Essential Concepts in Spirituality
The terms below are excerpted from the Hridaya Yoga Dictionary of the Ineffable, a text that clarifies key spiritual concepts and offers inspiration and understanding beyond the rational mind. For further contemplation, we invite you to purchase the complete dictionary on Amazon. It is our aspiration that this collection of words will assist you in experiencing a more meaningful silence.
(Abhyāsa): Repetition; perseverance. It designates perseverant spiritual practice. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali states that abhyasa and vairagya (dispassion; detachment) represent the two essential aspects of spiritual life. The Shiva Samhita (4:9) affirms: “Through practice comes perfection; through practice one will attain liberation.”
Non-duality. Advaita literally means “not two,” and is a monistic or non-dualistic system that essentially refers to the unity of atman (the Self) and Brahman (the Supreme Absolute). This doctrine says that nothing exists apart from the Spirit and everything is a form assumed by the Spirit. In traditional advaita teachings, spiritual realization was sought not through yogic sadhana (practice) but via the discrimination of the Real, the Truth, the One, from the unreal, the illusory, “that which IT is not.” The one and only goal of the teachings of advaita is the pursuit of unity and singularity. See Advaita Vedanta.
(Advaita Vedānta): Non-dual Vedanta. It is considered the pearl of Indian philosophy and has influenced virtually all schools of Indian thought. The supreme truth of advaita is the non-dual reality of Brahman, in which atman (the Supreme Self) and Brahman (the Ultimate Reality) are absolutely unified. Thus, the message of Advaita Vedanta is that only the Absolute, Undivided Self is real. It is the only Truth to be seen, surrendered to, and, ultimately, realized. Advaita Vedanta is commonly misunderstood as an intellectual philosophy, when it is actually quite practical. It seeks to awaken viveka (discrimination), which leads to Self-realization.
“I am the Absolute (Brahman).” One of the four mahavakyas (great affirmations) of the Upanishads.
(Aham Vṛtti): “The whirl of ‘I.’” Translated as the “I”-feeling or the “pure ‘I am’-feeling,” “I”-sense, or “I”-thought, it represents the irreducible element of any human knowledge, experience, perception, etc. According to Ramana Maharshi, aham vritti has the following essential characteristics:
It originates from a place called the Heart Center, located on the right side of the chest in the human body.
It is the very source of the personality, the irreducible starting point of all experiences.
It has the tendency to identify and attach itself to different experiences. This very identification “solidifies” the ego-consciousness.
Tracing it back to its source is a way to reveal atman (the Supreme Self).
(Ahaṃkāra): Literally, “‘I’-maker.” It is the ego, or the principle of individuation.
(Ahiṃsā): Non-violence. The first of the yamas, as outlined by Patanjali. In order to practice ahimsa, we should not only refrain from physical violence, but also bring awareness to the habitual ways in which we judge and cause harm to others verbally or mentally. Patanjali recommends that we seek to purify these patterns through the cultivation of positive tendencies such as compassion, courage (the cure for aggressive fear), and understanding.
(Amṛta): Immortal; imperishable. Amrita refers to the nectar of immortality, as spiritual liberation is equated to deathlessness. According to the Shiva Samhita, this divine nectar has two forms: 1) one flows through ida nadi and nourishes the body, and 2) the other flows from chandra (the Moon), a secret energy center in the head, bringing spiritual transformation (when properly directed).
(Ānanda): Pure Bliss; spiritual beatitude. Ananda is absolute happiness without object and without end. It expresses the nature of Brahman (the Supreme Reality). This bliss comes from the same source as sat (Pure Existence) and chit (Pure Awareness). Supreme Bliss, unending joy, and delight are the very radiance of the Spiritual Heart. Ananda is not just the emotion of being happy, which usually leads to unhappiness when it goes away. It is not happiness as opposed to unhappiness. We tend to cling to things that make us happy, trying to control them, and somehow we just chase them away. Being inseparable from and of the same nature as sat and chit, ananda arises spontaneously, not on demand. It is revealed only in total surrender to the Spiritual Heart.
“Divine Grace” or “blessing,” the catalyst and cause of any spiritual awakening. Through grace, spiritual insight and illumination happens naturally. In Hridaya Yoga, grace is not seen as an external energy, but as the very essence of the Spiritual Heart. It is spanda, the Sacred Tremor of the Heart.
