Who is interested in enlightenment?
Hmm…exotic and interesting, beyond the pale.
What about pleasure? Definitely.
But can the two go together? Images of the Buddha leaving behind all worldly pleasure in search of that pinnacle of human experience—pure spiritual awakening…
Good news: yoga science doesn’t see enlightenment and pleasure as separate or contradictory aspirations or experiences.
In Sanskrit, from writings on the end of all knowledge, Vedānta-sūtra says: “Athāto brahma jijñāsā,” now that you have reached this human form of life, it is time to inquire into the nature of the absolute truth, the depth of reality, in other words, enlightenment.
At the same time, we need to recognize the fundamental nature of our existence: “ānanda-mayo ‘bhyāsāt.” We are pleasure seeking by nature, we can’t switch off that desire, pretend it doesn’t exist, repress, suppress, transcend, etc. It will always come back at us like a jack-in-the-box. There is a way to desire and attain pleasure by which we can get the highest, purest form of it, so high we lose our attraction for the shadow version. It is a non-material, original pleasure of the essential spirit self within all beings.
I would like to share my favourite thing, something real: a meditation technique from the bhakti yoga tradition.
It combines exactly the above: the highest pleasure and enlightenment. It is in fact the recommended yoga process for this time and space for attaining these two highest jewels.
Usually, “meditation” sounds peaceful, low-key and intriguingly mystical in aim; a personal-portable grounding tool, bringing resilience to the ups and downs; it is the hope for a sparkle of tantalizing insight from beyond the usual time-worn experiences.
In practice, however, meditation may be for many, a bit tedious and hard to do everyday. A noble, wholesome, soulful aspiration, but… I mean, really, I prefer to party and do things. However, it seems that to get that peace, serenity and depth I want, I need to do something serious like sit in meditation.
What if we meditate by singing along, even dancing wildly sometimes, to some really good music? Sounds like partying to me!
Mantra meditation—kirtan to the yoga world—is the best of both worlds. It is my best night out, non-toxic and hangover-free. Nothing ever felt better, tasted better or left me so absolutely satisfied. I am talking a new brand of pleasure, what the yoga texts call ananda—bliss tasted on the spiritual platform—as opposed to just plain vanilla happiness that comes and goes on the material plane, abandoning us to make room for its flip-side, unhappiness, and really not very satisfying in the first place compared to the bliss we are entitled to.
And yes, it is only easy to say this once we have tasted even a drop of the other type of happiness, like when we are a caterpillar, it is hard to let go of the last branch until firmly footed on the next.
Kirtan is mantras sung to music. A mantra is sound vibration that frees the mind. It is an ancient yoga process, but super easy and super potent. Sitting down, surrounded by sincere souls; before us the kirtan leader and musicians lead us in chant. We all respond, back and forth; in this way, we go on for an hour or more and it just gets better and better. The mood and atmosphere lifts out and above the mind states we came in with, to a new world beyond, full of non-material flavours.
We don’t have to be musical. Indian and Western styles and instruments combine to take us deeper and deeper into the mantra. Ultimately the freedom and bliss we experience just makes us want to throw off all inhibitions, including our meditation cushion and dance in ecstasy.
What’s going on?
Kirtan is a place the mind can rest. The sound vibration, being composed of spiritual energy, gives the shelter the mind crawls longingly through the material world for. The difference between these spiritual and material energies is chalk and cheese, day and night; in yoga knowledge, matter is composed of ignorance, temporariness and distress, whereas spiritual energy is made of full knowledge, permanence and bliss. We can choose to get absorbed in either—take your pick.
Kirtan is freedom. How do we get beyond these covering walls of body, mind and material environment, limitations that are so familiar? We know the limitations so well and are weary of not finding something else yet, and maybe even doubtful that there even is something else. Then why do we, or at least some of us, crave the taste of fresh air beyond the “same old same old” world we are used to? Kirtan is a touchdown on the transcendent self beyond body and psychology; it is the soul, the atman of yoga; it’s a home hit, the bull’s-eye. Unlike many meditation methods, it is not just a psychological exercise, an observation of thoughts or breath or an experience that still keeps us on the material plane. Once we taste that freedom, that release beyond limitation that we get in kirtan, we will never be satisfied inside the stale walls of what we know now.
So what does it feel like to really begin to be ourselves again? It is an experience that grows as we pursue it. Considering self-realisation is the goal of many spiritual disciplines throughout history, it is not a cheap thing and not spoken for in a day. Through the dedicated practice of kirtan, supported by a life of supportive values and activities, yoga science foretells an awakening of our “nitya-svarupa,” the eternal non-material form of the eternal living being which exists dormant, out and beyond our current physical and psychological identity, leaving its trace as consciousness and desire in their adulterated form.
For us, in our beginning stages however, we still experience significant signposts of the road ahead: we start to taste a loosening from the mental states that crowd our consciousness moment to moment and that feel so “me,” however much we would prefer not to have them. We begin to taste a focusing of vision that clarifies the muddle of life and makes us gradually hunger to live the most for-real life.
The heart opens to radiate and shine and barriers between us and the people in our life—friends, family and workmates start to disappear. We feel the desire to connect unselfishly, with all beings, via our Common Source, instead of settling for the parched exchange of utilizing all the people and things around us for our own gratification. What liberation.
And of course that new level of pleasure we discussed before, totally distinct from the usual happiness available through the chewed and chewed again material means. Those are just a few of the herculean shifts that are possible at the beginning of this exciting adventure into kirtan.
Ultimately, kirtan reboots our original intelligence so we start to see and act in harmony with dharma: the cosmic order or intelligence, a.k.a, implicit order in quantum physics, that gives rise to the natural laws and order we see in the reality around us. Effectively, we are tuning ourselves like an instrument with Creator, creation, and other creatures, bringing us to a state of alignment with the complete spiritual whole we are a part of. Imagine what that does for our levels of peace, serenity, depth, satisfaction, compassion, helping others, etc.
Yoga science prescribes transforming our own consciousness, one person at a time, as the way to bring deep change in how we deal with other beings and our planet.
The mantras we chant in kirtan are names for the complete spiritual whole that the soul is a part of: Krishna. Supported by other mantras, the headliner is the maha-mantra, or great mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
We can start the experiment now by try chanting this mantra for 10 minutes every morning or evening, and whenever we feel like it—and see what it does. This is a yoga process to be experienced, so there is no need to believe in anything; it’s just like stepping into a yoga session to try out what it does for us.
So, try kirtan out; nothing to lose, everything to gain.
At the very least, we will feel a release from stress, anxiety and boredom.
At the most, we could be the next fully self-realized, blissful, supercharged, intelligent, authentically and unselfishly powerful person walking the earth, a beacon of pure compassion, honesty and deep knowledge that can contribute big time to easing the multi-problems off the world’s shoulders.
Find it at a bhakti-yoga centre near you.
Editorial Apprentice: Yaisa Nio /Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Vrindavan Lila