In some modern spiritual circles of study and outgrowths of older lineages there arises this concept of the Mind that by some becomes associated, as well, with “the Brain” and thereby with the dominance of empirical phenomena perceived through this medium. As with most opinions or views, this is not “all true” or “all false” as a perspective. It limits us, however, by the nature of its particular lens. And when we are approaching a subject such as Yoga (with yoga intimating its root sense of Union) this becomes a particularly interesting question to weigh since Yoga moves toward an Ultimate (whether that be associated with Reality, Truth, Source, Emptiness, etc.). We could approach these concepts through two main channels for our purpose of inquiry here: there is the theist version of reality which one might find in Yoga as seen more through a Hindu lens. And there is a non-theist version of reality in Yoga as seen through a Buddhist lens.
It is more than fair to say this is an oversimplification, but for our purposes here we will call the theist version one where there is an Ultimate to merge with-- a Universal Prime Mover (to appropriate a term from a different cultural context) that we unify with as the ultimate expression of Union/Yoga. In the Buddhist lens, it is the clear light and empty nature of our true mind that we move into (where the Awakened One resides within us) and by knowing this as our true nature we become liberated. Both have as their end an Ultimate state of some sort-- one where there is nothing other than Absolute truth or union (not illusion, not partiality, not individuation that is other than…).
Some modern teachers take the latter Buddhist framework to distill out that only that which can be perceived through our Mind (and also brain-- as in our neural network of perception and interpretation) can be considered to be knowable or approximable (and so the idea of an Ultimate “Oneness” or sense of merging into anything other than Ultimate Self, if you will (with Self as the primary lens of perception) becomes surrendered since it is unknowable and unprovable.
On the other hand, through the more theistic lens there is something to merge into. Something that exists “beyond” us that is an Ultimate, and Source.
Yoga is a methodology that is comprised of sets of modifications of Consciousness (and “mind-stuffs”) that can be tested, practiced, applied, adapted, etc. It is empirical and scientific in this way. But it is also a methodology that deals with Ultimate states, whether that’s seen as Liberation, Bliss, Union, Love, Oneness, Being-ness, Emptiness, etc. Yet, in creation as we see, experience and explore it, we witness that within any sense of Ultimate, our perception allows us to experience Infinite at the same time. Every person, perspective, plant, color, breeze, star, moment, thought, and so on are unique in their presentation. In modern Physics (which is coming ever closer to merge with Metaphysics) we have this understanding now where there is an imprint and communication that can be recognized and reflected back in each expression in the cosmos (after all, we’re made of star dust, right?). Two particles are now understood to be able to communicate instantaneously at nearly immeasurable and inconceivable distances. What’s more, our consciousness and conceptions have been proved to effect the outcome of the behavior of such particles (that are seen as “other” than and outside of the limits defining us).
In this way, we might say that Ultimate is portrayed through an Infinite expression, though, like a web or a net, all points of this vibrating expression are yet unified through this Ultimate web of being, each point being connected to, reflecting and reverberating back through every other point. In this sense, no point is really “separate” from the web, even though there is an individual point of vibration, expression or perspective. (And Infinite points and possibilities of points of expression.)
In certain earth-based traditions and practices that developed over time on the American continent, for example, there is a concept of the Medicine Wheel of Life. That every point on the circle or Wheel in a unique vantage point, and every being enters the circle from their particular point, but it is ultimately the same circle that creates the Whole of our collective experience and the totality or unity through this diversity that turns the Wheel of Life.
What’s generically grouped into or termed as “shamanic” practices from around the world (which are primarily earth-based practices and traditions that developed uniquely in “pre-history” through all the cultures of the world but which share a certain premise or end in common, and for that matter also heavily influence what developed into Yogic practices) also deal with a methodology for modifying consciousness. And in particular, the shamans of various traditions were, and are, able to navigate and intermediate between realms. Whether that be the “plant realm” or the “star realm” or any number of infinite realms of perception in this great interconnected web of life, shamans can serve and act as intermediaries, providing cures, healings, reconnecting people to their own state of wholeness, removing invading energies, negotiating with the spirit and essence of many perspectives and entities, etc.
Earth-based practices also deal well with the sense of our perception of being human as being intimately (and inextricably!) connected to this web of life on our collectively perceptible plane of experience where we inhabit bodies, we breathe air, we are born from the fruits of the earth, we are nourished and cleansed by the water, and enlivened by the light of the Sun. This web of life sees us as an intimate of and not other than or outside of all-creation. One can not be separate from any one of these life-sustaining elements (earth, air, fire, water, and by extension, space). We human consciousnesses and beings are an intimate part of this web, both being sustained by and sustaining all life. As with any ecosystem each member is an intimate part and influences every other member. The collective comprises the whole ecosystem which developed to maintain a balance through its members. In this way there is an intimate correlation that is immediate and whose effect is immediate. There is not such a removed “Ultimate” state that exists way out there, or at the end of our life that we are mediating through our actions and being Now. There is Now. And the Now is part of this infinite web of realms.
These are where we can start to conflate these earth-based shamanic viewpoints, and ones from more traditional versions of Yoga. Both of these systems (again, this is a gross oversimplification) deals with states of balance, harmony, equanimity (upeksha) in order to be in a healthy state of Union (even in a smaller sense within one’s own body-mind (inter-sheath system) and within the environment (by extension the elements, ecosystems, seasons, cycles, etc.). Think of our own body as a reflection of such an intimately interconnected ecosystem-- where we have trillions of cells (like the stars of the Milky Way galaxy) working together to comprise the whole (yet continuously evolving and maintaining Balance at the same time)! Just so there are layers and layers of intimately intertwined phenomena and points of participation, but which all are yet connected to our own Consciousness, not forgetting our Consciousness as inherently connected to and reflecting all points of light/expression of this infinite Web or Net of Being/Vibration/Creation.
Where the power of these practices dovetail, and where I see it as so helpful to add the earth-based perspectives to the practices of Yoga, is that Yoga can often get lost, if you will, in the Mind. Or in pursuit of a seemingly removed “Ultimate” state that is somehow “out there” or “other than” us right now in the Present. Something which has yet to be “Attained”. Yet, maintaining this perspective of Ultimate as inextricably linked to the perspective of being in the present is also critical, as is evaporating these distinctions that recognize us as “separate” from anything. We are all genuinely reflections of each other. And by that same token we can purify our consciousness through these practices and radiate our affect out to the whole web. We can honor and steward these gifts of life with which we are intimately connected and interdependent on, and this inherent sense of Reciprocity can be honored through the intimations of our Consciousness and our Actions (Karma Yoga). Absolutely EVERYTHING we do, think, feel, etc. reverberates. It has an effect of some kind. So, in taking responsibility, we become consciously aligned with the Whole, and thereby consciously able to create within that alignment as well.
We therefore take the Self-Responsibility, self-determination and harmonious alignment with the Whole from many earth-based traditions, and we combine them with the system of science of consciousness taken from the yogic traditions and we blend these into a paradigm that emphasizes self-awareness, self-responsibility and direction, as well as Ultimate awareness and inherent concepts of interrelation and interdependence, and we create a methodology that allows us to experience and explore (intimately and experientially!) various states of interconnected consciousness-- and we have a template for a New Human Being post the dark, war-ridden tides of recent (on a relative scale) history (though it extends back thousands of years!). This model becomes a blueprint for self-actualized living and genuine harmony, respect, aligned creativity, freedom and responsibility. It also recognizes the inherent equality at the root of all expressions of existence and works to purify itself to serve the whole, the two being inextricable reflections of one another.