(Āsana): Posture (in particular, a yoga pose); seat. This is the aspect of yoga that is most familiar to those in the West. Yet, perhaps less understood is that the practice of asanas is not only for the benefit of the physical body, but also for cultivating a deep meditative state in which the body, mind, and soul are brought into a beautiful state of harmony. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines asana as “a stable, firm, and comfortable posture” (2:46), and that “the practice of asana is accompanied by the dissolution of effort and meditation on the infinite.” (2:47) Thus, asana refers to a physical posture in which aspirants stay and meditate on their Supreme Nature. In each asana we can open certain chakras (energy centers), and thus, we come into resonance with energies that exist in both the microcosm and macrocosm. As we learn how to use the asanas to awaken the universal energies within, we can also work on developing certain psychological aspects, such as determination, forgiveness, creativity, and intuition.
(Āśrama): Hermitage. The establishment and the spiritual family that grows up around a sage or guru.
(Aṣṭāṅga Yoga): The “yoga of eight limbs,” is the path outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. It refers to eight branches or angas (limbs). These are: Yama, moral restrictions, Niyama, disciplines, Asana, physical postures, Pranayama, control of the breath and energy, Pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses, Dharana, concentration, Dhyana, meditation, and Samadhi, the blissful state of union between subject and object
(Ātman): The transcendental Self. The etymology of atman clearly shows its meaning, as the prefix a- is a negation and tma means “darkness.” Therefore, atma or atman means “the opposite of darkness” or “shining.” As such, it is a key concept in Hindu metaphysics. Atman is the immortal and immutable aspect of mortal existence. It is the substratum of every object in creation, including humanity. The Self cannot be seen, cannot be perceived, cannot be reached, cannot be grasped, because It is the seer, the observer, the indweller of all embodied beings, and the doer of everything. In other words, the Self reveals itself only to itself. No finite act of cognition is involved. It is the supreme revelation. In this way, the Self becomes the subject, the object, and the means of the experience.
(Avalokiteśvara): The “Lord who looks down,” is the Bodhisattva of Universal Compassion. The name is metaphorically translated as the “One Who Hears the Cries of the World,” and is an example of perfect compassion. Avalokiteshvara listens to and feels the pain and suffering of the world. He embodies the compassion of all Buddhas (awakened ones). Long ago, he vowed not to return to nirvana until he has assisted every being on Earth in achieving nirvana (liberation from suffering).
(Avidyā): “Nescience” or “ignorance,” is a synonym for ajnana that denotes spiritual ignorance. According to the Yoga Sutras, it is the first and the most important of the five kleshas (causes of suffering that bind humans to the cycle of rebirth). In fact, it is the root cause of the other four kleshas. In the Yoga Sutras (2.5), Patanjali says: “Ignorance (avidya) is seeing [that which is] eternal, pure, joyful, and [pertaining to] the Self as ephemeral, impure, sorrowful, and [pertaining to] the non-self (anatman).”
(Āyurveda): The traditional Hindu system of medicine.
A great ancient yogi who, according to some spiritual seekers, still occasionally appears in certain areas of the Indian Himalayan Region. Legends affirm that he was born in the physical realm on November 30, 203 A.D. At the age of eleven, he joined a group of wandering ascetics. In this way he met Boganatar, a great teacher of Siddha Yoga. Boganatar sent him to another yoga master, Aghastyar. Although he was just eleven, Babaji began a strong tapas. On his forty-eighth day of fasting and meditation, Aghastyar revealed himself to Babaji and began to teach him (mainly Kriya Yoga and pranayama techniques). These practices enabled Babaji to quickly reach the state of sarupa samadhi (the condition in which the yogi transubstantiates the physical body).
Contract; hold; tighten; or lock. Bandhas are a class of Hatha Yoga techniques that aim to lock prana in particular areas and redirect its flow into sushumna nadi. The bandhas assist us in the awakening, accumulation, and control of subtle energies for the purpose of spiritual transformation. They also induce a state of pratyahara (interiorization), which can ultimately help us go beyond duality. Bandhas involve the contraction of the muscles in specific areas of the body. There are three bandhas: mula bandha (the contraction of the muscles in the area of the perineum), uddiyana bandha (a contraction in the abdominal area), and jalandhara bandha (the locking of the throat).
(Bhagavad Gītā): The “Divine Song” or “God-Song.” Probably the most widely studied Hindu scripture, it shares teachings from Krishna, the eighth avatara of Vishnu. It is part of a larger epic text, the Mahabharata.
God; the Lord. The noun form of the adjective bhagavad (holy or divine), it is a frequently used word for “God.” Terms such as Ishvara, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and other names for the various aspects of God, are more technical or philosophical. In ordinary conversation, people say either Bhagavan (God) or Swami (the Lord). The term Bhagavan is commonly used to address those few supreme sages who are recognized as being completely One with God.
