The path of darkness and the path of light

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In the Indian scriptures, concern only with the ida, or concern only with the pingala, is called the dark path - the path of the pitaras (ancestors). This is the path of delusion.

Simultaneous awakening and balance of the ida and pingala is called the path of light - the path of the devas (divine beings). This is the path where there is simultaneous expansion of inner awareness combined with corresponding action in the outside world.

This is such an important topic that it is mentioned in many texts. For the purpose of illustration and explanation, we will give quotations from the Ishavasya Upanishad: "Those who only follow the path of avidya (action in the outside world) enter into blinding darkness. Conversely, those who are engrossed only in vidya (inner knowledge of the mind or more specifically meditational practices) also enter into blinding darkness." (verse 9) This is a clear statement that should be remembered: both those who try to open up the ida (inner world) alone through meditational practices and those who are concerned only with the pingala (worldly activities), remain deluded.

The same idea is further expanded in the next verse: "The wise have told us that meditational practices alone and external activity alone will each give a different result." (verse 10) A certain level of understanding is attained through total concern with worldly activities; another level of understanding is attained through total concern with exploration ofthe mind through meditational practices. But each eventually becomes a block to further progress. The text continues: "He who knows both vidya (the inner world) and avidya (the outer world) crosses the abyss of death through avidya and attains immortality through vidya." (verse 11) These three verses are probably the most important verses in the entire literature of the Upanishads.

Both extroversion and introversion must be practised together. Neither must be rejected. One must simultaneously do medita-tional practices to unfold inner awareness and also work. There should be continual observation of and alertness to the inner process of the mind, while simultaneously acting in the world. This is the path of light, the path of the devas. Balance is given to both the ida and pingala. One becomes a man of inner knowledge while acting in the world. Both karma yoga (the yoga of action) and dhyana yoga (the yoga of meditation) are combined and integrated into one's life.

Let us explain the meaning of the word 'death' given in verse 11. It does not mean death in the usual sense of the word. It means the death of delusion - the death of laya (loss of awareness) during meditational practices.

This laya is the greatest block during medi-tational techniques; it is the obstacle of unconsciousness. People reach a certain stage in their practices where they are unable to maintain awareness. They get lost in a hazy reverie or fall asleep. To progress in unfolding one's dormant potential and to tread the spiritual path, one must pass beyond this laya.

The method of overcoming this obstacle is by doing karma yoga and by interaction with the outside world. This laya is excessive tamas in one's nature. By intense karma yoga one can elevate one's nature so that it becomes more rajasic. This will counteract the tendency for laya to occur in meditative practices. It is through work in the outside world that one will exhaust one's samskaras (problems and negative attitudes, etc.). It is these samskaras that cause this unconscious state to arise. They tend to clog the mind and prevent clarity. It is through karma yoga and interaction with other people and life in general that one recognizes and eventually removes one's problems. It is by doing karma yoga that one is able to cross the barrier of unconsciousness - the 'abyss of death' (according to verse 11). When the mind has been harmonized and purged of gross phobias, problems, neuroses, etc., then one can maintain awareness to cross the sea of laya (unconsciousness). It is after this point that one starts to explore the superconscious realms of being.

What is the meaning of gaining 'immortality through vidya' in verse 11 ? It means that when one has crossed the 'valley of death' - the tendency to become unconscious in meditation - then one expands awareness to an unlimited degree. One is able to transcend the fetters of existence and eventually merge into a state of samadhi, the state of immortality, beyond the limitations of the mind.

Verse 11 contains the essence of spiritual life. It emphasizes that the serious spiritual aspirant should be both extroverted and introverted, practising meditation or watching the process of the mind to develop inner awareness, while simultaneously working in the world to resolve any mental and emotional problems. This is the path of light where the ida is balanced with the pingala. It is this path of light that leads to the rising of the kundalini within sushumna. It is this path of light that leads to spiritual awakening.

The path of light (devayana) and the path of darkness (pitriyana) are also mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita (chapter 8:23 onwards), where they are called the northern and southern paths of the sun. It has the same profound implications. In the Prashna Upanishad, the sage Pippalada gives a similar analogy and the same message in response to a question by his disciple Kabandhi. There are many other scriptures that discuss the same theme. If you are interested, look in the ancient texts yourself for confirmation.

