Description: The tale of a 19th century adventurer's journey to the East.


“You tell me you would like to rule the mind,” said Shivaswara, “to be able to control the flow of your thoughts. You say that you do not have power over them; that they go in whatever direction they choose. But, I would ask, how can you expect to rule the mind when you cannot rule the body? If you cannot keep yourself from fidgeting, how can you expect to gain power over your thoughts?

“This brings up another question,” said Shivaswara. “How can you rule the body, keep it still, if all you are is the body? In other words, how can you have discipline over your body if you are not something other than the body?

“I would argue that these three things are connected, then,” he said. “To rule the mind means to rule the body, and to rule the body means to build the astral body. Working on one means working on all three.

“I will teach you two exercises,” said Shivaswara, “that will help to illustrate what I am saying.

“Here is a first exercise,” he said. “Find a comfortable place, and fix your eyes upon an object. Then, keep your eyes fixed on that object.

“That is it; that is the exercise. Keep your gaze fixed for a minute. If your gaze shifts before the minute is through, you must begin again.

“This exercise sounds simple,” explained Shivaswara, “but its difficulty will become apparent once it is attempted. You will find that your eyes have a mind of their own; that you have little power over your eyes and, moreover, over the whole of yourself.

“Here is a second exercise,” he said. “Find a comfortable place, and select a position for every part of your body. Then, you must do a simple thing: keep yourself still.

“Maintain your position, remaining still for a minute. If you make any adjustment at all—scratch your nose or your head, or shift your weight—you must begin again. The one admission I will give is of swallowing. This will make the exercise a great deal easier.

“These exercises are very simple,” he said, “but very difficult. Both create an artificial conflict, one in which you will have an opportunity to struggle with yourself. You will have to fight each moment with boredom and restlessness, with fear and doubt, and with every itch and impulsion which becomes unbearable.

“Neither is supposed to be relaxing,” explained the yogi, “but unpleasant. Understand that in the ordinary circumstances of life we never fight with ourselves. We never build the astral body.”

Shivaswara taught this to his disciple in the temple of the goddess Kali. Remarkably, the man being instructed was not a Hindu, but an oddity: a European.

1. The Orientalist

In 1818, the wife of Sándor de Kőrös died. Her death would end a happy, short marriage, and leave an indelible mark on the heart of the young scholar. Unable to reconcile himself with the death of his wife, Sándor became a recluse, buried in his books on India. The mystique of the East became his only refuge.

To distract himself for a time after his wife’s death, Sándor kept a correspondence with a bearded Count István, an aristocrat who lived on the vanguard of European nationalism and intellectualism. The Count told Sándor about his own journeys to Venice, Istanbul, and Marrakech; of mythologized viziers, sultans, and dervishes; and of his recoveries of raven-marked tomes and other treasures. These correspondences with István only increased Sándor’s enthusiasm for the East.

As he wrote articles on ethnology, language, and religion, Sándor gradually tied all of his interests together. It became impossible for him to compartmentalize anything. And, when Sándor learned that the great progenitor of Yoga, Patanjali, was also a grammarian, he became convinced that he must go at once to learn from the sages of Asia.

In 1820, he left his home in what was then the Austrian Empire, and began his long trek into the unknown. Since he did not come from an ennobled family, it was no surprise that before he had reached the Black Sea, Sándor was already exhausted of half of his savings. It became necessary for him to depend on the kindnesses of others to travel.

From Istanbul, Sándor found a captain who sailed him to Alexandria; and in Egypt he found someone again, a caravan master, who took him to Damascus and Aleppo. From the latter, Sándor sailed down the Euphrates to Baghdad, and traveled east again into Persia at the end of 1821.

In 1822, Sándor followed the path of the Aryans down to the Indus, and smelled the fringe of spice that marked his entry into India. It was then when Sándor came to realize the transformation he had experienced as a result of his journey. He could not put it into words then, but so many of the potentialities he had possessed in Europe had come into fruition as a result of his trek. At any rate, the scholar’s transformation allowed him to appreciate his new home, veritably.

It was in Rajasthan where Sándor would first meet Shivaswara. Sándor noticed that there was something unique about the Hindu immediately. Shivaswara was fairer-skinned compared to the other Indians, but he also stood out in other ways. Strangely, only Sándor seemed to notice Shivaswara. None of the Indians saw the yogi the way Sándor did.

2. The Cremation Ground

Shivaswara and Sándor were walking in a cremation ground.

“Take this as an analogy,” said Shivaswara. “The cremation ground.” He gestured toward the garden which was around them, and at the tomb which was in front of them.

“This is where all things end,” he said. “Always,” he emphasized, “we forget this. If only we could remember this one thing—our mortality—then we would begin to behave sanely. But, by nature, we forget.

