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Yoga

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Depending on which scholar you’re talking to, the word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root yujir (yoke, bind together or union) or yuj samādhau (concentration).

Hatha yoga is a precisely defined set of bodily postures, along with breathing and mental exercises designed by Patanjali.  Taken together, these are said to ultimately connect the ego and soul with God.

Although hatha yoga is fashionable in the West, there are other important Hindu yogas. And the entire idea of yoga runs far deeper than stretch suits and inflatable balls.

For the traditional Hindu, yoga means any technique or practice that links individual will to the Divine Will.

The Bhagavad-Gita, one of the most revered books in Hinduism,  outlines four different but related types of yoga.

  1. Jnana yoga is the yoga of divine knowledge
  2. Raja yoga is the yoga of right rule
  3. Karma yoga is the yoga of sacred duty or action (this relates to another important Hindu concept, dharma)
  4. Bhakti yoga is the yoga of pure devotion to God

 
Depending on where a seeker is in his or her spiritual journey, these four different yogas can intermingle in different degrees and combinations.

For example, a hard working businesswoman (karma yoga) does puja in the morning (bhakti yoga). On returning home after work she meditates on spiritual lessons learned from the day’s activities (jnana yoga). At night she participates in a women rights group to help eradicate sutee (raja yoga). In addition, she may practice the bodily and contemplative postures of hatha yoga to ease her stress.

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Another aspect of yoga relates to Tantricism and is both championed or possibly denounced among the Hindu faithful. This type of yoga is called kundalini yoga.

Kundalini yoga involves awakening the spiritual “serpent power” said to reside in the base chakra. Through intense and prolonged training with a spiritual master (guru), the seeker learns how to channel this power up along the spinal column so it resonates within each of the seven chakras. Some stress the importance of moving beyond the lower chakras, but most advocate achieving balance among all of them.

Believers in this mythological system of the body say the most noble chakra is located at the top of the head (crown chakra). When this chakra activates and is properly balanced with all the other chakras, one is said to be in a state of samadhi—that is, complete and perfect union with God.

It’s worth nothing that different schools say different things about the chakras. The main point of difference seems to be the precise number and location of the chakras. So modern people grasping onto some simplified chakra theory as if it were the gospel truth might do well to brush up on the history of religions. Otherwise, a given chakra theory might become just another New Age dogma, influencing a person’s thinking just as forcefully as any other kind of religious teaching.

Related Posts » Sri Aurobindo, Ahimsa, Bhakti yoga, Caste, Mircea Eliade, Faith and Action, Jnana yoga, Karma yoga, Raja yoga, Rama, Shakti, Yogi, Yogini

 


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Yoni

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In Hinduism the yoni is often metaphysically described as the female organ of all creation.

Wikipedia sums up this somewhat ambiguous idea quite well:

Yoni (Sanskrit: योनि yoni) is a Sanskrit word with different meanings, most basically “vagina” or “womb”. Its counterpart is the lingam. It is also the divine passage, or sacred temple (cf. lila). The word can cover a range of extended meanings, including: place of birth, source, origin, spring, fountain, place of rest, repository, receptacle, seat, abode, home, lair, nest, stable

In Hindu temple art female genitalia are often emphasized to symbolize the Great Mother’s crucial metaphysical role in giving birth to all that is.

F. A. Marglin notes that, on a more personal scale, the yoni is said to invigorate men through sexual intercourse.

Popular Hindu Indian folk belief maintains that during intercourse vaginal fluids enter the male generative organ, symbolically known as the linga (roughly parallel to the phallus of the Western mythos). This mingling of bodily fluids is believed to give the male his wife’s spiritual power (shakti).

Accordingly, ancient Kings often had several concubines as their divine right—not only for the gratification of lust but also, so the belief goes, for an increase in spiritual power.²

The yoni and, especially, sexual-erotic scenes appearing on Hindu temple engravings are often interpreted by outsiders as an inferior, crass type of spiritual representation. But Hindus (and Jungians) tend to say that those seeing Indian erotic art and sculpture as “low” or “vulgar” are merely projecting their own unresolved shadow contents.

Bộ ngẫu tượng Linga-Yoni Linga-Yoni. Cat Tien ...

Bộ ngẫu tượng Linga-Yoni Linga-Yoni. Cat Tien sanctuary, Lam Dong province, Vietnam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The yoni is sometimes depicted as a triangle with apex facing downwards. V. K. Chari says that

These geometrical figures have symbolic meanings: the triangle with the apex turned upwards (called vahni kona or cone of fire) may represent male energy, the one with the apex turned downwards female energy (yoni), the matrix of creation, and so forth-which the adept are to meditate upon.³

Related Posts » Carl Gustav Jung, Linga, Siva

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoni

² F. A. Marglin in The Encyclopedia of Religion. Eliade, Mircea (ed). New York: 1987, Collier Macmillan, Vol. 15, pp. 530-535.

