Two yogic strategies emerged to deal with this situation of physical embodiment. If the ego and its inherent desire for worldly fulfillment and sense of separation is seen as problematic, and a barrier to our connection with Source, the appropriate strategy would be to separate our universal nature from our ego nature as soon as possible. This is the path of the sage Patanjali. He identifies the essential problem as one of too much identification with what he calls nature – the physical world, which even includes our thoughts and emotions. So for Patanjali, the path back to our true nature requires, to some extent, withdrawing from the world of distraction and disengaging our universal nature from the objects of the senses. This often becomes the path of the renunciate, or the monk.
The second option, as far as addressing the situation of our embodied nature, is best articulated in the Tantric path which brings us back, after quite a diversion, to where we left off. Tantra sees the entire manifest world including thought, emotion and memory not as a barrier to recognizing our true nature, but simply as what Source has created – one reality that includes everything. So Tantra does not see our embodiment as a problem, or as a situation to escape from. It views embodiment as an opportunity to become more conscious, and to see the signature of divinity in all things. The world is the place where we practise our yoga, and to which we may come again.
If we choose a more Tantric option – that God lives in us as us - we can engage in the world and have some real concern for the fate of the world, motivated by the very real possibility that we may be here again to experience the fruits of our actions. If on the other hand we believe the world is a place to escape from and that “Heaven” lies elsewhere, that belief is going to affect our actions in another way. We may be less apt to care about the mess we leave behind, and more concerned with how exactly we get into this “Heaven”.
Because of the limitations of language it is also difficult to transmit a spiritual experience in writing. Teachings that were meant to point toward a real experience of Source by using metaphor and poetry, sometimes became interpreted literally rather than mythically. A myth points to a deeper truth, and is meant to be interpreted, not proven to be true or false. Every culture on our planet from the First Peoples of North America, to the Mayans to Australian Aboriginal peoples has a mythology appropriate to their way of life, using stories, metaphor and images that appear in their daily lives. All myths from all cultures are true in that when interpreted, they tell us deeper truths about our human experience.
The Judeo-Christian mythology shares many of its stories with other cultures – virgin births being a common way to illustrate the awakening of universal consciousness, for example. But in the 4th century, at the First Council of Nicaea, Christian bishops created the first uniform Christian doctrine. They proclaimed, after a vote, that Jesus was to be seen as God’s most perfect creation, rather than made of the same substance as God. They proclaimed also that Jesus was to be seen as the literal son of God, not as a son of God. This view created much of the perceived separation between man and his essential nature we see in Western religions today. In this literalized mythology there is no way for a human to reach God, as God does not live within us, as us. Our original nature, they said, is not Source. We are born into sin, and will be forever separate from God. We may go to heaven when we die to live near God if we do the right things, but we are never part of Source itself, as we are God’s creation.
It is important to note here that this standardization of belief by the bishops at Nicaea was not a conspiracy. Rather, it was an attempt to harmonize some of the disparate beliefs present at the time and to bring order to an organization. The proceedings were well-documented by those present, most notably by Eusebius of Caesarea, who wrote a letter to the people of his Diocese explaining the decisions made by the bishops present at the Council.
This decision, based on a literal rather than a metaphoric interpretation of myth, has had some rather severe consequences. Our ego nature could not have been dealt a more severe blow than to be told we are not part of God. Our ego needs to survive in order for us to live, so it does what we all do when we are unfairly criticized – it defends itself.
For our ego to rebuild itself, it must find a way to again become valuable. If our belief is that we are forever separate from Source – Source being a blissful, conscious reality dependant on nothing – then our value must be only a relative value. If we do not see God in others or ourselves, our ego must adopt a new strategy, and that strategy is comparison. Unconditional love is only possible when we recognize our universal nature – when we become “transparent to transcendence”. Our individual qualities – physical beauty, size, intelligence and so on, will change as we change over this life. If our love for another or for ourselves is based only on our individual qualities, without a remembrance of our universal nature as part of God, our love may change when the individual qualities we see as valuable change or diminish.
A society that places value only on individual qualities is a society that loves conditionally. If our belief is that we are not innately valuable, but valuable only because of what we do, then we must do in order to be loved. It is not enough to simply be. It is clear that the focus of our society is on doing. In order to be loved in this context, we must be not just smart or beautiful or funny or resourceful, but smarter, more beautiful, funnier or more resourceful than others. We must compete and win in one of these events in order for the ego to repair itself.
Another symptom of a belief that we are separate from Source is the desire to own. Indigenous cultures living in harmony with their environment see themselves as belonging to the earth, not the earth belonging to them. This is not to say that territorial behaviour is not an aspect of many sentient beings. Territorial behaviour is motivated by the necessary desire for survival and does not extend past one’s own life cycle, and often not past one season. However, with our large brains and sense of separation we have decided that it is actually possible to own something that was here millions of years before we were born, is in fact the organism that allows us to live, and to own it in perpetuity. We wish to be able to pass parts of the earth on to our offspring, or to sell it - something we never created in the first place. It makes as much sense to claim that we also own the sun. From our sense of separation we cry “This is MINE!” in an attempt to own everything – to bring it all back. Perhaps instead we should whisper “I am yours”.