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#1837 - Wednesday, June 23, 2004 - Editor: Jerry
poet Mattie Stepanek dies
One of the best-selling poets in recent years http://edition.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/books/06/22/obit.stepanek.ap/index.html
ANNAPOLIS, Maryland (AP) -- Mattie Stepanek, the child poet whose inspirational verse made him a best-selling writer and a prominent voice for muscular dystrophy sufferers, died Tuesday of a rare form of the disease. He was 13.
Stepanek died at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, the hospital said. He had been hospitalized since early March for complications related to the disease that impaired most of his body's functions.
In his short life, the tireless Stepanek wrote five volumes of poetry that sold millions of copies. Three of the volumes reached the New York Times' best-seller list. (Read the rest of the article at the link above.)
For Mr. Thompson
The people who like poetry are special.
They are the same people who hear
Lullabies and wind chimes
When the birds are noisy together.
They are the ones who see
Star-gifts in every season--
Tree-stars in the fall,
Snow-stars in the winter,
Dandelion-fairy-stars in the spring, and
Lightning-bug-stars in the summer.
They are the ones who have
Favorite colors that are wonderful gifts
Like sunset or rainbow or treasure.
They are the ones who have
Songs in their heart and
Words in their minds that
Come together and slip out
Into the air or onto paper as a gift
To someone else, or even themselves.
The people who like poetry are probably
The ones who really like life,
And who know how to celebrate
Even when things are sad or happy.
We remember that sometimes,
Even if we don't understand why,
That the rain falls for a reason.
We remember how important it is
To play after a storm, just because
We need to keep playing and living.
And, we are the people who remember
To say thank You to God for our gifts.
*taken from Journey Through Heartsongs by Mattie J.T. Stepanek
VSP Books, Alexandria, VA 2001
Here are a couple of items I received in
the last couple of days. The first is a book published by a new
publisher: Non-Duality Press. It features the
hard core nondual teaching of Sailor Bob Adamson. The book itself
is a paperback that is very nicely designed and bound with a
sturdy and soft paper and has a good quality binding.
The second item listed is a video from Parabola. Parabola you may recognize as a highly regarded magazine. It's a very well done film with an appropriate score. I enjoyed watching it. Jerry's the kind of guy you're going to want to meet just to go out and take walk with and not necessarily say anything. I wish they played stuff like this on television.
What's Wrong with Right Now Unless You Think About It, by Sailor Bob Adamson.
"Bob Adamson is an Australian who ended his spiritual search in 1976 in the presence of the renowned Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. Ever since, he has been helping others to end their search. When he says that he abides as That, it is a bold but convincing statement. ... Abiding as That, Adamson speaks with the authority, the force and the immediacy of truth." --Dennis Trunk
In The Hands of Alchemy: The Art and Life of Jerry Wennstrom.
A video by Parabola. Video clips and ordering info at this site:
"I enjoyed this video very much. Jerry Wennstrom did what he had to do. He destroyed his paintings (about which a film had just been made!), gave away his money and possessions, and straight-out surrendered to existence. The video shows a guy who has, as poet David Whyte says in the video, claimed his happiness. If only there were about six billion films like this waiting to be made." --Jerry Katz
from InnerBeing list
Tantra and the Teachings of Kashmir's Abhinavagupta
By Linda Johnsen Courtesy & Copyright Yoga International
Over the past decade I've talked with many yoga students across the
United States, from New York to San Francisco, and I've found that
many of us have similar issues our spiritual practice. Here are the
kinds of things I hear over and over:
"I have a really hard time motivating myself to go to work in the
morning. My job nothing to do with spiritual life, it feels empty to
"My boyfriend has been practicing yoga for six years and doesn't want
to get married. He says yoga teaches it's important not to get
"I used to be interested in politics and what was going on in the
world. These days I'm much less involved because I know now the world
is nothing but an illusion."
"I've been meditating since I was twenty but I'm still tormented by
desire. I keep thinking of things I want: more sex, more success,
more money Then I feel guilty!"
'I'm not sure if the form of yoga I've been practicing is right for
me. My friend goes to another yoga center and says the techniques
they teach there are much better."
"My meditation teacher keeps talking about self-realization. But I
strongly believe in God. Where does God fit in with meditation?"
