Sunday, August 22, 2010

Wonder Tales from Baltic Wizards

Book Review: Wonder Tales from Baltic Wizards translated from the German and English by Frances Jenkins Olcott in 1928 (Abela Publishing 2010)

This was a fun book with the stories more or less selected with children in mind. Olcott I guess was known for children’s stories. He notes that the more repulsive stories were omitted. While the stories are relished and presumably the magic flows without alteration there are some scathing remarks in the forward such as: “...the Gospel of Christ the Lord, which frees from superstition, ...” and “ of the most repellent of soul-slaveries—Shamanism.” The same book from another publisher has the subtitle: Pagan Mythology, Shamanism, and Magic from Finland, Lapland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Even though there are some nice magical stories here I do not think that would be an accurate subtitle – mainly due to the selective nature of stories – there apparently being vast amounts more - and would have been better selected by authors having a more genuine interest in paganism. The author does, however, seem to enjoy the traditions and the stories and the Baltic cultures. Most of the Finnish stories come from the Finn national poem called the Kalevala which consists of oral lore collected in the 19th century, much of it Christianized. He notes that some of the meter of the Kalevala is retained. Traditionally the Finnish stories were told while one strummed a harp/zither-like instrument called a kantele. The Latvians and Lithuanians are Indo-Europeans and so have different original languages than the Finns and Estonians which are Finno-Ugric peoples. The Lapps are even different perhaps more indigenous to the area and are said to share more features in common with darker skinned, high cheeked Siberian-Asians.

The introductions to the stories are fun in a kid way with the reader coaxed to imagine he is in a Lapp tent in the sunless night of winter when an arctic wind blows and the sound of the magic drum of the approaching wizard Nischergurje clad in white reindeer skins fills the air. He beats his drum with a gold drum hammer. He is welcomed warmly by the Lapps. He says that,

“I have learned the secret of the foxes. I have the strength of Honey-Paw the bear, of Thick-Pelt-Old-Man-of-the –Forest. Fleeter am I than the snarling wolf. I know the place of hidden treasures. I know the secret of the Forest.”

Then he magically summons the Four Ancient Wizards of the South Baltic Lands: Kauko, Red-Haired Wizard of Finland of the Thousand Lakes and Thousand Isles; Sarvik, the white-haired, oak backed Wizard of Estonia with the lolling red tongue; Kurbads, strong as a giant, with yellow eyeballs and green hair from Latvia of the crystal streams; Jakamas, pointed-eyed with bushy golden head and apple-red cheeks from Lithuania of the fragrant amber. Often the wizards are described as grinding their teeth, whistling, and howling.

First there is a story of Nischerguje himself battling another wizard, the Servant of the Wicked Moon Daughter. In Lapland the children say that the Aurora, the flashing Northern Lights are Wizards having Magic Battles.

There are stories here resembling some of our known fairy tales, or the tales of the Grimms. One cannot help but notice the motif of wicked parents or parents who favor and disfavor certain children. Stories reminiscent of Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, and Jack and the Beanstalk occur. There is a Lapp story which speaks of a places where there is a huge ugly fearsome stone. These places are called a Seite and are said to be places of sacrifice where evil wizards lead reindeer bucks to sacrifice and use their bones and remains for malevolent magic. The Lapp Fairy folk are apparently called Ulda and seem to have lots of similarities to the Fairy Folk of the British Isles. The Wicked Moon Daughter – an ugly old woman of the Underworld appears in another Lapp tale where she appears as a black bird and instigates wizards to fight one another. Also when she flaps her wings she can call hoards of mosquitoes and gnats – known to be ubiquitous in the Arctic summers due to the bogs.

There are Finnish tales of the Wizard Vainamoinen and his friend the Wizard-Blacksmith Ilmarinen who forged the magic sampo to try to win the love of the Lapp Rainbow Maiden. Unfortunately this tale is left unfinished and one is referred to the Kalevala for the rest of the story. Ilmarinen’s smithy is said to be in the interior of a great mountain at the center of the earth.

In a story from Estonia about a singing sword and the hero Kalevide there is a magic aided by sprinkling rowan leaves, thyme, and fern. There is a curious tale of the Linda, Maiden of the Milky Way who is courted by the pole star, the moon, the sun, and the northern lights. She turns down the pole star, the moon, and the sun because they have predictable courses. She chooses the aurora with its wild unpredictable flashes. There are also some tales of Elsa, a female child who is adopted into a fairy realm until maidenhood. Incidentally the first tale from Latvia also involves a girl named Ilsa. There is another interesting Latvian tale that occurs on Midsummer’s Night – St. John’s Night – June 24th where witches occur as a flock of magpies and are overheard by a human – presumably due to the thinning of the veils on that night. Shapeshifting occurs in several tales as well. The Mystic leaves of the Linden tree are mentioned in the intro to one tale.

Some of the Lithuanian tales serve as warnings against greed and suggest that greedy magic can backfire. There are a couple tales where three sons try to solve a problem or woo the king’s daughter. In both it is the simpleton that appears to be the most clever after all and the least greedy. Another story is about a Wanderer, a Smith, and a Taylor/Cook traveling together had to overcome a nasty wee man called Mannikin Long Beard.

At the end of the book there is a “Tiny History of the Baltic Sea” and “The Tiny Dictionary of Strange East Baltic Things.” Apparently the Baltic Sea is nearly tide-less, nearly salt-less and in places quite shallow. It is also the legendary source of Amber – petrified gum from submerged pine trees. Apparently the Phoenicians traded for Amber and then traveled to Gaul and then traded it to the Ancient Greeks during the 1st Millenium BCE. There is also some recent (through the 1920’s anyway) history of these peoples.

The Life of Merlin, Vita Merlini

Book Review: The Life of Merlin, Vita Merlini by Geoffrey of Monmouth translated from the Latin by John Jay Perry in 1925 (Forgotten Books 2008)

Geoffrey of Monmouth first composed this book around 1150 A.D. based on oral traditions. The time period of the Vita Merlini is thought to be the late 500’s A.D. Geoffrey of Monmouth made two previous works that are related: “The Prophecies of Merlin” and “The History of the Kings of Britain.” I have another recent book by R. J. Stewart called, “The Mystic Life of Merlin” which presumably references all these works and more and so is surely a more complete picture than this work alone. The notes to the English text given in the book are invaluable as references to events and sources.

This book appears to be a mish mash of lore from various sources with Celtic-style Christian notions thrown in here and there. It starts out with Merlin being grief-stricken due to endless bloody wars and skirmishes. He goes mad and decides to live alone in the woods as a mad hermit. His madness seems to breed his prophetic abilities. Merlin’s madness as well as other incidents in the story show a strong similarity to the Irish story of Suibhne who wanders the woods in frenzied madness as a bird. Both tales occur and deal with the time period where Christianity is becoming established. The difference is that in Ireland there was no Roman period as in Britain. Indeed both tales also revolve around mythic history to some extent.

There is a part of the story where Merlin’s prophecies are being challenged and they try to trick him by letting him predict how a boy will die then disguised the same boy twice more and then had Merlin predict the manner of his death. They thought they had him as he predicted three different deaths but it turns out all three occurred to the one boy. This motif is a recurring Celtic theme called the three-fold death and may relate to the three-fold level of Celtic societies.

