In my book The Magickal Union of East and West, there is a description of a practice from ashtanga yoga, the Surya Namascar (“Sun Salutation”). While the description is traditional, without instruction it can be difficult to follow.
My friend Andria Degens is certified instructor of yoga with her own practice in Hastings. She has studied and practiced extensively in India and the UK (see her full bio here). Andria kindly agreed to illustrate the major asanas of the sun salutation in order to augment the description in the text. With these photos and the outline given in the book, it should help to make the practice a bit easier to decode and get into for beginners.
If you are in the Hastings area, by all means sign up for her classes and get first hand practical instruction in this and deeper aspects of yogic disciplines. She also offers private one on one classes for serious students that wish to pursue the work in customized sessions. In addition to her love of yoga, Andria is a musician with many albums out, performing under the name Pantaleimon.
The description is from pages 12 -14 of The Magickal Union of East and West. Photo credit goes to Dave Reading. The yogini is of course Andria herself.
Stand straight, with your feet together. Imagine a brilliant white sphere above your head with a white light streaming into it from above. Place your palms together, touching your chest. Sense the energy pouring into you, filling you with vitality and awakening every cell of your body.
Now breathe in deeply while you raise your arms above your head and bend backward from the waist.
Bending forward from your hips, breathe out slowly. Knees should be slightly bent (you do not want any strain on your lower back). Hands are flat on the floor beside your feet. At this point, your head should be near your shins.
Breathe in and stretch your right leg behind so that your foot is at a right angle to your leg and resting on its toes. The left leg is vertical to the floor and your head is back.
While you breathe, place your left foot back to match the right foot. The body is now in a straight line, supported only by your toes and hands, which are in a vertical line.
Still holding your breath, lower your body and rest your toes, knees, chest, palms, and forehead on the floor. Stomach and pelvis are off the floor, with hands by your shoulders, elbows bent, and arms by your sides.
Breathing out, lie flat on the ground. Feel the energy coursing through your body.
Breathe in as you raise your head and then the upper part of your torso. Pelvis is flat on the ground and the head is back.
Hold your breath and bring your feet flat onto the floor and raise your hips to form an inverted V shape.
Still holding your breath, bring the right foot forward so that it is vertical and the left leg is back (the reverse of #4).
Breathe out as you bring the left leg up and place your feet to- gether between your hands. Straighten your legs (with knees slightly bent) and place your head on your shins.
Breathe in as you straighten up from the hips. Bring your arms up, and stretch them backward as you bend back from the waist. Hold your breath as you look backward.
Breathe out as your straighten your body. Now raise your arms over your head and back again as you bend your elbows to place your hands together at your chest. See a radiant sphere of golden solar energy in your heart center, its rays penetrating and warming your entire body.
From Michael Staley’s essay The Fool:
“Initiation is not a matter of swallowing wholesale what this, that or the other illustrious person has said at some time or another, but of making it real, of arriving at your own understanding. We take influences from diverse sources, whether it be Grant, Crowley, Spare, Blavatsky, Gurdjieff, Ramana Maharshi – to name but a few – and synthesise their work via the catalyst of our own experience, creating thereby an understanding and a body of work that is intrinsic to us. People who come after us will do likewise, again from a diversity of sources. In this way, knowledge and experience is passed down, and this is one meaning of parampara or spiritual lineage. ”
Could not have expressed it better. This sums up my approach to the Mysteries, and explains the diverse range of influences that have gone into my own work.
The Magickal Union of East & West, The Spiritual Path to New Aeon Tantra explores the fruit of some of this work.
“In the basal (muladhara) chakra, the Kundalini is known as Amavasya (new moon), for at that place the sun and moon are conjoined; hence the muladhara is a dark power-zone. The next centre, svadhisthana, is flecked with the sun’s rays, hence it is a region of twilight, i.e. mixed moon- and sun-light. The third zone, manipura, is likewise of a mixed nature. On attaining the stage of Anahata, in the region of the heart, Kundalini is bathed in effulgence, and continues to be effulgent until She reaches the place of the Moon (at the vishuddha), the Qoph centre. The Ajanachakra, which represents Kundalini in exaltation, is the Pure Palace of Serene Brilliance. And so the ascent occurs from darkness, through twilight to sunlight, and finally to the cool lunar region of eternal snows which is bathed in the perpetual radiance of the Shri Chakra itself.” – Kenneth Grant, Cults of the Shadow
I wrote this short piece many years ago. While there is a depth to yoga disciplines that go far beyond what Crowley discussed, I do still agree that his simplified adaptation of the 8 Limbs is a good basic primer on practical yoga exercises to achieve a well rounded practice in ones daily work.