These are not new problems-yoga practitioners have been dealing with
these issues for centuries. A thousand years ago one of the greatest
and most influential yogis of all time produced a great body of
literature that addressed these problems in a practical way. His name
was Abhinavagupta. He was the consummate master in a field of
spirituality much discussed but little understood here in the West:
Abhinavagupta was born in Kashmir to an illustrious family of
scholars around 950 C.E. He was brilliant, and so passionate about
learning that he sought out the best teachers of his time. Latter he
would advise yoga students, "Be like the bee that gathers pollen from
many flowers and then makes its own honey. Learn from the greatest
masters you can find, then practice and assimilate what you've
Today we think of Kashmir as a battlefield, but a thousand years ago
it was a haven of religious tolerance where Buddhist, Jain, and
numerous different Hindu schools flourished together in an atmosphere
of mutual respect. Abhinava steeped himself in the wisdom of these
traditions, but he finally joined the lineage that resonated most
deeply with his intelligent and passionate nature: the tantric
tradition of Kashmir Shaivism.
Around 800 C.E. the Siva Sutra, a set of aphorisms explaining the
essential nature of consciousness and how you can experience it for
yourself, was revealed to a North Indian sage named Vasugupta.
Expanding on the Shiva Sutra, Vasugupta composed the Spanda Karika,
which describes the limitless power of awareness and what happens
when you master it. These two classics deal respectively with Shiva,
the "male" or passive element of reality, and Shakti, the female" or
active component of the universe. To understand these teachings you
need to keep in mind that while Western religions tend to picture the
Supreme Being exclusively as male, in India it is seen as both male
and female. Eternal pure awareness is called God in this system,
while the ability of consciousness to know itself and to manifest the
cosmos out of itself is described as the Goddess.
Vasugupta had an ambitious agenda. He taught his disciple how to
achieve two important goals: to become fully divine and to become
fully human. To him these were not mutually exclusive. In fact, to
become a truly successful and fulfilled human being meant to connect
at the deepest level possible with the full range of power innate in
consciousness itself, unfolding the divine potential hidden in every
human soul. However, like the Yoga Sutra, Vasugupta's aphorisms were
succinct, compact, and difficult to decipher. Abhinavagupta's
contribution was to explain and illustrate these principles in his
numerous books, among them The Trident of Wisdom, The Ocean of
Tantra, and the encyclopedic The Light of Tantra (Tantraloka)-one of
the great classics on yoga. To appreciate Abhinavagupta's perspective
on spiritual practice, we need to understand how he views
consciousness and its special powers.
Consciousness and Creative Power
The goal of Kashmir Shaivism is to become divine. But what would it
be like to be God? Some yoga students, especially those who've
studied Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, or Vedanta philosophy as taught by
Shankaracharya, may imagine the Supreme Being as pure consciousness
without an object, undisturbed awareness that rests eternally in its
own perfect nature. But there's one glaring problem with this
picture, Abhinavagupta points out. If reality is nothing but pure
awareness, it's hard to explain how the universe came into existence
Somehow we've got to account for the fact that we're not experiencing
just the rapture of consciousness itself; we're also experiencing all
the things that clutter it, like noisy neighbors and computer crashes
and lousy weather.
It is our innermost nature to be creative and active, to will and to
desire, to know and to enjoy.
Patanjali would respond that the cosmos we experience around us
exists entirely outside our consciousness. It's just external
matter/energy that our higher self observes, but never actually
interacts with. Liberation means turning our awareness away from the
external world, including our own body (which after all is also made
of matter/energy) and remaining totally focused on pure, passive
Abhinavagupta rejects this view. He does not believe two separate
absolutes-consciousness (purusha) and matter/energy (prakriti)-exist
apart from each other. He says there is only one supreme reality, and
it includes our bodies and our world. There is a fundamental unity
connecting everything, he tells us, that is both the source and final
end of everything in the cosmos. Consciousness and matter/energy are
not separate, but two ends of one undivided spectrum, like two poles
of a single magnet.
Abhinavagupta points out that in our actual experience awareness is
much more than the simple, passive inner witness mentioned in the
Yoga Sutra. Every meditator knows that no matter how still your
consciousness becomes, at some point images, thoughts, and desires
spontaneously well up in the field of your awareness. This, says
Abhinavagupta, is because consciousness is inherently creative; it
basks in its own radiance, constantly filling itself with every kind
of content and taking genuine delight in its own endless productions.
