The circles in the chakras symbolize wholeness or completion. In order to become whole, we need to recover all aspects of ourselves especially those that have been lost or repressed due to social conditioning. Another name for this is healing. You will notice that each of the chakras has a circle in it, some more than one, so we can assume that the process of spiritual development entails a progressive movement toward the integrity of Self. And here, I mean integrity in both senses: wholeness and truth. We wish to reclaim the authentic self and release the false self that has been created by ego and past learning. We also wish to tune in to the truth of who we are and what our existence means.
It is strongly suggested that you do a bit of introspection at this point, and try to discover to what extent you are psychologically healthy. I know this is not easy without professional help, but I can give you a few guidelines. If you experience any or several of the following over a long period of time, a great deal of your energy may be tied up in maintaining unnecessary defenses which might yield to psychotherapy thus enabling you to make better use of your time, energy, study and self-research.
Symptoms of a psychological problem usually manifest as a major impediment to daily life. Inflexibility, heavy-duty anxiety and repetitive patterns may mean that the ego is stressed to an extreme. It's a matter of degree. Some people can function with a heavier load of angst than others. It has been said that, if we don't feel anxiety in the face of circumstances in the world today, we aren't paying attention. There is such a thing as "normal neurosis." I'm not talking about that. However, if you are feeling heavily stressed by your life, it may mean you need to do some therapeutic work before you continue with these modules.
Read chapter 17, "Psychotherapy and Meditation" in A Path with Heart. This will give you some more guidance along these lines.
Also read Ch. 6 to p. 195 and pp. 226-231 in Yoga and psychotherapy to get the yogic perspective.
Rick Fields, et. al. (1984) say that one of the healing attitudes is Hope. We experience hope when there is some expectation for growth in the future. There is a chance for change. Usually hope means we expect a change for the better. I would add responsibility to the list of healing attitudes. The route to freedom lies through taking responsibility for my own life. As long as I am blaming someone else for what happens to me, freedom is impossible almost by definition. Blame implies responsibility. It also implies helplessness. When I blame someone for something, it means I think they are responsible for it. This usually results in feelings of helplessness. Psychologists have been able to show that helplessness beyond childhood and in the absence of objective disability is usually learned. And, as we have seen, what is learned can be unlearned or extinguished. So it isn't necessary to be a victim.
The Universal healing principles (Arrien, 1987b) that are appropriate to this chakra are diet, food, nourishment and environment. Diet means all I bring into myself, not just food but ideas, thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and stimulation of the senses. We have seen that lack of appropriate nourishment in terms of both food and love can lead to greed or addictions. Often people who have been neglected as children become obese or alcoholic as adults. They use food or alcohol or other drugs to substitute for the love they feel they are not receiving. This feeling of emptiness may have nothing to do with the reality of whether they are loved or not. It is their perception of being unworthy of love that produces the emptiness. And, again, this goes back to infancy and the initial development of self-image.
The environment means nature and also the spaces we live in. It means, as well, the spiritual or inner environment. We need light, air, space and beauty in all of these. Angeles Arrien says we should spend a minimum of one hour a day outside, and two if we can manage it in order to nourish the bodymindspirit.
Aside from initial habit patterns is the existential emptiness we all experience as a result of being separated from the Divine One and the knowledge of who we are. The broken connection leaves us unsustained, unprotected and vulnerable... broken. It produces that sense of a hole around the heart, a deep, bottomless hunger for something, we know not what... a craving that leads us to grasp, to hold on, to get attached to things or to other people. Our society rationalizes this attachment as various forms of relationship: lover, marriage, parenthood, friendship or the need for material consumption.
In fact, true relationship exists only on the spirit level. We are all one in the Divine Self, and there is no other satisfactory way to be connected because all other attachments are fragile and temporary. We all know that on some level, and that knowledge is responsible for our fear. The other will die some day. We will die. Or separation will occur for other reasons. It is inevitable. What to do?
Niyama - Self Study
Self-study is what Jnana Yoga is all about. It means self-examination and self-investigation to clear out all the old debris of our social conditioning. It involves looking at our motives, desires, aversions and self-will in order to overcome our tendencies to ignore what makes the ego uncomfortable. It also means inquiring into our Higher Self and trying to make a connection wiht it. And, last but not least, it means disciplining the ego by questioning the validity of our self- images and ego power plays. It is not especially comfortable because changes in our personality never are, but the long range rewards include a higher level of consciousness and self-knowledge. Self study is what these guidebooks are all about. They are intended to help you make a systematic study of yourself, your life and your intentions.
