THE PATH OF FIRE AND LIGHT
by Swami Rama
500 RYT book report © 2014
Text by: Alexey Baykov
1. Most compelling topics of the book by Swami Rama
In the book it’s highlighted several times that the tantric tradition is highly systematized and organized, and it requires the guidance of an accomplished teacher who is a master of the science yoga. So yoga practice includes individual practice and practice with a teacher in the following manner: “the student systematically follow the basic instructions and master the preliminary practices before the teacher can lead him to more advanced practices…”
The author Swami Rama also stresses upon following the system of practice otherwise “the student can be harmed mentally, physically, or emotionally”. That is why “the student must master certain essential steps, and then they watch and wait for the student to prepare himself for more advanced lessons.”
Thus, yoga is not only a science, which has very organized structure; it is also an art of combining individual practice and ability to follow the guidance of the teacher correctly. I believe that it’s essential to be open and not fall into ego’s trap of pride, thinking that having a lot of books I know how to go through the Path of Light.
So I hope to find such an accomplished teacher who can guide me and I could follow with trust and devotion. As for sometimes, or even many times, if I may say so, hesitation and doubt arise about the choice of practices that I do, about the adequacy of the techniques I execute, about the overall understanding of the path.
It’s essential from my point of view to share one’s experience and possible doubts with someone who can understand me and discuss with the same language, and even with higher understanding of the processes that is taking place, with someone who can reflect you as a mirror, and let see one’s ego, with someone who guides with words, actions, direct supervision or even just by only presence by your side.
As it is expressed in Tao Saying: “when the student is ready – the teacher appears. When the teacher is ready – students appear”.
1.2. Refine Personality
As it is stated awakening Kundalini is a highly systematic method of attaining self-realization, in which intense practice over a long period of time is necessary, and it requires profound human qualities, such as sincerity, truthfulness, solitude, and self-discipline
Swami Rama tells us that “…the student must work to refine his personality so that selfishness, pettiness, and egotism do not hold him back on the path. He must cultivate patience, faithfulness, and determination.” These qualities are very essential nowadays because “many students today begin their practices and soon become impatient: they either abandon their practices, jump from one practice to another, or entirely change their path. Such unsteadiness will not allow one to progress.”
Contemporary society is bombarded with advertisement, television, internet, films, cartoons, computer games, etc. which create fantastic images in one’s mind. Also teenagers and adults play with smoking and taking in different substances (and the poll among teacher training students proves the interest of modern people in them – almost 90% had a trial and some still continue this slippery path), and that is much worse than any other disturbances, as they touch upon spiritual life of a person which is very subtle and not obvious from the first view, it’s not just the mind filled up with special effects from the screens.
Taking into account the state of affairs Swami Rama highlights the problems of aspirants, saying that “…the modern student thinks that if he is not having dramatic or extraordinary experiences his mantra must be wrong or that there could be a better teacher or practice. He seeks a new mantra or a new teacher. But if one repeatedly switches his practice he will make no progress.”
Also most present-day practitioners, as a consequence of the current western culture, get used to quick results, which they can get without effort. Many of them think that everything could be reached easily as buying goods in a supermarket, or as easy as a super-hero in a movie. So the author also states that “…another kind of student does not practice regularly-yet he expects extraordinary experiences to dawn without any effort. The majority of students today expect to have their Kundalini awakened by teachers and gurus rather than through their own efforts.”
So the modern times is rather contradictory and challenging – we get a lot of information which was secret, we have rather enough free time to practice, we have all facilities needed to live without the help of society, but the external world is so disturbing that one must have great attitude and will to practice with persistence, patience and devotion.
I believe it is important for yoga aspirants to understand that yoga practice is not about reaching special abilities be they fantastic siddhis, as in Star Wars movies, or even just good stretch abilities to perform complicated yogasanas. Because yoga is not about outer but the inner world, so that an adept becomes an alchemist of his own nature, but not the magician to change the outer world with super-powers. And in “The Path of Fire and Light” the author emphasizes that “…a competent teacher will not encourage the student to develop special abilities or powers such as clairvoyance because they are only side paths: pursuing these as goals leads one off the main path of enlightenment.