Much of the book involves local British history of the early Middle Ages and historical predictions. Later in the book is a dialogue of Merlin and the bard Taliesin. During this dialogue it was announced that a spring had broken free in the mountains and made a fountain and when Merlin drank from the spring he was freed from his madness. Taliesin then speaks of the natures of waters, river, springs, and lakes – some he says are healing and others poisonous but several he notes have specific effects. Also another madman appears that was previously afflicted by poison apples. He drinks of the fountain and is healed. I am thinking that the healing waters may be some symbolic representation of a healing paradigm, or the healing effect of merely looking at things in a different way or with a different perspective.

Now an old man Merlin chooses not to go back to the life of a king but to remain living in the woods – now in a small cotttage – with his sister and his friend Taliesin, a man named Mauldinus, and Merlin’s sister Ganieda, whose husband, the king Rydderich had died.

The last prophesy is made by Merlin’s sister Ganieda who predicts that wars will come forcing people to cross the water and the Normans will depart – these prophecies appear to be about the 1100s and 1200s. In any case, Merlin, now unable to prophecy, then formally passes on this task to Ganieda.

While this is an interesting book by itself for traditions treated it would likely be more satisfying to read it with more clarifying commentary and comparison with other texts derived from Celtic oral and bardic traditions. In this light I look forward to reading R. J. Stewart’s book.

In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology, and Myth

Book Review: In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology, and Myth by J. P. Mallory (Thames & Hudson 1989)

This book is basically a survey/overview of all the past and current ideas of Indo-European origins, culture, and language based on linguistics, archaeology, and to a lesser extent, myth. It was certainly a fascinating read and served to acquaint me with the methods used in linguistics, archaeology, and again to a lesser extent, comparative mythology.

It was only in the early 1800’s that it was realized and noted by scholars that many connected groups of languages had remarkable similarities with other languages far separated in place and current cultural attributes as well as in time. Nowadays there are several varying classifications of these language groups based on how they were presumed to have developed and progressed through time and place. Basically, there is presumed to be a Proto-Indo-European Language developed when the earliest of peoples of the Indo-European tribe lived in a smaller homogenous area. The language groups stemming more directly from this are thought to be: Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan (sometimes Aryo-Graeco-Armenia to Greek, Armenian, and Indo-Iranian), Balto-Slavic-Germanic (from which English comes), Tocharian (or Tocharian-Italo-Celtic), Italo-Celtic, and Anatolian (which includes Hittite, Palaic, and Luwian and can be traced to ~1900 BCE). These languages and the many languages derived from them are all very related but it is not very well known how they developed farther back in time. The eastern languages – Indo-Aryan, Indo-Iranian, Anatolian, Baltic-Slavic are called satem and the western languages of Europe are called centum – this referring to the word for 100. Unexpectedly the easternmost IE language – Tocharian of Chinese Turkestan is a centum language and apparently shares much with Celtic.

The oldest Indo-European words, references, names, and place-names in the historical record are from Anatolia in the form of clay tablets in Assyrian cuneiform – much of them the records of Assyrian merchants trading with the Hittite Empire. The Hittites and their rivals the Luwians and some of their subjects the Palaic peoples all have IE languages. There are also several ancient non-IE languages from Anatolia. Most linguists and archaeoligists consider the Indo-Europeans to be intruders to this region (with the exception of Colin Renfrew who considers Anatolia to be the original IE homeland). Much of this book is concerned with migrations and migration routes of the various IE languages. It should be noted that from the 1900’s BCE a little further south from Anatolia into northern Syria/Mesopotamia there is also linguistic evidence of a people known as the Mitanni who headed a powerful Mesopotamian empire along with the Hurrians (Sumero-Akkadians). Some of the Mittani spoke an Indo-Aryan language as is indicated by a cuneiform document on horse-training with clearly Indo-Aryan terms very close to Sanskrit. Also there is a Hittite/Mitanni treaty document from around 1400 BCE that invokes Indo-Aryan Vedic deities, Indra, Mitra-Varuna, and the Ashvins. Ceramics of the greyware type have been associated with Indo-Aryans and one can trace the greyware appearance to the Pontic-Caspian region in time migrating into Anatolia and the Mitanni-Hurrian region. Horse domestication also can be traced from the Pontic-Caspian steppe region. There were wheeled carts pulled by donkeys in Mesopotamia but horse-drawn spoked wheel chariots are thought to have derived from Indo-Europeans as we see that horse-care and horsemanship language retained its Indo-Aryan terminology. There are other possibilities but these are the most accepted. Indeed one thing this book shows is that a lot of the most accepted theories are by consensus of specialists and even though they make good cases based on the evidence at hand there are still a lot of possibilities as truly convincing evidence is often scant and much is developed on good but indirect evidence.

Regarding the Indus Valley Culture the author seems to favor that they were of an Elamo-Dravidian type that was invaded-assimilated by Indo-Aryans later on and much of the Vedic mention of dark-skinned ‘dasas’ referred to the Dravidian peoples of this area that they were assimilating. Again this is the most accepted theory but also far from certain. There is also linguistic evidence that the Iranian split from the Indo-Aryans occurred before the Indo-Aryan presence in Anatolia but I do not follow his argument that the Iranians went west and the Aryans went east since the deities invoked in the Hittite treaty were clearly Aryan vs. Iranian. Zoroaster is commonly dated to 600 BCE but here is suggested maybe 500-1000 yrs before that and others date it back even further to 3500 BCE.

In assimilating this book one needs to keep in memory many places on maps and different cultures in different times and consider their possible migrations, language developments, and archaeological evidence so it is not easy to keep everything well-sorted and in memory. He gives the evidence for the Iranian groups – linguistic evidence through time indicates Iranians being around the Caspian since at least 2000 BCE – the Andronovo Culture is likely Indo-Iranian. He goes through quite a bit of archeological evidence mainly in the form of ceramic styles and burial styles and caches for several Neolithic groups from these vast areas. He notes the use of ochre in Neolithic burial sites all over the place. He notes the interactions when possible of agricultural and more pastoral communities.

The structure and place-names and names in the Ancient Greek language indicate absorption of local non-Indo-European languages by the Mycenaean Greeks. The Balkan Indo-Europeans to the north were once populous and powerful kingdoms before the Romans Subdued them. These were the Thracians (who left no language remnants), Dacians, and Illyrians (Albanians). Further east were the Slavs and north were the Baltic tribes. Apparently the archaic nature of these languages suggests that they moved very little since late Indo-European times. Westward were the Germans who later moved further west. The Italians apparently encountered several non-Indo-European languages in the Italian peninsula so like Greek there came lots of “loan words” from other languages – particularly Etruscan. Another linguistic method used in these studies is that of the “isogloss” or a linguistic feature confined by a geographic boundary (the satem and centum boundaries would be an isogloss). The Celtic languages, although now confined to small areas, were once more widespread as the Celts expanded during the La Tene cultural period in the first millenium B.C. The Celts encountered the non-Indo-European Basque language (more widespread than now) in Iberia. Pictish language in Scotland likely does retain a non-Indo-European element as well. In any case, what can be shown is that the Indo-Europeans migrated quite a bit and typically became the dominant language and likely the dominant culture as well. The warrior-horse culture of the Indo-Europeans likely helped them become dominant.

