Wa Yo Yogi

Leanne Kitteridge's adventures in Yoga

Carlos Pomeda: An Invitation to Practice March 10, 2009

carlos2Dan Clement of Indigo Yoga invited Carlos Pomeda to Vancouver this last weekend to present a talk on the history of Yoga and more specifically the Spanda Karikas. I have seen Carlos on his wonderful DVD series , The Wisdom of Yoga, and I had the pleasure of meeting him once in person in Japan last year.  I was struck by his approach to the material, which though still academic, was so accessible and dynamic.  Carlos has not only practical knowledge,  gained during almost 18 years as a monk of the Sarasvati order, 9 of which he spent in India in the Siddha Yoga Ashram, but he is an academic scholar too. He holds two Masters’ degrees: one in Sanskrit from UC Berkeley and another one, in Religious Studies, from UC Santa Barbara. He is currently working on his Ph.D.  These are not just old texts that he has learned to recite and decipher, but he is actually living, and loving, their teachings. Carlos’ enthusiasm is only matched by his complete sincerity.

The first night Carlos gave us a lecture on the history of Yoga and cleared away some common misunderstandings. Basically if it could not be proven through archaeological means, or was not in the old texts, then it cannot be proven and therefore we must not assume or infer things that were simply not there. Coming from a background as a social historian, I totally appreciated this approach. Carlos and I had a chat during one of the breaks about how the winner is the one who gets to write history. I told him how Japan’s name is like that- the one with written language got to write history in that case. The name for Japan is “Nihon” or “Nippon” two Chinese characters put together that mean origin of the sun…land of the rising sun. Chinese characters were brought by traders and buddhist monks from China around the 5th Century and they gave the name “nihon“- because from a Chinese perspective the sun rises in the direction of Japan. The character for China however is two characters that mean middle country ” Chukoku“- as China was the center of the world from their perspective. The Japanese word for their country was actually Yamato.  Similarily, colonialism has effected India’s own history having been first interpreted by Westerners and then re-interpreted by post colonial India trying to reclaim their history.

Carlos explained that most of us would think Yoga was Vedic, as coming from the Vedas, but in actuality many of the practices we think of as yogic, such as meditation and tapas, were not in the Vedas. These practices came from other groups known as Shramanas which contained Buddhism and Jainism among the surviving forms. Meditation as a practice doesn’t really show up until the Upanashads. This change seems to come from an eastern movement of the Vedas into areas where more Shramanas lived and you start to hear in the texts terms like “moksha” and “karma”- terms never seen in the early Vedas. 

We then did a common meditation style which was to focus on one point. Carlos noted how many texts said to meditate “on the tip of ones nose” but how Abhinavagupta– considered one of the most reknown scholars of Kashmir Shaivism- said,  ” Tip yes- but the other end of the tip” which then places the meditation point right between your eyes- the so-called “third” eye. Interesting isn’t it? So at that point of the lecture we then practiced a meditation of  focus on that point. I loved this. All through the weekend every time a way to practice was brought up in the Spanda Karikas we would try it. This wasn’t just about reading the texts and understanding them at an intellectual level; it was an understanding on a personal level.  All weekend rather than trying to just understand the words, I began to want to understand what that meant to me as a practioner. You can be a student , but to be a student and a practioner is a whole other level. I mean, imagine in university if every time I read a chapter of a Japanese Bunraku play I pulled out the puppets and performed it? That is just a whole other depthof knowledge; it becomes cellular. I know that is how we learn in asana but I didn’t think to apply it to philosophy and history. I don’t know if Carlos just teaches this way as natural manifestation of his personality, or if it is something he has cultivated over time as a teacher, but it truly brings a richness to the teachings. He also laughs a lot- I think we all liked that.

