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FIND Grantee, Indologist and Yoga Teacher
YOGA IS LIFE. THE FLOWING COURSE OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN KĀŚMĪRĪ ŚAIVISM
Gioia Lussana approaches the question of the ultimate meaning of non-dual yoga in Kāśmīrī tradition from Abhinavagupta’s mediaeval lineage to the current community set up by Lakshman Joo in the 1930s. Yoga appears as a celebration of life and an exaltation of the vital principle (prāņa), regarded as identical to consciousness itself. The ever-vigilant (svodita) contemplative yogic attitude nourishes awareness that will unfold into a full awakening – embodied in ordinary life.
Śiva, undivided consciousness1, out of an ‘excess of ardour’, desired to make himself many. Consciousness, overflowing with happiness, made itself experience, in order to taste the world.
Sacred is simply everything that lives
The non-dual yoga of the Kaśmīri tradition appears as a celebration (pūjā) of life in all its aspects, down to the most recondite well-spring of its core. Life with its characteristic of incessant transformation and deployment (unmīlana), life that knows the secret of renewing itself moment by moment and creatively is what, from the very origins of Hindu Tantrism,2 is considered sacred par excellence. It is not by accident that, in mediaeval Tantric Schools, use of the senses implies the conscious activation of the karaṇeśvarī or svasaṃvid-devī. These female deities acting as windows on the world allow the perception, enjoyment and knowledge of all that lives.
The primacy of prāņa as exaltation of the vital principle is celebrated in texts of the Śaivite tradition3 as the supremacy of life itself, with its capacity to evolve from one form to another. The Śaivite tantras also note the homology between consciousness/knowledge and living movement.
Kaśmīri Śaivism values as divine this knowledge of self-renewal4. The freshness that regenerates itself incessantly, like a spring gushing out, is the effervescence of śakti, the superabundant energy that, in a sort of ‘internal boiling’ (ucchalattā, antarucchalana5) produces all the diversified forms of what exists, all different from each other, but gushing from this single source.
Life’s energy movement irradiates in all directions, but in primis it is uccāra: the energy rising in its original resounding form as a mantra from the lower abdomen up to the throat and beyond, in an overflow expressing life as consciousness. The superabundance (bāhulya) of self-generated life, it relates to the quality of consciousness, exuberantly desirous of expressing itself in Creation (svabhāvajā)6.
In the Kāśmīrī view, during the emanation process of Creation, Śiva experiences a phase of shut-down, in which he withdraws into himself (anāśrita), fearful of being impoverished by his own creative energy bringing reality into existence. Ūnatā is this fear of being in some way diminished. Then the God repents, realising that the world coming into being is nothing other than himself.
The spontaneous motion of life overflowing (udgāḍha) like an ever-full vase, being ‘sapient’ is also never casual, but follows its raison d’être and internal coherence. The mere fact of being animated by the omnipervasive vitality of everything that exists means being conscious and manifesting an ordered orientation toward the source of consciousness and revelation in its basic nature (svarūpa).7 While life is self-generating, it is empowering itself with attention, fed by an intrinsic order, an ad-tendere towards full manifestation.
For the yogin aspiring to waken his divine nature in toto, attention, an intrinsic quality of life, requires rigorous training through the most specific technical yoga to achieve a relative degree of focus and inner stability. Tantric yoga, particularly in mediaeval Kaśmīr, is generally identified with an ever-vigilant contemplative attitude (svodita). By definition the yogin is self-disciplined for such a purpose (kṛtātman). Yogic practice increases the innate quality of conscious vitality until the highest degree of Yoga is achieved (para-dhyāna), which is spontaneous (akṛtaka) and requires neither effort nor technique. At this level, attention is fully awakened, requires no further training and includes everything. Surprisingly–and even today in the living tradition at Srinagar–, spontaneous Yoga (para-dhyāna) is deemed the first level in the hierarchy. If the yogin is not immediately capable of intuiting and recognising his own nature, divine and perfect ab origine, he practices immersion in the Yoga of psycho-physical techniques, reverting to the lower levels, in order to achieve the same result in all cases: self-recognition as Śiva himself.
