for the next twelve months. From such a chart, we can view the cleavages among the people and their leaders. In this year’s mundane chart for the United States, for example, we can see Mars exalted which would bode well for the ruler (in our case, President Donald Trump), except that Mars falls in the 3rd house of difficulty and is conjunct a strong Saturn in his own sign, a debilitated Jupiter, and the southern lunar node Ketu who brings perversion. I could go on with a variety of other details in the chart — from Mercury’s debility to the Scorpio ascendant.

I recently chanced upon the reading of this specific mundane chart by a well-known occultist, and his interpretation was extraordinarily different from my own. I don’t wish to name names; astrology is hard, as is writing for the public, and I don’t want to put anyone on blast for either. But it is notable how much of his own political biases he, often gleefully, injected into his reading. He saw the debilitated Mercury and Jupiter, for example, as a sign that the “complaining class” — which he seems to think simultaneously includes the entirety of those who have criticisms of Trump’s presidency as well as all political elites, as if the only people who could possibly take issue with Trump’s behavior and policies are the rich and powerful — would have no power this year. My own reading, and what we seem to be seeing in reality, is our leadership’s failure in areas of compassion, communication, wisdom, policy, and the capacity to bring joy to the people. Since the US isn’t a monarchy or a dictatorship, the mundane chart isn’t just about a single ruler or leader, but about the whole federal leadership — both houses of Congress included, regardless of party affiliation. The lack of wisdom and incapacity to communicate and reconcile differences is not limited to a single party or special interest but stands as a broad indictment of our entire government. Exalted Mars when the lagna is Scorpio could indicate a capacity of the national leadership to protect the nation’s vulnerable spots, but Mars’s residence in the 3rd house of difficulties, disease, and enemies and conjunction with a strong Saturn (who already rules disease and discord) indicates a coming to the surface and exacerbation of our national weaknesses. Ketu’s conjunction with Mars and Saturn but residence in the 2nd house extends the whole dynamic also into our national wealth. Here is a fine summary of what we’ve seen as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in our country, the Black Lives Matter movement, and plenty of other factors making headlines. Mars and Ketu together with Scorpio lagna have also done a fine job of increasing violence, physically and rhetorically, in such a way as to specifically target our national weak points. We could go on with details for days, if we wanted. The point is less about the mundane chart itself and more about how our biases play into our free interpretations of the data. The parallels with people politicizing the facts of the world amidst current events in rather dangerous ways needn’t be mentioned…

When I read a chart — for an individual or for a nation — I must always be aware of myself first and foremost. It’s been said that the greatest value of astrological practice is what the astrologer learns about themselves in the process. And in doing astrology for others, we see that in practice: the more we unwind our own habits of thought, the better we are able to see the other person’s chart for what it is rather than for what we’d prefer it were. A good astrologer should be able to read for a client regardless of that client’s beliefs about the world, and should equally be able to read for the world regardless of the beliefs of the people in it.

Astrology, properly understood, is a form of Yoga. In the context of Jyotish — commonly called “Vedic”, “Indian”, or “Hindu” astrology but literally “having to do with light” — it is a process of learning what I do and do not have control over and where to surrender. This topic deserves a discussion to itself, but it’s worth stating in brief here because it pertains so directly to the how and why of the Jyotish worldview. In relation to the present topic, it would be a mistake to surrender to the planets themselves. In Jyotish we refer to the planets, inclusive of the two lunar nodes, as grahas which translates as “grasper”. A graha is an intelligent force (a “god”) who takes hold of us at various points and pushes, pulls, and manipulates us into various actions. While all of the grahas have some claim on us all of the time, each one will at various points have primacy and our lives will take on the character of that graha. Exactly how to examine this gets into deep territory, but understanding the principle is important.

An example from my own life might be helpful: I went through a very rough few years not too long ago. Externally, my life looked fine. There were some of the usual ups and downs, but nothing too stressful. But for some reason, I responded with extreme frustration and anger; I felt frustrated even when things were quite good and comfortable. It was a strange and emotionally difficult time despite outward circumstances. Looking at my own chart, I was able eventually to spot precisely which planet was causing the trouble and I started to do some remediation work to improve my relationship with that planet (also a topic for another entry). It didn’t take long for my emotional equilibrium to return — though I’m a little ashamed to say how long it took me to have the thought to look at my chart to figure it out!

The key to all remediation, though, takes us back to surrender. When we chant a planetary mantra, when we make an image or yantra according to an appropriate election, when we wear a planetary gem, we are fundamentally admitting that we cannot handle the situation ourselves. Many magicians may not see it that way, but it’s precisely what is behind these actions. All of these actions are really a sort of prayer for help in a case which is too big and overwhelming for us.

None of this, however, absolves us of responsibility. Even the decision to surrender, to ask for help, requires a decision on our part. No matter our astrological make-up, we can make this choice. Moreover, we can make the choice to look at our own make-up — whether astrological, genetic, societal, or according to any other reading of destiny we care to claim — to see our individual strengths and failings for what they are, and to do whatever we can about them. We can choose to cultivate detachment which grants us perspective and mental freedom, but we can’t choose apathy because for as long as we are here life is going to come at us. Our decision is not whether to engage but how. As I’ve tried to emphasize before, no one else can dictate that how, but astrology is, for my money, the best way to learn it.

