Both yoga, as in hatha yoga, and alchemy, are greatly misunderstood for their true purpose.
The purpose of yoga, of any kind, is to attain a more enlightened state of consciousness. And alchemy concerns the process of the ultimate connection that allows a person to achieve their full human potential, to be free of suffering, and fearless in the face of death.
The play between the material and the spiritual
A recurring theme in our exploration of connection is the play between the apparently opposite forces of: the material and the spiritual; the relative and the absolute; Earth and Heaven; physicality and transcendence. We experience these two principles every day as subject (I) and object (world).
The merging, the meeting point, the co-existence, the alchemy of these two principles provides the greatest opportunity for a fully connected existence.
In the Hindu tradition this is the dance of Shiva, the male principle, as pure consciousness or awareness; and Shakti, the female principle, the source of all energy which manifests as everything. Everything is made of energy, as Einsten said E=mc2.
The Mayan culture’s Hunab Kanu symbol has the hallmarks of two forces uniting. In Taoism the union of these two principles is symbolized by yin and yang. These two principles are addressed in every significant religion and philosophy.
The first principle is the absolute
In Christianity that is God the Father. The Sufis of Islam call this Al-Haqq ‘being itself – the source of all things”. In Jewish mysticism it is called ‘the root of all roots’. Meister Eckhart called it the ‘is-ness’.
The second principle is the relative
Energy, the Holy Spirit, coming into existence, as the material world. The Greeks worshipped Moneta, the Romans Mater, the mother. In South America this is Pachamama. The Buddhists seek that which never changes, the absolute, and an awareness that the relative world of form is, ultimately, impermanent. The Hindus say that Shakti dances for Shiva’s delight.
In Tibetan Dzogchen Buddhism, the vajra, or dorje, symbolizes this awareness, with two eight-petalled lotus flowers emerging from a sphere. One represents the phenomenal world of appearances, called samsara, the other pure awareness, or nirvana. The sphere in the middle represents the highest enlightenment, as achieved by the Buddha.
The ‘two truths’
In the Buddhist teachings these are known as the ‘two truths’: Everything has an absolute and a relative aspect – the absolute or ultimate is the inherent nature of everything, how things really are; the conventional or relative is how things appear. They are not to be understood as two separate dimensions, rather as two aspects of a single reality.
In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying it says:
“The posture we take when we meditate signifies that we are linking absolute and relative, sky and ground, heaven and earth, like two wings of a bird, integrating the skylike, deathless nature of mind and the ground of our transient, mortal nature".
The vajra is also called the diamond, as this pure naked awareness cuts through everything but remains unchanged. In rituals the practitioner also has a bell, representing the feminine energy, the world of manifestation, and in this context the vajra represents the male energy, awareness. This union of the male and female energy is often depicted as the erotic or sexual union of God/Goddess Shiva/Shakti.
The infinite field of awareness
The Advaita philosophy says we create the idea of ‘my mind’ from thoughts and feelings; the idea of ‘my body’ from sensations and feelings; the idea of ‘my bodymind’ from thoughts, feelings and sensations; and ‘the world out there’ from perceptions: sights, sounds, smells and sensations.
Our total experience is made up of thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions, and all this is happening in the infinite field of awareness or consciousness.
In fact it is inseparable from consciousness, which is all-pervasive. There is no distance between a thought, or a feeling or a perception and the field of direct awareness that we call ‘I’ that it is happening in.
Ultimately everything is consciousness
For example, what is the distance between you and a thought, or a sound, or a sight? Advaita says that all we experience happens within our awareness, or consciousness, and, ultimately, that everything is consciousness.
One of my favourite stories is that of Shankara Shankara, the great Indian master from the eighth century, who was taken as a boy to the Maharajah’s opulent palace.
“. . . servants, dancers, peacocks and abundant feast of tasty delights”, he said, “This does not impress me. It is all illusory.”
On his next visit, the Maharajah let out the lions. Shankara narrowly escaped being eaten alive by climbing up a tree. The lion-tamers caught the lions and the Maharajah walked towards Shankara in the tree and laughingly said, “Illusory lions, Shankara?” He replied, “The illusory lions chased the illusory Shankara up the illusory tree.” But he had still bothered to climb the tree.
This is a great example of someone with one eye on the absolute and one on the relative. It is the alchemy of these two that is the greatest connection, when the seer and the seen become one, when nothing exists which is not consciousness.