The in-dividuo (jīva) is by definition not divided, meaning complete in itself and all-inclusive. Dis-tracted, on the other hand, is one who is drawn out, in two, in dispersion, in duality.
Joy overflows upwards
The non-dual Yoga of Kaśmīr is defined as dhyāna in a general sense by Kṣemarāja in his commentary on the Netra-tantra, on the basis of a triple gradation of the levels of Yoga8. Kāśmīrī Yoga is substantially based on the path of reawakening the vital energy, in the two ways known as prāṇa-kuṇḍalinī or cit-kuṇḍalinī according to the yogin’s personal degree of involvement9. In both cases, however, the energy awakens spontaneously, at the right moment, and rises along the central channel, sustained by an increasingly intense focus on attention. In this Yoga inner vitality is sustained essentially by consciousness. Parāśakti, the supreme energy of life, is the first source that nourishes attention, in a reciprocal activation that actually constitutes unique, undivided consciousness (saṃvid).
‘Awakening’, the true acme of Yoga, may be defined as an osmotic dynamics between the more properly physiological or respiratory component (prāṇa) and the part that is energy/consciousness (prāṇana). By means of progressive distillation, the latter becomes prevalent, integrating, without ever losing it, the material or ‘tactile’ quality of breathing. Attention thus becomes increasingly clear, neither merely focused nor dispersed, but a vivid experience of the present in all its completeness. It is tempered by Yoga practice, triggering the rise of consciousness-energy in a vital vortex that flows upward with irrepressible joy. This overflowing joy (ānanda) is, in the words of Lakshman Joo,“the stuff of life”10, its free expression. It is this very overflowing joy of Śiva11, the mahā-yogin rapt in meditation, that generates and coagulates the forms of phenomenal reality.
The increase in awareness that leads to full awakening cannot be deployed without harṣa, a state of ‘mad falling in love’ and desire12, the authentic fuel of the rite of Yoga (abhyāsa). Without this impulse of the heart (udyoga), every attempt or effort at attention is lifeless and thus destined to fail, as a mere routine. Actually, attention (anusandhāna or avadhāna) is not a mechanical adherence to its object, but an immersion in the open centre between two objects, breaths, events. Attention is samaveśa: immersion in something that cannot be established as a form, but is the energetic motion of life (which moulds attention itself), before the object of attention solidifies, becoming concept13.
Kaśmīri Śaivism values as divine this knowledge of self-renewal. The freshness that regenerates itself incessantly, like a spring gushing out, is the effervescence of śakti.
The awakening of energy or sūkṣma-upāya, as it is called in the Netra-tantra, is udaya, an ascending motion that never occurs through will or effort, but when the yogin, engaged in kula-prakriyā14, is ready to let himself be led, without resisting, by the joyous and spontaneous motion of vital energy. The prāṇa motion is self-generated within the yogin who has stabilised his contemplative attitude (anusandhāna), becoming a conscious flow.
Janmādhāra, the cakra of ‘birth’, corresponds to the energy nucleus of sexuality (svādhiṣṭhāna) or generative capacity, the mother of all six cakra, in union with mūlādhāra in the function propelling energy upwards. In the Netra-tantra classification, the ādhāra are the sixteen energetically sensitive points that in part coincide with the cakra and trigger the activity of the physical body. ‘Supports of life’ (jīvasya-ādhāra) as Kṣemarāja defines them: consciousness that triggers life.
This sūkṣma-dhyāna, the yoga that works with the awakening of vital energy interpenetrated by awareness, constitutes the basis of the initiatic procedure in the transmission of Lakshman Joo. In this connexion, he taught two interconnected practices: cakrodaya, when contemplation still requires a support or technique, and ajapā-gāyatrī, when the attention capacity is now stabilised and flows effortlessly like the quiet subtle flow of breath. Even now, this is the basis of experiential practice in the living Kāśmīrī tradition15.