By the end of Friday night, we were firmly seated in where Tantra fit into this timeline and what new innovations it brought to yoga. The three major ones are : hatha yoga, kundalini and mantra. The physical asana part of yoga  is therefore actually Tantric in historical development.  We started the next morning by placing the Spanda Karikas in their historical context and then began to learn them one at a time.  We covered 19 ( not in order) of the Karikas in four three-hour sessions. 

 The Spanda Karikas were written around the 9th century by Vasugupta from the Spanda school of Tantra. Spanda means ” vibration” or “pulsation”. The Spanda school’s approach to reality then is that everything is vibration: prana, mind, body. That means then that we can potentially connect to the source of that pulsation- the Absolute- by using anything… because everything is Spanda. Sounds simple dosen’t it? But it’s not.

First of all the Karikas are stanzas written in poetic metre called slokas. Thirty-two syllables per sloka written in two lines of 16 and sung in 4 groups of eight syllables.  Each Karika is a complete idea. Carlos brought to our attention the genius of Vasugupta. The author had to: convey the teaching, convey the practice, argue against rival viewpoints to win practioners, kept the teachings secretive to the uninitiated, and do it all in metered form in 32 syllables. As Carlos said, “WOW! Amazing!”

At first it was so hard to even grasp what the key idea was in each Karika, but Carlos showed us how to simplify it and get the essence and then work from there. The first one we all really struggled with, but as Carlos helped us decipher the text ( for example  what was meant when the author said “That” and “This”- “that” refering to the transcendental and “this” referring to the material world) things became clearer.  Revealing  how the entire teaching was summarized in the first Karika– the invocation- Carlos made some really great comments on why we do an invocation. His comments the first night were, “Remembrance of the teachers and the teachings” and ” To open our heart and mind to be in a receptive state of mindbut the one he added during the discussion of the first Karika was “An invitation to practice“. I think Christina Sell might have said that once but  it resonated with me again and my students will now hear it on a regular basis.

Carlos provided us his own translations of the Karikas but if you are studying them on your own I would recommend two books: Mark Dyczkowski’s Stanzas on Vibration and Jaideva Singh’s Spanda-Karikas: The Divine Creative Pulsation. There are other books out there but these two are the best, most accurate and complementary.

To go through all of Carlos’ humorous and insightful teachings on here would take more time than I have at the moment ( because now I really want to meditate and study more) and I want all of you to have some curiousity about what he has to offer, but there are some key points of the weekend that I would like to leave you with.

1) Learning hard things can be fun if you have a good teacher. Study with Carlos and you will see what I mean.

2) Know the source of the material you are reading. What is their background, what is their bias, what type of scholar are they?

3) Tantra opens up the possibility for everyone to meditate- you just have to find the right meditation

4)There is no such thing as a bad meditation (ok- this was HUGE for me)

5) You cannot uplift others if you are not uplifted yourself

6)You do not have to give up your life and who you are to be a sincere practitioner– we just need to polish the ruff bits ( I don’t have to be the quiet girl…just listen better!)

I hope that all of you will get a chance to study with Carlos Pomeda in the future. After one short weekend I can feel the shift in my practice. The shift is Spanda, I am Spanda and all these vibrations “are waves to ride back to the source”. I am going to meditate now.

Advertisements
 

Book Review: Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy March 1, 2009

yantra-siva-shakti

Yantra of Shiva/Shakti

Thanks to being stuck at home with a sick family, I have just finished Georg Feuerstein’s book  Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy. ( I included an Amazon book link but actually I like to pay a little  more and support my local Vancouver book store Banyen Books) . This book was probably first mentioned to me by Christina Sell and then Robin Golt pulled it out again in our last Anusara Immersion. I think I flipped through it a few years ago and it seemed a little too deep for me at the time. I picked it up again during Robin’s Immersion and realized it was exactly what I needed to read right now.