Living in Kali Yuga — Part 3: Karma Yoga

“We must play our part on the stage of life, but without identifying with those parts.” ~ Sri Ramana Maharshi

I was recently called a fascist for sharing the above quotation. It was pretty puzzling to me at first, but on consideration, I can understand why the person misunderstood my intent. They had asked for insight from others as to how one could live a spiritual life with anger. This issue cuts close to the bone for me, so I shared the quotation as an indication of my own strategy.

If you are interested in Yoga, you probably immediately recognized Sri Ramana Maharshi’s words as a formulation of the essence of Karma-Yoga. Karma-Yoga, the Yoga of action, is a method of using daily life as part of one’s practice by renouncing purely worldly opinions of your duties and fulfilling your dharma without expectation of reward; rather, doing your duty willingly and with an attitude of renunciation is willingly allowing God to act through you.

The hostile confusion of the individual mentioned above comes from a misunderstanding of the idea of duty — of playing our parts. It is, so to say, a confusion of planes. Svadharma, one’s own law, is the law one must discover and fulfill for oneself. This is a spiritual responsibility, so svadharma must not be confused with purely social or political duty. If we think in purely political terms, we could read Ramana Maharshi’s statement as saying that we have to do what the government tells us without asking too many questions. But that’s not the context in which the Maharshi was speaking. While he rarely made any explicitly political statements, Ramana Maharshi was in favor of Indian independence and gave his blessing to those working toward that end. Clearly, his notion of the parts we play — and the yogic notion more broadly — was not limited to those accepted by worldly powers.

“Man, eager to improve his machines, forgets to improve himself,” wrote Paul Brunton in his The Secret Path. Machines take many forms. Socio-political thinkers as diverse as Ernst Jünger, Herbert Marcuse, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and E. F. Schumacher have all spilled ink demonstrating how mechanical international capitalism is; our social, political, and economic systems are themselves machines. Machines are meant to be useful, and so require maintenance, repair, even replacement, in order to continue or improve their usefulness. But, as Brunton points out, if we focus entirely on our creations — at whatever scale — we may fail to look at ourselves, the source and support of those creations. Spirituality is the pivot point; Yoga is turning inward.

Astrologically, we can see part of the difficulty. Mars’s only natural enemy is Mercury. That is to say, Mercury is the only planet which naturally has an inimical influence upon Mars in an astrological reading; other planets may harm Mars circumstantially, but Mercury will do so any time he interacts with Mars. (This is not two-way; Mars has a neutral influence on Mercury.) Mercury — himself ruling the element of earth — is presided over by Lord Vishnu, representing the fact that all things, at all scales, are manifestations of God and specifically our ability to realize this fact. Mars rules the fire element and is presided over by Lord Karttikeya; Karttikeya’s rulership represents the will necessary to cut out what stands in the way of our growth. That is, Mars is associated with the process of purification.

There’s an apparent contradiction between these two functions which is where the problem lies. Mercury points toward a nondual experience of life in the universe, while Mars seems to be quite dualistic and moralistic. Through the faculty of Mars we have the courage and the discipline to slash and burn what doesn’t serve us. But if there are things which we can say are “impure” and a resulting effort toward “purity”, doesn’t that imply either the inherent dualism of the world or that this very moral quest is flawed and should be abandoned to achieve a nondual perspective?

You can see why Mercury would throw Mars off his game. Mars displays anger as he destroys obstacles — which can sometimes take the form of other living beings. If we are living primarily from the perspective of Mercury, we will try instead to talk our way out of all potential conflicts because if everyone is God there’s no point in fighting. You can very often tell a person who’s Mars is under heavy Mercury influence (either conjunction or a direct aspect) when the person lacks the courage of their convictions. Such a person may make strong points or take strident positions, but will have trouble standing up to those who actively threaten them or who and what they really value. Though it may look like it from the outside, this isn’t really cowardice so much as it is a genuine desire to avoid conflict; they will try to bring people together, and if that is not possible they will wearily retreat.

But as implied, the conflict between nondual experience and righteousness is only apparent; it becomes a problem for us, individually and as societies, when we fail to enact each one in its proper place and time. True purity doesn’t see “impure” things as inherently impure, only situationally so. A need to protect one’s people can manifest as bravery in a healthy instance or as bigotry and xenophobia in an unhealthy one. The question is one of deeper motive. Is the individual fully under the sway of the kleshas and of resultant social conditioning, or are they responding more freely to the facts around them? Here is part of the trouble which faced Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita and from which Krishna (himself an avatar of Lord Vishnu) had to extricate him. Krishna’s lesson? A proper understanding of nonduality! We may feel anger in the face of real or perceived wrong-doing, or we may wish to avoid fighting altogether because we do not wish to harm our human family, but when it comes down to it we need to see through our merely personal preferences to determine what is really needful in the situation and, once we see it at all clearly, to commit to do our duty. This doesn’t mean that we will never make mistakes, but it does make it easier for us to see the way forward and to change our minds if we find we’ve been going in the wrong direction. Arjuna himself was conflicted between his desire to avoid doing harm to his cousins and the knowledge that they had done, and continued to do, grievous wrong. The lesson of Bhagavad Gita is that what Krishna taught Arjuna, we also can learn. We should neither hunger for the fight nor to run from it if it should become necessary. As Mahatma Gandhi so bluntly put it, “I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.”