(Bhajana): A devotional hymn. (From the Sanskrit bhaj, “to worship.”) Usually one person sings a bhajan, whereas kirtan is call and response—the leader sings and the sangha (community) responds. In kirtan, people usually stand and dance, while in bhajans, people sit. Therefore, the major difference in these two types of devotional singing is that bhajans are usually performed by a soloist, while kirtan involves the audience.
Devotion; love. It is derived from the root bhaj, meaning “to participate in.” It denotes “loving involvement and devotion.” Bhakti is usually translated as “devotion” and is understood as human adoration of the Divine. However, the Sanskrit term bhakti more accurately expresses a mutual love—it is the intimacy of love shared. But this “sharing” does not refer to the feeling (often experienced in personal love) that if we love someone they “must” answer our love by loving us back. “Love shared” refers to Divine Love, a love that is always mutual because it points towards the same reality—Love, pure and simple. It is also mutual because it radiates from the same divine Heart.
The “path of devotion to and adoration of the Divine” means unconditional love for the Divine and putting our faith in God. Krishna’s discussions with Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita exemplify this path. The Gita says liberation can happen without devotion if we practice detachment—that is, being in the world but not attached to it. The liberation accessible through devotion is a superior kind. By “awakening to the divine Krishna,” the yogi attains liberation. Those who are on this path personify the Absolute as a god, goddess, the Divine Mother, or another special representation. They devote their lives and actions to their ishta devata (tutelary deity) or to God, present in their Heart as a Father, Mother, or Divine Lover. They sing their adoration, write poems, or dance—immersed in the ecstasy of love
(Bīja Mantra): “Seed syllable,” a syllable or group of syllables or phonemes, usually devoid of any obvious meaning. Because of this, they are beyond any language. We do not need to know or to learn a language, such as Hindi or Sanskrit in order to use a mantra. An example of a bija mantra is OM. Often, bija mantras express the quintessence of a long mantra and of the corresponding deity (which also has a long mantra ascribed to it). Thus, the bija mantra is the root vibration representing the essential nature of the deity.
Drop; dot; seed; the essence of an energy or phenomenon; the dot over the mantra OM, suggesting transcendence. In Ayurveda, it represents semen and the vital energy of the human being. According to the yogic tradition, the bindu (understood as subtle energy) can be experienced and controlled at two different levels: the reproductive organs (the seat of the physical bindu) and bindu visarga (the seat of the subtle bindu-nectar), in the head.
(Brahmacarya): “Worshiping the Supreme,” “living in Brahman,” “living under the tutelage of Brahman,” or “following Brahman.” It is sometimes translated as “to live a life of holiness and worship.” It is the fourth yama (moral restriction) recommended by Patanjali. There are essentially two ways to understand brahmacharya:
In conventional Indian Hinduism, brahmacharya was the attitude of renouncing all sexual activity.
In Tantra Yoga, brahmacharya means sexual continence, the control of sexual energy.
It is also understood as self-restraint, celibacy, and “chastity in thought, word, and deed.” Brahmacharya is a general directive to cultivate an excellent level of restraint and control in life
“One without a second.” Brahman is not only the principle and Creator (as God) of all there is, but is also fully present within each individual. Brahman is the highest and ultimate conception, the Absolute, about which nothing can be postulated, since any assertion would be a limitation. The first stage in the manifestation of Brahman is Ishvara (the Personal God).
“Awakened One.” In Buddhism, it refers to any sage who has awakened to the Supreme Reality. This term also specifically refers to the founder of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha
“The Intellect,” is an instrument of discrimination, a capacity for judgment. It is also called “the higher mind,” as it brings the power of wisdom. It is the highest aspect of antahkarana (the internal organ), which determines, decides, and comes to a logical conclusion regarding any act of knowledge or experience. In the cosmic unfolding of creation, buddhi produces ahamkara (the ego principle). It determines our intellectual attitudes, fortifies our beliefs, and makes understanding possible. In some Upanishads, buddhi is considered higher than the rational mind because it is attracted directly to atman (the Supreme Self) and not towards illusory objects. Because of this, it is also called the Heart, seen as an instrument that creates the conditions for direct knowledge. Buddhi makes spiritual knowledge possible.
