About the Book
Most people begin their practice of yoga with asana. But as practice progresses, many become curious about the deeper dimensions of this time honored spiritual path. Books that touch on the "advanced" spiritual practices and experiences are fascinating, but they often leave readers feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the details of the practices. This volume avoids that pitfall.
Path of Fire and Light presents an array of refined techniques of pranayama and meditation that are rarely described accurately. But advanced yogais not simply a matter of technique. Above all, it is a matter of understanding the practices in the overall context of self-transformation and self-unfoldment. That is why each chapter in this extraordinary volume provides a philosophical context for the techniques and practices it describes and offers strategies that can be adopted for removing the obstacles that arise along the way.
This book can be read over and over as you progress through the journey of self-discovery that is yoga. With each reading, new impressions are formed and new lessons learned. Some who approach the path of fire and light will be dazzled and blinded and will turn their heads. Others will be intrigued and inspired, and will slowly begin to tread this path and eventually make it their own.
About the Author
One of the greatest adepts, teachers, writers, and humanitarians of the 20th century, Swami Rama is the founder of the Himalayan Institute. Born in northern India, he was raised from early childhood by a Himalayan sage, Bengali Baba. Under the guidance of his master he traveled from monastery to monastery and studied with a variety of Himalayan saints and sages, including his grandmaster, who was living in a remote region of Tibet. In addition to this intense spiritual training, Swami Rama received higher education in both India and Europe. From 1949 to 1952, he held the prestigious position of Shankaracharya of Karvirpitham in South India. Thereafter, he returned to his master to receive further training at his cave monastery, and finally, in 1969, came to the United States, where he founded the Himalayan Institute. His best-known work, living with the Himalayan Masters, reveals the many facets of this singular adept and demonstrates his embodiment of the living tradition of the East.
The highest accomplishments in any art or science are the product of patient effort. A violinist plays the Beethoven concerto or a physician performs an organ transplant only after years of preparation. Without such intense preparation, no art or science can really develop.
Thus it is with yoga. Sleeping skillfully, eating wisely, breathing well these are the first steps on the path. They are commonplace, but deceptively so. Rather than diminishing in importance, these themes become increasingly significant as practice levels intensify. As you will see, advanced yoga practices challenge imagination and raise everyday life to rarified levels of awareness.
At present, yoga is largely identified with asana practice. This means that advanced yoga is often expected to consist simply of advanced postures. But while there is enormous value in working with yoga asanas, that is not the aim of this book. Here you will learn about the highly refined techniques of pranayama and meditation, only rarely described with authenticity. Most important, this book tells of self unfoldrnent about the precise ways in which yogis, past and present, have directly approached the transcendent within themselves. This is the highest realm of practice, the final stage of the journey of yoga.
That journey must, of course, begin somewhere. The Yoga Vasishtha, an early yogic text, says that there are four gatekeepers at the entrance to the path of self-unfoldrnent: self-control, contentment, good company, and inquiry into the nature of the Self. Self-control, says the text, is the source of everything good and auspicious. It is the remedy or physical and mental ills, and with it, even food is said to taste better. Contentment is the source of happiness. It is the product of finding fulfillment in what comes unsought.
Good company is said to be superior to every other spiritual observance-better than pilgrimage, charity, and fasting. It means keeping company with those who have realized some measure of truth, whose uncertainty is therefore dispelled, and whose happiness is well established. The spirit of inquiry prompts a person to stud) scriptures, to ask about the nature of the Self, and to hold to tranquility even in the face of great sorrow. This leads to meditation and to a path of stillness.
Building on these qualities and skillfully merging them with classical yoga practice, this book offers a remarkable vision of yoga. It is based on Sanskrit texts such as the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali (c. 1st century BCE) and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika of Swatrnarama (c.15th century CE). But it is equally grounded in the experience of its author, an accomplished yogi whose life was shaped through early training with many of the greatest saints and personages of 20th-century India. Raised under the guidance of a brilliant sadhu (spiritual ascetic) whose yogic attainment was legendary, Swami Rama received both singular training in the practices of yoga and a modem education in the finest schools and universities of North India. Along the way he became a young acquaintance of Gandhi, a spiritual brother of Tagore, a student of the great Indian philosopher Ranade, and an acclaimed sadhu under his master's guidance.