“The abstainer and the indulger are equally foolish,” said Shivaswara. “Both are doomed. Both end here.” At that moment, a pyre was burning. “If there is any wisdom in life,” he said, “it means making ourselves something more than this.” He held up a dead man’s ash.

3. The Aghoris

“The dark ones are called Aghoris,” said Shivaswara. The yogi was walking with Sándor. “Their practices are unclean, so they are made to live outside of the city. You do not have anything to learn from them,” he continued. “A white man who conquers his anger would make a better teacher than the Aghoris here. They are like pigs: they smoke drugs and know none of the scriptures. They do not bathe, and they break all their austerities. And when they do have sex,” said the yogi, “they do so with women who are like them, who are ugly, evil, and unclean.

“If you understood,” the yogi continued, “you would see what they are, and you would not want to imitate them. Ignoble and deluded, God locks these men in their state to punish them.

“You are still attracted to the outward form,” said Shivaswara. “The asanas, the rituals, the dress. You do not know anything about religion.

“What has white to do with black?” asked Shivaswara. “You would abandon me and go to them; treat them as brothers, fraternize with them. But then you would see how childlike they are. They have nothing to teach.

“Still,” he said, “they can be used for instruction.” A black bird perched itself on a pagoda nearby. “The only way to become noble, to become an Aryan,” Shivaswara said, “is first to be wretched, to be one of the unclean.

“I will teach you this secret,” he said. “You must immerse yourself in sin to become pure.

“Imagine that your sins were like the waters of the ocean,” he said, “with you treading water in the midst of it. Or, imagine that your sins were like a great pile of trash, with you sitting on top.

“Here is what happens,” he said. “When you are in the water, or sitting on the trash heap, the sin putrefies. But, when this happens, a fire is lit. Then, the fire burns and the sin changes. And you change, also. This is the first transformation.”

4. On Samskaras

“Think of all your experiences in this way,” said Shivaswara. “Everything you do leaves an impression in your mind. These impressions are called samskaras.

“My preference,” said Shivaswara, “in understanding samskaras is to do so in a utilitarian way. Some actions leave samskaras that cause pain. Others do not leave samskaras at all—or leave only painless ones.

“Let us say that there is a woman you lust after, or a man that you hate. Or, let us say that there is some shame from your childhood, or some emasculation you experienced among your friends. All of these things leave a mark in your consciousness.

“Wisdom,” said Shivaswara, “is very simple. It means preventing yourself from accumulating new samskaras, and unmaking current ones.

“Retreat,” said Shivaswara, “is practiced to unmake the current samskaras which exist in the mind. Retreat provokes our current samskaras to be felt immediately. By feeling them now, we slowly re-take ownership of the mind.”

5. On Viveka

“The impediments for the yogi are great,” said Shivaswara. “Take gurus, for example. To learn Yoga, you must learn it from the proper teachers. But, who can teach you? This is the first problem. The world is full of charlatans. So, one of the first things is to learn how to discriminate between teachers. Who is true and who is false?

“The only way to discriminate,” he explained, “is through the power of viveka, or critical reason.

“What is this power?” asked Shivaswara. “It is like a filter, one that you can bring to all of your experiences. It can sort everything you encounter into one of two categories: either what conforms to reality, or what conforms to unreality.

“The exercise of viveka allows for the development of ‘right view,’” he said. “In general, in life,” he continued, “men have ‘right views’ about some things and ‘wrong views’ about other things. However, it is necessary that a yogi has ‘right views’ about all things.

“Thus,” he concluded, “there exists a long, circuitous time during which a yogi finds his way through this ocean of strange, confused ideas which exists in the world.”

6. Otherworldly Knowledge

“One of the powers of viveka is the ability to discriminate between two kinds of knowledge,” he said. “These are worldly knowledge, knowledge that pertains to the world, and otherworldly knowledge, knowledge that pertains to escape from the world.

“Otherworldly knowledge exists everywhere,” he said, “in every place and age. But,” he continued, “it exists always in fragments and imperfect pieces. Moreover, otherworldly knowledge is always being misunderstood by people as worldly knowledge. Thus, it is necessary for a yogi to learn to understand otherworldly knowledge correctly, and then to come to possess a whole of this knowledge within himself.”

7. Houses in Disorder

“Yoga can be understood very simply,” said Shivaswara, “as a practice that acquaints us with ourselves. Implied in this,” he continued, “is that we do not know ourselves.

“Pretend that we are a house with three stories,” he said. “As a being with intelligence, emotion, and desire—or a body with a head, a heart, and genitals. When we do not know ourselves,” he continued, “these three stories are in disorder.

