Adelaide Shiva Yoga Meditation Centre
The Yoga of Consciousness

First published in Australian Yoga Life magazine, Issue 8, 2004


The Yoga of Consciousness

 

Passed from master to disciple for over 1,000 years, the yoga of Kashmir Shaivism has been introduced to the West in the last two generations. The power of its message transcends time and culture to deliver an extraordinary outlook on yogic sadhana and the nature of the universe.

Kashmir is a state in Northern India, nestled against the Himalayas, on the borders of Pakistan and China. A lush valley, it long has been the crossroads of many cultures and philosophies, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Judeo-Christian and Chinese travelers, and Islam. It also became a secluded centre of learning that fostered a unique tradition of yoga known as Kashmir Shaivism.

Shaivism is a philosophy or spiritual approach that takes its name from Shiva, meaning the highest consciousness, the universal principle, higher self, or the underlying reality of all existence. As yoga, it is a remarkably practical application of specific methods to experience the higher states of consciousness.

Kashmir Shaivism was first developed by spiritually adept yogis who taught disciples and passed on an oral tradition. Like other early yogic practices, participation was by personal initiation and the teachings were kept secret. The first written records date from the ninth century, which heralded a golden age that lasted a few centuries. During this time a number of great teachers wrote the foundational texts of Kashmir Shaivism, including Vasugupta's Shiva Sutras, which are short statements the teacher would use for discussion and contemplation. In the 10th century, Abhinavagupta emerged as the most prolific sage of this tradition, with more than 40 works to his name, including the 12-volume Tantraloka.

Islam as a religion and way of life swept Kashmir and other parts of Northern India in the 11th century, and the small groups of Kashmir Shaivites continued their tradition quietly. In the 19th century, scholars made a concerted effort to collect the Sanskrit texts and investigate the existing tradition that had been passed from guru to disciple. A few English books were published on this extraordinary mystical tradition. Then, in the 1970s, two champions of Kashmir Shaivism emerged on the world arena. Swami Muktananda and Swami Lakshmanjoo both published books on Shaivism and initiated many students into the practices. They both taught many Western students and fostered interest in disciples to investigate and apply the principles to daily life. Jaideva Singh published several translations and commentaries on Shaivite sutras, Mark Dyzcowski and Paul Muller-Ortega have published scholarly works on the philosophy and Swami Shankarananda has published books on Kashmir Shaivism that bring the teachings into the context of practical yoga.


Cosmology

Kashmir Shaivism is a cosmology, an explanation of the nature of the universe and the actual experience of human life at its highest levels. It is a mystical path of self-discovery that takes us deeper and deeper into the furthest reaches of divine experience.

Shaivism requires intense self-reflection. It demands you ask questions of yourself and your relationships to everything from the grossest matter to the most subtle insight. At the onset, Shaivism asks, What is the nature of the universe?

When you think about it, what most defines your experience of life? You might include the senses, the body and the material world. The inner world includes the emotions and the realm of the mind-intellect, thought, memory and fantasy. If you strip away these layers, you might identify your inner being as the most constant aspect of your experience of life. But how do you know?

According to Shaivism, consciousness most defines your experience of life and gives you the ability to know. Also called supreme awareness, conscious energy or cosmic vibration, consciousness is the ultimate nature of the universe and the deepest individual wisdom.

Through consciousness you are the centre of the universe. Your experience of life is entirely subjective. Your family, your work, your adventures, your information, speech, thought, feeling and action-everything in your world-revolves around you. This is not an ego-centric or selfish approach. It acknowledges that solely through your own awareness can you experience anything. On a gross level, events on the other side of the world enter your awareness through television or newspapers. On a subtle level, you may intuit what another person is thinking or feeling by the powers of your own awareness.

The quantum physicist and cosmologist Brian Swimme, Ph.D., in Canticle to the Cosmos, says, ‘The universe is omnicentric. Every place in the universe is the centre of the universe. What is being revealed to us? We are at the centre. Now we know where we are in the journey'.

So often the idea of the spiritual journey is accompanied by an arrival, a mystical ending of blazing enlightenment, perhaps. But as in a walking journey with a backpack, the spiritual journey takes place now. Swimme says that by accurately placing ourselves at the centre of the universe, we know where we are: here.

The moment it takes to stop and reflect that we are the centre, that we are here and now, allows us to live in complete awareness. This awareness then takes us deeper into the state of consciousness.

What Is Consciousness?

In Consciousness Is Everything: the Yoga of Kashmir Shaivism, Swami Shankarananda says, ‘Shaivism says that consciousness underlies all creation. It was there in the beginning. It is there in the middle and it will be there in the end. It is the fundamental stuff of the universe'.