(Cakra): Plexus; wheel; vortex. Refers to different centers in the subtle anatomy of the human being, known under different names, including pranic centers, psychic centers, psycho-energetic centers, and cerebrospinal centers. They correspond to different levels of consciousness. The yogic tradition mentions different chakra systems, out of which the six chakra system is the most popular. This includes: muladhara, svadhisthana, manipura, anahata, vishuddha, and ajna. A seventh center, sahasrara, is described, but it is not considered a chakra. This is due not only to the wholeness of the energy that it represents, but also because it is considered to be “the seat of Shiva,” and “the abode of Supreme Consciousness”—it expresses not only immanent energy, but also transcendence
(Candra): The Moon. The expression of feminine, passive energy. Governing the night, it is in connection with transcendence and the ineffable. It is often called soma (the nectar or elixir that gives life, euphoria, and longevity). It is the cup, settled in the sky, which contains the drink of the gods—an exalting ambrosia. The Moon animates and also cures, which is why it is known as “The Master of Herbs” (and, more generally, of plants), osadhi pati. As a gentle and merciful balm, its silver rays soothe and console, inciting quietness and reverence.
(Cit): “Pure Awareness” or “Pure Consciousness.” This term is used in yoga and Vedanta to denote the pure, transcendental, and universal Consciousness. Through chit, sat (Pure Existence) becomes aware of itself. Pure Existence cannot really be present unless it is aware of its Existence. Being and Awareness are united in mutual interdependence. In order for Consciousness to be present, it must Be. In other words, there must be sat (Being-ness). In order to experience the very fact of our own Being, Consciousness must be present to experience this Being.
One of the main schools of orthodox Hindu philosophy. It seeks “union” with the Absolute via a practical system of philosophically grounded sadhana (spiritual practices). It is the philosophy expressed by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, an ancient dualistic yogic approach that distinguishes between purusha (Spirit) and prakriti (Nature). The text is the first systematic exposition of yoga and explains the fundamentals of yogic philosophy. The term Classical Yoga also denotes the important period in the history of yoga when the Yoga Sutras was very influential (around 200-600 A.D.). After this period, Tantric influences became more prominent in India
(Ḍākinī): Enlightened, immortal female deities that act as muses for spiritual practice. Dakinis guard the deeper mysteries of the Self, representing inspiration and non-conceptual understanding and pushing aspirants to transcend duality and cross the barriers to enlightenment. Dakinis can be likened to angels or other supernatural beings, and are symbolically representative of primordial wisdom. They test our awareness and dedication to sadhana (spiritual practice). A female spiritual practitioner who has attained some insights but is not yet fully liberated from samsara is considered a worldly dakini.
(Dhāraṇā): “Concentration,” the sixth limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. It is one of the internal stages. The word dharana comes from the root dhri, meaning “to hold.” In the Yoga Sutras (111:1), Patanjali describes concentration as “the binding of consciousness (mind) to a single place.” This “place” may be physical (a material object like a candle flame or flower), energetic (a chakra, energy center, or nadi, energy channel), or a repeated mental thought, image, sound, light, or mantra. Concentration can be inward or outward and the practice can be performed with the eyes open or closed.
Divine order; rightfulness; universal virtue; spiritual law. Dharma represents the natural laws of the Universe, which are inherent in the structure of reality and at the same time suggest our natural duty. When following dharma, we see ourselves as “sui generis” instruments in the “orchestra” of the Universe. With this comes acceptance, humbleness, and letting go. It is an attitude that says: “I can’t do what Einstein did, but I am not at all sorry about that. I am fulfilled, and my heart radiates joy because in this very acceptance, humbleness, and love I integrate myself in the most harmonious way within the Universe.”
(Dhyāna): Meditation; contemplation. It is the seventh limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. Once the mind has become one-pointed, focused, and able to remain in dharana (concentration) with only one object in its attention, we open naturally to dhyana. In dhyana, the flow of attention on a gross or subtle object continues spontaneously and without force—we have moved from effort to effortlessness, and the object of concentration is now an object of deep fascination.
(Dṛṣṭi): Vision; philosophy; way of gazing. It can also mean “global vision” or “spiritual vision.” In the yogic tradition, there are many forms of ocular convergence and ways of gazing, called drishti. The two best known are bhrumadhya (gazing between the eyebrows) and nasagra (gazing at the tip of the nose). Beyond technical advice about the external way of gazing, yogis emphasize the “steadiness of vision,” which refers to the capacity of “seeing” our very essence (the Self) as the supreme Witness of the body, the senses, and the mind.