Next there are sections on Proto-Indo-European Culture and Indo-European Religion. The religion section shows some words common to many IE languages such as Dyeus pater – or father sky – discernible in Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Hittite, and several other IE languages. The sun gods, Surya (Sanskrit), Tsar Solnitse (Slavic), Sulis (Gaulish), Saule (Lithuanian), and Sol (Germanic) are noted. The mother of Thor, Fjorgyn, is noted as a possible cognate of the Lithuanian Perkunas and the Slavic Perun, both thunder gods. Another interesting one given is the Avestan Apam Napat and the Latin Neptunus and the Irish Nechtain, all water gods. There are many more of these favorable comparisons of both names and attributes – Varuna/Uranos, Yama/Yima/Ymir, etc. There is also note of a common structure attributed to important or final battles such as Kurukshettra in the Mahabharatta, the Ragnarok, the 2nd Battle of Mag Tured (Irish), and others. Next he talks about the ideas of Georges Dumezil about the tripartition of Indo-European society. These are compared in a chart with Indian, Iranian, Greek, Roman, and Gaulish versions. There are the priests (druids/brahmins), warriors, and herder-cultivators. Dumezil notes this tripartition way back in the Hittite treaty (1380 BCE) which calls on Mitra-Varuna (king/priest dual function), Indra (warrior), and the Ashvins – the divine horse-twins often associated with fertility. There appear to be many parallels of this tripartition in Greek and Roman myths. Even in Nordic myths there is Tyr and Odin, the king/legality aspect and the priest aspect. There is also evidence that each of the three aspects received separate animals for sacrifice – ie. sheep for the priest class, horse or bull for the warrior caste, and cattle or goat for agricultural class. Another triplet is the way the legendary Greek healer Asklepios healed afflictions: sores were healed with spells, wounds with incisions, and exhaustion with herbs and potions. There is some evidence that white was the color for priests, red for warriors, and possibly black or blue for herder/agriculturists. The horse sacrifice was a rather elaborate affair in several ancient Indo-European cultures. A myth of cattle raiding is prominent in Indo-European societies (related to warrior development) as well) and a whole “Cattle Cycle” has been theorized whereby the cattle come originally from the gods to the tenders then are stolen by enemies then recovered by the warriors then sacrificed by the priests back to the gods. Strange as it sounds this appears to have been the case. Next is covered the idea of “The War of the Functions” where the priest-king class wars with the warrior class. This is possible as the Aesir-Vanir conflict as well as similar conflicts recorded in the Illiad and the Mahabharatta. another interesting observation made presumably by Duzemil was that of the so-called threefold death – or the three styles of death given to criminals and sacrificial victims. If sacrificed to a king/priest god or if one violated this function one was hanged, if to a war god or violation of a warrior code one was burned or killed by the sword, and if to a fertility deity or violating that type of precept one was drowned.

A large chunk of this book deals with the Proto-Indo-European homeland possibilities and various evidence for migrations and expansions. It is clear that there is no great consensus in these matters. The best one can generally say is that one scenario is more likely than another. The author seems to favor a PIE homeland in the vicinity of the Pontic-Caspian Steppe region which extends westward to the Black Sea. according to his analysis of the data he sees this as most likely. Marija Gimbutas places it just north of the Caspian based on the timing ad expansion of kurgan burials. Burial types and body positioning have been used to identify IE steppe peoples. As far as timing of the proposed PIE culture the author likes 2000-4000 BCE. One of the main reasons for this is that the PIE language appears to have vocabulary for the so-called “Secondary Products Revolution” which includes words for plough, milking, dairy products, wool, and wheeled vehicles. The author criticizes the theories of Colin Renfrew on several grounds. Renfrew’s idea of an Anatolian PIE homeland would make the PIE culture and language much older perhaps beyond 7000 BCE as he thinks the Linear A language of Crete is in the IE group and is ancestral to Greek. If that were true it would mean that the Neolithic agricultural settlements of Europe after the ice age possibly already had Indo-European elements

One thing is certain though – that some tribes were displaced long distances. The Alans, an Indo-Iranian tribe from Southern Russia ended up moving west through Spain into North Africa. The Huns, whose language is Finno-Ugric and not IE, moved from the Urals far west into Europe. The Celts moved from Eastern Europe to Ireland.

Another thing worth mentioning is that there is most definitely the chance of further archaeological discoveries and there have been several since this book was published – in the Urals in Russia, in Anatolia including some settled temple-building cultures dating back to 9500 BCE, in Eastern Europe also.

Mallory in this book makes no mention of archaeo-astrological data which is being refined all the time as more becomes known about ancient capabilities of the builders of the megalithic ritual observatories.

This is a great survey of all the data. It should be noted that basically half the population of the world speaks an Indo-European language so studies of why this culture was able to expand and become primary are worthwhile. Basically horses, chariots, war capabilities, a functional social structure, and an ability to assimilate agriculturists are some reasons. It does appear that there were long stable generally peaceful agricultural societies in Europe and Western Asia before the arrival of these steppe tribes.

The Epilogue of the book serves to debunk the Myths of Aryan Supremacy that actually derived from the early studies of Indo-European characteristics in the late 19th centu

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation with Commentary

Book Review: The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali (A New Translation with Commentary) by Chip Hartranft (Shambhala 2003)

This is a remarkable book, certainly one of the most important that I have ever read. This particular translation and the insightful commentary would be a worthy book to study often. While I have read parts of several translations of this sutra – this one is by far the best and the most understandable. The terms are translated more with meditation terminology rather than religious so I think the effect is more understandable as the book really is about meditation. For example the word isvara is translated as “pure awareness” rather than “lord” or “God” – he notes that identification of isvara with a god-being was a later development, although it does refer to purusa, or the most subtle/spiritual nature that may also refer to a supreme person. Patanjali’s view is similar to that of a the Samkhya tradition. Yoga here refers not really to any physical exercises at all but to stilling the mind by “yoking” it in various ways in order to bring the mind to stillness and the state of integration known as samadhi. It is consciousness that is stilled or allowed to settle until it can act as a mirror to reflect the immaterial unchanging pure awareness back to itself. So in Patanjali’s view, consciousness is a part of material nature that merely seems like the pure awareness:

“2 Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness

3 Then pure awareness can abide in its very nature

4 Otherwise awareness takes itself to be the patterns of consciousness”

The five representational patterns of consciousness are given as correct perception, incorrect perception, conceptualization (based on linguistics), deep sleep (based on non-existence) , and remembering. Next he introduces the two main methods of his yoga which the author translates as the practice and non-reaction. These are in Sanskrit – abhyasa – “the will to repeatedly align and realign attention to the present moment.” He also describes abhyasa as subtle effort focused on the cultivation of effortlessness. The reason for cultivation of subtlety is to avoid the force and struggle which engages the ego. The second method is that of – vairagya – “the will to observe experience without reaction.” It is “the willingness to let a phenomenon arise without reacting to it.” We react to stimuli due to conditioning so this method is a form of de-conditioning. When we de-condition we come to know that consciousness is not separate from nature but subject to the gunas, or modes of nature, like all of prakriti – or materiality. The pure awareness, or purusa, according to Patanjali is, however, beyond the gunic forces of nature. In the commentary he says that cultivation of vairagya, or non-reaction is important since when we react to any stimuli we build the sense of I, or ego. In non-reaction this illusory ego is not involved.

Patanjali says that in the beginning the process of stilling (nirodha) is accompanied by four types of cognition: analytical thinking, insight, bliss, and feeling like a self. When these fade away after extended practice what is left are the karmic impressions (samskaras) that propel one towards rebirth after death. The commentator suggests that the typically perpetual motion of consciousness that is thought effectively seeds the memory with these karmic impressions. Others say that we search for these impressions as a force of habit. If thoughts become less frequent through concentration then less and less of this seeding will occur. He calls it the cycle of karma-samskara-karma, or action-impression-action.

