Āsvāda: How to Dissolve Mind by Tasting Reality

Kāśmirian Advaita3

by Gioia Lussana

Kāśmirian Advaita yoga regards mind and its functioning as a natural unfolding towards the shining liberation, the luminous spaciousness that we are, our true nature. This yoga relies on the recognition that things of reality and ourselves are one inseparable flux of intelligent energy that is alive, aware and pure in its original essence. We feel ourselves as separate. This yoga reveals us the vibrant relation between us and the world, allowing a mutual exchange. Finally we understand that we share the same essence with everything else: different but one at the same time in an unpredictable intimacy with whatever we live as other. Non-dual yoga is this living connection and recognition.

The etymology of the word mukti or mokṣa, liberation, comes from the Sanskrit root muc– , which means the arising of something that was already there, as our inner radiance. Liberation isn’t something to obtain, to build up by changing one’s own nature, but rather an aliveness springing from the deep. Yoga is the movement of consciousness that desires to manifest itself through action. Yoga is nothing else than embodied consciousness, Being revealing its being-ness.

As Abhinavagupta says “Actually there is no member of yoga that can really serve as a means to Anuttara state (Liberation)… The means to it is in fact a ‘non means’ (or ‘contains non means’)”, since there’s something more and before than ritual practices or the coercive suppression of mental functions: the alive consciousness which knows everything and itself at the same time.

Yoga does not need to restrain the natural course of the mind, which spontaneously follows its own path to pacification. Along this path, the drives of senses and the waves of mind can dissolve only through a detachment brought about in easiness and absence of exertion or fatigue (anādaraviraktyā). On the contrary, if one struggles in order to subjugate them, they turn out to be ungovernable (like wild horses…). The path of yoga doesn’t imply any effort, but unfolds through joy, passionate attention and participation to whatever occurs moment-by-moment. Just because of that, our sensitive and desiring heart becomes absorbed in deep peace. Rather than about effort, Medieval Advaita yoga speaks about udyama: passion, careful, joyful adherence to whatever we are or do.

This special kind of attention concerns a broader attitude of mind and heart: a sudden, tasting wonder that doesn’t select any object of perception, but rather realizes moment-by-moment the right relation with any object in a vast, expansive and all-inclusive horizon, free from the ordinary thought of the conceptual mind, the mind which only knows duality, difference, only knows form.

This is the yoga of wonder. Everything is welcome, everything is fresh and new, everything is worthy to live. This joyful insight implies a quiet, alive consciousness. Asvada is just this wakeful enjoyment.

The yogin (the enjoyer) is defined as camatkartā: the one who tastes wonder in any situation. He becomes totally one with the experience (the enjoyable), because he is totally there, totally imbued by it: there is no difference, no distance between the enjoyer and the enjoyable, but rather – as we have said before – an intimate relationship and a vibrant exchange between them. Along this way, while enjoying, the yogin is not stained by the enjoyment. The experience leaves no trace in him. It doesn’t take the solid form of a memory, which obscures the limpid, clear original mind, conditioning its potential, freedom and availability. The essence of camatkāra, ‘wondering enjoyment’ is the act of opening oneself to every experience in the most intense and penetrating manner, while firmly maintaining a warm attention on the subject that perceives rather than on the object perceived. The nature of the subject ceases in this case to have a personal quality. Subject and object fall away; only perception shines in the field of reality. In camatkāra mind acquires its universal quality of being.

This is the way of the free (svatantra) Advaita yoga: getting through the full expansion, explosion of the senses in tasting things. Things and emotions are not devouring or kidnapping yogin’s mind, but paradoxically the meditative stillness of mind, receiving the powerful support of the sensorial drive, increases its steadiness. The quality of meditation (bhāvanā) is then the outcome of this full sensorial unfolding.

Yogī antarmukhī bhavanti, ekagrī bhavanti: the yogis suddenly become introverted and one-pointed, as Kṣemarāja says commenting a verse of Spanda-kārikās. Any kind of feeling and emotion – the painful, fearsome or joyful ones as well -, whenever they are felt in connection to our inner vitality (the vibrant heat of life in our heart), lead finally to bhāvanā, the meditative state of mind.

Our inner centre of vitality (which we share with the Universe) is spanda. Spanda is the free movement of consciousness in our feeling heart as well as in the world. If the yogin feels the activities of his mind and body as connected to spanda (the vibration of universal Consciousness), then feelings, desires and emotions don’t distract him from his interiority, quite the contrary indeed. Desire in Non-dual yoga is not neediness. Desire is timeless awareness becoming time. Desire is the felt sense of reality, becoming everything, as R.Bauer points out.

Tantric India views emotions as great goddesses that flood us, break the veil of ordinary life and reveal consciousness instantly.

In the Kāśmirian texts, when the emotions just begin to rise up (ksobha), they belong to the wondrous play of the (divine) consciousness, whose aliveness and power they partake. This is true even for the states of anger, grief and all the other painful or negative ones. Ksobha is then a completely neutral sense as the impulse that causes the variety of all feelings to arise. The turning point for the yogin is then to succeed in seizing any emotion just at its pure energetic arising moment, before it gets overwhelming and beyond control.

In its first appearing in the mind, any emotion is identical with the powerful life energy that is both in us and in the world outside, namely the sheer force of life and consciousness. This is the fuel, the propellent of the meditative mind.

The yogin is rāgavan, enlivened from emotions, but not totally identified with them. When the adept identifies with his/her true centre, sensorial experience will cease to be a tie and it will become an instrument of liberation.

Finally it is the very excitement caused by vital energy that, by means of senses, leads to the non-dual ultimate experience. Sensorial and emotional experiences produce a vital expansion of the mind, which becomes an increasing intensity of the general mood. What is common to all emotions – be they are painful, fearsome or joyful – is primarily their intensity, whether they lead to a state of thought-free awareness (nirvikalpa) immediately (for example in perceiving an ordinary beauty), or gradually through a process of deepening meditation (bhāvanā).

In every experience, Tantrism emphasizes the intensity: this is what really leads to liberation from bondage, whether through any transgressive ritual, or through any aesthetic enjoyment, like the perception of a beautiful sunset, of a fragrant smell or of an enchanting sound. Ras āsvāda is similar to brahm āsvāda. The aesthetic dimension has the same flavor, the same quality of the divine consciousness.

As A.Sanderson says: ‘Transgression is translated into transcendence’, the blissful dimension of the egoless consciousness, which is the overall field of reality. We all are made of that bliss (Ananda-śakti).

A yogi-mind, nourished by this intensity, realizes samatā, the peaceful joy of radiant rest. Asvāda is a glimpse of this joyful rest that we can discover and act through yoga practice.

Now we will try to transfer in our yoga practice the flowing awareness that becomes joy, āsvāda. The body could cease to be felt as a solid and fixed shape and begins to open, to breathe, to become fluid life and consciousness, the ‘wondering enjoyment’ of āsvāda, yogi mind and body.

Gioia Lussana’s new book is The Flowing Goddess: La Dea che scorre. La matrice femminile dello yoga tantrico (Om Edizioni) inquires into the origins of Hindu tantrism, for the moment available only in Italian.


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