More human than humans?

Via Brooks Hall
on Mar 6, 2011
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Multi-armed yogi, Brooks Hall

Of great virility and enthusiasm, good looking, courageous, learned in scriptures, studious, sane of mind, not melancholy, keeping young, regular in food, with his senses under control, free from fear, clean, skillful, generous, helpful to all, firm, intelligent, independent, forgiving, of good character, of gentle speech and worshipping his Guru, such is a supreme seeker, fit for all forms of Yoga. He can reach enlightenment in three years.
~ B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga

I once heard a tour guide at the Art Institute of Chicago talking about a granite sculpture from 12th century India. It was of a deity with many arms. Each hand was either holding a symbolic object or making a communicative gesture. The guide was saying something about how the deities weren’t considered to be very different from people, they were just “more human than humans”. And this is what the many arms represent: increased humanity.

I want to say that it also might represent humans’ capacity across time, with each arm representing what we might do at different ages. When one aspect of life is over I can imagine discovering a new capacity that will allow me to go forward and do what needs to be done during this time. And so the representation with all those arms shown together can also be seen as a timeless state because it represents more than a moment, these abilities are all shown in one image, even thought the aspects might be experienced by people one at a time.

This is how I see Mr. Iyengar’s description of the “supreme seeker”: The “supreme seeker” is “more human than humans.”

These qualities listed above are all things that I have worked on at one time or another. (…except possibly virility, unless I try to stretch that word into a gender-neutral one like vigor.) So I don’t feel that the “supreme seeker” is a space alien or anything, but this person described here is pretty extreme from my viewpoint.

I imagine a deity with many arms, each arm representing one of the qualities of the “supreme seeker”: enthusiastic, good looking, courageous, studious, sane of mind, not melancholy… This list can be totally overwhelming for me!

One could see our problems as having just as many arms as our ideals. Qualities of the anti-seeker: dejected, ugly, fearful, ADD, insane, melancholy… And we could see this as overwhelming or choose to take it one thing at a time.

The concept of a super-human can both overwhelm us and turn us off or we can take it as it comes with an open mind. One thing at a time…

We can shrink back in fear and say the world is only what I can hold in my two hands and see with my eyes right now. Realize that this is a reduced viewpoint. And it is an important place where we pay our bills and do things for our loved ones and friends.

But to ignore the incredible circumstances of our lives in the larger view is to ignore something important. Life is bigger than it might seem in a moment when I am balancing my checkbook!

As a group we literally have this many arms. Maybe I don’t have to do it all myself. I was in a yoga class once where the teacher said that the next Buddha wasn’t going to be an individual, but a group of people like an enlightened community. I’m not sure what that would look like, but I like the idea.

I was the size of a baby at one time, as well as all the heights of little girl to my current height. There are fluctuations in my weight from time to time…all different aspects of “me”. I could make an image of a creature with baby arms, little girl arms and the arms of a woman and it might represent me across time. This kind of image looks totally freaky to our eyes that are accustomed to photographic technology that only captures one moment at a time…

Could it be that every moment holds a different me, and that every breath informs me differently?

When perceived across time I am more human than I can be in any one moment.

So is it that far off that I might have been all of those good qualities at one moment or another, even if I don’t carry all of them right at this moment? And I also have at one point or another held all of the opposite descriptors… Maybe that’s where spiritual concepts like “You are all of this, already. There’s nowhere to go.” type of thoughts come from. We already are all different states of ourselves, holding all the opposites already, so what is there to do?

Once we realize that we are not doing things from a lack of this or that, we can begin to do things freely, creatively…

* This is a goodie from the archives of Yogic Muse *


About Brooks Hall

Brooks Hall is a Yogic Muse from Chicago, Illinois. In this capacity she teaches Yoga, writes about Yoga, and generally enjoys it. You can find her at:


16 Responses to “More human than humans?”

  1. A goodie indeed, Brooks. This is a wonderfully creative and instructive blog, the kind that makes you feel uplifted just from experiencing it. Great work.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  2. Brooks Hall says:

    Thanks, Bob. I feel uplifted from reading your comment!

  3. YesuDas says:

    Nice, Brooks! As a person who has a hard time letting go of the things of each passing phase of life and embracing those of the next, this rings true to me. Now, I find that I can love my 7-year-old and miss my 3-year-old at the same time. You seem to have found a counterweight to Herclitus's observation that "you cannot step into the same river twice"–instead, you can take it all in at once.

    Interestingly, this is why Byzantine icons of Mary and the baby Jesus show Jesus not as a realistic infant, but as a miniature adult–to show the scene "outside the river" of time and change, like the many-armed Indian deities.

  4. Carol Horton says:

    Really nice idea – and how DID you do that photo??

  5. catlyn777 says:

    A wonderful way to look at life! "Once we realize that we are not doing things from a lack of this or that, we can begin to do things freely, creatively…" If only I could remember that every moment of every day!

  6. yogi tobye says:

    Reminds me of that joke, when Krishna says to Arjuna; "Where are your armies?" to which Arjuna replies; "on the end of my handies!"

  7. I love the idea of the next Buddha being a group of enlightened begins…I can feel that coming. OM Shanti my dear friend!

  8. Brooks Hall says:

    Thanks, Carol! I’m glad you like the idea! In answer to your question about the photo:

    a) I gave the digital camera LSD.

    b) You’re altered in some way.

    c) I put a couple pictures together in Photoshop. (easy for me ’cause I used to do that kind of thing for a living)

  9. Well said, Bob! I wish I would have gotten around to reading this yesterday but I was busy trying to use all my arms that I don't have.

  10. Laura M. Miller says:

    I love the ideas in this blog, and have been thinking a lot about its themes recently: about powers and superpowers (siddhis and mahasiddhis), also how Yoga makes us *more* human by restoring us to our animal senses…. I'm glad of the synchronous food for thought!

  11. Janice Lodato says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Brooks! Your image reminds of how, even in the present moment, we often juggle various responsibilities and aspects of ourselves. Namaste!

  12. Eric says:

    Nagarjuna concluded: "time has no concrete reality and can only make sense in reference to other dependently originating things." Each moment has a beginning, middle, and end, and each of those a beginning, middle, and end, and so on, and so on, and so on…
    ~there's a quote I like from a Rilke poem:
    "I am only one of my many mouths, and at that, the one which will be still the soonest."

    Thanks Brooks~bows and blessings to you.

  13. Jan Boudart says:

    Hi Brooks,

    Thanks for writing this article. I don't think we can be super human, but we can be maximum human.