Patanjali gives the form of the path to realization as follows:

“20 For all others, faith, energy, mindfulness, integration, and wisdom form the path to realization.”

(The faith here is said to be not dogmatic but confidence in the efficacy of the method)

He also says that:

“23 Realization may also come if one is oriented toward the ideal of pure awareness, isvara.”

Isvara, he goes on to describe as incorruptible, independent of cause and effect, and without stored impressions. He also says that isvara is represented by the sound of om, (similar to the timeless Brahman.)

During the stilling process (nirodha) when we concentrate on an object (dharana) we react less and less to sensory stimuli resulting in a progressive withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara) which in turn helps one to notice more and more the subtleties of consciousness.

Patanjali goes on to describe the distractions to this stilling process and common reactions to the distractions. He also lists several ways to subdue these distractions to stilling: (from the outline) 1) radiating friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity (these are the four abodes of Brahma, or the Four Immeasurables of the Buddhists), 2) pausing after exhalation (I am trying to remember to implement this one), 3) practicing mindfulness of perceptions (I think this would refer to noticing sensory reactions), 4) thinking luminous, sorrowless thoughts (I am unsure what luminous thoughts would be but luminous refers to sattvic so maybe non-agitating), 5) focusing on things that do not inspire attachment, 6) reflecting on insights from sleep and dreaming (hmmn maybe should do that more), 7) becoming absorbed in any object (maybe less wandering mind and more engaged mind although one can be engaged in wandering!)

After distraction is mastered and one achieves concentration on an object (dharana) and becomes absorbed in concentration (dhyana) one is at the gate to integration (samadhi):

“41 As the patterning of consciousness subsides, a transparent way of seeing, called coalescence, saturates consciousness; like a jewel, it reflects equally whatever lies before it – whether subject, object, or act of perceiving.”

He lists four types of coalescence (samapatti), 1) with thought, 2) beyond thought, 3) reflective, and 4) non-reflective. These are apparently pre-integration states that still bear the seeds of the karmic impressions but from the non-reflective coalescence which refers to interaction not with gross objects but with subtle qualities or elements which include the tanmatras (the subtle aspects of the senses), and the movements of the three components of consciousness which are the intelligence (buddhi), the sensory mind (manas), and the “I-maker,” or ego-organizing principle (ahamkara). At this stage awareness begins to see itself as separate from the senses. When the self is realized to be inseparable from the experience, or there is no subject-object duality, then there is samadhi. Samadhi (integration) is referred to as the stabilization of samapatti (coalescence). Then the nature of reality and the self becomes clear and wisdom (prajna) arises. The basis of the wisdom is the focus on the distinction between consciousness and pure awareness. This wisdom generates latent impressions that prevent other impressions from arising and eventually even these wisdom-generated impressions fall away.

Patanjali describes the three components of yogic action as: discipline, self-study, and orientation toward the ideal of pure awareness. The purpose is to break free of the causes of suffering and realize samadhi. The causes of suffering are given as not seeing things as they are (avidya), the sense of “I,” attachment, aversion, and clinging to life. Not seeing, or avidya is considered the root cause from which the others stem. This is akin to delusion in Buddhist terminology and may be from the same word. These causes of suffering are said to be the root of our every action though it does not seem that way at the time. He says that we discover this when our attention is yoked to the source of suffering. He makes an interesting statement regarding the function of the phenomenal world itself: “... Patanjali asserts that the primal purpose of the phenomenal world is to reflect the true nature of awareness back to itself.”

The commentator gives a quick overview of the yogic skill of discrimination, or viveka, which comes as a result of practice of the focusing technique (abhyasa) and non-reaction (vairagya). When the settling or stillness occurs then pure awareness can be discerned. This discernment, or discrimination, is viveka. From samadhi arises the power of viveka which leads to the realization of reality as it is.

Patanjali goes on to introduce the familiar eight limbs of yoga (astanga): the external disciplines (yamas), internal disciplines (niyamas), posture (asana), breath regulation (pranayama), withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), absorption (dhyana), and integration (samadhi). He also lists some of the reasons for these practices and their benefits. Regarding postures he says that in meditation there should be steadiness and ease so that the body and the infinite universe are not seen as separate. The commentaries through this section are excellent and worthy of further study.

As a result of practice Patanjali says that: “... continuity develops between arising and subsiding perceptions.” This he suggests is due to the generation of new karmic impressions that foster the stilling process which prevent the grosser karmic impressions from arising. This idea I think is similar to the Buddhist notion of the generation of meritorious energy.

The commentator links concentration (dharana) to “the effortful domain of abhyasa” and absorption (dhyana) to vairagya (non-reaction). The path of realization goes from conditioned reactive behavior to spontaneous unconditioned behavior.

Patanjali speaks of “the perfect discipline of consciousness” as composed of concentration, absorption, and integration regarding a single object. So when these three highest limbs are yoked to consciousness one can gain perfect discipline on any subject. He also talks about mastering the flow of energy in various parts of the body and the powers this confers. Beyond these various masteries there is non-attachment to the masteries themselves. It is only then that suffering falls away.

The chapter on “extra-ordinary powers” goes on to describe the resultant benefits of this perfect discipline of consciousness regarding various objects and mental focuses. Patanjali again distinguishes purusa, or pure awareness, from the luminous quality (sattva) of consciousness and the phenomenal world of which it is a part. What happens is that:

“55 In this way discriminative insight deconstructs all of the phenomenal world’s objects and conditions, setting them apart from pure awareness.”

The commentator says that, “By remaining absorbed in the procession of momentary events, one recognizes that what had seemed a continuous flow of reality reveals itself to be a sequence of consciousness moments, each composed of irreducible perceptual phenomena, or dharmas.” This happens he says because this perfect discipline (samyama)basically slows down time.

In the last chapter Patanjali goes into more detail, assuring again that the true function of consciousness itself is to reflect the unchanging pure awareness. The final product in this system is the fully integrated state of “dharma-megha-samadhi,” where all is reduced to a “cloud of irreducible experiential forms.” The pure awareness is then seen as it is, beyond all cause and effect, and timeless.

Even though these are all just words, a system of meditation described with various terminologies – it is said that attempting to understand such things conceptually can most certainly be helpful when one undertakes the task of working the system in order to understand directly.

Later there are a few short chapters dealing with the modern influences and effects of the Yoga Sutra, the comparison to scientific knowledge, and a great comparison of this system and the Samkhya system in general to that of Buddhism which the author compares very favorably, noting any discrepancies as minor or more or less terminology-oriented. The most obvious difference is the Buddhist emphasis on Anatma, or non-self versus the Samkhya (and Vedanta) emphasis on Atma, or the Higher Self. Even so he explains that this is not so unresolvable (as is also explained in Padmasambhava’s Rosary of Views). In fact, it is likely that Samkhya and Vedantic thought in Patanjali’s time was much influenced by the detailed mind-teachings of the Buddha and his students. He states that the Buddhistic system developed out of the Brahmanical-Upanisadic system and Patanjali’s system developed more out of the Buddhistic system. So one can see the inter-weaving and cross-pollinating influences here.