Work or inner knowledge? If we have a pair of hands, a pair of legs and good health, how is it possible not to work? If we have the tools then they should be used. Yet many people are misguided into thinking that if one wants illumination, or to tread the spiritual path, then one should stop work, or perhaps reduce one's work and be solely concerned with the inner workings of the mind. Many people have said that work (karma) and knowledge are mutually exclusive; that if you want illumination then you will have to leave all work and practise meditation day and night. All these ideas are totally wrong and have arisen through misinterpretation of the scriptures and the sages. Not only is this idea wrong, but if followed then it will iead to frustration, lack of progress and blockages on the spiritual path. Many people have made this mistake and are still making this mistake. So make sure you supplement your meditational techniques with some form of action.

It is very easy to see how this misconception about work has arisen. Like many misunderstandings, it has arisen through the inadequacy of words to define more subtle implications and the fact that words can be interpreted in different ways according to the feelings and dogmas of the individual. The Sanskrit word for work is karma. Many of the ancient texts clearly state that karma does not lead to illumination, but here karma does not mean work as such; it means rituals and worship performed without feeling or awareness. And this is absolutely true. This type of karma will not lead to illumination, only dullness and ignorance.

The word karma also means any kind of work that is done blindly and instinctively, without awareness. This too will lead nowhere on the spiritual path. One should not stop working: continue to work, to do karma, but while trying to maintain awareness. This is achieved by the aspiration and wakefulness of the individual. This awareness during work is also slowly intensified by doing prescribed yogic techniques such as asanas, pranayama, meditational practices, bhakti yoga and so forth. To maintain a balance of the ida and pingala aspect it is necessary to combine karma yoga with dhyana yoga. To continue to act in the world is essential for spiritual awakening, but one's work and actions should be done with as much awareness as possible. Work is the means to recognize one's problems; it also helps to express and remove them. So don't think of rejecting work or action, but remain detached and transform mere work into karma yoga. Try not to be affected by the ups and downs of work, and don't stop working.

This subject of work and action combined with meditation is the main theme of the Bhagavad Gita, the classical yogic text par excellence. It constantly emphasizes that one should never renounce actions, only their fruits. One should only renounce attachment to actions and work. The Bhagavad Gita urges the spiritual aspirant to work according to the dictates of his dharma (role in life that comes naturally, that suits one's abilities) but at the same time one should try to become more aware of the inner psycbic world through meditational practice. In this sense, the Bhagavad Gita is really discussing the balance of the ida and the pingala, without actually mentioning them by name. The whole theme of the Bhagavad Gita is balance of ida and pingala.

The importance of action and work in spiritual life is clearly illustrated by the following experience related to us by Swami Satyananda: "Before being initiated as a swami I used to lapse into a state of unconsciousness; I could never go past this state of laya. Eventually I went to seek the guidance of Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh. The first thing he told me was: You have to work; you have to work out your samskaras (mental impressions)'." He could have said: "Go and practise meditation for a few years in a quiet place," but he did not. He said: work', for he knew that this is the only way to resolve inner disharmonies. Swami Sivananda knew that meditative practices have to be balanced by external action; the ida and pingala have to be balanced. The mind has to be opened up and purified through both work (karma yoga) and meditative practices.

If you come to this ashram you will also be expected to work throughout the day. This is not to provide cheap labour for the ashram or for the sake of the ashram upkeep, for there are many other people available and willing to do the work necessary for the smooth functioning of the ashram. You will be expected to work for your own sake, for your spiritual progress. This work is one of the most important aspects of ashram life, and actually the biggest problem is not finding people to do work, but finding enough work to keep people busy. This work is important in gradually purifying the mind, especially in the early stages of spiritual life.

Many people try to completely absorb themselves in meditative practices. They cease to take an active part in the world and often retire to a quiet retreat. Many people, sincere and genuine people have done this for years and they have achieved nothing, apart from frustration and disillusionment. They have followed only the ida path. They have failed to gain the illumination that they so desperately wanted. They did not realize that illumination cannot come until one's karmas have been worked out. One has to exhaust and express the inherent desires and ambitions, otherwise they merely remain in a dormant state in the mind. The samskaras - latent problems, drives and attachments to the enjoyments of the world - have to be worked out. This can only be done by interacting and working in the world, by following the principles of karma yoga to the best of your ability. This is the means to clean the mind of its latent problems. This is the pingala aspect. At the same time one should also follow the path of ida, by trying to be aware while working and acting, and by trying to expand inner awareness through meditational practices. This is the way to spiritual unfoldment. It is not by becoming a hermit and rejecting the world.

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