But we also have to pay attention. Mars rules the ego — the sum of our character and self-identification, conscious and unconscious — while Mercury can grant self-knowledge. Here’s another area of potential conflict with these planets. It is thus easy to fall into various traps of believing that we are “doing the right thing” when just below the surface we are motivated not by nondual awareness or compassion but by mortal terror or existential dread. The flip side of Mercury’s overthinking is unreflective commitment to duties imposed upon us by our anxieties and those who would exacerbate them to achieve their own ends.

The two problems here explored are over-identification with our role in the world (Mars) and “spiritual bypassing” of our responsibilities (Mercury).

Let us accept and use wisely all the facts which modern science has found out. Let us live in enjoyment of all the comforts and conveniences its progress can bestow. Let us renounce nothing but the unwise and destructive use we have often put it to, the unbalanced attention we have given it.

But let us also link this external social activity with a deeper life, the life of tranquil thought and inner peace, and thus learn to preserve an unruffled stillness of spirit even amid varied vicissitudes of existence.


Then we shall attack the world’s problems of poverty, war, disease and ignorance with a new zest, and with better success, yet we shall not forget to render our daily homage to that peace-bestowing and soul-ennobling divinity who dwells in the hearts of men.

Paul Brunton, The Secret Path

Though we may learn from others, nobody can tell us where to find this particular balance in our own lives. Many will try, demanding that we follow them — in whichever direction. But svadharma can neither be dictated from without nor arbitrarily chosen according to convenience. When God seems to agree with our own prejudices or the prejudices of those who would demand something of us it is necessary to ask whose voice we’re really hearing.

Living in Kali Yuga — Part 2: Big Trouble

Some years ago, when I was deep in my investigation of the literature of Traditionalism, I happened upon a book in a used book store entitled Yuga: An Anatomy of our Fate by Marty Glass. Like Julius Evola’s Ride the Tiger before it, it bills itself as a “clarion call” to the aristocratic soul caught in this age of suffering. I read it with interest because, at that time, there wasn’t a lot of contemporary Traditionalist literature. What was available were largely reprints of the works of Evola, Guenon, Schuon, and so forth — men who had all been dead for decades. It was fascinating, then, to see something written for those who had come after and who felt a similar instinct: that something was profoundly wrong in the world which had not been wrong in the past.

And, like the books of other Traditionalists (notably excepting Schuon), Yuga read like a lamentation of dead innocence on a global scale, a paean to a lost Arthurian Avalon which never was and never could have been. With histrionics unmatched even by Percy Shelley, Glass throws accusations of false consciousness and straw men out by the fists-full across the whole swathe of human life. Page after page, Marty Glass goes beyond insisting that something is wrong here — which we all know well enough, thanks, Marty — to the eyebrow-raising assumption that most of modern humanity is too dense to realize it. But thank God Marty Glass and his Traditionalist heroes have the answers to wake us up from our deep, nightmare-rich slumber! Like Evola before him, Glass pretends that his book is useful, that it contains some method by which we can awaken and, finding ourselves in the dread Kali Yuga, rise above it as the spiritual nobles we (some of us, anyway) inwardly are. Unfortunately, page after page — again, like Evola — even the most careful of readers will find little more than pathetic lamentations and condemnations punctuated by occasional high-flown poetic declarations. There is nothing here which you could ever find to do, except perhaps curl up in bed and whimper about being “apolitical”.

Again we see how Western Traditionalists lift ideas from all over the place and apply them in a way that fits their assumptions, rather than learning from different traditions on their own terms and intelligently adapting that knowledge to modern Western circumstances. My own Natha lineage is explicitly “non-Hindu”, not because we repudiate our Hindu roots but because we don’t pretend to follow Indian social and religious patterns which simply do not suit the ways in which we have to live in the US, in Britain, in Australia, and so on. Historically, and as far as our spiritual practice goes, we’d still be recognized as Hindu in a broad sense. Similarly, many modern Western occultists are simultaneously Christian and non-Christian, depending on where you place your emphasis. The point is that an intellectually honest mystic or magician is adaptable and lives dynamically.

The main thing about Kali Yuga that gets left out of Traditionalist discussions on the topic is also perhaps the most important single thing about the Hindu interpretation: it is actionable. Kali Yuga is the most difficult time during which to practice any sort of spiritual discipline because it is so full of suffering and distractions from suffering; it is for this very reason, though, that every bit of effort made toward spiritual practice during this time is supposed to bear fruit far more easily and rapidly than in days past. Part of it is said to be the simple justice of it: if it’s hard and dangerous to do a thing, someone who does it deserves greater reward than someone who sticks with easier, safer tasks. But really it’s not much different from jogging while wearing a weighted vest: the extra strain increases gains just because the system has to work harder and therefore adapt to performing a more difficult set of movements. Even if we don’t accept the whole notion of the yugas, this still stands to reason. While we may lament many problems with the world, we should therefore not lament that the world is hard — at least those of us who focus on living a spiritual life. Though there are many forces trying to get us to create or expand karmas, we also have the opportunity to burn them off with great intensity if we engage intelligently with the events of the world.