(Ekāgra): “One-pointed,” a concentrated, single-pointed state of mind. According to Vyasa’s Yoga Bhashya, the most authoritative commentary on the Yoga Sutras, when the mind has attained the ability to be one-pointed, meditation becomes possible and the real practice of yoga begins. Our internal and external activities are no longer a distraction and we can focus on daily tasks while undisturbed and unaffected by other stimuli. We can rest comfortably in the awareness of the present moment.
Waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and turya (the fourth state, which is the state of enlightenment). In general, all Western science starts from the reference of a waking state of consciousness. Here, sleep and dreams have appeared as psychophysical phenomena to be analyzed from the standpoint of the waking consciousness. All the other states—dream, deep sleep, etc.—are analyzed from this perspective. Advaita Vedanta affirms that the waking consciousness is just a relative, not absolute, point of reference. The waking state is not the ultimate, absolute reality. The dream and deep sleep states are a second and third dimension of Pure Consciousness. Thus, we can more easily understand the relative character of wakefulness. Here Pure Consciousness, as revealed in turya, is the real continuous reference.
(Gaṇeśa): Ganesha is one of the most beloved gods in Hinduism. He is known as the remover of obstacles, patron of the arts, and guardian of new beginnings. He brings good fortune, prosperity, and success. He is said to be the son of Shiva and Parvati and is represented with the head of an elephant. It is said that Parvati, wishing to bathe, created a boy and assigned him the task of guarding the entrance to her bathroom. When her husband Shiva returned, he was denied access by Ganesha and killed the boy in a fit of rage, decapitating him with his sword. Parvati was upset, so Shiva sent his warriors to fetch the head of the first dead creature they found, which happened to be an elephant. The head was attached to the body and the boy was brought back to life. The elephant’s head symbolizes unmatched wisdom and the gaining of knowledge through reflection and listening. Because of his role as his mother’s doorkeeper, Ganesha is often placed facing doorways to keep out the unworthy.
(Gheraṇḍa Saṁhitā): Yogic scripture written in the late seventeenth century by the sage Gheranda. It is one of the three classic texts of Hatha Yoga (along with the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Shiva Samhita).
(Guṇa): Attribute; quality; strand. This word has many connotations, but the most common usage belongs to the vocabulary of the yoga and Samkhya traditions, where it refers to the well-known triad of forces—sattva, rajas, and tamas—that are thought to be the fundamental qualities of prakriti (Nature). These qualities are considered the primary dynamic forces of Nature, as they represent the principles of activity and dynamism (rajas), inertia (tamas), and harmony (sattva). Their combined interaction creates the entire manifest world. They underlie all material as well as psycho-mental phenomena.
One who is “heavy.” It is the traditional name for a teacher, preceptor, or spiritual master whose authority is “weighty.”
(Haṭha Yoga): The “yoga of determined effort,” consists of a group of practices, including asanas (physical postures), shatkarmas or kriyas (purification practices), pranayamas (practices to control the breathing and the subtle energies), mudras (symbolic gestures and attitudes), bandhas (energy locks), and the calming of the mind through relaxation. All of these practices are geared toward preparing the body for meditation and higher forms of spiritual practice.
(Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā): “Light on Hatha Yoga,” a yogic scripture likely written in the fifteenth century by the great yogi Svatmarama. It is one of the three classic texts of Hatha Yoga (along with the Gheranda Samhita and the Shiva Samhita). This treatise explains the physical practice of many essential yogic techniques and presents the more refined spiritual practices of Raja Yoga. It also describes the practice of Laya Yoga (meditative absorption) via nada anusandhana (the awareness of the inner sound).
The object of meditation situated in the middle of the chest, one finger-width to the right. It is the place of awareness recommended by Ramana Maharshi and represents one of the three pointers in Hridaya Meditation. In general, the awareness of the chest area is a simple, direct, basic practice. It can be found as an important element in Sufism, Christianity, and Judaism. The Heart Center is a “sui generis” portal to the ineffable
Our essential and ultimate nature, the ineffable dimension of our being. It is another name for atman (the Supreme Self). The Spiritual Heart is the Supreme Consciousness, the ultimate Subject, the pure “I.” It is the Witness Consciousness, that intimate observer of all our thoughts, emotions, and sensations, our minds, and the entire Universe in both its inner and outer dimensions. The Spiritual Heart is not just a spark of God—the Spiritual Heart is God
(Hṛd Ākāśa): “The Ether of the Heart,” is the boundless space of Pure Awareness, which is both inside and outside what we usually consider “our being.” Hrid akasha is omnipresent; it penetrates the three-dimensionality of space and yet also resides beyond it. It is the domain of the Heart. This infinite domain is Love-Awareness, God, or “the Kingdom of God,” as Jesus described it. This warm tremor of the Heart unifies and encompasses everything. In this way, the duality of the inner domain (the realm of “me”) and the outer domain (the realm of “you”) fades away. At first, the chest cavity seems larger than usual. Then, we become aware that gradually, the space of the Heart expands and we unfold into a non-dual condition.
