This morning’s practice involved additional readings from Meditations from the Tantras, a collection of essays centered around the teachings of the Dashnami sannyasin, Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Preceding the core of the book, a collection of specific meditation techniques taught by the swami, were essays introducing the teachings at the Bihar School of Yoga that he founded in 1964. Satyananda was a student of Sivananda whose books I have enjoyed through the years. This book on tantric meditations is more recent than Sivananda’s books although it was published in 1983. Its teachings are decidedly more ecumenical, including in its broad statements about the efficacy of technique all the major religious traditions of mind-cultivating practices like Christian mysticism and Zen.
My practice is largely founded on the Theravadin scriptural and oral traditions. The bulk of my study has focused on the various Buddhist schools in Asia, and more recently, the translations and commentaries by European and American scholars. My work in yoga has been largely based on Patanjali’s synthesis and teachings from Thakor Patel, a disciple of Shri Kripalvanandji. Satyananda’s book blurs the distinction between Buddhist and Yogic teachings. The book proposes an end goal of practice not dissimilar from what Buddhism teaches: the elimination of ignorance. Ignorance, as also taught in Buddhism, is ignorance of who or what we are and the profound ramifications this has on how we perceive and live life.
In describing “the experience of dhyana,” Satyananda waxes poetical: “Life becomes so joyful so that it needs no ambition, no justification, no reason: it is sufficient just to be.”
Manuals of style recommend that the writer avoid hyperbole. To make statements of exaggerated truth makes the whole work suspect. Ordinary life is imminently ordinary. Only in poetry is hyperbolic sweetness condoned. Perhaps only in poetry and in what to me is a similar state, the experience of the sacred, do our minds shift from immersion in the ordinary to be torn free to experience a fuller, more vivid reality unhindered by rationality and intellectuality. Bach’s music is intellectually mathematical and perfect but its real impact comes when we forget the architectural construction of the pieces and lose ourselves in the music itself. Living the music is a different function of mind. Dhyana is understood as approaching the limits of mind itself. When consciousness breaks out of the confinement of mind, subject and object become identical. In that union is unlimited space and time, both aspects of experience dissolving into the simplest terms.
I remember a Japanese Zen monk at Barre when I was there to study the elements of Pali. The monk was not in his robes but had not yet given them up. He was seeking a way to return the robes, gifts of a community he was no longer in touch with. He described why he was not sure he wanted to pursue the practice. In his meditation practice, he felt he was losing himself and that was sheer terror.
The majesty of freedom is an amalgamation of all the possible emotions a human being experiences. Like flour, yeast, salt and water, they unite into a common substance, dough, although this metaphor too is flawed. Substance exists when there is someone outside substance that apprehends it. The agent that apprehends is what we refer to in ordinary, unenlightened life as “I”. The concept is so ubiquitous that we don’t see “I” anymore. We become absorbed in the delusion. This is ordinarily what we call being practical.
Satyananda writes that someone who touches and lives in the nameless still operates in the world of forms. There just is no longer identification with the forms. The forms, whether self or other, are shapes of eternity passing like the shadows of numberless days, numberless years, centuries and aeons beyond count.