Moreover, Kali Yuga is not a uniform set of conditions. As with any other broad environmental factor — such as diseases, famines, art movements, or political ideologies — Kali Yuga does not blanket the Earth evenly. Instead, like snow, it may fall in great quantities but due to wind and variable heat on the surface upon which it falls, it will turn to dirty slush here, melt away entirely there, and form great, deep drifts where it is blown against embankments and buildings. Let’s break the metaphor down.

Any number of conditions, internal and environmental, can sway how a person perceives and interacts with their world. Even that most orthodox of Hindu sources, Manusmrti — the closest Hindu parallel to the law texts of the Bible — mentions that a good and just king can make his kingdom like a pocket of the Golden Age in the midst of the Age of Darkness. I don’t think that Manu intended this to be mere symbolic hyperbole. His advice on just rulership, like that found in I Ching, is extremely idealistic and very hard to apply consistently in complex real-world governance, but in both of these cases the ethic is clear: if a ruler could even approximate virtuous and wise leadership, their homeland would be a spiritual as well as material refuge. Some classic manuals of Hatha and Raja Yoga even include a land with a just and good king in which to live as an extremely helpful aid alongside things like fresh food and water and a clean, uncluttered home. These don’t necessarily make one’s Yoga faster or more powerful, but they do make it easier — the main benefit of living in one of the “higher” yugas. Even if the yugas are literal, measurable, predictable spans of time, then, it is to a large extent up to human beings to determine how entrenched any given yuga is allowed to become.

It’s also worth noting in passing that these classic sources on good governance seem explicitly to define just governance as that which provides for the well-being of the people, protecting them and ensuring their good health, while taking a rather hands-off approach on daily affairs; at no point do they advocate for anything resembling fascism. Even Manu’s descriptions of the varnas (usually translated, problematically, as “castes”) defines them not as classes into which a person is born but which depend upon spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical aptitudes. While it’s a veritable certainty that, much like biblical law, Manu’s laws have never come anywhere close to being enforced in full, insofar as they’ve been taken as Manu himself wrote them, socio-economic classes had some degree of porousness to them; it is even thought possible to determine an individual’s true varna astrologically, and it may be entirely different from that of their parents. I’m not at all advocating for society to be rebuilt upon the lines of ancient, obsolete, and stratified ideals, but pointing out where those ideals differ from the misuse to which they’re put in some modern discourse.

It seems clear from the historical record, from art, from myths as old as the hills, that human society has never been anywhere near devoid of suffering. Human life and happiness has perhaps been valued differently at different times and places, with some civilizations perhaps placing a higher premium on humanity but with a narrower scope on who is counted; our own seems (mostly) to value life broadly a bit less than some but to spread that value somewhat more evenly across social and economic categories. Perhaps we can’t ever have the full value of human life until we are able to spread that net as widely as possible, to include, as suggested by law professor Christopher Stone’s paper for the Southern California Law Review entitled “Should Trees Have Standing?”, all natural “objects” as subjects under our systems of law. In short, perhaps what keeps us from enacting the fullness of which we are capable is not the cruel destiny of our present yuga but our own incapacity to see rightly.

Many Neo-Pagans and magicians today speak of “the veil between the worlds” — a sort of membrane which separates our workaday physical world from the planes inhabited variously by the dead, spirits, gods, demons, and whatever other subjects are experienced as fellow-inhabitants of the cosmos. “The veil” is intentionally vague and poetic, as there are any number of hypotheses as to what this veil might actually be. Perhaps it is a literal dividing substance, or a metaphysical distance between different layers of reality. In these and other interpretations, however, the veil is often accidentally literalized by language such as the apparent “thinning” of the veil at certain locations (places of especially terrible battles or grisly murders, or sites of numerous powerful magical rituals, for examples) or times (solstices, Halloween, Walpurgis Night, etc.). There’s an ongoing discussion among some occultists to the effect that the veil appears to be thinning everywhere, year round; strange things seem to be popping through, odd experiences becoming more commonplace, phenomena usually reserved for wooded vales on May Day Eve happening in suburban gardens. This has widely been associated with Tower Time — a term referring to the Tower card of the Tarot that some elements of the occult Left have taken to using in a way rather similar to how the Traditionalist/occult Right treats Kali Yuga. In other words, it us believed to have something to do with degeneracy and cataclysm either to come or in process.

In John Carpenter’s action-comedy masterpiece Big Trouble in Little China, the Daoist sorcerer Egg Shen (Victor Wong) spots a river of what is obviously crude petroleum as the heroes are exploring deep underground to find the evil undead wizard Lo Pan’s (James Hong) hidden temple; Egg Shen gestures toward the flow in troubled wonder and exclaims, “Black blood of the Earth!” The white-guy-sidekick-who-thinks-he’s-the-hero Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) looks and says, “You mean oil?” to which Egg Shen responds emphatically, “No, I mean black blood of the Earth!”

