“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god.” -William Shakespeare
The non-dualistic concept of embracing light and shadow both can be difficult to grasp. Christianity highlights the dualistic separation of good and evil or God versus Satan as a fundamental principle to discipline man in his observances of moral precepts. The widespread belief that committing a pattern of bad deeds punishes one in hell while a life of good deeds rewards one with eternity in heaven, can create a disconnect in a person’s experience of his own inner divinity. If a spiritual aspirant lives life in fear of judgment, all of his life choices will be clouded by doubt and uncertainty over what is morally acceptable.
Life presents more colors than such stark black and white depictions of good and bad, and anyone who is engaged in deep spiritual practice will eventually come to the realization that without bad, there cannot be good. Without doubt, depression, or dukkha (suffering), one cannot know the contrasting feelings of awareness, acceptance and actualization. Osho used to talk about utter and total despair or what Kierkegarde called ‘anguish’, as being the requisite experience before actually beginning on the path of yoga. His emphasis on despair was to illustrate the point that there is a fine line between polarities, and until one has experienced both ends of the spectrum, one cannot begin to embark on the path of even-mindedness.
Sometimes when engrossed with the fictional characters of a novel, we can find ourselves at times identifying with the hero as much as the villain … torn at moments by what is seemingly good and bad. Why is it so surprising to empathize with the villain’s internal struggles and even chastise the hero for deviating off the righteous path? For a moment in time, we find our belief systems shattered and the societal values of right and wrong take a backseat because we as compassionate souls recognize the evolutionary process of being human, and all the gray zones that come associated with it. And when the guard of judging right and wrong fall, and true empathy rises to the forefront, a whole new kind of self-wisdom starts to evolve.
Shakespeare so eloquently writes that man’s faculties in form and moving are infinite, and in action he is like an angel. However, most might say that Shakespeare was having too cheery a thought when he composed such a statement. The majority of mankind most likely carries some kind of regret over past deeds of actions that were perhaps far from angelic. But as human beings, our gift and plight are one and the same, free will. Paramahansa Yogananda says that “God made us angels of energy, encased in solids – currents of life dazzling through a material bulb of flesh.” In saying so, he accentuates the Buddha’s point that life is work, and that work is life; and it is man’s work during his lifetime to unravel the entangled web of his human nature for the sole purpose of exposing his true nature which is angelic, full of love and compassion… touched by Grace.
The philosophy of yoga as well as the physical practices of yoga encourages us to move in the direction of connecting to Source and to tap into our highest potential by stripping away the erroneous layers. In removing them, we connect to our inner guides and experience divinity as a tangible force from the inside out.
Patanjali shares in the Yoga Sutras, the dualistic teaching that consciousness and matter are distinct, and that the practices of yoga aid the seeker to shed his/her attachments to the material world in order to connect to Source. While in the non-dualistic Tantric school of thought, it is believed that pure consciousness (Purusha) exists in everything and that everything is composed of the same ‘stuff.’ Similar to the aphorism, ‘even a rose has its thorns,’ Tantric thought radically emphasizes that everything is perfect and pure, light and shadow both. However, before we can move in the direction of creating such an unconditional union with the divine, and integrating the form with the formless, man as he is needs to learn to embody form and the ‘material bulb of flesh’ to his highest capacity. So we can adopt the lessons from both philosophical schools and create our own schematic for spiritual growth.
The teachings of Patanjali’s 8 fold path of yoga: Yama (moral conduct and restraints), Niyamas (observances), Asana (postural alignment), Pranayama (Energy control), Pratyahara (Sense Withdrawal), Dharana (Focused Concentration), Dhyana (Meditation), Samadhi (Union with Oneness) provide us with a blueprint towards self-realization in a systematic way that first emphasizes the deconstruction of the self into parts, much like Carl Jung’s work with archetypal patterns in the human psyche. Patanjali also approaches self-actualization similarly to the A.N.Y.A (A.pplied N.eo Y.ogic A.wareness) philosophy through the labeling of individual parts in a dualistic way before merging with higher consciousness in the spirit of non-dualism. Akin to the archetypal lover in the theatre of Commedia del arte, it is as if we are moving along the spiritual path, plucking the petals off the proverbial flower repeating along the way: “she loves me, she loves me not, she loves me, she loves me not…” ad infinitum.
This dialogue between dualism and non-dualistic experience has been playing out in many philosophical modes of thought for thousands of years. And this eternal tennis match will continue because it is a true reflection of man’s dualistic nature, and his deep striving to overcome his samskaras (wheel of suffering) and reveal his highest form. Through acceptance of all the ills and wrongdoings of the world (mankind’s eternal plight), we can tune into our inner guides, our A.N.G.E.Ls (A.uspicious N.eighbors ~ G.enerouslyE.manating L.ove). In the spirit of Tennessee Williams, we must proceed with faith for if “we get rid of our demons, we shall lose our angels too.” Through a compassionate love lens, with patience and perseverance, we will all eventually uncover the joy that lies within and find our own ‘right’ way.