Śiva, the mahayogin in a meditative attitude, is qualified as sadodita, ‘always stretched upwards’, always awake like the sun on the horizon, which remains thus even when hidden by clouds or after sunset (astamita). Thus, Lakshman Joo, commenting on Spanda-kārikā II,516, notes that consciousness is omnipresent, even when the individual is not aware of his own equivalence to the whole, because God consciousness is the life of individuality, his reason for being. The life of every individual (jīvana) is brought into being and nourished by saṃvid. On this basis we may affirm even more specifically that life itself is consciousness, whether we are aware (ajaḍa) or not of this reality17. In this connexion, Prān nāthji, my contact among the present Śaivite community of Srinagar, pointed out to me that it is desire itself – that intense fervour qualifying authentic vitality – that conveys unawareness towards full consciousness.
What is really ‘new’?
The movement of life is qualitatively different from the dynamics of thought, which takes place in time, because it occurs always instantaneously and constantly retains the freshness and vividness of the present instant. The invitation is always to remain ‘vital’ and consequently always generative, ‘new’. Prathama-abhāsa is the rising of truly new perception18. When such a perception occurs, it is the pure movement of life that is manifest, without the support of any object on which to rest. In ordinary life, attention is reawakened by passing from one object to another, but in such a case nothing is truly new.
Non-dual yoga offers yet another possibility: fixing the mind on that open, indefinite and living space, before the object of attention is replaced by another object19. That gap is the place of encounter (saṅdhi, or saṅdha in Kāśmīrī) where objects are touched, interpenetrate and become knowable. That living space is spanda, the conscious vibration of life. In such a way, attention remains nourished and connected with its energy matrix (prāṇa-śakti), which moves with the liberty of the limitless, brilliant, since it is still pure impulse, not yet coagulated in things. This fragrant ‘newness’ is unmeṣa, when Śiva opens his eyes20 and from his vision reality comes into being, as from an ever-renewed source.
From this standpoint, the jīvanmukta or liberated in life is one who knows how to regenerate himself, without encumbering his existence with objects to be possessed or goals to be reached, but nourishing himself on the potential energy of the instant. Thus, vital energy is not used up or dispersed, but constantly feeds its own quality of presence, keeping it developmental. ‘Liberated in life’is not living eternally, but wisely learning how to nourish one’s own consciousness-energy, keeping it generative, rather than progressive or possessive.
In non-dual Yoga the central point is feeling, strengthening the vital essence, allowing it to express itself freely in never-exhausted regeneration. For this to happen, space is required, stripping body and heart of whatever obstructs life from flowing freely inside. There is consequently no question of seeking longevity, or in any final analysis immortality, but rather of allowing the prāṇa to become prāṇana. The vital essence, deployed and free to circulate, must be allowed to receive the nourishment (āpyāyana) of a consciousness increasingly strengthened by attention.
The yogin thus preserves his own inner luxuriance. Deep breathing becomes almost imperceptible21, so subtle that it completely imbues every cell, allowing life to circulate throughout the body. In this ‘vital crucible’ the yogin enters a ‘vegetative sensitivity’, albeit conscious, ignoring itself and removing the cruder and more cumbersome psycho-physical components.
‘Subtle yoga’, sūkṣma-dhyāna, is thus outlined as a process of decantation, dissolving and refinement of the mind-body. Muscular tensions, as also – and much more so – the nodes of heart and mind, act as a rule as dikes that block the free flow of energy-consciousness. Opening the inner obstructions allows vitality to move into the space discovered (khe-carī) without obstacles such as spandana, the conscious vibration that animates that vastness, rendering the confines between inside and outside open and permeable. It is this animation, vital, conscious and ever new that makes the yogin a jīvanmukta. Such a yogin does not operate using various techniques, but is moved and affected by his own essence-consciousness without interfering with or forcing the course of life, but vigilantly cooperating with it. The jīvanmukta and the yogin need no techniques and particularly the appropriative attitude to techniques typical of sthūla-yoga. Body and mind become an incessant creation, luminous and intelligent22, running without set-backs, fed by what Lakshman Joo calls amṛtīkaraṇa, being pervaded by the nutrient nectar of life. The yogin of a higher level (the para-dhyāna) embodies Mṛtyujit, he who has defeated death, since he has intuited23 the secret of self-renewing life.