(Idā Nāḍī): The “comfort energy channel.” It is the passive, feminine, yin energy channel in the subtle body. It lies to the left of sushumna nadi, and its energy is complementary to that of pingala nadi (the masculine, active, yang energy channel that is to the right of neutral sushumna). Ida nadi, also known as chandra nadi, begins at a subtle level in muladhara chakra, goes along the back on the left side of the spine, and intersects with pingala nadi in ajna chakra (the coordinator of polarity in the being).
An attitude of being aware of the Spiritual Heart by using the awareness of madhyama prana (the pauses at the end of inhalation and exhalation) as a pointer. It is, as Swami Lakshman Joo mentioned: “The gradual dawning in the spiritual aspirant of the awareness which shines in the central point found between inhaling and exhaling.” Thus, being settled in the inner asana means being stabilized in the awareness of the Stillness of the Spiritual Heart. It is a gateway to perfect equilibrium, through which we go beyond manifestation, polarity, and the chakras, to where atman (the Supreme Self) is revealed.
(Īśvara): “Personal” God; a form or expression of the Supreme Reality.
(Īśvarapraṇidhāna): “Uninterrupted devotion or surrender to God,” the final niyama (moral restraint) indicated by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. The practice of ishvarapranidhana purifies the remaining desires in the mind. It also orients the mind towards the Divine, until there is no desire for anything but God. The desire for union (yoga) is all that remains in a mind purified by constant devotion
Repetition of a mantra or the name of God; invocation; incantation
(Jīva): Individual soul.
(Jīvātman): “Living self,” the individual consciousness or psyche, which is atman (the perfect infinite spirit) covered over by the veil of ignorance and limitation. According to yoga, liberation consists in the merging of jivatman with atman (the Supreme Self).
(Jñāna): Transcendental, non-mediated, direct Knowledge; Divine Wisdom or Understanding; Spiritual Enlightenment.
(Jñāna Yoga): The “yoga of direct knowledge,” is the yoga of wisdom, of inquiry into the Real Self—the path of the sage. This form of yoga dates back as far as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. It is often mistakenly considered the yoga of intense study of scriptures and sacred texts. Even though theoretical study is not rejected, it does not define the spirit of jnana yoga. Here, the aspirant develops the discernment to distinguish between real and unreal in an attempt to discern the Self from the non-Self (the relative, the ephemeral). It is generally identified with Vedanta and Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism)
(Kālī): The first of the Dasha Maha Vidyas (Ten Great Wisdoms), Kali is the Hindu Goddess of Time, representing the evolutionary aspect of the Divine. The name Kali comes from the Sanskrit word kala, meaning “time.” Kala represents the process of objectification perceived as movement and event from the initial state of pure subjectivity. Therefore, Kali is the one who “spins the wheel of universal time,” who cooks and ripens all things, who is the spiraling process of evolution. Her name also means “she who is black” or “she who is death,” and she is known to destroy the illusions of the ego in order to remove the obstacles in the way of Self-realization. Although sometimes represented as a daunting figure, she has a strong nurturing energy and is known to her devotees as the Mother of the Universe.
Action, operating through the Law of Cause and Effect; destiny that people make for themselves through their actions. There are three types of karma: prarabdha (that which is to be worked out in this lifetime), sanchita (that which existed at the beginning of this life and is held over), and agami or kriyamana (new karma which is accumulated in this life and added to the sanchita deposit). The law of karma combines the theories of predestination and cause and effect, as a person’s present actions cause or predestine their future state.