“Imagine that knowledge of yourself is like light for the house,” he explained. “If the house is in darkness, then each story is like a compartment to itself. So, ordinarily,” he said, “we are thinkers but we are not emotional. Or, we are sexual but we are not intellectual. Beginning to know ourselves means bringing light to each individual story, and then bringing each part of ourselves into a relationship with every other part.”

8. The Hanged Man

“You tell me you would like to be immortal; you would not like to die. But then you say you love this world, this body, and yourself. What, then, do you imagine immortality to be? How does it work? How function? If you do not hate your body, how can you claim to be something other than it? How can you claim you will not perish when it does?

“To understand immortality,” said Shivaswara, “let us look at the world around us. Do you see how everything in the world is divided in twos? Good and evil, man and woman, white and black. Finally, we have life and death. We say that we would not like to die; but, if immortality means being beyond death, then it means being beyond life also. It must be outside of the twos: be neither life nor death, and both life and death.

“Do you see how inscrutable this is?” he asked. “Who can understand this? Who can become immortal?

“You should know,” he said, “that most of the people who live in this world are made for it. They fit. They are content with the knowledges men can have, the possessions men can have, and the pleasures men can have. However,” continued Shivaswara, “there are those who do not fit.

“Here is what you must do to become immortal,” he said. “Make a noose and tie it around your right ankle. Then, suspend yourself in the air from it, upside-down. Remain like this until you are dead.

“You must do this,” said Shivaswara, “because only the dead can be immortal. This is the second transformation.”

9. The Aryans

“I will tell you about the Aryans, or noble persons,” he said. “These are the ‘heroically-minded,’ those who are set on escape from the world.

“There are four kinds of noble person,” he said. “The streamwinner, the once-returner, the nonreturner, and the arahant. Each is at a different stage of the journey.

“A streamwinner, the first Aryan, possesses ‘right view,’ has a certitude about the way out of samsara, and does not put any worth into external things. A streamwinner is a collector of otherworldly knowledge, and works to possess a ‘whole’ of this knowledge within himself.

“A once-returner, the second Aryan, has passed through the first transformation. He possesses an astral body, and has weakened the fetters that bind him to the world.

“A nonreturner, the third Aryan, has no fetters that bind him to the world. When he leaves this life he will be reborn as a deva.

“An arahant, the fourth Aryan, has passed through the second transformation. He does not think in terms of ‘I am this,’ or ‘I am this.’”

10. On Samadhi

“Because we are in the world,” said Shivaswara, “our senses are by nature trained outward, toward external objects. But, it is possible to contradict this, and to direct everything inwardly. The process of doing this,” said Shivaswara, “is called introversion.

“Introversion consists of three stages,” he said, “concentration, meditation, and samadhi.

“You remember the exercises I taught you,” he asked, “of gaze and stillness? They are there to help you to build the astral body. But, now we must explore what becomes possible once this body has been acquired. Once the exercises of gaze and stillness become easy.

“To fix your attention on something,” he said, “is called ‘vitarka,’ or applied attention. To maintain your attention on something is called ‘vicara,’ or sustained attention. These two things, taken together, make up concentration.

“Here is what you must do,” he said. “Fix your attention upon your breath—this will be the ‘object’ of your concentration. All you must do is keep your attention fixed on your breath. It is very simple.

“When you begin to work with your attention,” he said, “you will fail, and each time you go to set your attention on something, a line of thoughts will develop which will lead you astray. When this happens, you must trace your digressive thoughts back to their source, and then return to your ‘object’ again.

“To make progress,” he continued, “you must return and return to your ‘object,’ like a tortoise that constantly draws in its limbs. If you persevere, you will make progress, and your concentration will deepen and become meditation.

“In meditation,” said Shivaswara, “you will gain a relative control over your thoughts. After you have traced them back as I said, hundreds and hundreds of times, they will begin to settle by themselves. When this happens you will enter a state of quiet.

“In this quiet,” he said, “joy will emerge. It will be subtle in the beginning. But, as you progress, it will stay with you throughout the day.

“As you go deeper into this quiet,” said Shivaswara, “you will enter into a condition of silence. In this state,” he explained, “‘mind’ will be no more. You will see only what is seen, hear only what is heard, and touch only what is touched. In fact, when there is no ‘mind’ there, there will be no ‘you’ there, and ‘you’ will cease to be.

“Samadhi proper,” said Shivaswara, “is an experience of tremendous violence and excellence. It brings with itself a suspension of the surface consciousness, and a pulling of you out of yourself. In samadhi, you will merge with the object of your contemplation. You will no longer say ‘I am this, looking at this,’ but you will say, if anything, ‘I am not this’ and ‘I am not this.’”