The Orphic Circle

You scattered the dark mist … and brought pure light’ The Orphic Hymns [trans. from the Ancient Greek by A.N. Athanassakis]

Initiatory traditions run deep in my family.  At least eight generations have chosen to undertake the arcane rites of freemasonry, ‘Orphism’, Mormonism, Theravada Buddhism or Shaivism.

Charles Thomas Pearce

Charles Thomas Pearce (1815-83)

One of these initiates was my maternal 3+great grandfather, Charles Thomas Pearce (1815-83).  He was a fascinating character, an atheist Philosophical Instrument maker who belonged to the College of Surgeons, the Eclectic Masonic Lodge and the notorious Cannibal Club.  He was also a pioneering homœopath, who spent his life campaigning against compulsory vaccination, animal cruelty and the mistreatment of the mentally ill.

Charles was an initiate of a secretive community that ‘claimed an affiliation with societies derived from the ancient mysteries of Egypt, Greece and Judaea’, whose ‘beliefs and practices had been concealed from the vulgar by cabalistic methods’ [Emma Hardinge Britten].  These initiates considered themselves ‘magians’, a term for Zoroastrian priests with ‘supernatural’ powers, though their methods were said to have been ‘inspired by far loftier aims and regulated by much more pious aspirations than those of most other English magicians’ [‘Louis de B’].  Privately, they preferred the term Mercurii after the classical Messenger of the Gods and master of divination, seeing themselves as ‘Keepers of the Secret Doctrine of Orpheus’.

Charles’s fellow initiates were a remarkable collection of familiar names.

Zadkiel in Punch 1863

‘Zadkiel’ as characterised by Punch in 1863, revealing a common perception of the Orphic Circle

They included the homœopath, secret agent and custodian of ‘feral child’ Kasper Hauser, the Earl of Stanhope; astrologer and writer Richard ‘Zadkiel’ Morrison; author of ‘Art Magic‘, William Britten; writers Charles Dickens, Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Wilkie Collins; the infamous explorer, orientalist and president of the Cannibal Club, Richard Francis Burton; occultists Frederick Hockley and John Cavendish Dudley; poet and mesmerist Chauncy Hare Townshend; diplomat Sir Charles Wyke, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and Emperor Napoleon III.

As rumours of the group’s existence began to spread, outsiders took to calling them the Orphic Circle.  This was in reference to the ancient cult of Orpheus, a prophet of Greek myth, who descended into the Underworld and returned with the secrets of life, death and the deeper universe to ‘civilise’ humankind.

Orpheus underwater

Orpheus by Pierre et Gilles

Unlike the Eleusian and Dionysian Mysteries, which were available to all, the Orphic cult (like that of Mithras) was only available to men.  This may have arisen from the myth that Orpheus taught the men of Thrace the arts of sensual pleasure with one another.  Orpheus is himself described as the lover of Musaeus, who healed the sick through music; the Argonaut Calais, winged son of the North Wind; and Apollo, god of Light, Music & Truth.  It may be for this reason that intimacy with women was discouraged amongst initiates of the ancient Orphic rites.  Their rule against the eating of beans is less easy to explain.

The classical world believed Orpheus to be the originator of the Orphic Mysteries, with its pantheon of esoteric deities.  These included Phanes, hermaphrodite god of Sunshine and Goodness; Hecate, goddess of realms beyond the world of the living; Eros, the Thunderer, personifying the sexual force that perpetuates the process of creation; Demeter, the Earth Mother; and Persephone, Bringer of Spring.  These beliefs and rites centred on the resurrection myth of Dionysus.  They rejected the common practice of blood sacrifice and instead claimed to communicate the ‘secrets of the gods’ to humankind through initiations, conferring ‘blissful’ immortality upon each soul, ever united with its very own ‘fixed’ star.

Orpheus mosaic

Orpheus entrances all nature in a Roman mosaic

In Victorian London, members of the Orphic Circle met regularly to study esoteric manuscripts.  They undertook ‘metaphysical’ experiments, using electricity, magnetism, clairvoyance and even moonlight as ways to explore humankind’s true potential.  They also explored possible ways to communicate with other secretive gatherings, such as the Berlin Brotherhood of ‘natural philosophers’, using drug-induced trances, ‘fumigations’ and ‘invocations’.  These they combined with the ‘science’ of scrying, using mirrors, crystal balls and quartz obelisks for ‘prophecy, revelation, or inspiration’.  (Charles’s own Mercurii scrying tool still survives.)