A teacher who brags about or attempts to profit from such special abilities can only hamper the student's progress and should be avoided.”
As Swami Rama states: “…siddhis are not harmful in themselves, but they may become so when they are abused or become the instruments of wrongful actions.” So they work as a seduction for the person who already conquered ordinary human desires. So as I understand ego is not dissolved until a human reached full illumination and become a Buddha, thus the ego is always on the way, and it grows with each achievement on the spiritual path, creating more and more traps, more and more complex to test one’s awareness.
So “…they may expose the possessor to his own egoistic and destructive tendencies and may lead to spiritual regression if he uses these siddhis wrongfully.” Also Swami Rama gives an explanation: “Siddhis are spoken of as being like possessions: they are not to be sought after, lest they become obstructions to the aspirant. In the same manner that a man may dote on his wealth, so that the wealth becomes a great preoccupation for him, constricting his consciousness, so also may siddhis become hindrances.“
Thus Shiva (or Rudra) Grandhi creates a great obstacle for a yoga aspirant to overcome. As I understand it is a great pride that doesn’t give a person to stop his path and feel as a god. So only surrender to God which includes understanding that it is not just me who has the abilities, but it is the Great Force of the Universe that is going through and there’s nothing to hold or possess. Of course these are just words of theoretical understanding, which is not the guarantee of overcoming this state of mind. However, “forewarned is forearmed”.
2. Concepts that affected my personal practice of yoga
2.1. Control VS Surrender
Swami Rama describes the goal of Pranayama as a step-by-step way to gain control over different levels of mind-body: “The first goal of these breathing exercises is to control the prana vayu, so that the disturbing forces arising from within are eliminated and the mind becomes focused and one-pointed… Later the entire involuntary system is made voluntary. Voluntary control leads the aspirant to a state of Samadhi.”
I think that in western culture "control" is understood in the wrong way, because people are used to live with ego as a guide so that the sense of individuality is very strong, while in eastern culture people have (or at least had in ancient times) a sense of interconnection of everything and they had wisdom of unity of people nature and Dao (or God or Path to God), so in ancient Asia the concept of unity was given right from birth and doesn't need explanation. It was obvious for them.
However for westerners it's a new-age idea. Just 50-100 years is too little in comparison with centuries and thousands of years. So the spirit of individuality and separation is very strong in westerners and we have tendency to misinterpret information for own benefit, because Ego is the commander in the beginner of yoga practice.
Thus, I believe control is the way of becoming a Siddhi, but not a liberated Yogi. Techniques give benefits for one but doesn't give understanding of the Source of these Siddhis, so having control over prana will give abilities to accomplish one's goal, but there's no guarantee that this goal are from Higher Wisdom. The more will power is developed the harder it is to understand whether it's individual power of the power of Pure Will.
For me personally, devotion is the only way to dissolve ego. Of course, it's not an easy way, not a panacea, because each moment ego is alert and is ready to strike – so being devoted, one should be aware not to let individual desires to enter the will power, not let it interfere into the energy, otherwise taking a moment of unconsciousness, the moment of fading will, of losing sight – it takes the smallest spot and even a slight temptation sucks the energy as a vampire and gets power from the main Source.
And then it's harder to see it, harder to maintain and only surrender, inner awareness as sharp as a blade and intransigent as death, one should face his weaknesses and find the point of losing awareness, the point of giving ego the steering wheel, and surrender.
Svarodaya - the science of the tattvas - reveals a very important part of yoga: the interdependence of body-mind with the Sun and the Moon, how the cycles of seasons on the Earth and Moon calendar influence the body-mind, and how a yogi should adapt his practice according to this knowledge.In the Path of Fire and Light it is stated that “To attain freedom from the cycle of births and deaths one must attain control over the breath, therefore the aspirant who desires liberation persists in his practices” …of Prāṇāyāma (techniques) with the knowledge of Svarodaya (science).
