To honor distinction and to realize unity. These are the lofty goals of yoga. Even more than that, they are the lofty goals we all dream of, even if we might choose more modest, every day language like– the desire to be recognized for one’s worth, autonomy, and the desire to be embraced in fulfilling, love relationships, communion.
What yoga teaches us is that one naturally leads to the other, as diversity and unity are really one and the same, they just seem to be opposing. This is important to understand.
In the text Spanda Karikas, this is expressed as the opening and closing of Shiva’s eyes. Through this act the universe emerges and dissolves. Oneness is the essence of all of the diversity, diversity is the fullest expression of the oneness. It’s a beautiful visual, as we know the feeling of leaving behind the outer world for our inner one, just by closing the eyes. And we also know that by doing so doesn’t mean the outer world has really disappeared, we have just turned our gaze in the opposite direction. In Shiva’s case, though, it goes one step further– as our thoughts and sense of individuality remain present when we close our eyes, and with Shiva, all of that dissolves, all division releases when the lids drop heavy. And yet, the unformed oneness and the manifest diversity are still simultaneously present and true, not subject to time or space. The manifest is there even with the eyes closed, and the oneness is not lost when the eyes open.
Let’s consider another way to understand this. Which comes first the chicken or the egg? Well, neither, they arise simultaneously. You can’t have one without the other, right? Isn’t that why we get caught in the riddle? So that is just it, there is no succession and neither one is more important or true. Think about it!
Without such contemplations, we may otherwise stay on the surface of the opposition, in the throes of duality. For instance, we can think that we will be made whole again in the achievement of distinguishing our self from the rest. We can think we first must free our self from our individual trials, or that the other must first become free from theirs, to then, finally, be with the real and needy plight of another. These miss the mark, they skirt the surface. Living life is tricky like that. Such contemplations are an opportunity to move beyond the mental constructs that keep us bound to the narrow view of our surface life. They allow our surface life to be a portal to the mystic life that’s hidden right here, in plain sight.
It takes a lifetime of practice and contemplation to align with our highest purpose. There are so, so many ways to articulate these practices, just as there are so many possible contemplations. Here is one complete set of practices outlined in the structure of the Yamas and Niyamas.
- Ahimsa- without intention to harm, in thought, word and action
- Satya- truthfulness, defined by the four gates of speech
- Asteya- non-stealing, active participant in the flow of giving and receiving, generous, abundant natured
- Brahmacharya- temperance, balance, moderation, self-control
- Aparigraha- non-grasping, steady and composed when life brings us more and when life leaves us with less
- Saucha- purity, taking care of any messes made, not leaving a negative stain internally and externally
- Santosa- contentment, at ease with life’s ebb and flow, present and willing to engage in life’s trials and tribulations
- Tapas- practices of austerities, welcoming the rigor needed to burn up the stubborn grip of the limited frame of mind, the humbling process of admitting you are bound to the small self
- Svadhyaya- study of the scriptures, imbibing spiritual wisdom to shift your understanding of who you are, for Self understanding
- Ishwara pranidhana- devotion to God (to the One at large), willingly surrendering the individual will to the greater Will
Through our practices and contemplations may we uncover the to reach the exalted heights of:
Diversity celebrated, cherished, beloved, confused and torn by, grieved over, as the ultimate mirror to the unique beauty inherent in each one of us.
Unity known, really known, experienced as the fabric of all that there is, totally inclusive of all that there is in this world. All of it.
No other pursuits can bring the lasting joy that these can.