He came to the United States to teach in the late 1960s during a period in which paradigms of Western medical thought were being transformed. Displaying an astonishing degree of self-mastery in the laboratories of the Menninger Foundation, he showed that control of internal functioning is well within the capacity of human consciousness. His demonstrations were widely known (they were summarized in the 1973EncyclopediaBritannica Yearbook of Science), fueling further research and buoying the newly developing fields ofbiofeedback and alternative medicines. But Swami Rama never considered his demonstrations to be more than a preliminary indication of the potentials of yoga. Thus, it was that after many years of teaching in the West, years in which he carefully presented the basic elements of yoga to his students, Swami Rama finally chose to speak about advanced practice.
Those who were fortunate enough to learn from him during his lifetime will recognize in this book Swami Rama's characteristic style of writing and speaking. He presented teachings in a manner that carefully respected and preserved the work of the great yogis of the past. But his writing about matters of advanced practice often reflected personal experience. Many students have remarked that because of this, both his word selection and manner of organizing thoughts are uniquely evocative.
In regard to the content of this book, a few reflections may be helpful. Swami Rama writes in chapter five:
In tantric philosophy, a human being is seen as being like a miniature universe or a microcosm that parallels the whole of the external manifestation, the macro cosmic universe. The principles that govern the universe also govern every individual.
What are those principles, and how do they govern individual life? In a sense, this entire book is an elegant answer to these questions. It begins with the recognition of each individual's relationship to the cycles of day and night, to the nutritional powers of food, and to the breathing pat- terns that directly link him or her with the universe. Breath, in its highest form, is a manifestation of a universal energy Shakti. It flows as living energy vaya. But its flow is resisted by the effects of a false sense of egoism: the accumulation of negative karma. A practitioner who recognizes these three great motifs will find in them the organizing principles for every level of experience. In advanced practice, shakti is the inclination toward self-realization; vayu is the medium of motion or "that which flows" (in this book, largely defined as the breath and its subtle operations); and karma is the force of resistance that restrains the impetus toward Self-re- alization. According to Swami Rama, an advanced 'yogi seizes the ability to voluntarily control breathing in order to overcome negative karma and reveal the Self.
What are those principles, and how do they govern individual life? In a sense, this entire book is an elegant answer to these questions. It begins with the recognition of each individual's relationship to the cycles of day and night, to the nutritional powers of food, and to the breathing pat- terns that directly link him or her with the universe. Breath, in its highest form, is a manifestation of a universal energy Shakti. It flows as living energy vaya. But its flow is resisted by the effects of a false sense of egoism: the accumulation of negative karma. A practitioner who recognizes these three great motifs will find in them the organizing principles for every level of experience. In advanced practice, shakti is the inclination toward self-realization; vayu is the medium of motion or "that which flows" (in this book, largely defined as the breath and its subtle operations); and karma is the force of resistance that restrains the impetus toward Self-realization. According to Swami Rama, an advanced 'yogi seizes the ability to voluntarily control breathing in order to overcome negative karma and reveal the Self.
As fascinating as advanced techniques may be, descriptions about them can feel overwhelming, overly mechanical, or both. Is it really possible, for example, for vast powers of consciousness to be awakened merely by manipulating one's breath? With the restraint characteristic of a careful teacher, Swami Rama subtly discourages students from thinking so. It is not technique alone, but technique augmented with understanding that matters. Thus, in every chapter, the book provides a philosophical context for the practices described there.
Like a piece of music layered with various colors, textures, and moods, you will discover numerous strata in this book. It relates the need for yoga, describes the specific disciplines that bring success in its practice, and clarifies the strategies that can help in removing obstacles along the way. It takes the sting out of many Sanskrit terms, leaving one wanting to learn more about the nuances of this ancient language. It presents a striking vision of life, an explanation in words and symbols that is both practical and transformative. And it awakens the aspiration, as practice evolves, to under- stand at least some of these disciplines for yourself.
I suspect that you will find Path of Fire and Light worth reading more than once. With each reading, new impressions are lodged and new lessons learned. In the end, you may well discover that the practice you are doing has not changed substantially, yet it has matured. Advanced practice, it seems, is your own practice the practice you do- filled with new understanding.
The subject matter of this book is the advanced practices of yoga, condensed from ancient scriptures. I have endeavored to verify and examine the authenticity of these exercises myself, and I visited and sat at the feet of those who completely devoted their lives to attaining the goal of life. I was fortunate to meet a few who walked on the path of light, and who denied the existence of darkness by saying that the sun itself never knows what darkness looks like. It is only the ignorant who live in the darkness of ignorance, not the enlightened ones. But who are these enlightened ones?
In all great cultures there have been great people, torchbearers, who, through their wisdom, have helped many on the path of truth. Their existence assures humanity that human beings are able to walk on the path of light if they follow the instructions imparted by the great ones and practice.