The Shaivites talk about consciousness as being and energy, or Shiva and Shakti. Shiva is the formless, transcendent, immovable state of being, the backdrop of all existence, or the screen upon which life occurs. Shakti is the creative power of Shiva, divine energy, the dynamic aspect of the universe. In nature, Shiva might be the ocean and Shakti the force that generates waves. In yoga, Shiva is the stillness and Shakti the movement. In meditation, Shiva is the thought-free state and Shakti the breath, or life force.

Consciousness itself is completely and eternally free. As being and energy, or Shiva-Shakti, consciousness (or higher self) has the ultimate power of will (iccha), the ability to create anything. Consciousness also has the ultimate power of knowledge (jnana), the ability to know anything. And, consciousness has the ultimate power of action (kriya), the ability to generate anything.

At the human level, we too have powers of will, knowledge and action. Like consciousness, we have enormous capabilities for creation, just on a different scale. Through our imaginations we constantly create entire realms and through our actions we manifest the rich and diverse experience of the world today.

Consciousness and Being Human

Jaideva Singh, in his commentary on Vijnanabhairava, says, ‘Yoga is awareness, transformation of the human consciousness into divine Consciousness'.

According to Shaivism, we as individuals are the same consciousness as universal consciousness. But, as human beings, we are limited in our capabilities. Most evident, of course, is the limitation of the physical body. We add to our limitations by our thinking. When we think we are separate, we may place ourselves anywhere along the vast spectrum of human consciousness-from feeling pitted against the world as the quintessential victim to being inflated with the feeling of power as the ultimate creator. Conversely, when we are entirely connected to the state of consciousness we actually experience sublime well-being.

This is the remarkable quandary of human existence: we are universal consciousness but may not be aware of it. Shaivism tells us to recognise our true nature as one with consciousness and to remember it whenever we can.

Shaivism is the vision of reconnecting to ultimate consciousness permanently. It offers a clear pathway and defined practices (see sidebar) to dispel the sense of separation and create the experience of oneness, or being in the state of heightened consciousness.

The process of connecting to the state of ultimate awareness is called sadhana, or spiritual practice. In his book, Sadhana, Swami Muktananda says, ‘Nobody has attained anything without sadhana. If there is no kitchen, no food can be cooked. All this talk about instantaneous realisation is just empty words. Instantaneous bliss vanishes instantaneously. Therefore, do not feel shy of sadhana, of prolonged hard work. Only then will you be able to attain lasting bliss. Be ready for a life of sadhana. Love discipline and regularity. Never mind what others are doing or saying. Remain concerned with your own Self and live joyfully'.

 

The Four States of Consciousness

The sages of Kashmir Shaivism defined four states of consciousness. The waking state is the state of perception and alertness. All the senses are engaged and the mind is active. In this state we are in direct contact with the objective world. The dream state is the state of sleep when the mind continues its mental activity but the senses are not engaged. In dreaming, our mental processes create people, events and a world based on the objective world, yet it is not the objective world. The deep sleep state is characterised by the absence of perception from the senses or mental activity. It is complete withdrawal from the outer world.

When we are in any one of these three states we carry an awareness about being in it. Awareness is obviously tangible in the waking state. Sometimes we can have a tangible awareness in the dream state, in lucid dreaming, or in simply being aware we are dreaming while in the dream. Upon waking, we often reflect on the awareness that we were dreaming, even if we can't recall any specifics. Even if the awareness is subtle it always underlies the dream state. The deep sleep state also carries an awareness. In the morning we know if we slept soundly or fitfully and we may be refreshed or weary. We experience the continuity of being.

What is this awareness that underlies these three states of consciousness? Shaivism says the fourth state, also called turiya, is ‘like the uninterrupted flow of oil'. This state, sometimes called the eternal witness, or witness-consciousness, is the part of us that is permanent throughout our life, that connects with inner knowledge at the most profound level. It is the same state as deep meditation. Turiya manifests in the waking state as a sense of full satisfaction and well-being or as the state of heightened awareness, when we have an intense experience of any kind. The Shaivites also comment that it can be experienced in the moment of a sneeze.

To practise the yoga of consciousness is to become alert to those moments when you recognise your own awareness. This might happen anytime doing anything: perhaps as you sit to eat, or look out a window. Maybe waiting at a red light, or even being annoyed in traffic. A heightened emotional state can become a bridge into awareness--intense fear, for example, or the expanded feeling of love. One method to increase everyday awareness is to grab onto those instant moments. Hold onto them and for a moment longer, then a minute, then more minutes, then hours. It is a waking meditation where your body and mind are connected in a state of awareness of being alive, then expanded into the awareness of being one with universal consciousness.