Mr. Hartranft states that the Yoga-Sutra is compelling because it addresses the central concerns of human existence. Like the methods of Buddha the methods here described by Patanjali are aimed at the reduction and elimination of human suffering.

The comentator also discusses the Samkhya darsana, or view, that is usually considered dualistic in that awareness is considered to ultimately be distinct from consciousness and nature. However, he also notes that purusa, or pure awareness, in this system is considered to be without qualities or attributes (nirguna?) which makes it pretty much conceptually indefinable so if one sees consciousness and nature as part of a temporary and illusory world (maya) then this view is similar to the Buddhist-style view of the two truths which actually derives from the Vedas’ description of universal unfolding so we have come full circle. The dualism of Samkhya may then be said to be a more functional type of dual nature. Samadhi still refers to integration of subject-object duality so the idea
of non-dual wisdom is still at the heart of the philosophy and method.

Finally there is a section about the translation and he notes again his choices of terms and how the terminology of the meditative traditions informed his commentary. It is important to note that there are several sub-traditions in Indian meditative traditions and sometimes terminology varies and means specific things to different sub-systems. It is good to keep this in mind.

Overall, this is a profound text, translation, and commentary. In my opinion it may be one of the most important texts ever for describing what happens when one wakes up to reality as it is (vidya). I hope to study it over and again and perhaps memorize a good chunk of it. Keeping such wise words in mind may be quite useful.

Healing With Form, Energy, and Light: The Five Elements in Tibetan Shamanism, Tantra, and Dzogchen

Book Review: Healing with Form, Energy, and Light: The Five Elements in Tibetan Shamanism, Tantra, and Dzogchen by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

This was an interesting book – the 2nd I have read by him. He is a Bon Buddhist teacher living in the US who speaks fluent English. He starts by describing the traditional three levels of spiritual practice – External, Internal, and Secret. In his description – shamanism represents the external level where ritual interaction with spirits and elemental deities and forms is the method (although he makes clear that he is using shamanism as an umbrella term). Internal practice refers to working with internal energies such as the yogic pranas or the feng shui energies or energies shared among humans. This is the primary methodology in Tantra. The Secret dimension – described as Dzogchen in this system - is said to be even more subtle and non-dual and somewhat beyond adequate verbal description. One first would need to access this dimension of reality before being able to work with it. So in this explanation Shamanism involves healing with Form, Tantra involves healing with Energy, and Dzogchen involves healing with so-called very subtle Natural Light.

Of the nine levels of Bon practice of the Southern Treasure Tradition the first four are called the causal vehicles equated with shamanism. These are the Ways of Prediction, the Visible World, Magical Illusion, and Existence. Here is an interesting quote:

-In Bon, the shamanic practitioner works mostly with external symbols and with symbolic acts of ritual. The symbol connects the focused mind of the practitioner with the aspect of experience the symbol represents, whether a force or entity. For instance, when a food offering is made to spirits or deities, it is often placed outside. Eventually birds, insects, or animals eat it. This doesn't negate the offering. On the energetic level, the symbols and symbolic actions have made a connection: something has been offered from the human side and something has been received from the spirit side.-

Good health is defined by the five elements being in balance. This applies also to good fortune. That is what is represented by the five colors of prayer flags. The components of being are seen slightly differently in the different vehicles. In the shamanic vehicle there is the sems – the conceptual mind, the la – the soul of this life that contains the karmic traces, and the yee – the reflective aspect of the mind that experiences the la. The three are inseparable. The loss of the la is the same as the soul loss described in Circumpolar shamanism. This is considered a great elemental imbalance. Another way to classify the being is la, sok, and tse where la is karmic capacity, sok is life force/vitality which can be accumulated or lost, and tse is lifespan.

The first set of practices in the book involve meditation on the elements in order to strengthen one's connection to them. Sky gazing on top of a mountain is the method for the Space element.

In the section called – Relating to Non-Physical Beings – he describes the Buddhist practice of offering to the four classes of guests. First are the enlightened beings, tutelary deities, and enlightened goddesses. Second are the gods, devas, guardians, planetary spirits, and dharma protectors all considered partially enlightened. Third are all those beings with which we have karmic connections and those to which we have karmic debts. Fourth are the guests of compassion. These are the ones we can help. Compassion is the foundation motivation of all practice.

There is an explanation of soul retrieval in terms of the arrow, turquoise, and the soul deer that is a ritual that combines Siberian-style shamanism with Buddhist-style preparation and intention. Turquoise is called la-gyu – the symbolic holder of the soul. There is a more do-able rite given for Retrieving the Elemental Energies which involves mantras and working with the elemental goddesses. This is very interesting and might be good to do in a short retreat or with a small group of people.

The next section about the five elements in tantra describes the analogy of the horse, the path, the rider, and the armour and the five types of prana. The horse is prana, the path is channels in the subtle body, the rider refers to the drops (tigle or bindu in Sanskrit), and the armour is the symbol, or syllable. Since Tantra involves the transformation of energy by working with this subtle body scenario the correspondences and techniques are described. There is a great explanation of these tsa lung yogic practices which involve various types of breathing in the external tsa lung, working with the five pranas in the internal tsa lung and the secret tsa lung. These are all methods to open the successive chakras as in the classical yoga tradition.

The last section regards the five elements in the Great Perfection, or Dzogchen system. There is a very good explanation here. The explanation is based on a text called The Six Lamps from the Zhang Zhung tradition (Zhang Zhung is an ancient city now gone but with some probable archeological remains). Here is an interesting quote from his commentary:

"Samantabhadra is the primordial Buddha because he was never deluded, never distracted from the natural state. He never mistook phenomena for something other than empty luminosity. We ordinary beings are distracted. We identify with the moving mind and objectify phenomena. Deluded and trapped in the dualistic vision of me and not-me, we wander in samsara."

Each of the six lamps are described – in terms of sound, light, and rays. This equates to body, speech, and mind/consciousness which are purified and recognized in terms enlightened awareness. There is information about the space element that is worked with in Dzogchen practice. Here is a quick summary of dzogchen practice:

"Recognize non-dual innate awareness, dissolve all identity into it, and abide without distraction."

The traditional practice is in two parts: trekchod – or cutting through distraction and tsogal – or crossing over which are the visionary practices which naturally follow cutting through. Cutting through involves integrating with the space element. Crossing over is – allowing experience to manifest without being distracted from the nature of mind. The practice of dark retreat is a practice of tsogal – crossing over. This is when one lives for several weeks or more – usually 49 days as in the bardo – in complete darkness. Thus are the visions of the five elements in terms of the five subtle internal lights. Meditating on the lights that occur when one is in complete darkness is said to be good preparation for the darkness of the bardo at death.

Overall this was a great book – with many interesting practices that are worthwhile.

The Yoga of the Nine Emotions: The Tantric Practice of Rasa Sadhana

Book Review: The Yoga of the Nine Emotions: The Tantric Practice of Rasa Sadhana by Peter Marchand (Based 0n the Teachings of Harish Johari) (Destiny 2006

This is another great practical book about a type of spiritual practice of which I was not much aware – The Indian tradition is quite rich in practices. Rasa means “essence” or “taste” and refers to the essence of emotions or moods. The nine are Love, Sadness (Compassion), Courage, Wonder, Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Calmness (although calmness is considered ni-Rasa or without emotion and was added later by the sage Abhinavagupta.) Some basic Indian philosophy is included – such as explanations of the five sheaths, the three gunas, the three doshas of Ayurveda, the chakras, the five elements, and how these relate to the Nine Rasas. Here is a great quote to ponder about the elements:

“Without food, the fruit of the earth element, we can only survive for weeks. Without water our lifespan becomes a matter of days. Without heat or the element of fire, the body can only sustain itself for a few hours, and without air normal people die within minutes. Without space not even seconds are available. Therefore without earth, water, fire, air, and space, life is impossible.”