Sir Richard Rawlinson Vyvyan

Richard Rawlinson Vyvyan (1800-79)

The founding Grand Master of the London circle was Sir Richard Rawlinson Vyvyan (1800-79).  He employed Charles from the 1840s as his personal assistant and together they explored the ‘harmony’ between geological processes, abstract mathematics, spontaneous generation, transmutation of species and ‘self-developing powers’.  The result was the publication of a two-volume, transcendental work, entitled ‘The Harmony of the Comprehensible World’.  During these years, Sir Richard would seem to have paid for Charles’s medical training at University College.  He also moved him into his London home, St. Dunstan’s Villa, in the grounds of Regent’s Park.

St. Dunstan's Villa

St. Dunstan’s Villa, where Charles and Sir Richard undertook their ‘Orphic’ experiments.  It was here that Charles’s son Alfred ‘Zadkiel’ spent his early years.

Charles’s son, my great-great grandfather, Alfred John Pearce (1840-1923), was also intimately connected with the Orphic Circle.  It was onto his shoulders that one of Charles’s fellow initiates, Richard Morrison, passed the mystical mantle of ‘Zadkiel the Seer’ – cabalistic Hebrew name for the Angel of Jupiter, ‘harbinger of wisdom, peace, freedom and reform’.  But that’s another story.

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Jīvita Putalī

The non-priestly Tradition of India’s Northeast encourages us to think, say or do nothing to our detriment or the detriment of others.

However, this one, seemingly straightforward principle can prove remarkably challenging.

A wide range of tools is therefore offered to help keepers of the Tradition recognise, understand and unravel their harmful habits.  Perhaps one of the most surprising of these tools is the Jīvita Putalī or Living Doll.

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The sadhaka (practitioner) first mindfully sets his/her bhavana (intention).  A figure is then carved  from wood.  This will represent the detrimental quality the sadhaka intends to challenge.

In the still of the night, specific mantras are repeated as the figure is dipped into water heated over an open fire.  A drop of blood is then taken from the sadhaka’s navel with a porcupine quill and dropped into the figure’s mouth to give it ‘life’.  The Jīvita Putalī (Living Doll) is now the physical expression of the unhelpful quality that is to be ‘de-energised’ and dissipated.

The iconography of a chosen deity is next visualised in every detail, as though placed directly onto the sadhaka’s own body.  He/She then uses yogic techniques to raise heat, visualising a brilliant light that moves up from the pelvis to flood the torso “with the force of Kalagni”, the fire of the Final Dissolution.

The Jīvita Putalī is now dismembered, the legs pulled apart to rent the body in two.  It is then thrown into the fire to symbolise the sadhaka’s determination to overcome his/her detrimental habits of thought, word and action.

The heat raised through the practice is finally visualised releasing through the crown of the head “to fulfil its end”.

In conclusion, time is taken seated beside the fire as its embers die for quiet contemplation on the meaning and deeper significance of the ritual, and on the lasting inner change to which the sadhaka is now dedicated.

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Kali

Came across this stunning 10th-century bronze of Kali in a museum in Chennai the other day. Kali is one of many traditional personifications of Shakti, the Energy that constitutes the entire universe.

Kali reverse

She holds the head of a stylised “trishul” trident. This represents the union of all seemingly opposing forces, all genders, all time, all possibilities – a reminder that our limited perception of difference and separation is an illusion.

She also holds an “ankus” elephant goad. This represents mastery of the mind and passions – a reminder that self-mastery comes through self-knowledge, in which lies the Wisdom to live mindfully, without harm to ourselves or others.

Despite her benign appearance, the tips of two fangs protrude from the edges of her mouth. These signify that at heart Kali is “fierce”, reminding us to challenge our ordinary mind, our “little” thinking, all our limiting self-interest.

This “fierceness” is reiterated in Kali’s third hand, which is held up in “abhaya mudra”, reminding us to live fearlesslly. And in her fourth, a skull cap, traditional symbol of the rejection of all patriarchies, priesthoods, orthodoxies and dogmas – a reminder to live freely, fully and joyfully.

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Bhairava

Our need to “fit in” makes evolutionary sense.

Our ancestors needed to stick together in extended families, then in tribes to survive a tough life in a dangerous world.

Today, we are a predominantly urbanised species that has divided itself into very much larger nation states – and yet our ancestral tribal mentality persists.  Even those who think they are expressing their “individuality” very often end up just conforming to the standard uniform and behaviour of yet another “tribe” (think biker, mod, punk, hippie, raver, Hoxton hipster, etc.).