Interior research is fundamentally different from the re- search conducted in the external world. In the external world the researcher finds subjects for his experiments, but in interior research the researcher must become the subject himself. This task is enormously difficult, for the interior researcher must assume the attitude, "I am a researcher, I am a laboratory, and I am the subject." To have the conviction that one can successfully pursue this approach, one must first gather sufficient information by studying the scriptures and visiting those teachers who really practice.
If he is to attain the truth, there must be an unflickering flame burning in the heart of the aspirant. This arises when one has carefully examined the external world and finds that the external world is just a small particle of the vast universe. Anything that occurs in the external world has actually already occurred within long before, though the cause remains hidden. When one awakens to this fact and is fully convinced that life in the external world is not completely satisfying, then he turns within in search of the truth. A true researcher uses all means available to search for the cause of external events in the internal world. He wants to know the truth; he wants to understand life within as well as he understands it outside himself.
The way of knowing the external world is entirely different from the way of knowing the internal states of a human being. In the former, one proceeds from the gross to the grosser and then toward the grossest. The latter is from the gross to the subtle and then to the subtlest. Only a few dare to tread this second path, for it is the path of the unknown. There is a saying that when a student searches, the teacher appears. It is true. It is true that when one sincerely searches for truth with all his mind, action, and speech, he attains it.
The most ancient science is yoga science. It is as ancient as human existence. But, alas, it was practiced by only a fortunate few and has not become a part of the educational system of society. Perhaps modem man does not undertake this research for two reasons. First, the practices of yoga science require that time be set aside, and modem man is caught in the whirlpool of his own creations and expectations which keep him uselessly busy. So there is a cry from seekers: "We don't have enough time." The second problem is fear of the unknown. Those who are awakened have begun to realize that the purpose of life cannot be fulfilled solely by an external way of living. They start organizing their lives and adjust themselves in such a way that they have time to feel the innermost urge to know truth and understand their internal states. Such aspirants start treading the path of light.
To tread the path of inner light one looks here, there, and everywhere for the means and knowledge. When one begins to discipline his habit patterns, he finds himself in- adequate and searches for guides. As water finds its own level, similar meets similar, and when he is prepared, the aspirant meets the great ones who have been treading the path of discipline and light.
It is a false notion that one has to renounce the world to practice this science. Of course one has to learn to organize oneself-but not necessarily to renounce. A day comes when an aspirant realizes that renunciation and selfless service are actually one and the same. Then he knows that living in the world and remaining unaffected, or leaving the world and becoming a renunciate, both have one and the same aim- and there is not much difference between the two.
Most of the people in the world are not aware of their capacity and ability, and have hardly any self-confidence that they can ever attain the purpose of life. But those who have acquired self-determination start practicing systematically. How to begin the practice? First, the environment should be made conducive. Then you should regulate your dietary habits and appetites. As diet seems to play an important role in life, so also do other appetites, such as sleep, sex, and self-preservation. Yoga science says, "Neither he who does not sleep nor he who sleeps too much; neither he who works too much nor he who does not work-none of these can be adepts at yoga."
The physical body needs attention so that it remains a healthy instrument for carrying out the research efficiently. Awareness of diet and exercise should become a part of one's life. In the course of study one finds that it is not only food that sustains life on this planet, but that prana the vital force that we inhale, is more important than the prana from the food we eat. Of course we receive prana through food, but the quantity and quality of that prana which we receive from food alone is not enough to help the human being to live and grow. The-air we breathe becomes a means of supplying the vital force, and that is how we live. It is true that breath is life.
The ancient yogis discovered various subtle breathing exercises and understood the body breath mind relation- ship in a profound and comprehensive way. The exercises explained in this book are based on the scriptures and the teachings of those great ones whom I visited in my child- hood and youth. I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of these exercises, but let me frankly say that I have met many practitioners, but only a few adepts. For the convenience of advanced seekers and aspirants I have given a few exercises which are not difficult to practice, but again, I don't find that modem students have the patience, self- confidence, and self-discipline to continue the practice.
In every human heart and mind there is a constant battle between knowing the truth and enjoying the world. Many aspirants would like to practice, but only a few begin the journey, and among those few, only a fortunate few continue on. Rarely, a very fortunate few attain the goal. It is useless to brood on who is enlightened and who is not: "One who claims to be enlightened is surely not, and one who practices and follows the path may be enlightened." No one knows. It is better to practice oneself and tread the path of light.
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