Thus, a yogi should observe the patterns of breath during the day, week, month, year according to the Laws of celestial objects. Doing so “a yogi acts correspondingly and has success in all he does.”It’s interesting to note that during the last 2 years, I was checking my mood and events that happened during the day with Mood calendar.
In the beginning I checked it in the morning and then was tracking the event according to what I’ve learned from a day description and recommendations of the interpreter. Later I was tracking the event and mood during the day and then matched the day history with the calendar. And mostly it really looked like a prophecy.
What is interesting about Svarodaya that it gives knowledge about body-mind and everything that happens around you: it creates the bridge between the macro and micro cosmos, between inner and outer, between time and space. Thus, Swami Rama notes that “True yogi keeps the sun and the moon in proper order and true knowledge of past and future is easy and clear”.
Also Swami Rama presents two very important statements, which continue to answer my question of Control or/and Surrender: He says that “the process of gaining control of breath gives knowledge on the aspects and phases of the breath.” And then states that “to awaken Kundalini, a yogi should control his mind and confine moon and sun, and letting the place of nectar is dried by svadhistana fire - Kundalini awakens herself.”
I interpret this in the way that a yogi masters his control of breath and mind, but getting closer to the point of Samadhi he should be able to let go. This is a puzzle for my mind and challenge for my practice, because it’s hard to unite two opposing acts. I believe this is like to accept the life itself with all its contradictions.
Swami Rama thoroughly describes different aspects of yoga practice taking into account many nuances. Reading his elaborated text brings joy and delight of the level of his consciousness and awareness. For me personally, it was a great relief and amazement to read about the changes that may happen to an adept that happened and in the process happening with me.
For example he notes that “the body is continually undergoing changes caused by one's own habits and actions, …environment, …and other influences beyond the realm of human control. These continually changing physical circumstances affect one's mental state.”
Therefore there are too many aspects that impact one’s mind, which can’t be calculated by a common human brain at once. Though I always tried to do that and it brought only dissatisfaction, because I always found reasons only in myself, being not tolerant at all, even feeling constant self-flagellation, which brought depression in the end.
Furthermore Swami Rama states that “the mind may also give rise to chains of thought that are totally foreign to the natural temperament of the individual and make him question his sanity.”
That really happened to me, and I was going through really hard times, when my inner critic captured all the power and it seemed that this is the end of sanity and life on the whole.Soon it came to me that a human brain is like an aerial, which gets all the waves its bandwidth can find and catch, thus it is important to develop detachment from the inner dialogue which never stops as a ‘Perpetuum Mobile’. One shouldn’t struggle with it, but be indifferent, until the situation is really worth being analyzed or processed in another way.
Here’s is important to mention an interesting interpretation of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, where the sutra “yogas-chitta-vritti-nirodhah” is translated as not “Yoga is a cessation/termination of frictions of the mind”, but “Yoga is a termination of [association of oneself with] frictions of the mind”.
Which sounds really true, because everything inside and outside is flowing: the brain thinks, the heart beats, water in the river and clouds in the sky are moving, prana is moving – it’s the essence of life. Thus, yoga is the change from illusion that “I am thinking”, “I am body” – to another state of being: “I am That”.
3. Concepts that changed the way I teach yoga
3.1. Mantra Meditation
Swami Rama presents a definition of meditation as a process: “a practice of focusing Manas (the mind-stuff) without wavering.” And a result: “it is a state whereby Buddhi (the intellect) closely examines the thought upon which it is concentrated, and develops the ability to discriminate.”
It’s interesting that the author notes that only a disciplined mental training consciously identifying with the object of meditation may lead to the state, which is mentioned above.
However, when describing the steps of getting to the goal – which I understand as achieving the “consciousness of Buddhi” – he states that “the awareness of the process is gradually eliminated”, so that mantra “becomes increasingly automatic” and then “consciousness decreases until one ceases to be conscious of it at all… until at last the repetition is performed quite automatically and quite unconsciously”.
Thus, there comes a question why Swami Rama claims that “Buddhi consciousness” arises in the process of automatic unconscious repetition of a mantra? If we follow Swami Rama’s logic it happens to be there’re two types of consciousness: “objective consciousness” (mind) and “absolute consciousness” (Buddhi), and repeating brings “the loss of awareness of one’s separateness” (mind) and lets Buddhi to come in.
