A recent conversation with a yogini reminded me that I have been very lucky in my quest. The conversation was about an article in the Elephant Journal on how the “Yoga Journal” is becoming a “Bhoga Journal” and how the Yoga industry is changing from hippy-happy-healthy culture to fashionable-flawless-fancy culture.
As a young tantric adept (age 13) my first Sadhana was to spend at least 8 to 10 hrs every week in cremation ground and to meditate on age, decay and death. And to observe rites of death at least once in six months. This was to continue for two years before I get to learn anything on Siddha path. I continued my Sadhana in for seven years and still meditate everyday on death although not in the cremation ground. The goal of meditating on age, decay and is death is not about hating life but to love and cherish every moment of it and realize that lasting happiness has to do with the inner-heart and not with the outward motion of body and senses. Meditating on age, death and decay is to question ourselves – what will happen to this happiness that is so dependent on outward motion of body and sense, when this body weakens and senses become dim? What will then be the source of happiness? Will there be strength in old age to find the inner-source of happiness if all of our life we have been searching it outside? Will the memories of happy youth be enough? Are the memories of happy childhood enough for a middle-age person?
Allow me to give you simplified and generalized version of history of Yoga and Tantra (this is based on my understanding from Siddha lineage). Yoga evolved from ‘tapas’. ‘Tapas’ is a Sanskrit word, its root is ‘tap’ which depending on context means “heat” from fire or weather, or inner blaze, shine, penance, pain, suffering, and mortification. Tapas which is an aspect of Tantric path and is a very distasteful vocation. There were yogis who went for austerities, and carried out fasting, self-mortification, and doing to extremes without any props or people to support them. Remember the image of Emaciated Buddha (see above). Sorry “new-age yogis”, the yoga for health is a modern innovation (7th CE). Some of the ancient yogis were so focused on refining spirit that they didn’t care about what happens to their bodies. Even today, many sadhus and tapasavis hold a specific posture for days and month without moving. In these schools, a ‘yogi’ (one who focuses on refining spirit to find lasting inner-happiness) cannot be a ‘bhogi’ (one who focuses on ephemeral happiness derived from body and senses).
All the work of Yoga and Tantra is about refining the spirit (not the body) and to travel inward, toward the center of our own being – the inner-heart. I am not saying that everyone should go to cremation ground and meditate on death; however, it will be wise to remind ourselves that yoga and tantra are inner-paths. Outer aspects are only to create foundation and fences so that inner ground can be protected where all the work is done. Joseph Campbell, beautifully summarized when he said: “We have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”