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All pretty harmless, of course – until the people who don’t belong to your “tribe” begin to be considered of lesser value than those who look/talk/dress/think/love/believe/pray like you: a pernicious process of dehumanisation of the “other”, used to justify wars, colonialisation, slavery, genocides and terrorism throughout our history.

The problem with any form of “pack mentality” is that individual reasoning, personal responsibility and even morality are surrendered in preference for what is called “group-think”.  Fact is, we are so programmed to “fit in” that we will follow whatever the rest of our “tribe” are thinking, saying and doing, until our worldview becomes increasingly narrow, self-regarding, distorted and intolerant.

As a result, rules, cultural habits, political rhetoric and even dead men’s “scriptures” are followed without question.  To do otherwise is to risk rejection by our “tribe” – a thought too frightening to consider, for without them who or what are we?

The Shaiva Tantra tradition of the Eastern Himalayas encourages us to confront this self-limiting tribal trait in ourselves, to help us see similarity and connection – our shared humanity – rather than difference and division.

One way the Tradition does this is through the imagery and mythology of the ‘fierce’ form of Shiva: Bhairava, the Dispeller of Anxiety & Fear.

Bhairava Nepal close

A Nepalese form of Bhairava

Bhairava is normally shown with his teeth bared.  The term for this is vivrta, a word that also means “unhurt”, “without wounds”, “unfolded”, “unbounded”.  This is to remind us to let go of old pain, resentment and partisan thinking.  Life is kinder, richer and more rewarding when we remain open to others’ experience and points of view.

Vivrta also means “open-eyed”. Sure enough, Bhairava is usually shown with his eyes wide.  This is to remind us to look beyond the limitations of petty-minded “tribalism” and to see the more inclusive “bigger picture”.

For this reason, Bhairava is normally shown decorated with skulls, a detail in Himalayan iconography that reminds us to see beyond the microscope of our self-interest.  The principal benefit of all this is represented by the serpent that winds around him: Wisdom.

When it comes to Bhairava’s symbolic ‘fierceness’, his imagery and myths remind us to

Limitless Sky promo PURBHA

Bhairava at the head of a Nepalese jhankri shaman’s ritual thurmi dagger.

  • challenge mindless conformity
  • reject dominant cultural and religious orthodoxies
  • dismiss patriarchal hierarchies.

As I have been taught,

To look into Bhairava’s face is to expose the absurdity of our judgmental attitudes and worldly attachments, the futility of our obsessions with social conformity and habit.

This aspect of Bhairava is expressed through an ancient myth that describes how Brahma (the priest caste’s Creator deity) decided to give Man the four Vedas (orthodox priestly scripture, represented by Brahma’s multiple heads).  However, these oral texts he would bestow on none but his Brahmin priests, to ensure they would forever hold dominion over the people.

Brahma with 5 heads

Five-headed Brahma

Brahma also had a fifth head, a fifth Veda (lit. ‘knowledge’).  But this he decided to withhold, as he knew that the wisdom it contained would render humankind independent of his priests, their hierarchies, rituals, laws, prohibitions, cruel misogyny and divisive caste system.

Shiva – ever the defiantly unorthodox outsider – had to intervene.  For the sake of all humankind, he released his “fierce” form from his forehead, whereupon Bhairava smote off Brahma’s fifth head with the tip of his left thumbnail.  So it was that, as the old myth goes, Shiva bestowed wisdom on Brahma.

As a reminder of this mythological event and its deeper meanings, Bhairava is often depicted holding the severed fifth head of Brahma.  It is even still possible to come across wandering sadhus in India and Nepal called Aghori Babas, who carry a bowl made from the skull-cap of a Brahmin priest to represent their dedication to tantric non-conformity and their rejection of patriarchal hierarchies.

Bharava south detail

A South Indian Bhairava, naked but for a garland of skulls (Victory Over Ego) and a coiled serpent (Wisdom), holds Brahma’s head in his left hand (the unorthodox, all-embracing Tantric Path)

The myth concludes with Brahma’s severed head tumbling through the sky until it lands amongst the jungled foothills of the Eastern Himalayas.

This was the ancient story tellers’ way of figuratively explaining how this region became the heartland of what is today known as the Shaiva Tantra tradition, as described in Limitless Sky – its purpose, to encourage us to live more openly and fully by putting aside our prejudices, our “tribal” thinking and behaviour, our attachment to hierarchies and unthinking habit, to instead engage with life and each other more freely, meaningfully and joyfully.