Many western practitioners neglect the most fundamental aspects of meditation and calming the body, much to their disadvantage. The need to be able to concentrate, visualize, calm the body, increase energy, and so on, are essential techniques in western ritual that are used for every practice. Crowley’s introduction to the Yoga Sutras at the very least gives the westerner a simple way to get started and begin seeing benefits of practice almost immediately.
While Eight Lectures on Yoga is in no way a substitute for in depth training and practice for those that would go deep into the path of yoga, it is without a doubt good basic instruction in the fundamentals of practice that anyone can begin with. If limited only to his instruction, one would certainly see plenty of benefits in all aspects of their daily life.
Founded in 1905 by Dr. T. R. Sanjivi in Tinnevelly, South India with “the sole purpose of educating people to culture the light that is latent in one and all,” the Latent Light Culture and its inner order The Holy Order of Krishna teach practical yoga methods based of an esoteric and initiated interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita.
The founding material of the organization from the 1920’s is attributed to the mysterious author “Bhikshu”, and contains a strong influence of Thelema and the writings of Aleister Crowley mixed in with the initiated tantrik teachings of the Gita.
A few excerpts:
“Act Thou, therefore, when opportunity confronts you; responding to it, meeting it bravely, utilising it, actively. ‘Do what thou wilt’, say the Masters, ‘Shalt be the whole of the Law,’ of Dharma of Karma — only he who doeth is the Karmi; he who wills to do and doeth is the Karma Yogi; the Deed is the Karma, his future, his Destiny the harvest of his Thoughts and Acts. Your Deed is the expression of your will, the will in you; say then to yourself ‘I Will’ and Act. So acting shalt thou not sin, says the Lord Krishna.”
“In this then shall be the Ordinanace (Sastra) for you Karma Yogi, in the dictum of ‘Do what thou wilt’ which shalt be for thee the whole of the law, teaching you comprehensively what to do, what to avoid, this the only ordinance; ‘do what thou wilt, then do nothing else’; we shall repeat it constantly, without end, that you may be unified of will, that in all your act you may bring all the universe that is of you, that in your act the whole of you and not the puny portion of you miscalled ‘I’ at the threshold, at the outer gate of consciousness, may act, and impress itself on the even that anyhow must be.”
“The first and greatest of all priveledges is to have accepted the Law of the Gita: Yatha Ichchhasi Tatha Kuru (Do What Thou Wilt) – to have become free and independent and to have destroyed all fear, whether of custom, faith, of other men and of death itself. “Fear not at all, fear neither men, nor fates, nor gods, nor anything. Money fear not, nor the laughter of the frivolous folk nor any other power in heaven, upon the earth or under the earth.”
– From the grade paper of the First Degree of the Holy Order of Krishna.
Sadly the organization today seems to shy away from the more esoteric traditions that it was founded on, although the grade papers still show influences of Thelema. Deeper material such as the ritual magic of the Sri Vidya encoded into the Ananda Lahari (the Wave of Bliss, which consists of the first 41 verses of the Soundarya Lahari) is mixed in with a new spiritual interpretation of the Gita.
Reflecting back on a post from the other day, I was reminded of this wonderfully simple description:
“The main Ethics of the Book of the Law. Man is asked to act as if it were true that he is a spark of that great light of God. Those who insist on making that assumption, on basing all their lives on it, are the Thelemites.” (Churton quoting unpublished AC)
This is the practice of Divine Pride as taught in the tantras, wherein the personal self is given over completely to the chosen deity such that it for a time lives inside of the practitioner. The Goddess then sees with your eyes, hears with your ears, tastes and speaks with your mouth, feels with your heart. Your very body becomes the temple of the divine and allows the infinite to experience the finite.
Through practices of purification, dedication and self exploration, the personality may be tuned such that it is able to open up to this Divine Pride. Generation stage practices for example, where the deity is visualized in great detail as external to the operator, are part of this process of training. Another approach is given in the western practices of “assumption of God forms,” although without much of the explanatory and supporting practices unless one is careful to follow a detailed training regimen of foundational exercises in yoga, meditation and ritual.
Live life according to Thy Will is the First Step, and the Last Step. For many that may be the entire Journey, and as such there is no greater reward.
(As a side note, Churton’s biography of the Old Man has a post from last year in the Telegraph)
Among the many meanings of the word tantra (root tan, “extend,” “continue,” “multiply”), one concerns us particularly – that of “succession,” “unfolding,” “continuous process.” Tantra would be “what extends knowledge” (tanyate, vistarayate, jnanam anena iti tantram).
We must reckon with possible Gnostic influences, which could have reached India by way of Iran over the Northwest frontier. For more than one curious parallel can be noted between tantrism and the great Western mysterio-sophic current that, at the beginning of the Christian era, arose from the confluence of Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Greco-Egyptian alchemy, and the traditions of the Mysteries.