The “yoga of [conscious and detached] action,” is the path of service and selfless action. Karma Yoga teaches the value of not being egotistically attached to the outcome of our actions. The results are consecrated to a larger purpose—to the Divine, the Spiritual Heart, the Absolute (as it is envisioned or understood by each aspirant)—without expecting anything in return. Every action is done with love, out of dedication to service, for the good and well-being of others. Therefore, there is no attachment to what is done, or to its outcome. Karma Yoga is mentioned in the Vedas. Vedic philosophers believed that only through (ritualized) action could humans ever hope to appease the gods. The discussions between Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita provide a very comprehensive understanding and example of what Karma Yoga is—that our efforts (how we act in the world and how we perform our duties) can create a future free from suffering. Karma Yoga helps aspirants overcome individual limitations by integrating themselves in a larger harmony
(Kāya Kalpa): “Ageless body” or “body fashioning,” is an Ayurvedic treatment for rejuvenating the body. It calls for seclusion in darkness, meditation, and the application of various herbal concoctions. It is even seen as a form of yoga—Ayurvedic medicine was developed in Southern India at about the same time that Hatha Yoga was being developed. Kaya kalpa has three main objectives: Slowing the aging process, maintaining excellent physical health and youthful vitality, and delaying physical death until the attainment of jivanmukta (spiritual liberation while in a physical body). In Hridaya Yoga, spending a period of time meditating in total darkness is referred to as a Dark Retreat. This practice is equivalent to kaya kalpa, however, its main objective is not physical rejuvenation but the direct understanding that we are not just the physical body.
(Kāya Sthairyam): “Bodily immobility,” involves concentration on the steadiness of the body to induce steadiness of the mind, leading to Pure Stillness.
(Kleśa): The fundamental causes of suffering. The Yoga Sutras identifies the five kleshas as: avidya, ignorance, asmita, “I am-ness” (the limitation of the ego consciousness), raga, attachment, dvesha, hatred, and abhinivesha, fear of death.
(Kośa): “Sheath” or “casing.” All major spiritual traditions sanction the belief that the physical body is not the only vehicle in which consciousness can express itself or in which the Spirit or Self (atman) manifests itself. Thus, most schools of Post-Classical Yoga and Vedanta accept the doctrine of the pancha kosha (five bodies), which was first introduced in the ancient Taittiriya Upanishad (2:7). That scripture speaks of the five coverings that obstruct the pure light of the transcendental Self:
Annamaya kosha, the “sheath composed of food”
Pranamaya kosha, the “sheath composed of life force”
Manomaya kosha, the “sheath composed of mind”
Vijnanamaya kosha, the “sheath composed of wisdom”
Anandamaya kosha, the “sheath composed of bliss”
(Kṛṣṇa): The eighth avatara of Vishnu. His name literally means “black,” and he is often depicted with black or blue skin. Krishna is the embodiment of love and divine joy, and an instigator of all forms of knowledge. The worship of Krishna is part of Vaishnavism. He was born the eighth child of Devaki, the sister of the demon king Kamsa. The sage Narada predicted that Kamsa would be killed by his nephew, so Kamsa killed Devaki’s first six sons. The seventh, Balarama, escaped, and the eighth, Krishna, was secretly exchanged for a cowherd’s daughter. Krishna had enormous love for his foster mother Yashoda, and their relationship stands as a great example of both the love between a mother and child and the love for God seen as a child. Krishna was famous for teasing Yashoda and the gopis (milkmaids)—he and his friends would steal milk and butter, hide the clothes of bathing girls, and even break the water pots the milkmaids were carrying on their heads. The meaning of Krishna’s teasing was that he wanted to destroy their ignorance, teaching them not to be attached to matter or forms but to focus solely on God. Legends say that one moonlit night Krishna multiplied his body to dance with all the gopis and fulfill their desire for union with him. The love between Krishna and the gopis represents the divine play between reality and illusion, purusha (Spirit) and prakriti (Nature), divinity and humanity.
(Kriyā): Physical action; ritual; the power of activity; a class of yogic practices leading to purification. Sometimes a synonym for karma, in the sense of action.
(Kriyā Yoga): A form of yoga briefly explained by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (2:1), before the presentation of Ashtanga Yoga. Kriya Yoga brings the purification of the subconscious mind through three means: tapas (asceticism), svadhyaya (study of sacred texts), and ishvarapranidhana (devotion to the Divine). In other yoga contexts, Kriya Yoga is an equivalent for Karma Yoga (the yoga of action done with detachment, awareness, and love). In modern times, Paramahamsa Yogananda offered a spiritual path called Kriya Yoga. Its teachings use bhakti (devotion), pranayama (breath control), and dhyana (meditation) in order to awaken kundalini shakti. He claims that the legendary master Babaji first revealed the teachings.
“Pot-like” retention, one of the phases of pranayama (conscious control and extension of breath). Kumbhaka is a condition without inhalation or exhalation that is associated with the act of increased awareness and the opening of the being toward subtle energies. Many yogis consider that kumbhaka is the main aspect of pranayama. Prolonging the duration of the retention is thought to prolong life itself, and is generally considered a key to inner transformation. It is also one of the most direct means of effecting changes in consciousness.