 

 

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The 4 Skilful Means to Resolve Conflict

These past months of blog silence have been in response to a sustained ‘cyber attack’ by a gang of hell-and-damnation Bible quoters.

For all the unpleasantness, it has at least been a fascinating insight into how some people who profess “devout faith” are provoked by differences of understanding and experience. They have shown that any disparity in belief can be taken as a dangerous challenge to their own religious convictions. The resulting aggressive language and threats would certainly seem to arise from an anger born of fear.

This has prompted me to reflect on teachings of the Shaiva Tantra tradition of India’s north-eastern foothills called the Chatur Upaya [‘chat-oor oop-ah-ya’] – the Four Skilful Means to Resolve Conflict:

  • Saama – respectful negotiation by friendly means, with kind and gentle words
  • Daana – communication with tolerance and forgiveness: a liberality of heart
  • Bheda – an open mind to another’s point of view; willingness to modify one’s own stance to allow a ‘blossoming’ of the relationship
  • Nigraha – self-restraint, in order to heal rifts and ‘cure’ conflict

No surprise, then, that Upaya is also the Sanskrit term for ‘to join in with, or accompany, singing’. In essence, Harmony.

However, the Upayas are not exclusive to Shaiva Tantra. They are also found in orthodox Brahminism, although their rendering has a distinctly different interpretation and purpose:

  • Saama – Alliances; Pacts; Coalitions
  • Daana – Compensation; Gifts; Bribes
  • Bheda – Rupture; Betrayal; Sowing Dissension to ‘divide & rule’
  • Danda – Force; Armaments; Open Assault; Punishment

This priestly version, which endorses Machiavellian treachery, cunning and ultimately violence, is promoted by its adherents as being “useful in securing the submission of anyone”. It is even quoted as justification for the devastating wars that are at the heart of both the Mahabharata and Ramayana. (Neither of these texts plays a part in the mountain Shaiva Tantra tradition.)

If my detractors choose to continue reading my humble contributions, perhaps they will recognise in their threats the same belligerent language of the orthodox warmonger – and that, in the starkest of contrasts, the Shaiva version of the Chatur Upaya endorses the gentle compassion, selflessness, forgiveness and peacemaking promoted by the very Israelite they profess to follow.

As mountain Shaiva Tantra impresses, however irreconcilable any of our differences may initially appear, if we will only pause for thought – and traditionally share a brew of well-spiced tea – we will instead find an underlying concordance and a deep humanity that ultimately unites us all.

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History of Yoga – Part 7

Our obsession with external appearance diminishes our ability to participate in truly intimate, loving relationships. – Kushal Magar

As a child, I was utterly entranced by Classical Greece. I taught myself its history and myths, its alphabet and geography. I pinned pictures of its pantheon across my bedroom walls and raised Doric temples from artfully deconstructed cereal boxes. I dressed my brother’s Action Men in handkerchief chitoniskos and declared them my very own Sacred Band of Thebes.

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I soon learnt how the Ancient Greeks had equated external physical excellence with internal ‘spiritual’ development. They famously coined the term kalos kagathos (καλὸς κἀγαθός) – ‘Handsome and Honourable’ – in reference to the perfected harmony of body and mind for which all young men were expected to strive.

This cultural ideal had expressed itself in a preference for naked male exercise (gymnasion) and athletic competition. This had found its zenith in over a thousand years of naked Panhellenic Olympic Games (until the Christian Emperor Theodosius banned them in 394 C.E.), the Greeks believing themselves superior to ‘barbarian’ nations whose physiques were insufficiently beautiful to be so publicly displayed.

Olympic Games

This Hellenic divinising of the human body, with their elevating of its image to the dizzying heights of a cultural idealism to which we continue to aspire, could not have had a greater impact on the impressionable and sensitive child that I had been. When I first walked through the sculpture gallery of Chatsworth House to be confronted by the Greek-inspired body of the Wounded Achilles, for example, I lost my breath and found my skinny, ten-year-old legs buckling beneath me.

Achilles

For years thereafter, I remained convinced that upon reaching adolescence all men developed comparable symmetry, musculature and proportion beneath the cover of their clothes. When at the age of fourteen I presented myself before a full-length mirror to consider my progress towards what I had interpreted as a wholly inherent ephebic perfection, I was not so much disappointed as aghast. The shock of this single self-inflicted injury to my confidence took unnecessarily long to overcome and inspired a long-secret, bedroom-based, Spartan-worthy regime of push-ups, crunches and weighted limb-swings.