He goes through each rasa in detail with various correspondences with dominant doshas, elements, gunas, with friend, enemy, and neutral rasas, the siddhi or magical power attained through mastery of the rasa, and the Hindu deity associated with each rasa. For instance – Indra is associated with Courage but also Hanuman the great monkey-hero of the Ramayana is associated with Courage, Yama (the first being to die) is associated with Fear, the baby Krishna is associated with Joy, and Rudra – the wrathful aspect of Shiva is associated with Anger.

Of course, some of these rasas are desirable – love, joy, wonder, compassion, courage, and calmness and some not desirable – anger, sadness, fear, and disgust. The sadhana practices involve making vows either to avoid the undesirable rasas or to continually manifest the desirable ones. A Joy sadhana may include constant humor. An anger sadhana may include avoiding anger for an hour, a day, a month, or a lifetime.

There are sections on foods that affect the emotions, on developing daily routines, and on the relationship of the senses to the elements and emotions. For instance space arises to accomodate the tanmatra (subtle form of the element) of sound. Air arises from Touch, Fire from Sight, Water from Taste, and Earth from Smell. Sound is said to produce vibration in all five elements – thus Nada Yoga – or the Yoga of Sound is considered very important. The practice of Pratyahara – or withdrawal of the senses – is good for developing calmness.

The seven dhatus are also mentioned – from the essence of food comes plasma which begets blood which begets flesh which begets fat which begets bones which begets marrow which begets semen and sexual fluids. There are said to be times of the day where certain rasas dominate – dawn is calmness and love, morning is courage, afternoon is courage and joy, dusk is considered a dangerous time when sadness, disgust, anger, and fear can dominate so one contemplates calmness in meditation then in the evening one
cultivates love and joy.

Apparently the idea of the eight rasas (without calmness) is a key to Indian art and entertainment and was written about in the Natya Shastra in the 4th or 5th century. Thus Indian art is devised to evoke specific emotional patterns – all the desirable ones with the others only for contrast. The same is true for music and dance. That is why the
musical scales/melodies prescribed for morning are different than those prescribed for evening.

The author makes a good case for using these ideas in therapy and to offset the ubiquitous negative and predatory advertising. He also mentions traditional dominant rasas of castes in India – although unjust – it is poor people who often manifest fear (of not eating) and disgust (at the excesses of the wealthy) – the warrior is obviously concerned with courage and righteous anger

The author supplements the descriptions with information about the biochemistry of emotions as revealed by modern studies of neurotransmitters and other brain/body chemicals associated with emotions. He refers to these as – information molecules – perhaps based on more subtle – information energies. For instance – the endorphin dopamine is felt as a pleasant physical sensation during or after illness, injury, and exercise (among other things) – it is associated with the sensation of touch. He refers to a few recent books from the late 90’s – The Molecules of Emotion – and one called - Emotional Intelligence. Regarding food and neurotransmitters both – the author mentions the possibility of slaughterhouse meats being full of hormones like adrenaline associated with fear and aggression – as the animals can smell the blood of their comrades before they die. Perhaps the chemicals themselves are gone by the time one eats them but the subtle energies may not be.

From my own perspective I can say that it is not easy to master emotions. Anger is very quick and powerful. Sadness can be all-consuming. Fear can be a gnawing annoyance. Disgust can rear its ugly head. And the desirable emotions are no easier to keep up. But I do think that if we pay more attention to our emotional states we can begin to master them. If we are aware that we are exhibiting certain emotions we will have a better chance of controlling them – not suppressing the negative ones so much just seeing them for the waste that they really are. Easier said than done but the only way one can practice say – mastering anger – is to get into situations where one would become angry. The Buddhists call the mastery of anger – patience - and consider it of utmost importance. As for me – I often fail miserably – especially when in a weakened state – so maybe it is best to avoid loaded situations when you know you are weakened.

The Zend Avesta of Zarathustra

Book Review: The Zend Avesta of Zarathustra - translated by Dr.Edmond Bordeaux Szekely

This is a translation of one of the main historical texts of Zoroastrianism (called Mazdayasnianism by followers). This early belief system had a strong influence on many following belief systems, including Christianity and Judaism. When the Jews were subjects of the Persian empire there were new ideas incorporated based on Persian dualism – good/evil – heaven/hell – God/Devil – became more emphasized. In fact the word –devil – derives from the word deva – meaning "shining one" in Sanskrit. In the Vedas the devas and the asuras are in a perpetual war with the devas considered the higher more enlightened demi-gods caught up in their own pride and the asuras less enlightened demi-gods caught up in their own jealousy. However, in the Zend Avesta the devas are considered evil and the asuras – called ahuras are considered the true divine beings. This may have reflected some very ancient tribal conflict among the early Aryan tribes.

The Zend Avesta is mostly praises to Ahura Mazda – The Supreme Being of Light and Creator. The text is attributed to Zarathustra, or Zoroaster – a holy man early in the 2nd millennium BC (though some say much later to 600 BC) thought to be from Afghanistan- then part of a pan- Persian empire – or pan-Indo-Iranian society of sorts.

There is some reference to the pre-Zoroastrian nature religion with much similarity to the cosmology of the early Vedic Aryans. Perhaps the praises of the Fravashis – the unmanifest guardian spirits of all beings – are from this tradition. There are also quite a few language similarities of Vedic times and Avestan Persian. The God Mithra is venerated as he is occasionally in the Rig Veda. However, the Cult of Mithra propagated by later Persians and spread out by the Romans via underground temples throughout the Roman empire is a much later manifestation. Avestan Persian language shares a lot with early Sanskrit – terms like haoma = soma = the sacred plant drink praised both in the Zend Avesta and the Rig Veda ; yasna = yajna = sacrifice, usually a fire rite of burnt offerings performed by both Vedic and Zoroastrian priests – though in much different forms. The form of the hymns is similar to the Rig Veda indicating the common orgin and language of these peoples.

The first stanzas are Ahura Mazda explaining creation to Zarathustra. Here he created the Kingdoms of Light, Preserver, Eternal Life, Wisdom, Work, Love, Peace, Power, Food, Health, Joy, Sun, Water, Air, and Earth. All these are given as Ahuras or Fravashis. In the first verse he creates Light. In the second verse – 1. I cast my shadow, Angra Mainyu , 2. Who is all Death – so as he creates all these Angra Mainyu counters by creating their opposites.

So we see that from the beginning of this belief system there is a strong dualistic framework where the desirable is separated from the undesirable. This Persian Dualism had a strong influence on other belief sytems – especially those that were under the various Persian empires at one time or another.

The idea of Asha – or the Cosmic Law/Holiness/Truth/Order/Goodness is praised as desirable and those who adhere to the principles are called Ashavans. In the part called the Gathas – said to be the oldest part of the Zend Avesta – I understand it as saying that the Cosmic Order –Asha – is also within us and we have free will or choice to recognize and adhere to it or ignore it. So in Thought, Word, and Deed one should strive to adhere to the Cosmic Order.

