Faith - How Yogic Confidence Forms the Path to Liberation
Over the years that I have been practicing I have sometimes yearned to find some sort of central theme or core amidst the multiplicity of ‘styles’, practices and emphases that have gone under the name yoga over the last two thousand years.
Even a fairly succinct study of a particular niches such as haṭha yoga can reveal a huge range of diversity.
Jim Mallinson’s inspiring and fascinating book ‘The Roots of Yoga’ reveals a huge multivalence of practices and definitions of the word yoga and while there is much that is synchronous, much that resonates as it where at the same frequency, there are also plenty of differences.
Without a clear sense of direction and purpose it is very difficult to achieve much more than a sense of bewilderment. If ones energies are scattered no progress is possible. Patañjali describes how through the 9 obstacles to yoga, the mind is subject to vikṣepa - ‘scatteredness’. He also lists saṃśaya ‘doubt’ within these obstacles.
Where doubt renders everything it touches frozen, faith sets all energies in motion.
With this in mind it is helpful to scan through yoga definitions and practices, both modern and ancient to see if there are some common themes that, if not occurring overtly in every example, are found implied in many. Though there will always be anomalies, if we find the right theme or focuses re-occurring in many examples then we can proceed with more clarity and conviction that have found something of the flavour or essence of what the term yoga is pointing to.
What yoga shares even more unanimously than its methods and expressions is its fundamental purpose. While there are some additions to this main focus we find by far and above the raison d’être to yoga practice is Freedom. And the predominant tool it uses again and again, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly, to effect this Freedom, is Faith.
Most schools of yoga see the key problem is a cycle, seemingly inescapable, chain of cause and effect.
The scenario is one where we are constantly caught up in cycles of action and reaction that are driven by what Georg Feurstein called ‘subliminal activators’ (saṃskāra) or psycho/emotional/physical habits.
In other words we are often compelled and in a sense forced, to act out of subconscious conditioned patterns. Pathways of thought breath and behaviour that are not free because they are; compulsive, driven and (despite our protestations to the contrary) are not an expression of our real-self because we didn’t (on our own) make them.
These cycles are ‘karmic’ in that actions (karman) have fruit (vipāka). That fruit is often a view, an emotion an urge that manifests in more action (or waits as a ‘subliminal activator’ for its relevant trigger to set of the action)’.
We can’t get off the wheel precisely because it is the very belief in ‘self’, as this jumble of urges, beliefs and drives, that we would be trying to use to get us off!
The wheel in effect is this misidentification that keeps us so closely tied to reactions. You can’t use the self to let go of the self.
Imagine that if a person were reticent to jump in a swimming pool, because it was too cold and needed a nudge to get in. Now imagine that they could conjure up another version of themselves to do the job of nudging - they would then need to conjure another version of themselves to nudge that one in and another for that ad infinitum.
After you have pushed yourself in you’re still left poolside.
What is required then is a leap, a surrender a willingness to give, now and totally! This then is what yogin calls śrāddha or ‘faith’.
Śrāddha is not an abstract faith it is a manifest complete confidence. It is a total experiential reality that Knows that when you let go you will be supported. This ‘faith’ Knows that in letting go we become far more supported to act with power, wisdom and compassion than if we were to continue to run things from a bunch of arbitrarily formed and circumstantially changing, conditioned urges.
Adyashanti describes in his book Emptiness Dancing that the main problem people have is not fear but control.
We believe that ‘I’ must; do, act, will, say and that ‘I’ must therefore know how to; do, act, will and speak - and what we try to do that with is a bunch of familial and social conditioning that combined with our very particular life story (jata-vikalpa) and the very particular way that we have filtered our life events as they have occurred.
It is precisely this letting go of the feeling that I must control and run things that constitutes
śrāddha and its manifestation that constitutes a crossing over into a spontaneous, flexible adaptable and awake way of being, that leaves us responding to the way things are - what convention would perceive as Wisdom but really is just the Freedom to be whatever the situation really needs.
Śrāddha represents an entry into that complete Freedom (from repetitive cycles). It is that which lifts you when you let go of control. There are scores of examples of words that describe and encourage this sense of letting go and trust in Sanskrit:
Anugraha means that which follows ‘after grasping’ and is other wise known as grace. Think of what we mean when we use the adjective graceful. When we see a ballet dancer who we describe as graceful it means that they seem to float as if on invisible strings it looks effortless they appear given and there is a deeply moving, spiritual quality to that.
Brahman describes a transcendent and immanent, Ultimate Reality that is the substratum of the Universe. It is a resonant ground of being that the yogin can surrender to. It is the surrender of the individual soul (ātman) to this fundamental field that constitutes, in some systems, liberation.
Bodhicitta In earlier Mahayana Buddhist texts such as the Ugraparipṛcchā Sūtra, for example, the bodhicitta is a much vaguer concept, more "a certain state of mind" in which a Bodhisattva acts. The general implication is of a will to enlightenment that takes you totally that in a sense you give to - its etymology indicates an awakening to (bodhi) to consciousness (citta).
Prātibha - Is a phrase that indicates Intuitive Knowing and implies an inner light or flash. It is the light of higher knowledge, illumination and it is beyond the sway of normal conditioned bias.
Therefore again implies something beyond any created 'you' it is this belong that we can and should give to.
Śaktipāta - the decent or dropping (into one) of power also known as ‘the decent of grace’ this expression describes how the Realisation of the way things are is not produced by a person by an individual but is a moment in one particularised aspect of consciousness (you, me) of recognition that is again not something you do but something you give to and hence is an expression of this profound Faith.
Whether its through the surrendered singing and dancing of the vedantic Kṛṣṇa Consciousness yogin, the spontaneous release that a Zen riddle affects by knocking ones mind out of its normal rhythms, the vedic sacrifice (yajña) that transforms simple butter into a direct line to God (in one form or another), the meditation practice Tonglen or ‘exchanging self for other’ of the Tibetan Buddhists or the immersion of oneself and the willingness to give ones old embodied patterns of the Modern Postural yogin - giving, sacrifice, surrender, letting go all feature again and again in the various expressions of tradition.
Our lives are much more immense than we can guess. We are connected to vast currents that dictate how we think and breathe, where we were yesterday and where we will be tomorrow. By offering our being totally - the quintessence of faith - to the way things are, we allow a simultaneous death and rebirth. Our feeble, conditioned efforts die and are replaced by Iccha-shakti ‘the will of the Universe’, which acts not out of bias and partisan interest but out of the fundamental understanding that all is equal.