Mark Whitwell at Jivamukti Yoga Sydney

Mark Whitwell’s workshop at the Jivamukti Yoga Sydney yoga centre in Newtown re-affirms my studies in Yoga (and theology). According to Mark, the practices (sadhana) of Yoga are the participatory awareness of the marvelous creation of life as inseparable existence, in intimate union, with the divine, if the divine exists. The highest potential as a human being is given, and cannot be taken away from you. It is unfortunate that the orthodoxy of popular world religions, supports the prescription model of God-consciousness, as if you were separate from the divine. Nondualism central to Advaita Vedānta philosophy posits that each divine soul is woven into the same tapestry of life.

Clearly, the goal orientation of dogmatic belief systems provides the platform for cult-like, self-gratifying, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, an extreme example of which is the high aspiration of retention of semen (ojas) by the denial of orgasm. It is vital to understand that there is no spiritual ideal to attain – and that there is no need to struggle in an overly addictive, male-oriented, dogmatic path, towards completely ditching the original, ordinary purpose in your mortal life (dharma). The structure of dogma only reinforces the duality that creates the separation in human life, while authenticity can only come from loving (and completing) yourself – the real essence in you – by engaging your intimacy with the divine, if the divine exists.

To realign our spiritual beliefs with non-attainment, we must first elevate the ordinary practices (sadhana) of asana, kriya and pranayama as the superior to meditation (dhyana). The humility of the ordinary practices teaches transcendence beyond the allure of hubris in the pedagogical pursuit of the siddhi.

Mark Whitwell summarizes five principles to be incorporated into our daily vinyāsa practices:

  1. Follow the breath with movement
  2. Breath is strength receiving, the efficacy of its vibration resonating at the hridyaya and anahata
  3. Start each inhalation/exhalation before moving, and stop the movement before completing each inhalation/exhalation, and notice the pauses (kumbaka)
  4. Asana creates the energy lock (bandha)
  5. Asana and pranayama set the conditions for the siddhi to arise

The Heart of Prajñāpāramitā Sutra

Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, meditating deeply on The Perfection of Wisdom, saw clearly that the five aspects of human existence are empty (Śūnya), and so released himself from suffering.  Answering the monk Śāriputra, he said:

Body is nothing more than emptiness (Śūnyatā),
emptiness is nothing more than body.
The body is exactly empty,
and emptiness is exactly body.

The other four aspects of human existence –
feeling, thought, will, and consciousness –
are likewise nothing more than emptiness,
and emptiness nothing more than they.

All things are empty:
Nothing is born, nothing dies,
nothing is pure, nothing is stained,
nothing increases and nothing decreases.

So, in emptiness, there is no body,
no feeling, no thought,
no will, no consciousness.
There are no eyes, no ears,
no nose, no tongue,
no body, no mind.
There is no seeing, no hearing,
no smelling, no tasting,
no touching, no imagining.
There is nothing seen, nor heard,
nor smelled, nor tasted,
nor touched, nor imagined.

There is no ignorance,
and no end to ignorance.
There is no old age and death,
and no end to old age and death.

There is no suffering, no cause of suffering,
no end to suffering, no path to follow.
There is no attainment of wisdom,
and no wisdom to attain.

The Bodhisattvas rely on The Perfection of Wisdom,
and so with no delusions,
they feel no fear,
and have Nirvana here and now.

All the Buddhas,
past, present, and future,
rely on The Perfection of Wisdom,
and live in full enlightenment.

The Perfection of Wisdom is the greatest mantra.
It is the clearest mantra,
the highest mantra,
the mantra that removes all suffering.

This is truth that cannot be doubted.

Gaté, gaté, paragaté, parasamgaté. (Gone, gone, gone over, gone fully over.)
Bodhi! (Awakened!)
Svaha! (So be it!)

My Pheonix Weekend 2012 Experience

I returned to the embrace of urban living after spending a relaxing weekend away at the Satyananda Ashram, a retreat nestled away in Mangrove Mountains, where the residents of the ashram wore orange garb, adopted Sanskrit names, and partook in selfless service unto humanity (“karma yoga”).

The Pheonix Weekend 2012

The weekend program consisted of workshops with teachers Mark Whitwell, Katy Appleton, Anna Phillips, Mark Breadner, Kriyavidya Saraswati, Simon Borg-Olivier, Gwyn Williams and John Ogilvie. The workshops were held in the sadhana rooms of the main hall. In addition to the program, we could choose to participate in ashram activities. There was plenty of time between sessions to wander around, practice karma yoga, mix with fellow pilgrims and share thoughts and experiences.

The Camp Site

Blissfully green aum shanti camping scene

Fire Ceremony Satyananda Style

The ceremonial observance of the ritual fire offering at the hearth or kitchen of the home was one of the ashram activities that we had the pleasure of experiencing during the weekend. It took place after Simon Borg-Olivier’s talk about breath and nutrition, and how everything that you eat will kill you, eventually – especially bread and milk. The shit that ferments and remains undigested in the intestinal tract becomes food for the microbes, worms and parasites that inhabit our bodies. Bon Appétit.

The Future Sound of Yoga Rave Edition

Saturday night’s trance rave was a dress-up party, themed with the colours of the čakras. I think that a rave is another form of release, good for my śarīra, though raving may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Mark Whitwell described the “yoga” as “Apocalypse Now”. That night, creek mosquitoes thrived joyfully over my skin to my displeasure as we brought new meaning to the ashram’s 9pm bedtime curfew and rocked it hard.

The Leech in the Yoga Nidra

We wondered about the description of a leech within the guided meditation of the Yoga Nidra session that we had stayed back later to experience. What was its significance? Fresh in our minds was the beautiful, joyful and liberating experience of bathing in the leech-infested creek that bordered the ashram. Was the leech, in some way, a subtext to living joyfully and truthfully? That to experience the joys and purity of life, you must seize the moment and jump into the leech-infested creek? It seemed as enigmatic as referring to the self as being the jewel within the lotus.

Donating my śarīra and energy to creek mosquitoes and the leech sum up my experience of my weekend at the ashram. As Mark Whitwell says, there is nothing to attain by seeking Enlightenment, or any hierarchical ideology in spiritual awakening imposed by those in power. There is only the action of allowing the yang energy from your in-breath to be embraced by the yin energy (the leech) of your out-breath and, through that loving embrace, can the states of siddhi arise in you. My definition of authentic karma yoga is the surrender of the blood to the leech within yourself.