This is the last of four talks at a recent retreat in New Zealand. In this session we explore the two approaches to the spiritual quest: one is described as the ascending path – ‘āroha-panthā,’ and the other is called the descending process or the ‘avaroha-panthā.’ This is the path of acceptance and humility and appreciating the need for Divine intervention or Divine Grace.
We also deal with how people can take home these practices and develop a personal daily spiritual practice.
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya.
So, not only in the yoga system, but all spiritual pursuits, were understood by their great spiritual teachers to be in one of two categories. One category is called aroha pantha, which means the ascending path, and the other one is called the avharoha pantha, which means the descending path. And to a person, when they hear, that it’s kind of like, “Well, aren’t we trying to go up, sort of transcend the world> Isn’t that…?”
And actually, it’s a really interesting idea. The ascending path is the idea that by my purity, by my strength, by my determination and focus, by my effort and endeavor, I will attain some form of enlightenment. That is sort of like the idea of trying to climb Mount Everest. You have to do—well, it’s kind of turned into a bit of a joke now. All kinds of people you just pay the money, and you can show up and sort of have somebody drag you up to the top, and if you survive it’s going, “Yeah I did!” But it’s pretty Mickey Mouse compared to what it used to be like, where you had to actually train and learn how to use crampons and ice and rock, and it was very technical climbing. You had to be really conditioned for high-altitude activity and not get really sick or even die. And you had to work together as a team. You had to bring all these resources. Back in the day, they didn’t have gurkhas going ahead clearing the way and putting ropes everywhere and ladders for people to use. You had to kind of do it on your own. You needed to be really exceptional athletically to be able to do this, to, what-was-called “conquering” Mount Everest. And it’s kind of, when you think of that word, it’s sort of like, it’s a little bit, hmm, “conquering?”—the quest for supremacy, for greatness.
So, these were some of the characteristics of the ascending path; and it required the extraordinary ability to actually practice yoga properly—astanga yoga. When I say yoga, I’m talking about the astanga yoga process. You—my God, you had to be heroic in personality. You couldn’t do it in a city and hanging out at home. It was a massive dedication, where you go away and remove yourself from all forms of stimulation, and you really spend so much time bringing the mind under control, where you have absolute control of the mind, which is kind of like mission impossible.
Then you practiced pratyahara, which was the withdrawal of the senses from the sense objects. You tried to shut off all sound, all visual stimulation, sensual stimulation of all sorts, so that you become just—what you’re trying to do is actually physically separate the living being from its material cage and the material world, so that you can come to actually experience who you are as a pure spiritual being.
And dharana: to bring the mind into a central focus, and for it to be unwavering. It’s just like, oh my God! This is like mission impossible for the vast majority of people.
And then there was dhyana, or meditation to—meditation is not a mental activity. The mind is actually a material object. It’s a material covering of the soul. And so, to be in the world of the mind is not to be in transcendence. And so, the process of meditation was actually a deep absorption in transcendence, in that which is transcendental.
And then when one was highly successful, they attained samadhi.
So, this was just like phew! How do we do that? And I’ll just mention that, since the most ancient of times, this was one of the processes of devotion.
So, the second path, the descending path. I mentioned, yesterday I think, the verse of Patanjali in the first pada of the Yoga Sutra, isvara pranidhana dva. This word, the Sanskrit term dva, can generally mean also, but Krishnamacharya, who was a great Sanskrit scholar, said, actually in this usage it means it puts stress on the previous word, meaning it’s like critically important. And the word before it was pranidhana. Pranidhana means complete submission, complete surrender of the heart and the mind. It is this path of the descending process where, rather than me trying to claw my way into the spiritual realm, to transcendence, I become so humble, recognizing my absolute lack of ability and talent. And I, in a prayerful mood, fundamentally beg for some form of divine grace. This is called the path of revelation, where rather than you busting in and checking it out, where you receive spiritual revelation, you receive enlightenment as a gift.
I remember before I moved back to New Zealand, the last time I visited before moving back, I spent some time with my dad, who was at the very last stage of life. And he had always—we’d had some interesting conversations, but he only goes to a certain level and then kind of doesn’t want any more, that’s enough. And he told me that he was fine with death, that he can, he thinks he can manage it. And here I was this morning, I was only going to be in New Zealand for another couple of days, and I thought, “I’ll spend the time with him.” And he goes, “You know what I told you before?” He said, “Now it’s different. I’m actually becoming somewhat fearful,” which was quite extraordinary that he would open up. Obviously, he trusted me in that regard.
So, I was actually getting ready to take him on a cruise around the block in the wheelchair. So, he was like as big as me, and so it was a bit of a struggle getting him into the wheelchair, and off we go. So, I talked to him about these two paths. And the reason I talked to him, although he wasn’t a very religious person, every morning and every night he said some form of prayer. And he always felt that he had to do the right thing in life. He was a tough guy, but uncompromising. He would do the right thing, he wouldn’t rip people off, he wouldn’t tolerate abuse of others, he would always step in.
So, there is this idea that “I must earn my way into the kingdom of God, or some higher spiritual reality. It’s going to be by my work, by my effort, endeavor, I earn my way.” So, I talked to him about these two approaches. And I told him, this descending process, makes it so that a person who may have utterly wasted their life, they may have lived a life of great degradation and caused much suffering to others, they may be an alcoholic or a drug addict, they could be lying in the gutter about to die and have a dawning realization that I have utterly wasted my life, and in great humility to take shelter and pray to God, some transcendent reality, the personality of Godhead, and say “I am absolutely unqualified, but I have no other shelter. In spite of my lack of qualification, I cannot turn away, I must turn and seek your shelter,” And if a person leaves their body in such a state of consciousness, regardless of what has happened before, they will be transported to a spiritual dimension. They don’t have to take birth again. And it’s kind of really stunning because you’ve got somebody that just lived a degraded life and caused chaos. and yet at that moment, if they had that intent and that prayerfulness, they would be instantly saved from the material condition and transported into a wonderful spiritual reality.