Georg takes a  fairly wide brush to paint the history and principles that lay behind Tantra but it does carry many of the key concepts that we study as students of Anusara Yoga. He is very good at breaking down the various meanings of Sanskrit words that we commonly use in teaching to show how different translations, and therefore different practices, grew from them.  When speaking of the Advaita Vendata traditions he is clear to separate them and then explain the difference in the Tantric traditions which I find is useful for students and teachers of Yoga that have come from the more classical Vendanta schools. His reference to multiple yogic texts make one hungry to dig into more study.

His introduction and epilogue I found especially useful with the sudden revival of Tantra and Yoga in the West. While people believe they are practicing Tantra and studying Tantra,  it really becomes clear in this book that even the most earnest student cannot really be doing the practice unless they have a qualified teacher.  At times I felt down right wary of many of these practices as it seems that dabbling is worse than not doing at all! I have heard stories of people frying their nervous system through pranayama and various practices undertaken without a proper teacher. Essentially, we are dealing with practices in serious energy and I know I wouldn’t want to be re-wiring my house unless I was an electrician or had one telling me what to do every step of the way!

The book is divided into the following chapters:

1) Samsara : Cyclic Existence

~the ideas of karma, the cycle of rebirth, what it means to break the cycle in Tantric perspective

2) Time, Bondage, and the Goddess Kali

~great background on the aspects of Kali and how time becomes a key consideration in Samsara

3) This is the Other World: How Samsara becomes Nirvana

~what the difference is between wisdom and knowledge and how the Tantric vision sees the relative world as not separate from the Absolute

4) The Secret of Embodiment: As Above , So Below

~the Tantric body positive view and an explanation of the Tattvas and metaphysics

5) The Divine Play of Shiva and Shakti

~ how Shiva comes to  represent the principle of consciousness and Shakti the energy of that consciousness. How polarity( opposites)  helps realize the Absolute as one.

6) The Guru Principle: Shiva Incarnate

~the function of a guru and why a guru is needed. 

7) Initiation: Bringing Down the Light

~ being a student and/or initiate and what form  initiation by a guru may look like

8 ) Discipleship: The Ordeal of Self- Transformation

~the actual relationship between Guru and initiate and the ordeals in that relationship. Oral traditions, ritual, and preconditions for studentship are included.

9)The Tantric Path: Ritual and Spontaneity

~detail of the sadana of a Tantric student. Going beyond Patanjali’s eight fold path and into other practices in different schools including a discussion on left handed and right handed Tantra.

10) The Subtle Body and It’s Environment

~ a detailed chapter on the chakras and nadis and how the subtle body affects the physical body

11) Awakening the Serpent Power

~ a chapter on kundalini and how this works in the subtle body. Some discussion on Spanda is included here which I found useful.

12)   Mantra: The Potency of Sound

~ Explanation of the power of sound and vibration and mantras as the manifestations or vehicles of Shakti

13) Creating Sacred Space

~ this is about creating scared space in the body by use of mudras( hand gestures) and yantras and mandalas ( sacred geometry)

14) The Transmutation of Desire

~ This chapter was very useful as the rituals described in it are the most misunderstood by those practising Tantra without a Teacher or Guru: ie: consumption of meat, wine, sexual ritual. Unfortunately these, and not all the other areas of Tantra such as mantra and meditation, are the ones that the West find so tantalizing. Actually- in India it seems that it was a bit of a problem too….

15) Enlightenment and Hidden Powers of the Mind

~ a listing mostly of those adepts who were thought to have gained powers or “siddhis” through Tantric practice as well as a listing of those powers. There is also a listing of the levels of bliss, seven in all, which I had never encountered before.

 

I highly recommend this book to Anusara students or teachers that have a deep interest in what informs many of our teachings. I caution you though that going through an Immersion at least once and some background on philosophy, would make this book not only more useful but more enjoyable. I know that I will be using it as a reference book for many years to come and I would like to actually read it a few more times as I am sure that many layers were not revealed upon my first reading. I am sure those of you out there with a far more in-depth study of Tantra may have some issues with the authors perspective but I am too naive to challenge his assumptions as of now.

If you have read this book I would love to hear your comments about it.