Though Big Trouble in Little China could hardly be called a deeply philosophical film, this moment has always struck me as profoundly insightful. John Carpenter’s films aren’t all amazing, but at his best he manages to organically inject intelligence into movie genres usually relegated to popcorn fare. It isn’t that Egg Shen is primitive, nor that Jack Burton is wrong; they’re both perceiving accurately and expressing what they see. Egg Shen is certainly aware that crude petroleum is the substance processed into gasoline, plastics, etc. The difference is that Jack Burton can only see oil, where Egg Shen can see that the substance fits two descriptions simultaneously, and that one of those has ontological priority.

I propose that this is at least a partial explanation for things like the veil; there’s no literal membrane between planes, only layers of observational priority which we accidentally reify through the overuse of basically poetic language. Most of us are Jack Burton starting, for a variety of reasons, to get a glimpse through the opera glasses of Egg Shen and Lo Pan. Once more, with feeling: Kali Yuga, Tower Time, whatever we choose to call it, is actionable.

Much of magical, psychic, and mystical training is one way or another about opening up our internal organ of perception (that is to say, the mind) to these other layers. This can be done intentionally or accidentally, and it can happen gradually or cataclysmically. I suspect that the notably stressful times in which we presently find ourselves are serving as triggers for accidental cataclysms in those who are to some extent primed for them. I’ve no doubt that certain spiritual entities have a hand in it, as well, but an internal expansion of perceptive faculty is still required.

It doesn’t matter if Kali Yuga is literal or not. What matters is what we do. It’s best that we don’t become fanatical about our models, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use them to inspire change — in ourselves and in our world. They only become troublesome when we try to climb in and inhabit our models, to walk on our maps rather than on the streets they depict, wrapping ourselves in conceptual nets which hold us back from the peace, freedom, and happiness we seek for ourselves and our communities.

When Nonduality Meets Reality

Clouded Moon over Beechwood Boulevard

As I walked beneath the Moon tonight
We seemed to draw nearer one another.
The Lord’s great ropey knotted tresses
Revealed themselves a net of light
Trawling vast universes for those souls
Jarred loose
By the cruelty of petty gods & pettier men.

Normally, I avoid current events in this blog — not because I have no thoughts on matters of worldly concern, but because I prefer for this blog to retain a sort of purity, to be timeless. A few of my recent articles have indirectly dealt with some of the fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic, but I tried to do so in a way which would have been useful even had that virus never arisen and will remain useful years from now when the world’s concerns may be quite different. Yoga, magic, and so forth, aren’t singular entities, but tool kits which need to contain more than a single hammer. This blog is something of an addendum to my own diary. The details which stay in my own journals are either irrelevant to anyone else, private to myself, or broadly fall into the category of what modern occultists have taken to call “UPG” — unverified, or unverifiable, personal gnosis. Only those insights of possible use to others which come of ritual, meditation, divination, or just plain old life experience, and which I feel I have the capacity to communicate by the written word, make their way here.

But we’re in strange territory, here. It’s not 100% unprecedented, as a lot of newspaper editorials seem to think, but it’s certainly rare. The events of the day aren’t such that I can pass them over without remark. Black Americans, and other people of color, as well as sexual minorities here in the States — including those of Latin and Hispanic descent, American Indians, those of Chinese and other Asian ethnic descent, homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender people, and others besides whose names and titles I do not know or who I (apologetically) am currently forgetting — are demanding that their voices be heard above the din of those of us of (broad) European descent, and many of us (never enough!) are at last listening, stepping aside, and trying to amplify them. This is happening in the midst of the same global viral pandemic. Incredible numbers of people around the world are gathering in solidarity, as well as bringing this movement together with their own native struggles, in spite of medical risks; however we may feel about that part of it, the bravery is undeniable and admirable. I’m never particularly optimistic about mass movements, but this one looks (both on the ground and astrologically) to be a genuine turning point.

I myself am angered by the treatment of human beings at the hand and by the boots, cudgels, and bullets of other human beings. Whether for reasons of racism, nationalism, religious zealotry, or any other attempted justifications, this behavior and these ideologies are unacceptable. But here’s where things swerve neatly back to the project of this blog:

My anger does not arise from fear or hatred. It arises from love and the nondual experience of Yoga. I’m human; I feel fear, hatred, and anger like anyone else. But the yogi seeks to disentangle emotions and other mental and neurological processes from one another to spot their real source in experience. Often enough, this process will cause a lot of mental events simply to dissolve and their neurological correlates to calm themselves for energy to divert where it is really needed. Sometimes, though, the seemingly unmoored thoughts and feelings can be traced even further back to something yet deeper. Whatever their cause, mental events are movements in the substance of consciousness; these can be pathological (which is to say, arising from the kleshas) or they can be health-promoting. Ultimately, we seek stillness of mind, but while we’re here in both subtle and gross material bodies, there will be some jostling about; we’d best make it work toward our goal, undermining dangerous patterns rather than creating new ones.

Contrary to Western expectation, there is no obligation for the yogi to be kind everyone. That’s a fine enough ideal to hold for oneself, but it cannot be universal; each yogi has their own mission to fulfill and each guru their own teaching modality. Trying to fit them all into the same box will lead to disappointment at the least, and could well keep the student from their appointed teacher. Compassion, however, is a different story.