So, when we—It was quite a long walk. I went around a couple of blocks, and we got back, and I was trying to get him out of the chair back on the bed, and he said to me, “You, know, what you just have told me has completely blown my mind.” He said, “I realized now I’ve been doing it all wrong.” So, I asked him, “Would you like me to chant for you?” and he kind of was familiar with the Mahamantra. He didn’t like the other stuff because it was like too much. It was like, you know. And so we’d just sit there, and I’d chant to him using Fools Rush In, you know, the Elvis Presley crooner, and just chanting the Mahamantra.
And it was really interesting because you’d have like, wow! I’d turn around and the hallway and into his room and outside is all full of these old people, similarly in a state, and even a doctor and a couple of nurses, and they’re all there just hanging out, just cruising with this spiritual sound. There was this feeling that there is something innately wonderful going on here, there is something truly spiritual happening here.
The reason I’m sharing this with you is because we don’t have to be great, we don’t have to be perfect, we don’t have to be pure, we don’t have to be extraordinary. We can be low and sinful even. We can be weak. But we can also embrace humility and realize, it’s not going to be me that does the work, it is going to be these spiritual sounds, these transcendental sounds that are filled with full spiritual potency.
You know sometimes—it’s common—I’ve spoken already to three people here at this retreat, and I mentioned my own experience, and when I first encountered this, and all around the world you’ve got people saying that it’s kind of like, maybe the first time, or some early time when they had this exposure, they’re just overwhelmed with this feeling of—they don’t, you don’t know what it is. And it’s kind of like tears welling up in the eyes, and the heart is actually melting. And it’s because your good fortune is that you have been at least open, so that you are touched by the wonderful spiritual potency of these transcendental sounds.
You only have to do one thing. It’s like, I’ve used the example that these sounds are like a transcendental ocean. It’s like if you go down to the ocean in the summer, and everybody’s in the water, and you’re sitting there, and it’s all hot, and you’re going, “Oh, it’d be wonderful to get in the water. It’d be just fantastic,” but I just sit there, keep looking at it and looking at everybody else. Hey, you got to get off your butt and get in the water so that it can have its effect. By looking at it you can only imagine, but the effect will be experienced when you immerse yourself in the water.
And so, this is the only thing that is asked of us, that we make that effort to immerse our heart, our mind in this spiritual sound and to build a daily practice. We’ve got lots of tools on our different sites. I have a website, which is my humble offering to you all and my spiritual teachers. I attempt to share the gifts I have been given. But there is one part, under a tab on kirtan and meditation, of both why to do it, how to do it, and some guided meditations.
And my encouragement is that people actually firmly make a decision, even if it just means flipping on one of these guided meditations and doing it, but doing it daily, allocated time, when you’re not going to be disturbed, put your phone off, even if it’s for 10 minutes. It’s doing it every day that begins to transform and change your life. And it becomes more of a wonderful and profound practice that we will be drawn to spend increasing amounts of time in because we experience the reality of how wonderful it is.
By in—let me just say, in this age, which is called Kali Yuga; it is the age of quarrel, confusion, where people are said to be less intelligent, we become dragged into all kinds of things by our minds and emotions. The tendency to fight over simple little things is just like mind-blowing because it’s so destructive in our life. We can’t even have conversations and deal with stuff without it turning into some heated mess. But this period of time is considered a time of great difficulty for humanity. And the process that is actually recommended, more than recommended, stressed, for this age is the use of spiritual sound as a form of meditation. It is by this practice that you can attain spiritual enlightenment, that you can come to know your true being—self-realization and God realization, the awakening of this extraordinary experience of spiritual love all becomes possible through this method.
And all you have to do, it’s kind of like you got to get your bum off the beach and into the water. It’s not asking too much, right? And starting in small increments, so you build a habit over time and faithfully do it, and if you find at any time that you’ve kind of like let it slip because something was going on in your life, it’s kind of like, okay, as soon as you realize, then it’s back in the driver’s seat. Take control of your life. Go, “Okay, even though all this chaos is going on, doing this is going to help me deal with everything.”
It’s really amazing how just by having a daily practice you will find inspiration in how to deal with really challenging stuff in your life. Things will kind of become available to you that maybe you had not considered previously.
So, it is a very powerful, it is a very wonderful process. Don’t think because it appears so easy it is without potency. There is no more powerful process. Our job, as I said, is to get into the water. Let the water do its work. We immerse ourself in transcendence.
A person who practices, and some of you might have experienced it, even with the kirtan here, that there are moments where, perhaps for two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes, where there was a complete absorption. And it was like, you don’t realize at the time but later you think: you weren’t thinking about anything! You weren’t going in multiple different directions. There was a moment where you were completely absorbed. That is actually the beginning of the experience of samadhi. And in spite of not having any formal training in the astanga yoga process, just by engaging, opening your heart and mind, and engaging in the process, you are beginning to taste the actual fruit of all yoga.
Okay, that’s all I got to say. Cool or what? I reckon this stuff is really cool. So, we will have a little chant to close out. So, I’ll probably chant the Mahamantra again. I’m very partial to it although I use other mantras.