Core Teachings of the Himalayan Tradition
Swami Veda Bharati
Purification of thoughts and emotions – to prevent internal disturbances from extraneous thoughts and sentiments arising during meditation one needs to practice purifications such as:
- the five yamas: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, abstinence from sensual indulgence, non-possessiveness, and the five niyamas: purity, contentment, practices that lead to perfection of body and mind and senses, study that leads to knowledge of the Self, surrender to the ultimate reality,
- the four brahma-viharas or right attitudes: friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked. (YS.I.33),
- the antidotes to disturbing thoughts, prati-paksha-bhavana (YS.II.33) to ward off the thoughts (vi-tarkas) opposed to the yamas, niyamas, and brahma-viharas (YS.II.34), and so forth. The practice of these leads to:
- ethical behaviour,
- thereby loosening the bonds of karma, and
- chitta-pra-sadana, clarity and purification of mind, making the mind pleasant and clear, and thereby
- sthiti-ni-bandhana, firming up the physical and mental stability and steadiness in life and during meditation
It is not as simple as it appears. For example the preceptors in the Himalayan tradition state that they are able to sit in one posture for long hours because:
- they are emotionally stable and undisturbed, and
- they have practised certain special mantras and tantric concentrations after having been initiated into states energizing the muladhara-chakra. Just reading a scholarly commentary on the Yoga-sutras’ sutra on asana will not help the disciple accomplish such a state; the entire integral system must be followed. For example, if one has mastered a meditation posture through hatha practices and can keep that posture for some time, this will not prevent him from feeling a sensation of moving and swaying etc. (YS.I.31) that many meditators suffer from.
- Another aspect of purification is the conquest of the vikshepas, nine disturbances in the path of concentration: sickness, mental laziness, doubt, lack of enthusiasm, sloth, craving for sense-pleasure, false perception, despair caused by failure to concentrate and unsteadiness in concentration (YS.I.30), and their five accompaniments: grief, despondency, trembling of the body and irregular breathing (YS I.31).
Without such a conquest one will remain bound to the first three states of mind: turbulent (kshipta), stupefied, (mudha), distracted by the vikshepas (vi-kshipta) and will not be able to move to the next ground (bhumi), being one-pointed (ekagra) and then totally controlled (ni-ruddha) in samadhi.
For the conquest of these distractions special methods are employed in the Himalayan oral traditions. For example, the involuntary physical movement or swaying, or sensation of swaying even without a perceptible movement is overcome by:
- purifying the emotions,
- certain mantras, and
- meditating in the preceptor’s presence which helps steady the sadhaka’s mind
Mindfulness. As taught in YS.I.20, [Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Chapter 1, Verse 20] the practice of smrty-upa-sthana (Buddhist sati-patthana) many forms, the details of which are taught in personal instruction. For example, the Himalayan tradition teaches the method of asanas coupled with full awareness of the states of the body, breath and mind in a detailed methodology. In fact a major component in the practice of postures is self-awareness, a deep self-observation, in all states of body, breath and especially the mind.
Breath Awareness. It starts as part of mindfulness and becomes specialised as the very first step in the practice of meditation (YS.I.34). Here, it is essential to learn diaphragmatic breathing that is slow, smooth, without jerks and without a break between the breaths. The living Himalayan tradition of meditation does not encourage practices like kumbhaka. It teaches the disciple simply:
- to breathe correctly in a manner conducive to meditation
- to observe the breath flow, which has many variations,
- to do it for a long time without changing the technique, and
- wait for kevala-kumbhaka to occur naturally when the mind, woven with the very subtle breath, comes to a standstill and thereby brings the breath itself to a suspended state.
The practice of breath awareness branches off into many other modes of meditative experience. For example:
Nadi-shodhana or purification of subtle energy channels. At least seven different forms of this category of pranayama, together with:
- preparatory exercises such as seven different kinds of bhastrikas or bellows, and
- a number of variations to each of the seven channel-purifications may be practiced.
Pratyahara. It is the least understood of the components (angas) of yoga. In YS.II.54, if we understand the sutra correctly, it means
- first calming the mind,
- then merging the senses into the calmed mind, and thereby
- calming the sense faculties. In actual instruction it is done through certain breathing practices in which the awareness is centered in pranamaya kosha.
Under a capable preceptor, one feels the movement of the subtle wind of vayu moving from one point to another in the body in a systematic progression from point to point, until
- the physical body is forgotten,
- the awareness of pranamaya kosha deepens, and then
- as the prana begins to merge into its source in the manomaya kosha, the mind is calmed and the senses are stilled. From here, yoga-nidra (not to be confused with simple shavasana practices that sometimes pass for yoga-nidra) is the next step. From here one may move towards the next steps in yoga-nidra or towards deeper meditations, or may be allowed to practice both if one has the time for them.