True, unconditional love and compassion arise from the nondual experience, from the sure knowledge that there are no “others” to speak of. But compassion doesn’t always look like kindness to all indiscriminately. Often, it looks like calling out or putting a stop to the unskillful behavior of others with precisely as much force as is necessary under present conditions. This only happens when we begin to examine root causes and start to learn which behaviors are usefully interfered with and which need to run their course. When doing so, recall that individuals have their karmas, but so do cultures, societies, nations, and civilizations. Roots may grow in many layers of soil, often all at once.

Karma is just what we call the web of causality which we each must navigate; like a spider’s web or a fisher’s net, those karmas woven tight are difficult to escape. Strands will snap when pressure is applied to them but only if they have been undermined, often by building small actions over time like the use of a file on thick rope. When the nets of both the individual and of some broader body like a church, a family, or state line up fatefully, it can be almost impossible for that individual to find a gap or a weak spot. And so the hard work of change comes upon us.

The principle of karma is that life is, at base, fair. This will raise some hackles for those of us who care about social and economic justice. But look back at the above paragraph and you can begin to unpack; fair and just aren’t always the same. We live in an inherently imperfect (as made visible by our lights) universe. Though this universe is a Self-revelation of God (Parama Siva, Brahman, Mahaivairocana-Buddha, the Unknown Father) and every minute speck of it is alive unto itself, it is yet one in which we are made to seek for the One behind and in it; hence why Nathas can simultaneously affirm that we are awash in the most obvious ocean of divinity and yet call this selfsame Consciousness Alakh Niranjana — the Imperceivable Spotless One. As I hinted at earlier, we each have our own “mission”. This is not merely some worldly assignment of the love-and-light sort, though for some it may take that shape; we each have our own particular and peculiar bondage to release, so each must be got rid of in a way unique to it. Often, this demands address and aid from other beings, physically embodied or otherwise. Not everyone is here just yet to find their Satguru — or perhaps they’ve already found and been found, but require interactions with the Guru in a variety of forms and phenomena. Thus it is likewise the commission of many of us to be those forms and phenomena, knowingly or not. Nondual compassion, then, is making the attempt to be that form with some awareness of our place in the Whole, and so when placed by fate in circumstances proper for it to aid others in dissolving their bonds, those karmas, kleshas, and konditions* which hold them from experiencing the Peace, Freedom, and Happiness which is theirs by right merely of existing.

The nondual experience of the Natha Yogi is absolute, but it is radical in that it does not flush away, obviate, or sublate difference and distinction; rather, it finds the plurality within nondual Reality and the nondual Reality in all particulars. When we catch so much as a glimpse of this Beatific Vision, we may begin to carry out our duties — svadharma — as the glories of our own wills — svatantra; such duty is no longer bondage but Freedom and Awakening. Pray and contemplate that we not only have this experience and carry the ever-widening cosmic vistas it permits us into our lives, day by day, in the way most appropriate for each unique phenomenal moment.

*”Konditions”, spelled with an initial k, was a humorous literary choice made by Shri Gurudev Mahendranath when referring to the variety of forms of social programming we each undergo. He referred to karmas, kleshas, and konditioning collectively as “the KKK matrix” which we each must overcome. I chose to retain Dadaji’s idiosyncratic spelling not only to honor the source of my terminology but also because “KKK” as a foundational set of problems seems satirically apropos.

Verse Clipped by Tiger’s Maw

Beauty even of a ravaged world
made all the more cruel
by suppression
of the One Needful Thing
is heartrending
for its shades and values

Watching the Sun rise
over Thames, Nile,
Ganges, Amazon,
Mississippi —
you catch glimpses
through the mist and storm
of mountains upon the air

And you wonder
Which peak is Meru?
Upon which do Sambhu
and Parvati sport
among the goblins?
In what foothills
do the Witch Queen
and windy Devil dance?

Exulting in Moonlight
or suffering by day
I feel each
as a lick by the tongue
of the Mother’s faithful tiger
Roughing away the scurf
of all actions, all patterns,
the sources of all pain
And here is immortality

“Power Corrupts”

“The Shakti will meet you halfway but the impetus to transform comes from you.” ~ Sri Dhruvanath

There’s truth in the saying that “power corrupts”, but it is a misunderstood truth. Power can’t corrupt in a vacuum. Rather, it allows us to bring what it is within us out, with the type of power determining precisely how it can show itself. Money is a type of power, as are political authority, academic respect, community organizing — the list goes on. If what a person has within them is compassionate (for example), having the power to put it into effect does not suddenly make the person a monster, but if the person had within them spitefulness, the more powerful they become the more they will enact that evil in the world and the less they will care about specific targets. When people say, for instance, “more money, more problems,” it isn’t that the problems actually multiply, but that they maintain scale with the level of wealth because the individual’s level of discipline with their money has not changed; it is the same with any form of power.

This all being the case, I am not condemning power but encouraging it. Improperly understood and incorporated into one’s thinking as an excuse for avoidance, “power corrupts” is a mighty tool in the hands of the haves against the have-nots. But let us not forget: magic, psychism, and meditation are all sources of power.