³ V. K. Chari, “Representation in India’s Sacred Images: Objective vs. Metaphysical Reference” in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 65, No. 1, 2002: 52-73, pp. 65-66.


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Yogi

A sculpture of a Hindu yogi in the Birla Mandi...

A sculpture of a Hindu yogi in the Birla Mandir, Delhi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Traditionally, a Yogi is a male practitioner of yoga. The term also relates to a male saint and teacher of spiritual knowledge.

Until fairly recently, the term yogini was generally reserved for women. Today, however, the word “yogi” can relate to men and women, especially in Western countries (just as the word “actor” now relates to both sexes, and “actress” is rarely used).

Yogis are usually associated with Hinduism, but the term is also used Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, and in popular culture.

Yogis take many different forms and various complementary and competing schools can be found within ancient, medieval and modern Hinduism.

T. S. Rukmani notes that advanced yogis like Sankara are said to perceive past and future, although they are not equal to the brahman in this respect.¹

Yogis may also possess unconventional spiritual powers called siddhis. However, these are generally downplayed and even discouraged because they are regarded as a distraction to the ultimate goal of liberation through union with the godhead.²

Most serious yogis embrace either celibacy or controlled sexuality with a married partner or meditative companion. On this Wikipedia summarizes the opinions of Andrew Newberg, a medical researcher and media figure:

Modern science now understands that such a code of sexual conduct is also organically assisted by neurochemical changes in brain states of intense meditators (reduced dopamine and increased oxytocin) that induce general relaxation and mental stability, and is not sheerly by willpower alone.³

 —

¹ “Untitled Review of ‘The Role of Divine Grace in the Soteriology of śaṅkarācārya by Bradley J. Malkovsky’” in Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 124, No. 4, (Oct. – Dec., 2004: 813-816), p. 814.

² The alleged levitation of St. Teresa of Ávila during Catholic Mass comes to mind. According to accounts, she was embarassed by the phenomenon and didn’t brag about it. Such an attitude would be contrary to her goal of union with God through humility. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_of_%C3%81vila#Mysticism

³ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yogi

Related Posts » William James, Karma, Karma Transfer, Mythic Eternalization, Rajas, Shakti, Yogini, Alan Watts


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Neil Young

“Neil Young” by JD Lasica via Flickr

Neil Young (1945- ) is a Canadian-born musician, often hailed as the grandfather of grunge rock. He was a folk rocker with Steven Stills and Graham Nash in the group Buffalo Springfield (“Stop Children, what’s that sound…”).

Also a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, his solo career has influenced a wide variety of musicians and some of his songs demonstrate what might be called archetypal depth.

Watching Young perform live can be like witnessing a Toltec Elder harness the Powers That Be, especially when he performs tunes like “Cortez the Killer,” the “Halls of Montezuma,” and “Inca Queen.”

Other more intimate songs like “After the Goldrush” (from the 1970 showpiece album by the same title) reflect the noble, if drug induced, dreams and despair of the hippie generation, now revived by the Global Warming scare.

“Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s.”

Before it was fashionable to speak of alien abductions or the possibility of mankind leaving Earth to inhabit other planets, in that same song Young relates a dream where “silver spaceships” take “Mother Nature’s silver seed to a new home in the sun.”

However, Young might have been talking about the US Apollo space program. Mankind had just landed on the moon for the very first time in 1969 and the early 1970s were all about the “space age.”

In the 1980s Young parodies his hippie phase by referring to an earlier Crosby, Still, Nash and Young song (“Wooden Ships”) in “Hippie Dream” from the album Landing on Water (1986).

And the wooden ships,
were just a hippie dream…
capsized in excess
if you know what I mean

English: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young perform ...

English: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young perform at the PNC Arts Center August, 06. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Young has epilepsy but this has not slowed him down nor deterred him from influencing other prominent rockers like David Bowie and Avril Lavigne. In fact, Young has been described as a music workaholic. He has released 12 new albums in the new millennium, with A Letter Home scheduled to come out any day.

In his 2012 autobiographical book, Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream, Young talks about his love for toy trains, shares some early music memories, and outlines his plans for Green cars and making digital music sound better.


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Yuga

Shows ascending and descending ages based on d...

