Developing Spiritual Vision

In my last class of 2009 I proposed a New Year’s resolution that would help us take our yoga practice off the mat and into the world: I suggested that we try to interact with people – all kinds of people: human people, animal people, plant people – on a spiritual level. The reason is because doing so fundamentally changes the nature of the relationship; it puts it on the spiritual level, which is the level we are trying to attain by our yoga practice.

Soon afterwards somebody very intelligently asked me: “How do you do that exactly?” And I realized I hadn’t really described how we can put the theory into practice.

Oddly enough, this reminded me of a pigeon that I once met in a park while I was living in New York City. Of course, there are plenty of pigeons in New York but this one in particular stands out in my memory for a good reason.

In the past, from time to time, I’ve drifted away from my sadhana – my spiritual practice – which consists primarily of mantra meditation: chanting on japa mala; a string of beads. One time, as a way of getting back into my practice, I would walk through a park near my home very early every morning with my beads, chanting. And, of course, every morning there were plenty of pigeons who graciously shared the twilight tranquility of the park with me.

Eventually the cumulative effect of my chanting changed my perception: one day when I walked out to the park the same pigeons I saw every morning looked different. And the squirrels and the trees… everything, actually. I was experiencing them in a different way. I wasn’t seeing a squirrel: I was seeing a spirit soul in a squirrel body. I wasn’t experiencing a pigeon: I was experiencing a spirit soul that had taken birth in a pigeon body. And that being was obliged to act like a pigeon because the forces of nature act so strongly on someone born into a pigeon body that the capacity for acting any other way gets shut off.

But, qualitatively, there appeared to be no difference between the living energy that inhabited the pigeon’s body and the living energy that inhabited my body. The only difference was that I had a capacity for extending my consciousness beyond the conception of myself as my body and the pigeon, as far as I could tell, couldn’t.

And the pigeon could fly. Cool, but not worth trading places for.

The likelihood of a living being taking a human birth is compared to the odds of a dolphin rising to the surface in the middle of an ocean and having its nose come up right through the middle of a life preserver that just happened to be floating by. The odds are pretty thin when you think of all the different varieties of life forms there are and how many of them populate our world. So it’s a great opportunity – this human form of life – because we can engage in transformative activities like yoga that can elevate our consciousness.

The Bhagavad-gita tells us that a wise person sees a Brahman, a sophisticated human being, an elephant, a cow, a dog, and someone who eats dogs with equal vision. So, how can we develop that kind of equal vision? By developing spiritual vision; the ability to experience all living beings as eternal spiritual sparks of divine energy rather than as the temporary body they happen to inhabit for a brief time.

There are twin processes described in devotional yoga scripture that help one to develop this kind of vision. The first one is hearing. It’s kind of ironic that we should develop spiritual vision by using our ears, but that’s the prescription. When we hear transcendental sound vibrations – either chanting mantras, reading yoga scripture, or hearing from a qualified spiritual teacher – that begins the transformative process: svadhyaya – self-study.

And when we chant, which is the second process, our hearts become purified. And not necessarily just our own hearts; when we chant loudly in a group, such as in kirtan, then the effect is profoundly magnified for ourselves and for anyone who hears us chanting.

When we’re constantly absorbed in hearing and chanting spiritual sound vibrations then we naturally remember who we are beyond this temporary mind and body. And we remember who everyone else is beyond their temporary minds and bodies. Vibration is the foundation of our experience. If we want to change our experience from mundane to transcendental we can change the vibrational atmosphere in which we reside by hearing and chanting transcendental sounds.

So this is the practical application of the principle that triggers the experience of spiritual vision which, in turn, enables us to that interact with people – all kinds of people: human people, animal people, plant people – on a spiritual level; on the level of spiritual relationships. And that’s a good thing because when we see others as they really are we see ourselves as we really are; spiritual.

And that’s why chanting is such an important part of every yoga class; it’s the part of our practice on the mat that does the most to change our consciousness off that mat in such a way that we spontaneously see people – and pigeons – with spiritual vision.

One Comment

  1. kc
    Posted July 5, 2010 at 10:32 AM | Permalink | Reply

    hari, i was down by the waterfront on saturday and two birds came over to say hi. as a direct result of reading this i had a pretty good conversation with them. they were cool.

    thanks for the perspective.


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