According to Abhinavagupta, if we want to understand the nature of
the Supreme Being we need only to look into our own nature. Jiva, the
individual soul, is a smaller version of Shiva, the Supreme Soul,
because we, like our maker, are conscious, creative beings. And just
as it is our innermost nature to be creative and active, to will and
to desire, to know and to enjoy, so it is the nature of Divine Being
to freely and consciously manifest the universe through an act of
"And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light," says the
Bible. Abhinavagupta's form of Tantra Yoga agrees that through its
limitless creative power and will, Shiva, the Supreme Being, can
effortlessly project a universe into existence just as we can make a
fantasy lover or an imaginary tropical beach instantly appear in our
mind's eye. But while the Bible seems to suggest the universe exists
outside of God, Abhinavagupta explains the universe doesn't exist
apart from Shiva anymore than the images in our dreams exist outside
Think about it. When you're dreaming you may experience yourself as
an Antarctic explorer lost in a blizzard. Suddenly your mother
appears with a thermos of steaming French Roast coffee and you find
yourself in a comfortable chalet. You experience yourself as an
individual in that dream, yet the coffee, your mother, even the
entire continent of Antarctica were nothing but projections of your
own power of awareness.
"In just this way the entire universe composed of limitless objects
appears all together in the Supreme Consciousness," Abhinavagupta
wrote. The Supreme Being, though it is intrinsically unitary, is able
to split itself into subject, object, and the process of the subject
knowing the object just as we do when we dream. And it does this from
outside of time and space and without ever ceasing to be omniscient,
omnipotent, and omnipresent.
Why does Shiva do this? The Supreme Being brims with rapture,
Abhinavagupta explains, spilling out of itself with joy. Shiva is
consciousness (chit) which doesn't merely take things in passively
but has the ability to reflect back on itself, to know itself
(vimarsha). This self-knowledge is the source of infinite delight
(ananda). This bliss in turn is the source of creative activity
(kriya). When Shiva's limitless awareness expands out across itself
the universe come into existence and we, as figments of Shiva's
imagination, experience ourselves as individual entities moving
through a world that Shiva's will holds in place. When Shiva
withdraws its awareness back into its silent depths the universe
subsides into perfect tranquility, as the images in our minds do when
we fall into a deep state of sleep.
What evidence is there that all this talk of Shiva's experience is
anything more than words? Abhinavagupta cites the experience of
cosmic consciousness reported by mystics in many different spiritual
traditions and tells us that in vastly expanded states of awareness
the greatest saints and yogis actually experience themselves as
Shiva. They feel their consciousness widening until it embraces the
cosmos, which they feel vibrating with bliss and self-awareness. The
distinction between their own I-consciousness and Shiva's melts away
and they merge into infinity.
Five Veils of Consciousness
Needless to say, most of us are not presently experiencing ourselves
as Shiva. Why not? When Shiva wills to create, Abhinavagupta
explains, it wraps a portion of itself in five kanchukas (cloaks or
veils). The first is vidya, or knowledge. From Shiva's perspective,
however, knowledge is limiting. Shiva contains everything within
itself all at once. But in order to know anything in particular
consciousness needs to look at each item one by one. So it wraps
itself in vidya, which is the ability of the infinite to know the
finite. Now the immeasurable reality can be measured by one-limited
minds. Instead of knowing everything, however, we perceive reality in
tiny fragments fed to us by our senses.
The second veil is kala (pronounced ka-lah), the ability to
deliberately perform specific actions. Shiva's activity is always
joyful, spontaneous, perfect, and purely good. Each of us retains a
sense that we should be able to just wish things into existences;
that if we willed it hard enough, we'd have whatever we wanted. This
deep sense that our will has the power to instantly create new
realities is a vestige of the Shiva consciousness still within us.
But in our personalities Shiva's immense power is obstructed by kala,
which forces us to do one thing at a time instead of everything all
Next comes raga, attachment to or desire for something. Shiva doesn't
want anything because it already contains everything. But when we
forget that deep inside we're all Shiva, then we begin to imagine
there are things outside ourselves we want or need (just as when we
dream we think it is something other than the projection of our own
consciousness). Raga can lead to endless grief. For example, many of
us long for the perfect lover, but there's only one of those-and its
name is Shiva. We continually search for the perfection that exists
only on a higher plane of consciousness here in the physical world,
which is only a flickering reflection of the true reality. It's as if
we're trying to have a fulfilling relationship with a handsome
lover's images in a mirror rather than turning around and seeing the
true lover himself.
The fourth covering is niyati, the laws of cause and effect that
operate within the confiners of space. Unlike Shiva, whose actions
are completely natural and spontaneous, we ordinary folk consciously
choose to act, usually with specific goals in mind. But our voluntary
and often selfish actions leave us subject to the laws of karma.
Actions we deliberately undertake, as self-conscious beings, shape
our destiny, which further limits our vast potential.
"Be like the bee that gathers pollen from many flowers and then makes
its own honey. Learn from the greatest masters you can find, then
practice and assimilate what you've learned."