Exercise: Wholeness and Healing
1. Read Chapter 6 in End of Sorrow and reflect on the following questions. It might be an interesting exercise to try to answer these questions before you read the chapter, then again afterwards to see the contrast in cultural viewpoints, if any.
What is Raja Yoga and why is it called the "royal road?" For what reasons must we quiet the mind and surrender the ego? What is ekagrata? How does accepting responsibility for our own lives lead to freedom? How does "hatred cease by love?" And what is the counterpart of this admonition in Christianity? How does Easwaran recommend we deal with people who are angry, selfish, arrogant or fearful? Why is it important to sit with an erect spine while we are meditating? What does "sorrow" in the title of this book refer to? What is the end of sorrow? What is the value of singlepointedness and how do we attain it? How would you know if you were united with the Lord? Who thinks? How can we develop selflessness? Why are drugs dangerous and antithetical to progress on the spiritual path? What is the problem with the concept of "original sin" and the sermons about damnation? How can spiritual development be cumulative over lifetimes? Do you believe that it is? Describe the "Illumined man" in one word, i.e., what specifically makes him/her illumined?
Write a summary paper or make an outline on the first six chapters of The Bhagavad Gita (based on your study of The End of Sorrow). Include in it some thought about why the Bhagavad Gita is considered a treasure in spiritual literature. It would be good to process this paper.
2. Write a paper on the following topic: "What I want more than anything else in life and how much (and of what) will I give to get it"? Find a way to discuss this paper with someone to help you go deeper.
Rebirth and Initiation
Rebirth means to die to the old self and begin our lives over (be reborn) with a renewed sense of identity and purpose. It is an especially appropriate way to describe what is sometimes called "ego death" because, in the case of surrender of the ego to the Higher Self, the old selfish, self-willed, critical and judgmental aspects of the personality are renounced or have been overcome enabling the person to live a different kind of life under the guidance of the Divine One. Love replaces all other motivations in life and our actions are now governed by kindness and compassion. This is, indeed, reason for celebration and recognition by others in our communities.
Many of us, however, do not have the good fortune to be members of spiritual communities. So how might we celebrate our spiritual coming of age? And how, without a spiritual mentor, would we know that we were ready for initiation? Who would initiate us? How would we know that our ego was not involved in our conclusions?
There are some guidelines, and they are pretty much the same in all traditions. Usually there is a series of stages each one of which is marked by some sort of recognition and/or ceremony. In Yoga the mantra initiation marks the beginning of formal instruction by a teacher or guru. In it, the seeker or aspirant agrees to obey the teacher and is given a mantra. The teacher agrees to take spiritual responsibility for the student through all lifetimes until s/he comes to fruition. The next initiation is brahmacharya in which the seeker takes vows of chastity (in both a sexual sense and a larger sense of purity) in addition to obedience. Sannyas follows and is analogous to the commitment made by monks and nuns in Christianity. It involves renunciation of all worldly pursuits and the results of all actions taken. One is now expected to be "in the world but not of it." A sannyasin may live in an Ashram (like a monastery) or be out in society. In both cases, s/he is expected to give selfless service.
Spiritual teachers, and gurus in particular, often collect a following of disciples, students who wish to live and work with them in order to learn. Gurus are usually, but not always, members of lineages that have been handed down through generations. And this is important since the higher teachings tend to be oral in nature and often secret. A student must prove him/herself before receiving the privileged information. Quite often, those teachings that are written down seem terribly obscure and difficult to understand. This is done deliberately to prevent curiosity seekers who do not have the proper attitudes of respect and gratitude from getting the message. It may also be due to the difficulties incurred in translating the metaphoric mind's experience to the linear modality of writing. Usually a long period of probation is required in order for the student to demonstrate good faith and responsibility before any secrets are divulged. This is not just a social precaution or exclusion. Some of the more advanced practices can be very dangerous if the person has not done the preliminary work on body, mind and ego. The spiritual emergencies that are increasingly evident in our culture attest to the need for considerable preparation in order to withstand psychic and spiritual openings. A teacher or spiritual friend is an invaluable guide because s/he has traveled that part of the path and is familiar with the pitfalls.