It’s important to note that there’s just the opposite (or it seems so from the 1st sight) approach which claims that only total conscious pronunciation of mantra with certain intonation of Sanskrit and deep understanding and feeling of the mantra’s essence can bring Buddhi and enlightenment.
So that an adept tunes with the certain vibrations of sound to catch the flow or wave of the mantra, to dive into its meaning with total absorption and devotion. Otherwise, an adept may repeat any words and get enlightened. If so there’s no sense in mantras at all, including their deep meaning, history and philosophy.
It’s interesting to mention that Swami Rama presents the idea of getting into the studies of theory and philosophy of yoga which he believes is essential on the Path of Yoga. He states that “it is necessary for the aspirant to have a clear and comprehensive knowledge of the chakras before he begins treading this path of inner light.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika says that it is important not to philosophize yoga, but practice, practice, practice. As I understood this as that all external knowledge has no sense, because the true knowledge comes from within in the process of yoga.
Surely, being really critical to all the information that comes from outside and inside it's hard to affirm whether one thing or another is true or not. But we all come from a family and a society, which taught us some “truths” about life, which need a reboot. Some sources of information and more likely some people bring closer to the shift of the mind, however only a person himself can do the real reboot to be able to receive the true knowledge and stick to the “Path of Fire and Light”.
Swami Rama notes that yoga is a very complex and extensive science, which includes “the study of the body, the nervous system, and the life forces that govern bodily functions,… careful study of the mind, its modifications, and all states of consciousness, as well as the philosophy of the universe and of human relationships.”
I believe it is important to keep to the middle way and grasp all the information possible, and on the basis of own experience process the knowledge and share it with the aspirants. Thus, it is necessary to master skills of critical thinking, which should become as hard and as sharp as a diamond Vajra – to be able to separate “the wheat from the chaff”, as Kali with the Sword of Truth in her left hand cutting off everything that one should let go off, which is essential in our Age of Information and the epoch called Kali Yuga.
“The Path of Fire and Light” states several times that it is essential to keep to the golden mean in all aspects of life, and especially in yoga practice.
It’s amazing that there’re prescribed environmental conditions for optimal functioning of a human body: “the mind itself can only work well within certain limits of temperature. The greatest mental efficiency occurs at a temperature between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22-24C).” Thus, it is essential to live at place where the weather that helps yoga practice - with suitable temperature, humidity, and supply of necessary food and water, which was mentioned in Gheranda Samhita.
Also it is important to follow rules of timing in taking meals, because “the mind cannot be clear and centered when the stomach is filled with food or when the bloodstream is full of nutrients. Food makes the breath heavy, and the mind in turn becomes inert.”
Sleep regulation is also essential. In Buddhists scriptures it is said that too much sleep destroys all spiritual enthusiasm. Even by not yielding to the influence of sleep for a night or two, one gains strength, an occasional vigil is truly helpful. Therefore one should eliminate, step by step, the qualities of sloth, sleep, confusion, temptation, infatuation, and the sense of blankness.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that "neither he who does not sleep nor he who sleeps too much; neither he who works too much nor he who does not work – none of these can be adepts at yoga."
Swami Rama recommends to “remembering that food, sex, sleep, and self-preservation are the main, primitive fountains that need to be understood and regulated so that they do not deviate from their path. Each of these urges has an equally powerful impact on the human body and mind.“
And further Swami Rama makes a very important statement that “there should be a balance in regulating these urges. Students need to give equal attention to the regulation of each of these urges rather than to give excessive attention to any one of these drives.”
That is why yoga is really both art and science of self-evaluation, because no one but you personally can feel the waves of nature which should be studied and regulated for the benefit of yoga practice and balance of body-mind-spirit.
As Swami Rama concludes: “Overdoing one's practice is certain to bring about mental dullness and tiredness, and will prevent true progress. Therefore one should be moderate, both in habits and in the practice of meditation.” Thus, that should be achieved by the teacher, so that he can teach others to keep the equilibrium.