The fifth limiting condition-kala-is spelled the same in simplified
transliteration as the second veil, but it is pronounced differently
(kah-la), and refers to time, rather than to the ability to perform
actions. We however experience ourselves in one particular time and
place. For us the past comes before the future. Great yogis who
alight themselves with Shiva consciousness can perceive events of the
distant past or even the distant future as if they're happening in
this very moment because, for Shiva, they are.
Four Stages of Spiritual Practice
According to Abhinavagupta, if we could shake off these five veils of
consciousness we would experience ourselves as all knowing, all
pervading all powerful, purely good, and ever present. This sounds
like a tall order, but for students sincerely interested in exploring
higher states of consciousness this is not as impossible as you might
think. Abhinavagupta outlined four stages of spiritual practice that
can help us remove the five cloaking principles and actually
experience Shiva's unlimited state for ourselves.
The vast majority of yoga students are already working with at least
some of the practices of the first stage. This level is called kriya
upaya, which means "physical techniques." These include hatha yoga
postures, breathing exercises, selfless service, ritual worship,
pilgrimage, fasting, and other techniques involving our body and
physical actions. These outer actions lay the groundwork for more
advanced inner practices by strengthening and purifying our nervous
system so that our physical brain becomes capable of hosting higher
states of awareness. These practices also gradually burn away karmic
blocks that obstruct the flow of spiritual illumination. And they
help generate new, healthier attitudes toward life, enthusiasm for
spirituality, as well as the intense inner focus necessary to succeed
in our inner work.
The second stage is called shakta upaya, or "techniques involving
mental energy." These include study, contemplation, visualization,
meditation, and working with mantras mentally. They sharpen
concentration and clean out the mental debris that clutters our
thought life so that we can focus on our Shiva nature without so many
inner distractions. Shakta upayas are the homing beacons that help us
zero in on the reality that lies concealed beneath the five veils.
The third stage is shambhava upaya, or "techniques involving the use
of will." The last stage helped us identify the center of
consciousness within ourselves. Now, through a concerted effort of
will, we remain balanced at that center. This doesn't involve doing
anything or even thinking anything. Instead we continually monitor
our awareness, noting whenever out attention shifts away from our
center and gently nudging it back. We go beyond the stages of waking,
dreaming, and sleeping into turiya, the fourth state of consciousness
so highly praised by yogis. Once turiya is mastered we live life
consciously, dream lucidly, and even remain alert during the state of
The final state is anupaya, which means "the non-technique." At this
point there's no effort at all. We simply relax into our inner being
continually, resting in our true nature. At this level we enter a
superhuman state of consciousness called turiyatita, which
means "even beyond turiya." Abhinavagupta's descriptions of what this
is like sound like science fiction and yet the reality of this
condition has been attested to by many advanced yogis. At this level
the distinction between us and Shiva dissolves. We feel ourselves
pervading all of space; the universe itself becomes our body. We can
sense anything that's happening anywhere. If we sense that anyone is
in distress, through the merest flicker of our will we can send
comfort and aid. Abhinavagupta says that masters of this caliber can
create their own universes if they want to. And indeed the yoga
tradition is full of actions of Buddhas and other great siddhas who
actually manifest new heaven worlds which other souls can visit.
Active Spiritual Life
According to Abhinavagupta, cosmic consciousness is the birthright of
every human being. We have only to uncover the Shiva in ourselves.
But while we're in the process of doing this we can also be
fulfilling the second goal of Tantra Yoga: to be fully human.
Abhinavagupta encourages us not to run away from life but to embrace
it. Material life is not an illusion, he tells us, nor is it
spiritually polluting. The densest rock is as much an expression of
Shiva as the holiest saint even though the goddess of self-awareness
displays herself much more openly in the saint than in the stone.
Nature and indeed all natural processes including our desires are
sacred and deserve our respect. Our bodies and minds are the tools
Shiva uses to explore itself in infinite detail. Our desires are
natural expressions of Shiva's own life force. When we fully respect
the Shiva nature in ourselves and in everyone else, too, we will
automatically express our desires in a healthy, humane, and ethical
manner. To do anything that harms or selfishly uses others would deny
their Shivahood. Therefore you find that saints, those people most
closely attuned with the divine in themselves, treat everyone around
them with the utmost respect. They actually experience their
innermost self as Shiva, the Self of all beings.