Life’s energy movement irradiates in all directions, but in primis it is uccāra: the energy rising in its original resounding form as a mantra from the lower abdomen up to the throat and beyond, in an overflow expressing life as consciousness.
Yoga is ‘non-yoga’
The loosening of psycho-physical tension in a receptive, stable and quiet approach is the basis for triggering the rise of energy-consciousness. The result is a state of tranquillity and vigilant harmony (samatā/samādhi), simultaneously the base and arrival point of the yogin’s contemplative attitude. A pacified mind ‘without thoughts’ (nirvikalpa), tranquil clarity, act as trigger for the increase and then, as we shall see, a profound calming of the energy.
In this Yoga, which is akṛtrima, akṛtaka, akalpita, not artificial and not constructed, emphasis always lies on what occurs by itself, naturally, not intentionally. Starting from a body and mind liberated as far as possible from unnecessary encumbrances, vital energy and consciousness are achieved. This is the experience of para-dhyāna or supreme yoga24, in which the contemplative attitude (dhyāna) is life itself, omnipervasive, with no further distinction between the meditator and the object of meditation. Śiva (the para-yogin) becomes all things and is ‘non-meditable’ (nirdheya), the pure experience of being.
Lakshman Joo taught a practice (spanda labhate yathā), still alive today amongst his followers at Srinagar, consisting of moving breath between the space in front of the heart (external dvadaśānta) and the centre behind the forehead (ājñācakra/internal dvadaśānta). In its conscious and silent passage, the breath becomes increasingly subtle and short, until it is perceived only as a small flame shining inside the head. The natural outcome of spanda, the manifestation of conscious energy, is nispanda, a profound calm in which movement is extremely concentrated, so subtle as to be almost imperceptible, ‘invisible’.
In this Yoga, the non-manifest condition (nirābhāsa), empty, open and also limitless, is the highest, without any superior (anuttara). It is this very opening that allows the new to break in. In it, everything is potentially there to be manifest in a new form. Everything is vividly tranquil (śānta) and the yogin dwells at ease in the ‘formless’.
“I am not, nor is there any other. Thus he attains the state beyond manifestation” 25
What the great Abhinavagupta defines as anupāya is this very Yoga, as it were ‘immaterial’, but firmly and spontaneously focused on an aware presence.
In this connexion, Lakshman Joo taught an āntarikāsana, a non-corporeal, internal posture. The yogin is simply seated at ease (sukhaṃ) to make space for the naked presence which, in this system, is conceived as ‘pure subjectivity’. Observation (contemplation) always occurs ‘from the universal point of view’ i.e. that of the subject, considered as Śiva himself.
Āsana is accomplished by dwelling, as it were, in the conscious space that generates things, rather than the things themselves. Hence, this is not a ‘performative’ yoga, but felt, lived, experienced at first hand, co-penetrated in the open question ‘Who am I?’ (so’haṃ), the true basis of this embodied consciousness.
An example of the eminently inner attitude of the āsana in Kaśmīri Yoga is found in Kṣemarāja’s commentary on the Śiva-sūtra III,1626, in which the only support for the yogin is none of the many means traditionally used by Yoga to cultivate physical and mental focus, but simply an all-inclusive state of participating presence, which in practical experience ‘has no support’ (nirādhāra). None of the more or less numerous āsanas foreseen by Haṭha-Yoga is deemed authentic by the Yoga of Kaśmīr. Every experience of consciousness represents the sole āsana, the inner one (āntarika); all others are only imitations.
