Q: I would like to hear your comments on the book by Billy Doyle, “Yoga in the Kashmir tradition.” It talks about visualization practices. Or even, going back further, on practices from the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, for instance looking into empty space. Can these practices be a helpful complement to the core practice of life?
A: The practice of yoga in the Kashmir tradition is a kind of grace. Yoga does not bring understanding, but understanding may bring you to yoga. Yoga is not a way to get something, it is an expression of something. In the Tantraloka, Abhinavagupta says that yoga doesn't lead to Shiva consciousness, it is Shiva that leads to yoga.
It is important to free yourself from the fantasy of cause and effect. Practicing yoga will bring nothing, but it is one way to express the extraordinary chance we have to be alive. This acknowledgment of life’s beauty can be expressed through music, dance, architecture, through any walk of life, and yoga is one way to express it.
As to the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, it is really important to see that this Tantra does not contain recipes—contrary to the way it is often taught in the West, or in India—but actually describes a state where you are free from your own mind. If this were not the case, you could spend your whole life “looking at the blue cloudless sky,” and nothing would ever change, because you would fill the sky with your own thoughts.
But, as he says nearly at the end of every sloka, ‘for the one free from himself’ or ‘for the one free from dualistic mind’—whichever way it is expressed—perception is a celebration of stillness. Whether it is fear or excitement, astonishment, whatever, any perception which is left free of judgment, free of yes and no, free of any psychological link, arises from stillness, is carried by stillness, and will resolve in stillness.
It is very important, when we read this beautiful text, not to see it as exercises to be done, on a full moon and so on. It isn’t a collection of exercises, it is a description of the no-mind state of one who is free of his own fantasy of being somebody. So, if you already feel that way, if you already abide in poetry, it can touch you. But if you try to do the exercises, it will become ridiculous. It will be like the metaphor often used in Zen teachings of someone trying to polish a rock to make a mirror.
It doesn't work that way. Clarity of action comes from clarity in openness. Actions do not bring clarity. In the 8th century, the old Shankara already knew this when he said “acts do not bring to knowledge, knowledge brings to knowledge.” What they call dhaka or sadhaka in Kashmir is this understanding. This understanding can express itself through action, but no action can bring you to this understanding.
As for visualization, it is very important to see why in Jean’s teachings, we do not use much visualization, but we use feeling. If you visualize, for example your body bending forward, you are going to see the back of you, which means you remain here and the visualization is in front of you. That's one way. But instead, you could feel the movement. You could be physically here and in a tactile way bend forward. At that moment you are forward. You are not sitting here anymore. Practicing the asana like that frees the mind from many patterns. Of course, we cannot discuss this further because it needs to be taught in a functional way. It is not intellectual.
There is a big difference between visualization and feeling. If you visualize your body, you can either visualize the front or the back. You cannot do both at the same time. But if you feel your body, you can feel your chest and your back in oneness. Feeling is global, it refers to the whole mind, while seeing is a very mundane, restricted experience.
Sometimes, in a pedagogical way, we can use visualization to help somebody who is not able to feel. For instance, in the Kashmir tradition, we localize the breathing in space, never in the body. The body is in the breath, the breath is not in the body. So, in Kashmir, somebody would put a huge pot in front of you and ask you to breathe in the pot. When you inhale you fill the pot, when you exhale you empty the pot. If you cannot do that, we may ask you to visualize. When you inhale, you visualize the breathing caress the walls from the floor to the ceiling, and when you exhale, you visualize the breath caress the walls from the ceiling to the floor. When, after some practice, you start to see that you can feel this emptying and filling of the breath, at that moment the visualization reduces to pure feeling. Then the practice becomes whole, it becomes global. So, visualization is only a tool used sometimes to enter the feeling, but it must totally disappear at some point, otherwise it remains very localized in the brain. At least, Jean Klein was teaching it in that way.