(Kuṇḍalinī Śakti): Primordial cosmic energy; the Serpent Power. It is the fundamental life force and, at the same time, the supreme spiritual energy usually lying dormant and coiled three-and-a-half times around muladhara chakra at the base of the subtle spine. In Tantra Yoga, kundalini is an aspect of Shakti, divine female energy and the inseparable lover of Shiva. Kundalini is generally defined as an essential potentiality of our being which, upon awakening, opens us to a cosmic, non-personal dimension of energy. Spiritual realization results from the transformations that it produces.
The Kashmiri poet Lalleshvari, widely known as Lalla (1320-1392), left an unhappy early marriage to become a disciple of the Shaivite guru Siddha Srikantha. She reached enlightenment and began singing songs to Shiva, dancing naked, and expressing her divine ecstasy in unconventional ways. Lalleshvari was very influential in shaping Kashmiri culture and attitudes toward life and religion, and her sayings constitute a memory of the Kashmiri classical age in popular consciousness. Her verses are the earliest compositions in the Kashmiri language to have come down to the modern era.
“[Meditative] absorption.” In the Tantric tradition, laya can be translated in two ways. It means:
The absorption of the ego and the individual mind in Pure Consciousness.
The absorption of the individual energy in its original cosmic source.
Essentially, both phenomena refer to the same dissolution of individuality in the ocean of Universal Existence and Energy. It can also be seen as a merging, an absorption of breath, mind, subtle sounds, etc., in the Heart.
A spiritual path consisting of the meditative absorption of the mind in its origin, Pure Consciousness. The Sanskrit word laya means “absorption,” and describes the process of the dissolution of the conditional mind. Its principle consists in using an object of meditation that creates a strong fascination for the mind. In this way, any other perception, thought, or emotion becomes unimportant and irrelevant. In general, whatever process is adopted to attain a higher state of consciousness has to be one that can totally absorb and preoccupy the mind. Keeping the witnessing attitude, in the absence of any disturbance from the mind, the yogi can surrender the individual egoic consciousness much more easily.
A common mechanism or form of ignorance through which people cheat themselves and tend to forget the essential values of existence. Often, people live in compensation, knowing that even though their lifestyle is not what they really want, the few pleasures and desires that their agitated lives can provide are still a way to forget their incapacity to face the shallowness of their reality and commit to a deeper journey. Vairagya (dispassion, detachment) and abhyasa (spiritual practice) are the yogic remedies for living in this way. Vairagya is the abandonment of the false values, mental filters, and dogmas that create an incorrect interpretation of things and generate an erroneous relationship with the world and everything around us. Mental projections and false perceptions are the reason for our attachments and aversions, our likes and dislikes. When we free ourselves from the cloud of our habits, prejudices, and attachments, and start to practice Self-Enquiry, a natural consonance with all the values radiating from the Spiritual Heart arises. Thus, we stop living in compensation
An essential attitude recommended in Hridaya Yoga. It is the attitude of embracing (without contractions) any external or internal event. It is based on the capacity of being rooted in the Witness Consciousness, the real essence of our being. This openness is simultaneously external (toward different circumstances in life) and internal (toward the Spiritual Heart).
A dream in which we become aware of the fact that we are dreaming. Lucid dreams occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Nearly everyone has had at least one lucid dream, but without a perseverant practice of meditation or Yoga Nidra, very few people frequently experience this phenomenon.
(Prāṇayāma): Regulation and control of energy through the breath; the expansion of the vital energy; the extension of the breath. Etymologically, pranayama means “awareness and extension of prana.” It is the fourth rung of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga and an important part of Hatha Yoga.
“Acting without acting,” an important Taoist concept emphasizing an effortless way of acting in the world. As it involves action, it is not a passive state. However, it is unlike other common human actions as it is not selfish, but effortless and egoless. It is equivalent to Karma Yoga in the yogic tradition.
The innermost silent awareness that gives us the feeling that existence is and continues, even in the absence of thoughts, sensations, emotions, etc. This kind of pure awareness, free from any object, has been generally ignored in Western philosophies. It is the impartial observer of thoughts, emotions, sensations, the body, actions, etc. According to the advaita (non-dual) tradition, an action is truly conscious when the mind and, implicitly, the individual consciousness (along with all its filters) is transcended in the sense that there is no individual observer, no personal objective, no expectations, and no reference to memory or to a particular authority.
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