Body culture had been reborn by the discovery of this ancient Hellenic standard during the European Renaissance of the 15th-century, as expressed through the stupendous craft of the likes of Da Vinci and Michelangelo. By the turn of 19th-century, women were dressing in simple, body-revealing ‘Classical’ dresses, whilst men were wearing tight, pale waistcoats and breeches to emulate the appearance of marble statues beneath the dark, cut-away frock-coats worn to emphasise their physiques.

Michaelangelo

Not until later in the 19th-century, however, did a new taste for athleticism and physical fitness arise in Europe, predominantly as a means by which to reform the ‘wanting moral fibre’ of the working class. This new pursuit of what in Britain was termed Muscular Christianity resulted in the world’s first body-building display in 1893. Three years later, the Olympic Games were reinstated, opening in Athens.

By the early 20th-century, exercise routines to advance the renewed appeal of Classical proportion had become all the rage. Accordingly, various idiosyncratic systems of so-called Greek Movement appeared, all promising to transform modern man’s “dead weight into a living force”; to correct his sitting posture “as an aid to deep thought”; even to afford him a “splendid build and perfect aliveness”, a “moral sense of well-being”, and thus “a new power of control”. [See for example The Renaissance of the Greek Ideal – Diana Watts: William Heineman, London, 1914].

Greek movement

However, it was during the rise of Germany’s Weimar Republic after the First World War that body-culture, with all its eugenicist ‘super-man’ connotations, reached an apogee. This new physical idealism of Freikörperkultur, which combined the aesthetics of nudity with athletic movement, was embraced by the politics of the day as a method by which to “restore national physical superiority”. However, within a generation this had been perverted into a means by which to justify a programme of euthanasia that led to the inconceivable inhumanity from which the world still reels. The term ‘body-fascism’ had been born.

Weimar

Stirred, perhaps, by the macho post-war posturing of its politicians and the bare-chested bravado of Hollywood’s new generation of gym-buffed heroes – Charlton Heston, Yul Bryner, Rock Hudson and their ilk – North America was soon reinventing, and inevitably commercialising, the quest for physical perfection. Gymnasia (with clothes), fitness clubs, aerobics, and every imaginable form of bodywork were incorporated into the obsessive quest for the body beautiful.

aerobics

It was at this point that yogic asana – which had commanded a brief flurry of interest in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, largely courtesy of the Beatles’ dalliance with hippydom – were enthusiastically adopted by the fitness industry. A new ‘health-club yoga’ flourished, and with it magazines, books, videos, clothing lines and a breath-taking array of superfluous paraphernalia. By the mid-1990s, the addition of a thin veneer of highly selective, conservative, Vedantic philosophy had afforded the industry a new commercial edge in a demanding and fickle fitness market. Yoga – with its tantalising promise of bendy legs, flat abs, cannonball buttocks and cellulite-free thighs – had become big business.

gym yoga

And yet, this highly profitable pursuit for some Ancient Greek ideal of physical perfection through yoga is a total distortion and trivialisation of its origins. The mountain peoples amongst whom the yogic tradition arose have never had a comparable body-culture.

If any idealism could be said to exist amongst the indigenous population of the Himalayan foothills, it is not for any outward appearance, but only for a way of being – for the inner beauty of honesty, empathy, compassion and wisdom.

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[Part Eight follows soon]

You’ll find much more about the mountain culture in which the ancient yogic tradition originated in Limitless Sky

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History of Yoga – Part 6

Yogasana … are not exercises, but techniques which place the physical body in positions that cultivate awareness, relaxation, concentration and meditation … the body becomes full of vitality and strength, the mind becomes light, creative, joyful and balanced. – Satyananda Saraswati

Kushal's temple

Kushal Magar taught me that competence in Hatha Yoga had long been a prerequisite for those who followed the Shaiva Tantra Tradition.

However, whilst in his mountains this practice of self-knowledge through self-discipline begins with an exploration of the Yamas and Niyamas, all the yoga I had encountered in the West – with its preference for the external, visible and material – began immediately with, and was often considered little more than, physical positions.