It is noteworth that tantrism developed in the two border regions of India — in the Northwest, along the Afghan frontier, in western Bengal, and especially in Assam. On the other hand, according to Tibetan tradition, Nagarjuna was a native of Andhra in southern India — that is, in the heart of the Dravidian region.
… for the first time in the spiritual history of Aryan India, the Great Goddess acquires a predominant position… In Hinduism, the Sakti, the “cosmic force,” is raised to the rank of Divine Mother who sustains not only the universe and all its beings but also the many and various manifestations of the gods. Here we recognize the “religion of the Mother” that in ancient times reigned over an immense Aegeo-Afrasiatic territory and which was always the chief form of devotion among the autochthonous peoples of India.
But we also recognize a sort of religious rediscovery of the mystery of woman… every woman becomes the incarnation of the Sakti. Mystical emotion in the prsence of the mystery of generation and fecundity — such it is in part. But it is also recognition of all the is remote, “transcendent,” invulnerable in woman; and thus woman comes to symbolize the irreducibility of the sacred and the divine, the inapprehensible essense of the ultimate reality. Woman incarnates both the mystery of creation and the mystery of Being, of everything that Is, that incomprehensibly becomes and dies and is reborn.
A well known myth thus accounts for the birth of the Great Goddess. A monstrous demon, Mahisa, threatened the unverse and even the existence of the gods. Brahma and the whole pantheon appealed to Vishnu and Siva for help. Swollen with rage, all the gods put forth their energies in the form of fire darting from their mouths. The flames joined into a fiery cloud, which finally took the form of a goddess with eighteen arms. And it was this goddess, Sakti, who succeeded in crushing the monster Mahisa and thus saved the world.
Quoting Zimmer: the gods “had returned their energies to the primeval Sakti, the One Force, the fountain head, whence originally all had stemmed. And the result was now a great renewal of the original state of universal potency.”
We must never lose sight of this primacy of the Sakti – in the last analysis, of the Divine Woman and Mother – in tantrism and in all the movements deriving from it. It is through this channel that the great underground current of autochthonous and popular spirituality made its way into Hinduism. Philosophically, the rediscovery of the Goddess is bound up with the carnal condition of Spirit in the kali-yuga. Thus the tantric writers present the doctrine as a new revelation of timeless truth, addressed to the man of this “dark age” in which the spirit is deeply veiled under the flesh.
Tantra is antiascetic and antispeculative. “Donkeys and other animals wander about naked, too. Does that make them yogins?” – Kularnavatantra.
In some tantric schools, contempt for asceticism and speculation is accompanied by complete rejection of all meditation; liberation is pure spontaneity. Saraha writes “The childish Yogins like the Tirthikas and others can never find out their own nature… One has no need of Tantra or Mantra, or of the images of the Dharanis — all these are caused of confusion. In vain does one try to attain Moksa by meditation… All are hypnotized by the system of the jhanas (meditation), but none cares to realize his own self.” Again, another Sahajiya author, Lui-pa, writes: “What use is meditation? Despite meditation, one dies in pain. Give up all complicated practices and the hope of obtaining siddhis, and accept the void as your true nature.”
Viewed from outside… tantrism would seem to be an “easy road,” leading to freedom pleasantly and almost without impediments.
“No one succeeds in attaining perfection by employing difficult and vexing operations; but perfection can be gained by satisfying all one’s desires” – Guhyasamajatantra
…all contraries are illusory, extreme evil coincides with extreme good. Buddhahood can – within the limits of this sea of appearances – coincide with supreme immorality; and all for the very good reason that only the universal void is, everything else being without ontological reality.
But the “easiness” of the tantric path is more apparent than real… The fact is that the tantric road presupposes a long and difficult sadhana, which at times suggests the difficulties of the alchemical opus.
… the void (sunya) is not simply a “nonbeing”; it is more like the Brahman of the Vedanta, it is of an adamantine essense, for whch reason it is called vajra (=diamond). “Sunyata, which is firm, substantial, indivisuble and impenetrable, proof against fire and imperishable, is called vajra.” (Advayavajra-samgraha).
For tantric metaphysics, both Hindu and Buddhist, the absolute reality… contains in itself all dualities and polarities, but reunited, reintegrated, in a state of absolute Unity (advaya).
The creation, and the becoming that arose from it, represent the shattering of the primordial Unity and the separation of the two principles (Siva-Sakti, etc); in consequence, man experiences a state of duality (object-subject, etc.) — and this suffering, illusion, “bondage.” The purpose of tantric sadhana is the reunion of the two polar principles within the disciples own body. “Revealed” for the use of the kali-yuga, tantrism is above all a practice, an act, a realization (=sadhana)…
From (from Yoga: Immortality and Freedom by Eliade)