Kundalini breathing. This is the first step in the tantric path, the awareness of an energy flow in the spine, imagining and then feeling it, as though the breath is flowing through an imaginary hollow in the spine.
- Many uninitiated teachers nowadays try to teach chakra awakening without having first mastered this sumeru pranayama. Also, if one is not initiated by a master into this method, s/he cannot induce the experience of sumeru breathing.
- If it is done without the appropriate preparations, such as the correct way of maintaining the spine, it can lead to harm, and
- If it is done without using the appropriate mantra – not just any arbitrary mantra – it may be futile, or worse, in that without the proper mantra one may not be able to channel the energy, resulting in possible disturbances and diseases.
Sa-garbha pranayama. It is commonly understood to mean the practice of kumbhaka with mental concentration on a mantra. The Himalayan system of pranapana-smrty-up-sthana means the awareness of a mantra along with the awareness of the breath flow in all its various stages. Again, this is taught in an initiatory process. We shall include it in our description of japa also.
Japa. This is not simply a mechanical recitation of a randomly-chosen mantra. The science of mantra is based on an understanding of sound vibrations which are primarily centered in the various stations of the kundalini and cannot be grasped without initiation. The ultimate purpose of japa is to go into supreme silence. One first absorbs the articulate level of speech (vaikhari) into the mental level (madhyama). Then one silences even that and enters the realm of pashyanti, the vibration of revelation, such that oneself may become the channel for revelation. From there one goes into the supreme absorption in the transcendent, which is knowledge, as it exists in the Divine Principle. A preceptor trained in the Himalayan tradition leads the students into further and further refinements through nine major stages of mantra practice as taught in the tantric systems.
Some of the variations of japa practice are as follows:
- Practising the mantra with the awareness of the breath flow.
- Practising the mantra while performing daily tasks such as cooking or reading or writing.
- Listening to one’s mantra in the mind or in the anahata chakra.
- Practising the mantra with the sumeru breathing.
- Merging the mantra into the dot of the bija of a given chakra, and then observing it emerge from there again.
- Taking the mantra into the mind’s chamber of silence, and observing it emerge again from that silence.
- Merging the mantra into the interior sound in the Cave of the Bees, bhramaraguha, again experiencing its re-emergence.
- Using the mantra in the mental worship in the interior temples (manasa-puja).
- Contemplating the meaning of one’s mantra, and unifying that contemplation with
- manana, or the Vedantic contemplation of the maha-vakyas, and
- internal dialogue, a special process of self-purification.
- Using the mantra as a bhakti experience, of devotion and silent prayer, thus merging the path of bhakti-yoga, japa-yoga and dhyana-yoga.
There are many other methods of using the mantra which need to be taught by an experienced preceptor who not only teaches the method but also leads the disciple’s mind and energies through his own power, that is, he initiates him into the practice.
Shavasana practices serve as ways of entering one’s own subtle body. The interior exercises are detailed and complex and go far beyond mere relaxations. They may be practised at the levels of annamaya kosha, pranamaya kosha, or manomaya kosha in a logical progression. The last of these in shavasana is, as stated above, yoga-nidra at several different levels. For example, one may use it:
- to replace sleep,
- to heal oneself,
- to learn languages, to effortlessly memorise sutras, to discover sciences, to solve problems of philosophical as well as of a personal nature, to compose instant poetry, or to develop plans (YS.I.38),
- to master the art of dying,
- to enter samadhi.
For all of these both the method and the initiatory grace are required.
Dharana or concentrations (YS.III.1) and pra-vrttis or resultant experiences (YS.I.35, 36). A proficient preceptor in the Himalayan tradition is trained in various methods of concentrations,
- on various focal points in the physical body,
- at the chakra points,
- in the tattvas, and so forth
The Vijnana-bhairava Tantra teaches a hundred different ways in which an altered state of consciousness may be triggered, and the Malini-vijayottara-tantra enumerates nearly thirteen hundred dharanas. And these lists may not be exhaustive. A preceptor trained in the Himalayan tradition needs to know the basic ins and outs of all of these concentrations even if s/he has not practised them all personally.
Dhyana or meditation proper. All the methods described above are integral parts of the approach to meditation, but meditation proper begins at the level of manomaya kosha. One may enter that kosha in many ways, such as through:
- refining the art of japa,
- subtler steps in breath awareness,
- initiation, or
- in the case of a more advanced disciple a guru may simply pull the disciple’s mind into a higher degree of meditation. How high one may go through such a conferring of grace depends on the degree of the preceptor’s own advancement. If one has guided the student as far as one himself has reached, he passes the student on to the higher preceptor.
This list of the methods in the Himalayan tradition is only illustrative and is by no means exhaustive.
May the reader receive the Grace of the Himalayan lineage and aspire one day to become a vehicle for such transmission.
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