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A Holy Practice

SSV3.16 asanasthah sukham hrade nimajjati


By practicing yoga asana, the yogi is easily immersed into deeper spiritual waters.

– Translation by Austin Sanderson

Interpretation: Austin Sanderson

SSV3.26 śarıravrittir vratam


Maintenance of the body and mind is a Holy Practice. – Translation by Austin Sanderson

– Translation by Austin Sanderson

Interpretation: Austin Sanderson

The Shiva Sutras are a collection of seventy-seven aphorisms that form the foundation of the tradition of spiritual mysticism known as Kashmir Shaivism, an extreme non-dualistic school of yoga philosophy that believes that everything is a manifestation of the Lord Shiva. The Shiva Sutras are attributed to Sage Vasugupta, who lived in the 9th century C.E.; like the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali and the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā of Svātmārāma, the Shiva Sutras are designed as a spiritual guide to attaining liberation or enlightenment via direct realization of one’s own true nature and the inherent oneness that is our essence.

The Shiva Sutras are divided into three sections, which correspond to the three upayas in Kashmir Shaivism. The Sanskrit upayas is translated as “means” or “ways.”

Chapter One is “Shambhavopaya, the Way of Shiva”; Chapter Two is “Shaktopaya, the Way of the Competent One”; and Chapter Three is “Anavopaya, or the Fine Way.” In Chapter One the Shiva Sutras starts out speaking to the self-realized yogi. Chapter Two is for the intermediate yogi, and Chapter Three is for the person who is just starting on a yoga journey. This is the opposite of both the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā or the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, which assume that readers are starting at square one. Sage Vasugupta does not make that same assumption.

In Chapter Three, Sage Vasugupta tells all freshman yoga practitioners that “By practicing yoga asana, the yogi is easily immersed into deeper spiritual waters” (SSV3.16) and that “Maintenance of the body and mind is a Holy Practice” (SSV3.26).

For many westerners, yoga asana is mostly marketed simply as a workout with the goal of flexibility, relaxation, and achievement of a particular body type. The average western yoga asana practice may have little or no spiritual connection; it is a purely physical act. In fact, for many people yoga may just be a fitness fad – a “buy an expensive brand of yoga pants” and “do a drop-in at the yoga studio” experience. Those of us who seek more from yoga than fitness can be a bit harsh in our judgment towards the average western yoga student. I often wonder what Sage Vasugupta would say if asked how he felt about western yoga practitioners who approach yoga asana as a fitness class.

After studying the Shiva Sutras, I would expect his answer to be something like: “Don’t be harsh toward them, be elated that they have started on the yogic path toward Higher Consciousness, and remember that we all started somewhere, with Shiva’s grace.”

It takes some of us longer to understand that yoga asana can open up the physical body, the subtle body, and the mind itself for preparations that allow us to explore deeper spiritual ideas and concepts. This subtle awakening may start with a simple drop-in into a local yoga studio with only the goal of fitness and relaxation. But many learn that if we are consistent with the yoga practice, the yoga practice quickly becomes a Sadhana. That Sadhana is the holy spiritual maintenance for the body and mind, so we can connect with the pure and limitless spirit of the soul. Just to exist in the body is a virtuous act, and each jiva (soul) can perform each and every action with the supreme intention of experiencing yoga or God-Consciousness. “As long as you do Sadhana thinking you are impure, you will never become pure,” said Yogishri Sudarshan Kannan. A Sadhana is always steeped in humility and grace.

Yoga asana is not the only means to maintenance of the body and soul: the food we choose to put into the body is as important as physical exercise. If you see the body as a temple and work so hard to keep it holy, why on earth would you eat food that will have the opposite effect? A pure, healthy plant-based diet is crucial to maintaining the health and wellbeing of the yogi’s sacred body. And a vegan diet, like Sadhana, will not only uplift the yogi’s life but the lives of others.

When enlightenment comes during one’s lifetime, the enlightened yogi must remain in the body, until death; therefore the body and the mind are seen as a holy object or temple as long as the enlightened one is in the body. This is a non-dualistic approach to the experience we are having in the body and the mind. The body and mind are not an obstacle on our path to Self-realization but instead are the vehicle that allows us to connect with the Divine while having a physical experience. Once the body is seen as a holy vehicle, we are more likely to care for it in a way that reflects our understanding that self-awareness moves from the physical being to the spiritual being as we go from the finite to the infinite.

Austin Sanderson – Urban Sadhu Yoga


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