Any teacher or guru worth his/her salt will lead you to the inner guru, that voice within that is infallible Truth. Most good teachers will send their students away when they deem them ready for independent living. Clinging to a guru or an Ashram for support for an indefinite period of time may be pathological because the main purpose of spiritual development is to enable us to give service in the world. Self-realization, Liberation or Enlightenment is the means toward that end, not the end itself. When we are enlightened, we get our support and encouragement from the Divine One directly and no longer need an intermediary. And we can go anywhere and do anything, confident in our safety and competence because we are protected by the Divine Light.
The need for a teacher arises out of the untrustworthiness of the ego as a guide. Because the ego is a product of social conditioning, it is subject to the caprices of the social order to which we belong. Our society is a prime example. It is based on materialism and consumerism to the extreme. Neither of these values is even remotely compatible with the spiritual path. Every tradition warns us about the dangers of indulging desire. And desire or wish-fulfillment is a paramount goal of the ego. Our society also encourages individuality and freedom which is usually translated as the right to do what we please without external regulation. Although in its original formulation freedom was paired with responsibility, the latter seems to have slipped folks' minds of late. Insistence on individual identity is one of the major mistakes of ego whereas the idea of Divine identity is seem as blasphemous, at least in western religions. So, as a result of our social learning, we no longer know who or what we are, nor do we know what we are meant to be doing with our lives. We need help in making the transition from social norms to inner guidance. And that is what teachers are for.
A. H. Almaas (1984) says that the problem we have with most spiritual guidance and teachings is that they don't speak to our deepest unconscious needs. If, for example, I am focused on the problem of low self-esteem or a sense of unworthiness, I simply cannot hear or understand the need to sacrifice my ego. And, in fact, that would be premature and counterproductive. I can't entertain the notion of renouncing desire if I have never felt loved especially if desire arises out of my yearning for love and the objects of that desire substitute for the real thing, the all-forgiving Divine One. So we need to begin where we are. The reason for insistence on a student spending time examining his/her life is to enable the heart opening that will lead to the trust and flexibility necessary to discover that we can help ourselves. Not with the ego, but with our Higher Selves as guidance.
1. Read Chapter 16 in A Path with Heart. Then look back over your life and identify the teachers you have already had. Make some notes about what each one has given you and offer a small prayer of gratitude for their support and guidance. If you have been disappointed or hurt by a teacher you trusted, look at that experience in some depth. What did they do to hurt you? What was your role in the disappointment? What expectations did you have that were unmet? If there was abuse, how did you happen to be open to it and what did you learn from it. It is unrealistic to expect that all our experiences will be pleasant ones. Often it is the most painful event that is the most powerful teacher. And we must take responsibility for choosing our lessons whether they are pleasant or sorrowful.
Did you stay with the good teachers long enough for them to really have an impact on you or have you been touching and going, looking for instant gratification? What is your tolerance for ego correction?
Can you see a progression in your development as guided by these teachers? If so, make a diagram in your journal to help you remember this. Is there a logical next step evident? From your experience of these teachers, especially those who helped you the most, what qualities would you look for in your next guide? Are these qualities missing, or perceived missing, in yourself? If so, how would you go about developing or discovering them in yourself? Often the good qualities we see in others are examples of our own underdeveloped potential that needs to be brought to light.
How would you choose the next teacher? What are your criteria and how
would you test them before making a commitment? Are you willing to have
your commitment tested? Make some notes on your reflection or write a paper
on selecting a teacher.
Arrien, Angeles. The Tarot handbook: Practical applications of ancient visual symbols. Sonoma, CA: Arcus, 1987b.
Easwaran, Eknath. The end of sorrow: The Bhagavad Gita for daily living, Vol. 1. Petaluma, CA: 1981.
Fields, R., P. Taylor, R. Weyler & R. Ingrasci. Chop wood, carry water: A guide to finding spiritual fulfillment in everyday life. NY: Tarcher, 1984.
Kornfield, Jack. A path with heart: A guide through the perils and promises of spiritual life. NY: Bantam, 1993.
Rama, Swami, Ballentine, R. & Ajaya, Swami. Yoga and psychotherapy:
The evolution of consciousness. Honesdale, PA: Himalayan International
The last unit, Unit 12. Personal Essence, Beingness
brings us back to the connection we need so much. Personal Essence is the
embodiment of Being (or Spirit). It is how the Divine One experiences the
world through a human being. That is you and me. So we will be discussing
our own divinity. And there will be a chance for you to experience this
aspect of yourself. This unit also includes a Conclusion, General References
and description of Book II: Taking Form.