As we rise along the helix, we will view old landscapes renewed by higher and higher angles of vision. On this helical path, we will find ourselves ever returning to the same old problems — albeit in increasingly subtle forms. I certainly can attest to this being so. Progress certainly occurs, but our old patterns are so deeply embedded that we have to unravel and dissolve them only gradually; it is a rare yogi indeed who is ripe to drop them all at once, and that only comes from many lifetimes of preparation. Instead of becoming discouraged when a complex we thought we’d taken care of once again rears its head, we are better served to make thoughtful use of our resources and explore new strategies.
In Siddhasiddhantapaddhatih (SSP), a venerable document attributed to Gorakhnath, the disciple of Sri Matsyendranath, every metaphysical subject is broken down into fives. Each of the five elements is given five qualities, for example. We already have the five kleshas, dating at least to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Gorakhnath’s SSP gives us another valuable conceptual tool: the five vyomas or voids. These voids are also found in the Mandalabrahanopanishad (MBU), and it is the particular order found in this text that we will use here.
The first void is akasha, the most subtle of the five gross elements itself. It is formless and without the slightest taint. This densest of voids is none other than space itself, which is left when all material forms reach their end just as it was prior to them all. To bring another five onto the field, when the annamayakosha, the physical body itself, has suffered death, akasha is the last element experienced by the individual. As such, contemplation of akasha as being within the body in its totality, and the body’s resultant dissolution of boundaries and expansion to infinity, acts as solvent to the fear of death. When the body itself is experienced as the formless space mentioned so many times in Avadhuta Gita, what “life” is there left to cling to?
The second void is parakasha, corresponding to the dissolution of pranamayakosha. When the envelope of vital energy returns to its Source, the all-pervasive Prana Sakti, the consciousness experiences the void in the form of Kalagni — the Fire of Time which brings about the final destruction of all forms, ending one universe so that another may be born. Parakasha, then, is seen here and now as the capacity and even inevitibility in each object, body, cell, atom, and particle to bring about its own unraveling when the time is right. When contemplated, parakasha can be seen as an endless expanse of inferno which some religions interpret as an eternal hell but which yogis know to be the very possibility of transformation at the heart of every form. Such contemplation undermines repulsion, hatred, and disgust by reminding us that the essence of all forms is the same bhasma, the same holy ash, that we harvest from our dhunis. What, then, to cause revulsion?
When manomayakosha, the collating and reflective mind, dissolves, it does so into the third void of mahakasha. This void is pure white like the light of the full Moon reflecting in infinite recursion to silvery perfection. This is the true nature of the mind spoken of so poetically in the literature of Zen. Contemplation of this void, merging the mind in its own nature, erodes the obstruction of attachment. It is not possible to grasp the Moon’s light, nor its reflection in the still pond.
Even the intellect, vijnanamayakosha, falls back into its own nature and the soul experiences suryakasha. Where mahakasha is like the light of the full Moon, soft and cool though bright, suryakasha is a void like the Sun: intense and hot. When refracted through the individual intellect, this pure light breaks apart into the variegated shades of the ego, but here it is united in itself as true understanding. This experience uproots egotism. While we will have ego for as long as we are alive, that ego may be facing outward (as it usually is for the bulk of humanity) or inward (as we aim for in Yoga). Here, we turn it inward upon itself, and it sees its own unreality, its own nature of being only this void of light misperceived. Egotism is the continuous reification of the ego, and egotism ends when the ego is allowed to relax back into this endless void of unqualified light.
The final envelope, the anandamayakosha, is known as both the envelope of bliss and as the causal body. When we identify with this body, we feel great bliss, but this is not the bliss of liberation and so can be deceptive. Here is where many would-be yogis will stop, believing themselves to be fully awake and reintegrated; Patanjali and his commentators discuss this state as melting into the substance of Nature (prakrtilaya), a state which feels like the final Union but which is not yet perfect; Chinese Zen literature refers to this state as standing on the top of a 100’ pole, a position of exhilaration but also of stagnation from which one must make a decisive leap to achieve the final accomplishment. The causal body is not dissimilar from the Buddhist idea of the storehouse consciousness. Under either name, it is the seedbed into which karmas are planted and from which they sprout and eventually bear fruit. It is also, therefore, the body of ignorance. We subvert it directly by contemplating the fifth and final void, tatvakasha (SSP) or paramakasha (MBU). Tatvakasha, the void of reality, is only the Nature of the Self alone. It is neither light, nor fire, nor darkness; it is not of the nature of the Sun or the Moon or of Agni. This contemplation is not different from the Atma Vichara of Sri Ramana Maharshi or of the turning the lantern around of Zen. Here is where we find Alpha Ovule, the minute point between Consciousness and Nature, which simultaneously joins, separates, and paradoxically encompasses both.
Or, anyway, that’s one yogi’s take.