I first studied Abhinavagupta's teachings with the late Kamalakar
Mishra, Professor at Banaras Hindu University. Dr. Mishra emphasized
how practical this expanded state of awareness really is. "It's not
an otherworldly value," he taught, "but the ground of overall success
in life. All talent and all power to work efficiently and gracefully
in every walk of life comes from Shiva, the Self, just as all the
electric power that moves fans and lights light bulbs comes from the
powerhouse. All creativity, artistic or otherwise, springs forth from
the Self. Therefore, the more a person is in line with the Self, the
more the power flows. Thus a person of Self-realization will be a
better teacher, a better philosopher, a better scientist, a better
leader, a better businessperson, a better manager."
If Abhinavagupta were here today I believe that, based on his tantric
perspective, he'd have some sensible advice for the yoga students
I've spoken with:
For the yogi who practices in this tradition it wouldn't make sense
to say that while she's sitting in meditation she's living
spiritually but when she goes to work her spiritual life shrivels. It
could be true that she needs to find a job that's more fulfilling,
but it's not true that there's any ethical line of work that's less
than spiritual. The employees we work with and the customers we serve
are aspects of Shiva who deserve our attention and respect. Every
situation we find ourselves in becomes a practicum for cultivating
Yoga students don't need to turn their backs on relationship to be
spiritual and shouldn't say they need to cultivate "non-attachment"
in order to avoid commitment or responsibility. Shiva is not just
consciousness, it's also bliss, and that bliss finds expression in
loving, supportive human relations.
Nor is the world a bitter illusion we ought to shun. Our world is the
play of Shiva and within that play each of us has been assigned a
role. Active engagement with the world, helping make it a better
place, is a worthy and important practice for yoga students.
There's no need to beat yourself over the head because you experience
desire. Accept them as healthy expressions of the life energy of the
universe itself. But direct them carefully and respectfully and
without unrealistic expectations.
"All talent and all power to work efficiently and gracefully in every
walk of life comes from Shiva, the Self, just as all the electric
power that moves fans and lights lightbulbs comes from the
For the student who worries her spiritual practices might not be as
effective as someone else's Abhinavagupta would advise her that there
are different levels of yoga practice. Each is specifically designed
for the particular stage of development a student has reached so far.
He'd probably suggest that she honesty identify whether her primary
focus is physical, mental, or spiritual, and begin working with the
practices that are right for her. Abhinavagupta also strongly
believed in the ability of qualified teachers to help us along the
spiritual path. He would encourage her to search for a Self-realized
guru from an authentic lineage. Once she'd made a commitment to that
particular path, she should stick with it, he'd say. Responding to
the student who wonders what part God has to play in yoga,
Abhinavagupta would no doubt point out that in the West "God" is a
divisive word. Religions here insist their god is the true one, and
everyone else's is false. Therefore teachers from India often avoid
that word. But yoga teaches there really is only one Divine Being;
whatever name you call it, and that by cultivating. Self-realization
each of us grows closer and closer to that Supreme Being.
Twenty-five years ago I was involved in intensive study of the Yoga
Sutra with my meditation teacher, Swami Rama of the Himalayas. The
states of consciousness it described seemed so advanced that I was
shocked when one day Swamiji referred to this classic texts as "just
a primer. The real yogis," he said "work on much higher levels." He
was a practitioner of Sri Vidya, a yogic tradition that honors the
Great Goddess, or power of consciousness, and is closely allied with
Abhinavagupta's tradition. It was startling to learn that while the
Yoga Sutra leads us to the stage of Self-realization, many yogis
proceed from there to the still higher level of God-realization.
Classical Yoga leads to the experience of your innermost being. The
Tantra Yoga of Abhinavagupta leads to the experience of the innermost
being of the entire universe.
Abhinavagupta was more than an accomplished scholar; he was a
mahasiddha-a yogi of the first magnitude. At the close of his life he
disappeared into a cave near Srinagar to perform intense yogic
disciplines. According to legend, twelve hundred of his students
entered the cave with him to devote the rest of their lives to
uninterrupted meditation in the presence of this great master. The
clarity of his vision and his remarkable willingness and ability to
explain the highest states of consciousness and how to actually
attain them distinguish Abhinavagupta as one of the most brilliant
and generous spiritual teachers in the history of yoga.
Linda Johnsen, M.S., is the author of Meditation is Boring? Putting
Life in Your Spiritual Practice; The Complete Idiot's Guide to
Hinduism; Alpha Teach Yourself Yoga; and A Thousand Suns, a book on
ancient Indian astrology. Her web address is www.ThousandSuns.org.
This article appeared in the January 2004 issue of Yoga
International. The magazine has super articles in a very simple, easy
to understand language. If you like to subscribe within India write
to Payal Sehgal: [email protected] or if in the U.S. go to
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