In The Doctrine of Vibration, Mark Dyczkowski says, ‘The yogi in this state moves and lives in the world of waking experience free of all disturbing thoughts while abiding in the transcendental silence beyond the activities of the mind. . . .  What the yogi must do, once consciousness is elevated to grasp the fourth state, is to make it constant. He must forcefully lay hold of it within himself and not release his grip until it becomes permanent.'

This is the ultimate practice and experience of Kashmir Shaivism: to live in heightened awareness and flow with the energy of the universe while living our lives as fully conscious human beings.


Yogic Practices from Kashmir Shaivism

As a practical yoga, all the texts and teachers of Kashmir Shaivism offer numerous practices to increase awareness. These means, called upayas, have been passed from teacher to student for a thousand years to create unity with the experience of consciousness.


The Way of the Individual Body (Anupaya)

Starting at the physical level, the yogic practices include a wide array of disciplines, such as hatha yoga postures, cleansing techniques and breathing exercises. The yogi becomes entirely comfortable within the body by focusing on the body; the prana, or life force within the body; and the mental and psychological states connected with the body.

Perform a series of sun salutes every day. Set aside some time every day to perform hatha yoga postures. These could be as simple as three rounds of sun salutes or a more rigorous series of asanas.

Focus on the breath. With your hand, measure three groups of four fingerwidths (12 fingers) from the end of the nostrils and also out from the heart. Fix that point in your imagination. Exhale and retain the breath at that point outside. Inhale and retain the breath at the heart.

Repeat a mantra. Repeat a mantra aloud, then silently, reflecting on the vibrations. You might want to choose to repeat aum (om) by focusing on a in the navel, u in the heart, m in the mouth, and dissolving it into the vast expanse of consciousness in the third eye.


The Way of the Mind (Shaktopaya)

As the doorway to understanding and deeper wisdom, the mind is the vehicle for contemplation, meditation and dissolving the tendencies towards negative thinking. The Shaivites advocate using the mind to break through emotional blocks and identify with supreme consciousness.

Meditate on the space between thoughts: Watch your thoughts with no attachment. At the moment you perceive a new thought arising, stop the mental process at that gap or interval between the thoughts. Try to stick your mind in that space. Become familiar with that thought-free consciousness.

Practice self-inquiry. One of the classic self-inquiry techniques is to ask yourself, ‘Who am I?' Whenever you have a moment, try repeating, ‘I am'.

Notice your own superconscious state when you are engaged in a wonderful experience: Whenever you are totally enraptured for any length of time, take a moment to focus on the experience. For example beautiful scenery, a movie, show, sport, shopping, children playing, being with friends-anything that offers you the experience of heightened consciousness.

The Way of the Will (Shambhavupaya)

The steady flow of will and the practice of constant awareness lead to absorption in the higher states of consciousness.

Absorb yourself in the state of pure consciousness: With your eyes open, concentrate on your inner state by focusing on the third eye or the heart. At the same time, keep all your senses alert to the world, but don't engage in any specifics such as a sound or object in sight. Stay aware of both the inner and outer worlds. This is called one eye inward and one eye outward.

Will yourself into thought-free awareness: By any means that arise in you, will yourself into a thought-free state. Hold it as long as you can. As you continue the practice you will be able to increase the time spans of thought-free awareness.

The Way of the Teacher (Anupaya)

The tradition of Kashmir Shaivism emphasises the value of the teacher. A number of contemporary yogis have attained worldwide recognition, and some make themselves available to the public. Even if you don't choose one as your personal teacher or guru, they often have valuable guidance that can increase your awareness, ultimately leading to permanent steadiness in the experience of consciousness.


Reflect on the writings of Kashmir Shaivism: Read books on Shaivism to identify what resonates within. Contemplate the words that generate upliftment.

Explore the teachings of accomplished masters: Watch the videos, listen to the recordings or study the teachings of accomplished yogis. Follow the practices that help you increase awareness.


Further Reading

Consciousness Is Everything, Happy for No Good Reason by Swami Shankarananda

Secret of the Siddhas by Swami Muktananda

Self-Realization in Kashmir Shaivism: The oral Teachings of Swami Lakshmanjoo by Swami Lakshmanjoo

Siva Sutras, Pratyabhijnahrdayam, Spanda-Karikas, Vijnanabhairava, by Jaideva Singh

Aphorisms of Siva, The Doctrine of Vibration by Mark Dyczkowski

The Triadic Heart of Siva by Paul Eduardo Muller-Ortega

© Copyright 2004 Nancy Jackson (Swami Dayananda)