I was personally able to verify, from my conversations with Prān nāthji, the central role of ‘contemplation in action’ in the living tradition of Kaśmīri yoga. Once consciousness has become spontaneous and is firmly stable and internal vitality is simultaneously flowing through all the veins, Yoga becomes a participating presence in ordinary daily activities. Saṃvit-rūpa-aveśa exists, without distinction, in every experience. Every experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant, is imbued with that unique consciousness, which delights in taking different forms. From such a point of view therefore, there is no border between what is ‘spiritual’ and what is ‘ordinary’: the radiant consciousness of Śiva shines in everything. We have only to remove the obstacles that veil this living and conscious light, from which everything is made.
On such a basis, for applied Yoga great importance is attributed to the so-called krama-mudrā, an inner disposition, firmly anchored in a corporeal centre while fully addressing outside activities. This is an integrated and extremely elevated psycho-physical condition of non-dual Yoga. Having eliminated this fictitious barrier separating the so-called inner world from the so-called outer world, only the vital link between the two ‘worlds’ remains: a diffused and omnipervasive consciousness.
Lakshman Joo, quoting the Kramasūtra27, describes the krama-mudrā as a ‘non-mudrā’, a state of absorption (samāveśa) achieved effortlessly by the yogin, who merely observes and performs all ordinary activity with the same quality of focus that he has achieved within. This non-dual condition, in which cit-kuṇḍalinī is permanently stabilised, is the absolute goal of the para-yogin, since Yoga is Life.
- Ekohambahusyam, as already stated in one of the oldest Upaniṣads (Chāndogya 6.2.3). Śiva is called Bahūrupa (of the many forms) in the Svacchanda-tantra.
- See, in this connexion, G. Lussana 2017.
- Cf. for example Svacchanda-tantra4.374ab or Mataṅga-pārameśvara-tantra YP 2.10c-IIb.
- An ancient teaching handed down from generation to generation by Kaśmīri women says, “Let me have the power of action where there is nothing to be done. Let me have the power of contemplation where there is nothing to contemplate”. The meaning is that ‘there is always something that can come into being’, since life ‘has nothing that exceeds it’: it is the generative power par excellence. This recalls in Western mystical tradition the value of life exalted in the Gospel of John, in which Father and Son ‘make alive’ (zoopoiéin), give authentic life, that is not born and does not die. See, in this connexion, F. Jullien 2019: 52.
- Cf. R. Gnoli, 1956: 279 – 90. The tantra considered by R. Gnoli is especially Svacchanda-tantra (KSTS, 1921, cap. VII) on which Abhinavagupta bases his discourse in cap. VI of the Tantrāloka.
- Netra-tantra, 1, 25d. In this paper we refer in particular to the Netra-tantra and its systematisation of Yoga (especially chapters. VI, VII and VIII.). Cf. B. Bäumer 2019.
- See the well-known quotation, occurring often in Kaśmīri works: prāk saṃvit prāṇe pariṇatā, attributed to BhaṭṭaKallaṭa (Tattvārtha-cintāmaṇi, lost commentary on the Śiva-sūtra, about IX century).
- Netra-tantra, cap. VII. Abhinavagupta considers three distinct paths of Yoga (upāya), which he takes from the Mālinīvijayottara-tantra. Āṇava is minimal yoga ‘of psycho-physical techniques’, śākta is the yoga of awareness, which constitutes the training essential to increasing and stabilising mental presence, and śāmbhava is the ‘divine’ level, requiring no kind of effort or technique. This third path, immediate and fruit of an instantaneous intuition of the deep essence of each individual, coincides with a fully-aware savouring of the liberated condition, in practice with a ‘non-yoga’ or ‘non-means’ (anupāya). Netra-tantra, our main point of reference in this work, adopts a slightly different classification and calls these three different upāyas: sthūla-dhyāna, ‘corporeal’ yoga, sūkṣma-dhyāna, the yoga that trains the vital breath, para-dhyāna, supreme and spontaneous yoga.
