PRIVILEGING ASCENT

Georg Feuerstein’s seminal book, The Yoga Tradition, makes brief mention of a concept he names verticalism, a strict soteriology of ascent up and out of the sushumna nadi. Once the granthis (knots that prohibit subtle body energy from completely rising) are dissolved through continuous yoga practice, the esteemed yogin ultimately ascends completely; culminating in a full-on up and-out of the real Self from the decidedly unreal body. Bliss. Peace. Emancipation. Finality.
Sound familiar?
It’s probably the most common story of liberation out there. Something, well, literally out there.
As in, other than here.
(for my ivory tower friends, yes, i realize that this explanation is drastically simplified… you know, it’s a blog.)
 
Inherent in Feuerstein’s naming of this verticalist liberation, is the notion that just maybe there exists an alternative version of this ‘full’ realization that’s just as valid as the former… Or, perhaps there are a number of alternatives.
Or even infinite alternatives.
Unfortunately, as far as I’m concerned, this novel conception — that there are many means through which liberation may occur — is an issue that has been largely absent from the current dialogue within modern yoga. Despite the injection of the wordtantra into the philosophical blogosphere (the varying definitions of its revolutionary ideology prevalent in any google search), most contemporary language around yoga perpetuates the same verticalist mentality, flattening the possibility of metaphysical pluralism.
Why have we, for the most part, so easily skimmed Feuerstein and others’ articulate distinctions (of a strict, ascending verticalism juxtaposed with the lived, embodied liberation of tantra) without fully acknowledging and exploring the heavy observation implicit in this distinction itself — that there just might be many methods of spiritual liberation?
((teacher training overwhelm? perhaps.))
In other words, why do we hold ourselves, our lived bodies and ‘promise’ for self-realization so rigidly poised for ascension and ascension alone?
This issue of privileging the ascent of the Self, consciousness, prāṇa, kuṇḍalinī, is one that I have long contemplated, but, frankly, have only recently decided to go public with. Since my vision and embodied experience don’t align with the normative soteriological view, I’ve reserved my public speech on this topic to contemplative hikes and small gatherings with friends, audiences far easier to win over than overwhelming scrutiny of public opinion in general.
But at this point, I’m feeling pretty damn ready to make my heretical Self known.
In fact, I strongly suspect that this exercise in speaking my own radical truth is essential to my personal growth.
And, maybe it is for you too.
The modern yoga-culture privileging of metaphysical ascent oppresses its naturally opposing action, the descent, and immediately rules out any other alternatives — imposing a structure of subjugation that inherently disengages us from a vast portion our embodied existence.
Most importantly, this closed system fails to acknowledge our varied diversity as human beings.
An overemphasis on the hierarchical ascent, the up-and-out as a means for liberation, imposes a system of forcible amputation — exorcising the ‘good’ or ‘highest’ of ourselves from the substantially ‘lowest’, the assumedly unimportant remainder of our psychological and physiological makeup — denies the wisdom that the ‘marginal’ self might posses.
Leaving us isolated, not knowing oneself or ones’ world fully, but rather partially, incompletely.
In the great reflection of the universe, when our language (as teachers and practitioners) simply perpetuates this inequality of methods, especially without exploring the myriad possibilities for ourselves, we’re really only doing a small part of our homework. As we dismember the ‘unworthy’ parts of ourselves, how can we possibly be able to fully serve our students, comrades and friends along the path?
As our language constructs our reality, this oppressive superstructure of linguistic ‘sensibility’ espouses a culture of physical bodies and energetic experiences completely subservient to the hegemonic power of verticalist ideology. We perpetuate this flawed and limited envisioning through our language and how we think liberation is supposed to be.
In my opinion, this is a serious act of violence (himsa). It can be traumatic and so deeply subconscious that it’s difficult to articulate, and through our silence this system only becomes more firmly rooted within our collective modern yoga consciousness.
All are serious warning signs, which for me indicate that this silence around the issue of metaphysical pluralism is not what Yoga (Union) is about.
This normalization of verticalism through our language, either conscious or unconscious, is not an embrace of diversity, equal importance, or holism. Rather, it’s a systematic, self-inflicted power over ourselves and others that just causes further suffering, and leads me to seriously wonder why we’re not talking about it!
So, I’m stepping off the soapbox now because I’m really excited to hear your thoughts and experience on this–
Please share your thoughts in the comment section here:
How have you experienced this imposed systemic verticalism… as a student? As a practitioner? As a teacher?
 
