KATHA UPANISHAD THE PATH TO SHIVA
Yoga means union of man with his Higher Self. It is an ancient discipline that can be traced back as far as the third century B.C., when the forest dwelling ascetics broke away from the traditional material values of society, and sought to free them selves from the chains of karma. They understood the folly of human existence to be man’s belief in his separateness from the atman, the universal soul, which is veiled and hidden by the ego. They aspired to get in touch with the wisdom inside themselves, to develop compassion and loving kindness, and finally to attain self mastery.
It is a Western view that man is composed of two parts, body and soul, but yoga recognizes that man has three bodies, spiritual, astral, and physical, which are highly integrated. Yogic practices are designed to further perfect this oneness, and to dissolve the feeling of separation between oneself and the universal consciousness.
Several types of yoga evolved as paths for those ardent in the divine pursuit. Jnana yoga is self - inquiry, an intellectual approach. Karma yoga is the way of selfless service, of work without attachment to its fruit. Bhakti yoga uses asanas, postures, andpranayama, breath control, to stimulate the super normal power, Kundalini, that lies dormant at the base of the spine.
The Kundalini energy is naturally present in all human beings and is gradually awakened through the individual’s spiritual evolution. By performing Kriyas, purification techniques, students cleanse themselves physically before embarking upon the more rigid physical and moral disciplines. These exercises include passing a catheter through the nose and pulling it out of the mouth. Yogis following this path strictly adhere to a vegetarian diet.
Through techniques such as these the process of raising the Kundalini is speeded up and the energy ascends through the Shushumna, the central channel of the astral body, which relates to the physical spinal column. As it ascends the energy passes through the seven power centers or chakras, to the crown of the head, where it elevates the consciousness into the state of samadhi, supreme bliss, resulting in the absolute union of the astral, physical, and spiritual bodies.
Japa yoga, the repetition of God’s name, is considered the simplest method of mind control and purification. Devotees of Shiva believe that His name is so potent, its mere repetition has the power to dissolve sin. Although He has many names, the Sanskrit mantra most often used in the worship of Shiva is Ohm Namaha Shivaya, or I bow down to Shiva.
A mantra is an invocation to God, or mystic syllables which when repeated, uplift the consciousness. A mantra cannot be literally translated, as it is a formula of sacred sound which invokes a deity or state of bliss contained within the actual syllables.
A student is given mantra initiation by a teacher who is already familiar with its practice and effects. Yogis believe that the primordial sound Aum is the vibration from which all Creation emanates. The power of mantra combined with the student’s inner force assists in rapid spiritual development. As the divine names are chanted, thought becomes refined and consciousness awakens.
Many seekers endeavour to attain self-realization while living as householders, this path is often called the highest and most difficult. While interacting normally within family and society, they must remain mentally and emotionally unattached, unlike yogis who shun such attachments through avoidance. A popular practice among householders is the singing of devotional hymns, kirtan, joyfully praising the Lord.
On the other hand some yogis attempt to overcome their passions through extreme methods such as celibacy, mortification of the flesh, and denial of the senses. It is written in the scriptures that God realization and powerful supernatural abilities can be attained through austerities. Powers, siddhis, such as clairvoyance, levitation and walking on water are considered possible, as is the ability to manifest several bodies at once. Yogis whose motivation is to gain siddhis do unusual practices such as maintaining silence for years on end, a technique believed to open inert forces within the nervous system.
One austerity, tapa, performed to gain powers is that of standing constantly for years. Always remaining on their feet, these yogis even stand while sleeping, by leaning on a padded swing. As they wander from place to place, they remain upright travelling on foot or by train, and often sleep outdoors, by hanging their swing from the branch of a tree.
A few seekers undertake the more arduous practice of standing on one leg only. Due to lack of circulation the limbs sometimes blow up enormously, but usually they return to normal, and when a yogi has perfected this technique, he can go on to practice other tapas-like holding his
arm continuously in the air for twelve years. As a result of this difficult practice, the upheld arm becomes atrophied and its fingernails grow black and curled. When some yogis initiate this method, they suspend a ring from the ceiling to which their hand can cling.
There are ascetics who pratice two or three austerities at once, such as standing, maintaining silence, and keeping falahar, eating only fruit, milk, and vegetables, totally abstaining from grains.
Siddhis, supernatural powers are byproducts of yoga and not ends in them selves, there is great danger of being seduced by their influence. Yogis are cautioned about the pitfalls of power as it can impede further spiritual progress and create more karma, binding one further to the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
Some Naga babas, naked ascetics, undergo an initiation in which certain nerves of the penis are broken, making it unlikely they will ever have an erection again. As a prerequisite, the initiate must already have completed nine years of celibacy. Obviously this rite is extremely painful, and many bribe the initiator to merely act out the ceremony to save face among the other members of their sect. These seekers seem to believe that sexual desire can be extinguished through physical means.
Yogis who have not undergone this initiation are known as Samsara babas, still caught in the web of human suffering, and are sometimes looked down upon by those who have broken the most fundamental link with human desire - the procreative urge.
The Nagas perform some eccentric exercises such as pulling trucks with their limp male organs, or lifting enormous boulders weighing up to fifty kilos. They tie cloth around a heavy rock, hang it over the penis, and then lift the rock up by grasping the tip of the organ, thereby sup¬ porting its full weight.
Although this extraordinary austerity may seem showy, it is practiced to discipline the body and mind. If a Naga baba is caught breaking the characteristic celibacy of his sect, he is forced to wear a tight iron ring on his penis in full view of his peers as punishment.
Much confusion has arisen from the distinction between yogis and fakirs. Fakirs were originally Moslem street magicians who adopted a few yogic techniques for their repertoires and used them solely for entertainment. Some yogis do unconventional practices in sincerity, while unethical ones perform them in public to collect donations and attract the reverence of blind believers. Being buried beneath the sand or lying on a bed of nails captivates the astonished public, while demonstrating the power of mind over matter.
Ascetics who practice unique tapas sometimes get lost in the means to the end and lose sight of the end itself. For them, the practice takes priority, the goal is forgotten, and yoga is but another crutch of the ego, becoming more subtle as the aspirant continues. Some renunciants take the scriptures literally, practicing austerities such as fasting until emaciated. The true yogi seeking union with Shiva goes to no extremes, his mind immersed in God, he follows the path of least resistance, maintaining a conscious remembrance of his divine nature.
The paramount goal of the yogi is samadhi, the super-conscious state of bliss and tranquility in which Shiva constantly dwells. During samadhi the heartbeat slows and the entire system is at rest, both physically and mentally. Thoughts cease, and the breath can be held indefinitely, the body in a state of total equilibrium.Some truly unusual yogis are able to remain in samadhi for several days while underwater or buried beneath the ground, without food, drink, or air. Laboratory tests have been conducted measuring the brain waves of such people while in powerful altered states of consciousness and the results have been remarkable, particularly in the lowering of blood pressure.
Yoga has been passed down for eons by ascetics who sought self-realization, renouncing everything to live in the forests and caves of the Himalayas. These men of discrimination, determined to follow the arduous path to self-mastery, have bequeathed to mankind the precious legacy of yoga.