In Scotland the Edinburgh International Festival, the biggest arts festival in the world, is once again alive after a break of two years.  Included in the many shows, plays and concerts was a dance programme called Samsāra.

A single beam of light shines vertically down onto a naked embryo struggling to enter into the shape of a human being. With a second human they dance in strife until they find a music to align with and so discover the source of it all in a great climax of light and sound.  The dancers then defer to the gods they have come to know with puja of an extremely fluid sūryanamaskāra.  It was exciting, poignant, spectacular and well received by the audience.

There is the same sense in Swami Ritavan’s talk on Mantra Sadhana in the recent online course where he speaks of the remembrance of the Guru, Iśvara, the Tradition and the song of Atman, of finding alignment with spiritual practice.

But what is it to sing the song of Atman in the midst of a world turning in samsāra?  How to enquire into the meaning of Swami Ji’s talk?

The approach to an answer is slow, middling or quick. It’s not the idea of a great song from words revolving in the mind, but freedom from all ideas and words that matters. But how can you think about this if you have dispensed with words and thoughts?  First, we will have to climb out of our assumptions: that we can get things right with words and thoughts alone.  Yet it helps to start with words and thoughts. We know that samsāra is the turning of life as prakriti, the world of Nature making and breaking and consisting ultimately of the gunas in a perpetual state of change. They do get a rest from time to time in pralaya.

We know that the gunas make up the world and one’s self in the great material union of being.  As I am made of vritttis, of kleśas and samskāras and vāsanās and antarāyas comprising my karmāśaya so is everybody else. It is a great sea of mind and activity extending through the world. The teaching that OM is the vessel to cross that sea of samsāra makes sense when we see the karmāśaya as the shared body of suspect humanity doing their best and their worst.  In a state of ignorance of the true nature of both Nature and spirit we share our mistaken sense of individuality with every other individual. When we transcend that we are not individual.  Here understanding gets difficult.

Contemplation helps.  So instead of seeing by ideas justified by self, there is a wider sense which does not separate self from others which is how we are in fact.  Seeing the wider context of the unending field of kleśas and karma then the sense of the individual is subsumed in generality – it becomes a philosophical description of the human state.  In coming to know oneself one comes to know how others are too.

The brahmavihāras is such a contemplation: friendliness, care, delight, equanimity regarding those who are happy, careworn, good and bad respectively make a clear and pleasant mind. This attitude is not perturbed by the tossing seas of samsāra.  So, we can go out and about in a state of calm which is an accomplishment of vairāgya.  The mind is steady in itself and the senses at work without excitement.

Swami Ritavan describes this accomplishment at the start of his talk: Breathing deeply, gently and smoothly. Each exhalation releasing, letting go. Each inhalation rejoicing. Every breath guided by the prana stream.  Awakening. And that mind and prana and breath flowing together, a single stream of awareness, a single prayer that the Atman sings through you.

The brahmavihāras are presented in the Yoga Sūtras within the context of meditation methods.  The previous sūtra to it recommends the practice of concentration on a single thing and the following the cultivation of the fineness of breath until it is known by its cause in prāna.  The brahmavihāras are more than an ethical prescription, they prescribe how the meditative mind can maintain itself at all times.

The mind thus stable and freed from desire and aversion is unconstrained within and without and dances and sings and quietly rejoices.

Editor’s Note:

Jim Fraser teaches yoga in Scotland. He has received 500 hour certification through the Himalayan Yoga Tradition – Teacher Training Program (HYT-TTP).