We have the Sanskrit word “śakti” which translates literally as “power”, and much like the English word power it is interchangeably used to refer to all manner of strength, force, and ability; śakti can grammatically indicate anything from raw physical strength to force of will to abstract energy to skillfulness. Of course, in Tantric Yoga we recognize all types of power as emanations of the One Power, Śakti with a capital Ś. Whether we approach Her as one Goddess or many goddesses or as an abstract force, we are each able to channel a particular amount of Her through our minds, bodies, and all other areas of our lives according to our karmas:

Perhaps I am born rich or become rich because I have done some work to open the way for wealth; or I gain political power because I have done what it takes (in this life or previously) to make myself a channel for this particular śakti; or, to get weird, maybe I have psychic power because I practice Yoga (whether or not that’s what I call it, whether or not it is in this life or due to work in another time) and clear out my subtle energy channels enough to send and receive information by them.

Take note that at no point above did I mention desserts. I don’t have to be a good person to attain any or all of the above, I just have to have opened the way for them in ways appropriate to each. The difference between a “good” person and a “bad” person is just the sort of internal pattern — what we might ordinarily call “personality traits” — allowed to come forth by the application of ability. A person born to wealth is neither automatically better or worse than you or I (assuming you, the reader, weren’t born to wealth; if you were, feel free to ask for my PayPal info), nor does it imply any particular intelligence, bravery, or skill in this lifetime (regardless of bootstrap-related claims).

In times like this, when many people feel distinctly powerless in the face of worldwide environmental degradation, global events, national politics, and economics which seem to be on an almost otherworldly scale, it important that each of us heals our own relationship with power. For many, it is a matter of bare survival to figure out which forms of power they can draw from; those of us who have a handle on survival for the time being also have the luxury of revising our entire mindset on the matter. We don’t need to be aiming at wealth, fame, or political authority in order to find the value in power. In fact, everyone will find that they want and need power in different ways because everyone will have a unique set of needs to fulfill. But this is precisely why many of us practice magic, Yoga, or other occult and esoteric arts and sciences. Maybe you are searching for comfort and meaning in a world which presently seems quite hostile to the individual, or maybe you are trying to build a world more suitable for your children. Even the purest of mystics require access to power; Mother Śakti is the only way to escape rebirth.

Whether your goals are personal, charitable, or spiritual — or, as with many magicians, witches, and Yogis, some amalgam of the three — powerlessness is not the way to achieve them. The more obstacles stand in front of us, the more power is needed to remove, destroy, or navigate around them. We must find, channel, and own up to the power we need, not avoid it out of fear, anxiety, or misguided scruples. As to those scruples: power need not be “power over”, as it is first and foremost “power for” and it is our thoughts, words, and deeds which determine the value of its manifestations.

Jai Śakti!

Mere Feelings

With an uptick in general stress levels, I’m seeing an increase both in the idea that emotions are uniformly to be despised and, on the flip side, that every emotion is worth sinking into in the name of self-care. Even here we find our society polarizing; ever was it thus! And, as ever, the truth — by which I mean the most helpful, actionable position — lies somewhere in the excluded middle.

Approaches from Stoicism to Christianity to Buddhism are often rallied to the claim that human emotions are somehow beneath the superior or spiritualizing individual. Vedanta and Yoga can also easily find themselves so abused. A close reading of the primary sources involved, however, finds much more nuance in their positions.

In the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius — one of the most important classics of Stoicism, and certainly the most influential for the average modern reader — we find numerous instances of the good emperor expressing a very deep experience of his own feelings and passions. While he seems to be of two minds on their value, he does not ignore them. A friend and self-described Stoic once opined to me that he found even Marcus’s desire to keep such a journal to be a sign of uncured vanity, and thus a failure of Marcus’s Stoicism. To me, this is a rather extravagant interpretation; philosophy should not make a person inhuman, but encourage the better parts of their humanity. It perhaps says more about the observer’s need to judge Marcus’s looking for a means to explore his own experiences while leaving his insights to posterity than it says about Marcus’s success or failure in his philosophical endeavor.

More in my wheelhouse, we have the common notion of detachment found in Yoga, Vedanta, Samkhya, Buddhism, and on and on; more or less every spiritually-oriented Indian philosophy, whether Hindu or otherwise, gives some attention to detachment. Those in the West who immediately embrace it tend to do so in the same spirit in which my friend misconstrued Stoicism; for them, detachment means apathy and apathy in the modern sense of simply not caring. A bit more charitably, many such individuals perhaps see repression as the only alternative to license.

Others, however, take detachment as license. This interpretation is founded in the relativistic notion that since nobody can know for sure what is a good or an evil action, any action may be performed by the mystic so long as it is done with detachment or “lack of ego”. The Karma-Yoga of Bhagavad Gita is often cited as support. Again, this is a misreading. Lord Krishna is only speaking of the performance of unpleasant duties in a spirit of surrender as a means to purify the mind; material consequences still accrue from actions taken in this way even if the psyche is made more free thereby. It is quite a stretch to take from this the idea that any and every fleeting emotion should therefore be indulged. An Avadhuta or Mahasiddha may act in any way they wish; for the rest of us, “Do what you will, but choose wisely!”