- See S. LaksmanJoo, Kashmir Shaivism, The Secret Supreme. 2016: 117 et seq. In this paper I refer more especially to exegesis on the source texts of mediaeval Tantrism by Swami LakshmanJoo (died 1991), a spiritual master considered a saint in the still-living tradition of Kāśmīrī Śaivism. During my recent stay at Srinagar I was able to verify for myself the mark – particularly experiential and practical – that LaksmanJoo’s teaching has left on the community around the ashram founded by him. His contribution was consequently fundamental, not only for knowledge of philosophical and religious speculation on the Trika, but particularly for the conservation and diffusion of applied Yoga.
- Ivi: 121.
- Raffaele Torella most effectively translates Utpaladeva’s vikāsa as “joy”. Cf. N .Rastogi, in R.Torella, B.Bäumer (Eds) 2016: 171. Rastogi refers to a celebrated article by Gopinath Kaviraj, “The Doctrine of Pratibhā in Indian Philosophy” (1923-24 ABORI, Poona). See also śl. 26 of the Vijñānabhairava-tantra in which this joy is described as expansion and light.
- In our talks, Prān nāthji noted the characteristics of this ‘falling in love’ which, in Kāśmīrī tradition, is ‘rise in love’ rather than ‘fall in love’.
- Kaśmīri Yoga does not consider only the 6 cakra, recognised by Tantrism as a whole, but the same number of vyoman or śūnya (spaces): the living spaces (aśūnya /śūnya) in which energy can move.
- According to the view of the Netra-tantra, the kula-prakriyā corresponds to the path of cit-kuṇḍalinī, which does not require techniques or a gradual process through the cakra, but is an instantaneous and effortless path, guided only by an increase in attention. The slow progress (prāṇa- kuṇḍalinī), utilising the various tools of Yoga practice corresponds to tantra-prakriyā.
- S. Lakshman Joo 1982: cap.2.
- Vasugupta’s Spanda Karika & Kshemaraja’s Spandasandoha, The Mystery of Vibrationless-Vibration in Kashmir Shaivism, revealed by S. Lakshman Joo,2016: 49
- The fact that a life, a consciousness greater than we are, brings us to fruition, unknown by us as it were, recalls a passage by R. M. Rilke which says: “Even if we don’t desire it: God ripens” (Rainer Maria Rilke, 2016: Letters to a Young Poet, 60)
- See VijñānaBhairava, The Manual for Self Realization, revealed by Lakshman Joo, 2016: Comment śl.68.
- Ivi: śl. 62.
- R. Torella 2013: 114 “Lo ‘schiudersi’ è quella realtà che sottende a ogni pensiero, e che dunque abbraccia in questo caso i due pensieri indipendenti, essendone in ultima analisi la fonte unica.” [The ‘opening’ is that reality which underlies every thought and which therefore encompasses in this case the two independent thoughts, being in the ultimate analysis their unique source.]
- Kumbhaka as early as in Patañjala-yoga is not the absence of breath, but vital breath become so subtle as to seem absent.
- Kṣemarāja, in commenting the Netra-tantra 7.39, describes the supreme condition as bhāva, an intense, self-illuminating emotional state (sva-prakāśa) .
- Non-dual yoga is dhyāna, contemplative attitude. In the Netra-tantra dhyāna it is traced to dhiḥ/pratibhā, the capacity to intuit, to know the divine nature of all things.
- Netra-tantra cap. VIII.
- “nāhamasminacānyo’stinirābhāsastatobhavet”. Netra-tantra VIII 39 ab.
- Vasugupta, Śiva Sūtras, The Supreme Awakening, with the Commentary of Kshemaraja, revealed by S. Lakshman Joo 2007: 169 – 171. The Italian edition by R. Torella, Gli aforismi di Śiva con la vimarśinī di Kṣemarāja, has for me been a further tool due to its profundity and exegetical richness.
- VijñānaBhairava, The Manual for Self Realization, revealed by Lakshman Joo, 2016: 276.
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