… What’s it like? And what does it all mean, to you?

ŚRĪ ŚĀRADĀ CEREMONY — HER THOUSAND NAMES

It’s 4:45 on Friday afternoon, the eighth day of the lunar month of Aśvin, second to last night of Navarātra, the nine nights celebrating the Goddess, Śakti. I have worked on a team to transliterate, translate and edit a text recently rediscovered in the Oriental Research Library in Śrinagar, Kashmir and reconstruct its ritual recitation of the thousand names of the Goddess Śāradā. Finally, the culmination of countless hours of textual editing, translating, supporting, organizing and fundraising has arrived — marking yet another paramount reason for exalting the victory of the Goddess, as the Hindu holiday proclaims — the deep psychological celebration that occurs in the wake of completion. As I take my seat next to the fire and tune my tamboura (a four stringed Indian ‘drone’ instrument), I feel the gradual settling of our thirty plus guests into one meticulously marked ritual space among the golden leaves scattered across the backyard, merging into a kaleidoscope of interrelated entanglement.

            As we begin the recitation of the “Thousand Names of the Goddesss Śāradā,” together, after finalizing the edited translation merely hours before, our diverse spectrums of human experience come together as one unified collective consciousness fixated upon one shared object of meditation. After many moments, hours really, of observing my own fluctuating consciousness through the melodious chanting of the names, the rhythmic offering of black and white sesame seeds into the fire, the drone of my tamboura as I struggle to play continuously, despite the necessary shifts around the cracking popping fire, I locate myself settled, peaceful, open, alert. Following one exceptionally sublime moment of absorption into the totality of the ritual, an ineffably profound sense of oneness, a colossal question dawns: is this the direct and personal experience of the non-duality I am willing to ‘entertain’ (but not necessarily advocate) as the ultimate and absolute ‘reality’? Further, is this an experience I even can share in academic writing, and moreover do I even want to? That is to say, will sharing my personal experience of an extolled sense of infinite non-dual consciousness be my most effective offering of service for the benefit of all beings?

These are just some of the burning questions arising from the center of my independently co-originated position, as I read and examine the critical analysis of spiritual practices, and explore my own connection to both those processes of examination and the practices themselves. So far, many relevant yet antagonistic views have arisen, which I am constantly attempting to reconcile to the extent that I may craft my own most insightful and relevant approach to the academic study of religion. In this case, the more cognitive investigation naturally leads me to a concern for the authenticity of this practice, the recitation of the Thousand Names, and the implications of ‘reviving’ this lost text for the people most allied with its historical and soteriological importance; specifically the Pandit community exiled from Kaśmir and resettled throughout the globe. Is our ‘revival’ of the Goddess Śāradā through this ritual re-enactment (despite a meticulous attention to detail in recreating her ceremony in exactly the way the text itself prescribes), simply additional forms of orientalist appropriation? Or, conversely, are we actually helping the Pandits in exile redefine their sense of cultural identity, now reestablished within an online cultural arena (this entire ceremony was broadcast live over the internet), after hundreds of years of violent persecution and in light of the eventual exodus which transpired over the last forty years?

In the context of the Thousand Names of Śāradā ceremony, the precise recreation of ritual elements are certainly of upmost importance, in addition to my experience and interaction with the Kaśmiri Pandit community and its individuals– investigating how they feel about this project, and, beyond that, looking deeper into the implications of my ethnographic analysis and presentation of this material.

Naturally, I am curious to investigate in what ways am I advocating the Pandit’s political stance, as a people in exile, and their religious and philosophical heritages. I am also interested in the reasons why this particular Śāradā ceremony fails to be remembered in the contemporary Pandit tradition. Further, I wonder if there are more critical systems of power within the philosophical underpinnings and ritual itself that contribute to this omittance — beyond the usual jump to Muslim invasion and suppression. Of course, I’m in no position to explicitly answer any of this here and now. Alas, I can merely offer my ponderings and ask for yours too….

Peace,

Ina

ŚRI ŚĀRADĀ

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