Shows ascending and descending ages based on descriptions from Sri Yukteswar. Esperanto: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Hindu Vedic and Puranic cosmology, a yuga is an extremely long time period, especially when measured on the human scale. The Hindu understanding of the yuga suggests that the experience of time, itself, differs for gods and humans. In the Mahabharata an entire human year translates into a single day for the devas.

Each of the four different yugas represent four general ages of the devas. As with the ancient Greek and Hebraic sense of time, these ages progress from an initial, ideal Golden Age (Krita/Satya Yuga) to increasingly corrupted ages. In the Hindu system, however, its believed that the “ages” are cyclic. That is, the universe evolves in great cycles. The four yugas and their human equivalents are:¹

Yuga Deva Years Human Years
Krita/Satya 4800 1,728,000
Treta 3600 1,296,000
Dvapara 2400 864,000
Kali 1200 432,000
Mahayuga (Great Yuga) 12,000 4,320,000

A single day for the creator god Brahma is 1,000 Mahayugas (4,320,000,000 human years). One year for Brahma is 1,555,200,000,000 human years. Brahma’s life span is 155,520,000,000,000 human years.

All this indicates that Brahma exists in an entirely different place and time frame than human beings.

An arguably mythical, quasi-scientific scheme like this may seem irrelevant to contemporary thinkers but it points to the notion, worth considering, that the universe contains different yet interacting regions of space-time, each region containing its own unique properties, beings or perhaps just consciousness.

The Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung alluded to this idea with his concept of the archetypes. Jung said the archetypes were powerful enough to eclipse ego consciousness and even drive a person mad. He also said that the archetypes were both biological and spiritual. This latter aspect tends to vex materialist thinkers, something that Jung was fully aware of in his time.

Also from the perspective of depth psychology is the notion that psychological development may progress in cycles. Some feel that comparing this idea to the notion that the universe, itself, moves in cycles is pushing it. Others say that there’s a structural correspondence between micro and macro events. The debate goes on…

Related Posts » Puranas, Ragnarok, Veda

¹ A Mahayuga (Great Yuga) is one complete cycle of the four yugas. Table adapted and condensed from Keith R. Crim (ed.) The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. New York: Harper & Row, 1989, pp. 818-819. Depending on who’s doing the naming, the names of the yugas vary a little. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuga


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Thomas Young (1773 – 1829)

English: Wave particle duality p known

Wave particle duality p known (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thomas Young (1773-1829) was an English scientist, physician and Egyptologist. He made important contributions toward deciphering the Rosetta Stone, has been called the father of physiological optics, and has made other significant contributions in the history of ideas,¹ but he’s remembered most for conducting the famous double slit experiment in 1803.

In this experiment light was said to behave like a wave due to an observable interference pattern. This suggests that light is a type of energy, as opposed to a collection of particles.

In 1905 the view of light as energy was challenged or, perhaps, better said, confounded by the Hungarian-German Nazi Philipp Lenard, whose own experiments demonstrated that light also behaves like a particle, which is normally understood as a unit of matter.

Diagram for the double-slit experiment

Diagram for the double-slit experiment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Until this point in Western intellectual history, a history that Richard Nisbett² and others say is almost obsessively concerned with rational categories, matter and energy were thought to be entirely different because, according to previously available observational frameworks, matter behaved differently than energy.

Since the discovery of the apparent duality of light as matter and energy, however, an entirely new series of experiments and theories have arisen about the enigmatic “stuff” of the universe.

This search includes what physicists have recently called the “God Particle” (Higgs boson). If its existence is confirmed, this would apparently resolve some inconsistencies in theoretical physics, as it now stands.

Related Posts » Democritus, Hume (David), Particle, Particle-Wave Duality, Schrödinger (Erwin), Standing Wave

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Young_%28scientist%29#Death.2C_legacy_and_reputation

² Richard E. Nisbett, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently… and Why. New York: The Free Press, 2003.


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Zakat

Islam

Islam (Photo credit: rogiro)

The religion of Islam contains 5 pillars of fundamental belief and practice. Zakat (see below) is mentioned in the Koran and in Hadith literature. The practice was initiated by the prophet of Islam, Mohammed.

  1. Ash-Shahada – the belief in only one God.
  2. Salat – daily prayer, with body facing Mecca, taking place at sunrise, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nighttime.
  3. Sawm – fasting that is obligatory at puberty and also during the 9th month of the Islamic year (Ramadan), believed to be the period when the Koran was written. Eating and drinking is prohibited from dawn to sunset during Ramadan.
  4. Zakat -  giving alms to the less fortunate, the amount being 2.5% of one’s total income.
  5. Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Moslems are obliged to take at least once in a lifetime. Hajj ideally is taken on the eighth day of the twelfth month of the Islamic year.
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