Yogic postures are specifically defined as asana, meaning ‘to come to rest’, or simply ‘seat’. The term’s Sanskrit root, aasa, means ‘posterior’ or ‘backside’; our common Indo-European origins have afforded English-speakers a familiar term of anatomical slang.

Traditionally, these asana were only seated positions in which a practitioner could remain motionless without effort or discomfort in a meditative state, for as long as three hours at a time.  Conversely, any position that caused pain or was practised with a restless body-mind was not recognised as a yogic posture.  Although often overlooked in the modern, Westernised versions of yoga, it was always this profound mental focus that was the very foundation of all original asana.

SHIVA & PARVATI

SHIVA & PARVATI

Kushal Magar spoke to me of 84 asana symbolising the 84 lakh (8,400,000) ‘states of being’ adopted by Shiva and Parvati in mountain myth that they might bring into existence every form of life in the cosmos.  Arising from the shamanic roots of the Tradition, these original asana were therefore intended to embody the entire genetic map of organic life – from trees and herons to frogs and scorpions.  Each authentic posture is therefore considered to exert a specific influence on human consciousness.  This process is termed drdhata, a word that cannot be easily translated into English, but which incorporates the qualities of strength, stability, firmness and determination.

And yet, Kushal Magar had also taught me that the number 84 was not literal, but  metaphorical, a cultural symbol of ‘completion’.  It is for this reason that the old texts commonly refer to ‘84’ principle tantra-agamas, ‘84’ tantric masters, ‘84’ primary phallic representations of Shiva, and so forth.

In traditional mountain practice, only 33 of these 84 metaphorical asana are considered to be of any particular benefit.  Even then, only four are deemed suitable for general use to master the breath, quieten the senses, promote a meditative state, and learn to discern what is best cultivated and what disregarded.  These four postures are siddhasana (adept’s pose) or siddhayoniasana for women; padmasana (lotus pose); svastikasana (auspicious pose) or bhadrasana (gracious pose); and simhasana (lion pose).  This last is sometimes replaced by ugrasana (fierce pose), now more commonly called paschimottanansana (seated-forward bend).

Amongst the written commentaries of Hatha Yoga, only the 17th-century Hatharatnavali attempts to create a list of the metaphorical 84 asana.  These include three varieties each of matsyendrasana (Matsyendra’s pose) and kurmasana (tortoise pose), four varieties of padmasana (lotus pose), five of kukkutasana (cockerel pose) and six of mayurasana (peacock pose).  However, it only considers 36 of these asana to be effective and useful.

Matsyendrasana

Matsyendrasana

Of other works, the Abubhav Prakash refers to 50 asana; the Gheranda Samhita and the Vishva Kosha 32; the Maisuru Maisiri 16; the Hatha Yoga Pradipika 15, of which it considers just four to be principle; and the Yoga Bhashya 11.  Both the Thirumandiram and the Shiva Purana recommend just eight postures, the Sharada-Tilaka Tantram seven, the Shiva Samhita four, the Linga Purana three, and the Goraksa Samhita only two: siddhasana (adept’s pose) and padmasana (lotus pose).  The Brhadyogiyajñavalkya and the Vasistha Samhita mention no postures at all.

The reality is that no practitioner would ever need to perform 84 asana, even if these postures existed beyond their cultural metaphor.  Of these, some are only fitting for the body if practised from the natural flexibility of childhood, whilst others are purely symbolic and of no profit.

Certainly Himalayan practitioners of the Tradition employ very few postures in their sadhana, each asana being carefully selected and put into an order by their teacher according to their personal requirements.  These few postures are sometimes practised four times a day, at the diurnal ‘twilights’ of dawn, midday, dusk and midnight.

Gorakhasana

Gorakhasana

To each asana is normally applied pranayama (breathing practices), hasta mudras (hand positions), bandhas (physical locks) and/or mantras (repeated ‘seed’ sounds).  When employed in purposeful combination under the guidance of an experienced and wise teacher, these activate the posture’s potential to promote positive change in the student or initiate – their single purpose, the restoration of the physical and mental balance that enables a steady expansion of awareness, and thereby consciousness.

It was, therefore, with some surprise that I gradually came to realise just how many asana taught and practised today have very little to do with any ancient yogic tradition, a state of affairs I did not know whether to attributed to cynical deceit or simple ignorance.

For this reason, the next advance in my research was to determine just how this peculiar, and largely unacknowledged, situation had come to be.

[Part Seven follows soon]

You’ll find much more of Kushal Magar and his refreshingly practical mountain Tradition in Limitless Sky.

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