I do not know if this is considered a good translation or not. Also I am not sure if it is complete or just selected texts. Dr. Bordeaux Szekely was said to be expert in several ancient languages. He also started something called the Biogenic Society which has to do with trying to live as the Essenes did.

There seems to be little in detail, example, or story from the Avesta. Hymns and praises are the jist of the book. There is encouragement to strive to do that which is just, good, and moral. There is also a quest for a Better World. I can see how one could study these hymns and derive benefit (as with most belief systems). As with most religions Zoroastrianism has a long and strange history – at one time a powerful priesthood sometimes at odds with the Persian royalty – suppression after the Islamic conversions – later loss of a real homeland – the Parsees who migrated to India are Zoroastrian – I heard too that the Kurdish people in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey also have some Zoroastrian-type traditions though currently repressed.

Meditation on Om and Mandukya Upanishad

Book Review: Meditation on Om And Mandukya Upanishad by Swami Sivananda
(Divine Life Society 1993 –originally 1941)

Since I sometimes practice in this Sri Sivananda tradition I thought it a good idea to actually read a book by the master himself. Swami Sivananda (1887-1963) was a famous Indian guru/spiritual teacher. He taught Yoga and Vedanta. His main student was Swami Visnudevananda who started several of the Sivananda Yoga Centers in North America. Yogi Hari and Leela Mata studied directly with Swami Visnudevananda for many years.

The method is the meditation on Om, the Omkara (Om syllable), called the Pranava in Sanskrit which means – to sound out loudly. The goal of this meditation on Om, or Pranava Yoga is Brahmajnana – or the knowledge of the Self.

The Sanskrit terms are quite heavy in this book which may make it confusing for those that are unfamiliar. The first part of the book after hymns is a description of the Infinite, Brahman, the Absolute, the Supreme Self, the Atman. Brahman is the Infinite. Maya is the Finite. Atman is covered by the five veils, or the five yogic sheaths (yogic bodies). Maya is neither real, nor unreal, nor both. It is not describable. “You cannot die because you were never born.” Isvara, the personal god, is Brahman seen through the veil of Maya. Vedanta teaches that the individual soul (Jivatman) is identical with the Supreme Soul (Paramatman) that is Brahman. Brahman is Om. “Om is the embodiment of the essence of the whole of the Vedas.”

One idea mentioned over and again in the introductory teaching is to use the power of Om to root out the samskaras (karmic imprints) and the vasanas (karmic energies). This is one of the points, he says, of Vedantic Sadhana. Om is the beginning of most mantras in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Bon, and Sikhism.

Still in the intro he then gives some information about some commentaries on the meditation on Om and some introductory information on the Mandukya Upanishad. He says it is the shortest Upanishad but also the most important. It is an extension/commentary of the Atharva Veda. He says that the Upanishad is difficult to understand without an informed commentary which he provides in this book. “This Upanishad gives the secret meaning of Om which is the name of Brahman. It gives an analysis of the three states of waking, dream, and deep sleep.” There is also the fourth state, the Turiya, which is Brahman.

Next he begins the philosophy of Om. “Om is formed by adding the letters A, U, M. ‘A’ represents the physical plane, ‘U’ represents the mental and astral planes, the world of spirits, all heavens, and ‘M’ represents all the deep sleep state and all that is unknown and beyond the reach of the intellect even in your waking.” He says to chant Om loudly several times (3,6, or 12) before meditation in order to dispel worldly thoughts and Vikshepa, or tossing of the mind. It is said in breathing that the sound ‘So’ is produced during inhalation and the sound ‘Ham’ is produced during exhalation. Removing the consonants you get ‘oam’ or Om. It is said that the consonants are dependent on the vowels. The consonants ‘s’ and ‘h’ are said to represent the names and forms of the relative Universe while Om is the unconditioned ultimate Reality. Apparently in Sanskrit A is the first letter and M is the last letter of the alphabet so the meaning can be similar to alpha and omega, or from A to Z. As AUM it is everything from beginning to end and everything in between and then some so it is regarded as the ultimate symbol. Om is said to be the all-pervading space, or akasa. In this way it is the matrix of sound itself. He describes Om as the womb of all sounds and words.

Curiously, he says to chant Om for one hour and to chant any other word for one hour and you will feel the difference. This is because of the connection of Om with what it represents, the Infinite Brahman. “There is a mysterious inscrutable force in Om. This force tears the veils, destroys desires, cravings and egoism and takes the aspirant to Brahman. It raises the Bramakara Vritti ( vritti is mental pattern) from the Sattvic mind,
anihiliates the Mula-ajnana (root ignorance) and helps the meditator to rest in his own Sat-chit-ananda (being-consciousness-bliss) Svarupa.” He says that, “Names and forms are inseparable. Thought and language are inseparable” This reminded me of mythology where gods come into existence when they are named.

He goes on to break down Om into its trinity nature as AUM and describe many correspondences attributed to the three letters such as the gross manifest, subtle manifest, and unmanifest states of Brahman; waking, dreaming, deep sleep (Om undifferentiated represents the transcendent 4th state); ‘A’ is Brahman, ‘M’ is Maya, and ‘U’ is the interaction between them; Brahma, Visnu, Siva; Sarasvati, Laksmi, Durga; Rajas, Sattva, Tamas; Sat, Chit, Ananda; Past, Present, Future; Being, Becoming, Non-being; Birth, Life, Death. There are quite a few others too and he says that all triplets are represented by Om.

Next is a description of the 16 states of conscious which are the waking, dream, deep sleep, Turiya state – these four are then combined, ie waking inwaking, dreaming in waking, etc. These are described like grades to be accomplished with characteristic realization-flavors of each state.

He goes on to describe various meditations on Om. Some are by identifying with the sound. Others are pranayama, working with the breath. There are Saguna (with attributes) and Nirguna (without attributes) methods. Trataka on Om – or using a visual depiction of Om as a meditation focus is covered. This practice is also common to most Mahayana Buddhist traditions in several countries. He says to practice for 3 months with a picture until one can mentally recall a very accurate image with eyes closed while mentally chanting Om and hearing all sound energy as Om. When one ceases to distinguish meditator from meditated there is Nirvikalpa Samadhi. He describes Saguna as concrete meditation with an object and Nirguna as abstract meditation without an object. Nirguna, or meditation on qualities is Vedantic sadhana.

Next he talks about Brahmakara Vittri. The manifestation of prana ranges from breath to thought (vritti). The method is to replace Vishaya vittri – the thought of sense-enjoyments with the thought of Brahman. The idea is to purify the mind of passion, anger, covetousness, infatuation, pride, jealousy, hypocrisy, intolerance, egoism, attachment, hatred, laziness, and torpidity. Then it becomes Sattvic, calm and pure.

He goes on to describe the 3 faults of the Mind: 1) Mala (impurities), 2) Vikshepa (tossing), and 3) Avarana (veil of ignorance). Impurities are removed by Upasana, or worship of the tutelary deity. Self-restraint is used to control the senses (presumably the preoccupation of the tossing). He also describes the four means of salvation: 1) Viveka – or discrimination between the real and unreal, 2) Vairagya (indifference to sense enjoyments), 3) Shadsampat – the sixfold virtues, ie. peace of mind, subjugation of the Indriyas (sense consciousnesses), power of endurance, satiety, faith, and one-pointed mind. 4) Mumukshutva (desire for salvation). During and beyond this practice one is instructed to make the aspiration practice of Aham Brahmasmi – or I am Brahman, or I am the Infinite Self. This is identification with Brahman, or setting the Brahmakara Vittri in place of the focus on sense enjoyments. This is Jnana Yoga. One may identify with the Infinite gradually for longer and longer periods. Eventually even the Brahmakara Vittri will fade as it is a means rather than an end. I am finding this explanation quite similar to Patanjali’s Yoga description – after all it is basically from the same tradition of Vedanta/Samkhya. He also mentions the famous mantra of the great Sikh Guru Nanak – Sat Nam Eck Omkar, or Real Name One Om.