Emotions are emotions; feelings are feelings; thoughts are thoughts. There is neither inherent good nor inherent evil to them. They are functions of our bodies and minds. While changeable, they have purpose in survival as well as motivating a number of higher pursuits. They cannot be dismissed out of hand, and repressed emotions universally go septic as they churn in warm darkness below the surface of the psyche. Detachment is for the Yogi the healthiest angle of approach. The truth of detachment is simply that we recognize that emotions are emotions; feelings are feelings; thoughts are thoughts. We neither indulge nor repress them, but learn to observe. This way, we redirect the energy of our emotions into the very act of observation itself, not only gradually starving potentially distracting or destructive cycles of their motive force but also learning about what lies behind those processes in the first place.

Feeling our emotions and thinking our thoughts is not the problem. The problem is in letting them run away with us. They must be acknowledged just as bodily sensations must, and just the same they must be appropriately gauged for severity, diagnosed, and treated for what they signify rather than for what they look like on the surface. Here is much of the work of Yoga.

Practices to Abandon: What Yogis Do

The desire to renounce things is the obstacle. The Self is simple renunciation. The Self has renounced all.

~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi compiled by Sri Munagala Venkataramiah, Talk 268

The past several days, as of this writing, have been filled with excruciating pain. I had never before experienced literally blinding pain, but an exposed nerve in a broken tooth will do that, apparently. In one particularly bad instance, it was only through mental japa — the concentrated repetition of a mantra — that I managed to hold it together enough to make an appointment with the dentist and walk home from work to take care of myself. While I’m sure I would have survived without it, the Yoga discipline of japa notably improved my performance under the circumstances.

The timing is funny, as a friend of mine had just asked me the following a few nights before the tooth became a problem: “What do yogis do? With witches, I can look at something or even just make something up and say, ‘That seems like something witches would do,’ but I can’t do that with yogis.” I’ve been thinking about it ever since, as I’d never really stopped to consider how I’d describe what yogis do before. The intense pain of a nerve ending exposed to the elements gave me a stark context for my contemplation. You’d think I could just say, “Yogis do Yoga,” and let that be that, but as I said in my last post Yoga is difficult to pin down. Patanjali clearly defines Yoga as both the set of practices which achieves and the achievement of the stilling of modifications of the mental substance. That’s a helpful definition as far as it goes, but it does require a lot of unpacking.

I won’t insult or bore my readers with another lengthy explanation of the fact that what gets sold as “yoga” in the marketplace bears just about zero resemblance to the real thing; let’s take that as a given and move on. Things like meditation, contemplation, ritual worship, and so on are obvious enough examples of “stuff yogis do”, but they don’t always look as expected. There’s not one form for any of these things which you can count on in any given individual or group, and even some of the common terms will mean different things depending on context. All of these practices, their myriad of shapes and names, and the variety of reasons for engaging in them are all very important for the yogi; read about those, try them out for yourself, and you’ll know a good bit about “what yogis do”.

But, significantly, you won’t know the most important part: Yogis renounce.

Yogis renounce every obstacle to Awakening. We renounce our own sense of action and desserts, all of our karma. We renounce our conditioned thoughts and emotions. We renounce our love of life and our fear of death. We renounce our disgust, our grasping. We renounce those things and ideas with which we identify, those building blocks of selfhood and separation. We renounce our lack of awareness and our misapprehensions.

This may sound extreme, but stick with me. This is not the cultish “breaking down to build up in our image” thing; the lineage does not force this renunciation in the individual, nor does the Guru insist upon it. We practice our meditation, our chanting, our ritual, making every thought, word, and deed throughout the day somehow a thread in the tapestry of our Yoga. We continue to engage with the world as needed, but do so with increasing spontaneity and decreasing artificiality. Whatever is real within us, we discover it by peeling away everything else.

We do not thereby destroy our personalities, efface our likes and dislikes, or enervate our affections. So long as we are human beings, we will have these characteristics. But we do learn to wear them more lightly. We come to see them for what they are: fancy dress, the shape and color of which reveal something of what is underneath but which cannot be it. We therefore take them less seriously, seeing them as opportunities for practice and simultaneously as ornaments or toys to be enjoyed for as long as they last.

We renounce the world and thereby ourselves — as everything we think we know of ourselves is conditioned by the things of the world — but ultimately we renounce renunciation. Many Hindu and Jain Yogis become attached to asceticism, Christian mystics to mortification, Buddhists to non-self; these are all a form of egotism, fear of death, of grasping after renunciation itself. Even renunciation and holiness become sources of pain if we fail to see them for what they are after they have served their principal purpose. Patanjali tells us that the purpose of Nature (prakrti) is for the enjoyment and liberation of the Self (purusha); once it has performed both of these tasks, it becomes as if non-existent. Of course, the world doesn’t really vanish when one attains Awakening, but such a person is able not only to see the world as it is, but to see through the world, to see beyond the appearance to That which upholds it. At that point, what is there left to renounce but the thought of renunciation itself? When everything is let go, everything can simply rest in its own nature.

Ultimately, then, we can cut through it all to this: what yogis do is whatever it takes to get to that place wherein everything is just as it is. It is a paradox of spiritual practice that we must apply a great deal of effort over a long time just to realize — genuinely realize, and not just theoretically accept — that there’s nothing to realize and no effort is necessary. Yogis live this paradox. All of the schools, lineages, metaphysics, theologies, cosmologies, meditations, mantras, yantras, and rituals are just for this. However grandiose, lowly, or merely absurd that may strike any given ear, that’s it, that’s all we do.