Next are some songs and kirtans about Om and then he gets into a review of passages regarding Om in the Upanishads, the Smrtis, the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali’s Sutra, and other texts. Here follow some highlights:

The Prasnopanishad describes the three Matras (measures) of Om. The first matra ‘A’ is associated with the Rig Veda and the wisdom of the earth plane. The second measure ‘U’ is associated with the Yajur Veda and the sky and lunar realm. Meditation on the whole syllable Om of three matras is associated with Sama Veda and the highest sun and the realm of Brahma, the Brahmaloka. Again Om is associated with ether/space/akasha which is the source of wind/air/prana. ‘A’ is yellow and rajasic, ‘U’ is white and sattvic, ‘M’ is dark and tamasic. Here is a pranayama technique from the Dhyanabinu Upanishad:

“Taking in air through the left nostril and filling the stomach with it, one should contemplate upon Omkara (Om symbol) as being in the middle of the body and as surrounded by circling flames. Brahma is said to be inspiration; Vishnu is said to be cessation (of breath) and Rudra is said to be expiration. These are the Devatas of Pranayama.”

The revealer/rishi of the Mandukya Upanishad is Varuna, the Lord of Waters, in the form of a frog. Anyone wanting liberation may study this Upanishad. Swami Sivananda comments that,

“... Om is the substratum for the illusion of speech. All is mere play of words. Ideas or thoughts are communicated through words only. Experiences are expressed through words only. Incidents are narrated through words only. Everything is held together by the string of speech, by the cord, rope, or thread of specific names. The world cannot exist without names or words. the world cannot run without names or words. Therefore, it is proper to say that ‘All is the word.’

He mentions the four Mahavakyas, or great sentences in the Upanishads:

1) Ayam Atma Brahma – This Atman is Brahman (from this Mandukya Upanishad)
2) Prajnanam Brahma – Consciousness is Brahman (Aitereya Upanishad of the Rig-veda)
3) Aham Brahmasmi – I am Brahman (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad of Yajur-veda)
4) Tat-tvam-asi – Thou art That (Thou art Brahman) (Chandogya Upanishad of the Sama-veda)

The four conditions of Atman are the four states: awake, dreaming, deep sleep, and superconsciousness. A soul or intelligence is given for each state who experiences that state. The dream and deep sleep states are only known through the waking state.

“During dream, the mind creates various kinds of objects out of the impressions produced by the experiences of the waking state. The mind reproduces the whole of its waking life in dream through the force of Avidya (ignorance), Kama (desire and imagination), and Karma (action).”

The mind perceives the mind in dream. The subtle dream world is said to be made of vasanas (karmic prana, habit-energies) in the form of Tejas (subtle fire, the essence of light) moving through the Nadis (pranic nerve channels). The senses are said to not be involved. The karmic prana is dissolved and re-ordered through the force of ignorance, desire, and action – into the dream. The experiencer of the dream is of the essence of light. Waking reality is consensual while dream reality is individual.

In deep sleep there is no mind and no ego but the veil of ignorance remains. The Jiva (individual soul ) experiences the bliss of cessation. This bliss is called Anandamaya – bliss behind the veil of ignorance (which separates Jiva from Brahman).The waking and dream states merge into the deep sleep state yet remain in a seed state. The Turiya state of superconsciousness is said to be indescribable in words. It is desribed by negative attributes: indescribable, inconceivable, incomprehensible, undefinable, unconditioned, non-dual. Turiya is Brahman. It is a substratum for the other three states, pervading them. It is Transcendental, Sat-Chit-Ananda.

‘A’ represents the waking state. ‘U’ represents the dream state. ‘M’ represents the deep sleep state. ‘M’ is both a measure (Matra) and the point at which the whole Omkara becomes one. ‘A’ and ‘U’ merge into ‘M’ as waking and dream merge into deep sleep and arise again through the door of deep sleep. “In Prajna (here the intelligence/soul of the deep sleep state) all things lose their identity, all become one.” The fourth and final matra of Omkara is the Ardhamatra which has no parts. It is called Amatra, without measure. The Ardhamatra is called, “ the indescribable vibration which is the essence of the whole.” It is identified of course with the Turiya state. Great book to ponder – good notes for me to read with meditation.

Paganism: A Religion for the 21st Century

Paganism: A Religion for the 21st Century - by Shanddaramon (Astor 2009)

This is a short book which starts out by defining terms: paganism, religion, and spirituality mainly. It ends up being a useful exercise but makes the early part of the book a bit slow and boring which is too bad because the latter part of the book is fairly interesting.

Except for the slowish early parts this would make a good book to be read by one’s non-pagan friends and family members. It is intelligently written and would be helpful getting outsiders to understand just what modern paganism is about.

He condenses all the diversity of paganism into what he calls the “Three Pillars of Paganism:

1) The sacred exists within and beyond all things making all things and creatures sacred.

2) Because of our inherent sacredness, we are free to make our own spiritual and life choices but we know that we are ultimately responsible for the consequences of those choices.

3) All things exist in cycles and we celebrate and honor those cycles both personally and communally.

He calls these three statements Sources, Choices, and Cycles and suggests that in his observation most pagan groups try to abide by these three basic themes.

Next he goes into the social philosophers three eras of modern history – Pre-modern where Church, aristocracy, and rulers. Then the Modern era where Reason gained in importance and religion had to adapt to science and industrialization. Technology became the secular god. Man molded nature so much that environmental degradation came about. Postmodernism brought about consensual ideas of equality and inclusiveness, the sacred in all things, holistic worldviews, and unity coexisting with diversity. He contrasts the ideas of immanence – the sacred within all things and transcendence – the goal of going beyond the fetters of ordinary existence. He concludes that Paganism should be inclusive of both ideas and indeed they are not as contradictory as it may seem. He says that,
“Modern Paganism has all three qualities needed for a Postmodern religion: it is personal, inclusive, and holistic.” He notes also regarding postmodernism that life became even harder to reconcile with traditional (mostly Western) organized religion with one exception in the U.S. – evangelical Christianity seemed to adapt to the era – especially the new ‘Mega Churches” with “child care, counseling, dating services, health programs, meals, and personalized study groups.” – although of course the theology did not change.

Regarding the diversity in paganism he states that, “Deists, atheists, agnostics, humanists, nature mystics, and others can all equally be Pagan practitioners and can adapt their practices as each one grows individually and through their own cultures.”

Next is a chapter about what it means to be Pagan – with general list of what Pagans do and do not do – which serves to debunk common misconceptions that never seem to go away in an ignorant and resistant populace.

The last chapter is entitled – Simple Pagan Practices – based on his three pillars idea. Basically be aware of the sacred as much as possible and at all times and places. Practice keeping to a responsible intent. And practice observing various cycles to attune to nature.

Overall – a thoughtful little book. Maybe there is hope for Paganism after all.