Mr. John Thorpe is a student of Mr. Richard Matthews. Mr. Richard had the priviledge to meet H.H.Mahatapasvi Shri Kumarswamiji at the Yoga and Spiritual Center of Mr.Peter Rendel, in England, in 1976. Mr. John has mentioned in his own words his experiences in practice of Shiva-yoga.
Shiva Yoga has had a profound effect upon my life. Like a key that fit’s a lock, it has opened up a new dimension of thought and perception whilst turning my life inside out. In a certain degree it has enabled me to know myself and to embrace the spiritual reality of life. It is a path for those who want to know themselves and find the deepest spiritual knowledge. It is a path that enables that inner self transformation, a spiritual alchemy. Old and limited patterns of emotions and thought are transformed into ever new and more flexible patterns whilst raising them to highest possible degree that is within our temperament and abilities at this particular time. Shiva Yoga enables us to tune in to our inner ‘Self’, which opens us up to a deeper experience and knowledge of the ‘universal’ and even beyond to its transcendent ‘Ground’. Before I became acquainted with Shiva Yoga, I began practising Hatha Yoga at the age of 20, though my understanding of it was rather limited. I saw it as a series of postures in a health sense only and did not realise its spiritual significance.
As the years passed I read some books on eastern thought / spirituality and at the age of 23 read a book called “Wisdom of the Ancients” that encouraged me to practise some breathing meditative exercises. After a few weeks I had some interesting experiences. An ‘inner door’ opened in my mind and I experienced intense colours particularly blue.
What did all this mean? Well, I certainly got a buzz from it and was feeling rather good until I had a ‘bad’ experience that made me rethink what I was doing. One day I had a more oppressive experience: I saw faces, mask like, that felt like they were pressing in on me from all sides. They were not outside but were inside my own consciousness and the whole experience frightened me. The recurrence of the experience made me give up the meditation / breathing exercises as I knew this was somehow linked to it all. After giving it up everything returned to ‘normal’. Thank God!
At this point in my life I felt frustrated because I wanted those pleasant experiences but I did not really know what I was tampering with in myself. I read the words in the book that said “when the pupil is ready the master appears” . This was not what I wanted to hear because I wanted the teacher here and now at the age of 23. I did not want to wait. I knew I needed an experienced spiritual teacher to help me through meditation practise.
A few years and books later I found myself becoming more interested in spirituality, philosophy, psychology and self development. Though it wasn’t until I moved to Cornwall that I met my Yoga teacher Richard Matthews. It was now 1990 and I remembered back to the book that said that when the pupil is ready the teacher appears. Well, this was it! I was now 30 and ready to start something new and exiting – Shiva Yoga. I’d never heard of Shiva Yoga before. But anyway, I was keen to be initiated into it and start practising as I had waited long enough for this to happen.
I feel fortunate to have met Richard Matthews. He spent 11 months with Kumaraswamiji on his first visit to Tapovan (ahsram in India), 3 months on his second visit and 6 weeks on the third visit. Kumaraswamiji is a master of Shiva Yoga. Richard is very experienced with at least 30 years of Shiva Yoga meditation. He is a disciple of Kumaraswamiji who trained Richard at Tapovan ashram in India in order that he may bring the teachings and practise of Shiva Yoga to the West. Undoubtedly an experienced and sincere teacher is invaluable in the pursuit of ones own spiritual knowledge and development. A master or teacher of Yoga should act as a catalyst to spark off that inner potential, experience and knowledge that exists within ourselves. There is nothing to be taken on mere trust and it is not a process bound by belief. Yoga is not a dogma, creed or religion and the teacher is invaluable in the assistance of helping the pupil to find the answers within him or her self. The power and effectiveness of Shiva Yoga comes through the meditation practise.
The method and technique of Shiva Yoga is simple. All that is required is a darkened room, an oil lamp or candle, a silk cloth and a ‘Linga’ ( Istalinga, one worn on the body). The oil lamp is put behind the left shoulder so that a speck of light is reflected in the Linga, which is placed upon the palm of the left hand at eyebrow level.
Istalinga is a small conical shaped stone made out of a light grey slate and coated with a fine durable paste prepared form certain ingredients. The colour of the paste is blue black or indigo which is also the same colour as the Ajnachakra. In the meditation process these two act and react upon each other enriching the intuitive power.
In Yoga there are known to be seven chakras located in the human body (etheric body). Ajnachakra is the sixth located at the centre and between the eyebrows, otherwise called the brow chakra. Intense gazing at the Linga with repeating Omnamashivaya ( a mantra) stimulates the chakras and particularly the dormant pineal gland thus awakening intuitive awareness and self knowledge. It is an awakening of the ‘inner’ eye otherwise known as the Third eye as described by Kumaraswamiji:
As a result of sustained look at the linga, the transmuted energies rise up the nerve channel into the medulla oblongata (midbrain) through the pons, then pass down into the pituitary behind the eyes. The increasing pituitary radiations finally pass through the third ventricle (in the brain) until they awaken the dormant pineal and the third eye lights up between them. The meditation process is really like a mirror. It has enabled me to see myself as I am rather than how I would like to be. When I see myself in an ordinary mirror I see a physical body or appearance. In meditation I am able to ‘see’ behind my mere appearance. In other words I have turned my gaze inwards upon myself so as to discover the truth and reality about myself. I have searched for the truth about life and myself for many years and Shiva Yoga has indeed fulfilled my aspirations to the point of no return.
Certain emotional and mental blocks have been freed in the cathartic process. In fact the practise has given me greater understanding about myself both emotionally and mentally.
In the pursuit of the spiritual through Shiva Yoga it has helped me grow as a human being, which has been an important basis for further spiritual development. It has helped me become aware of various hindrances or negative effects of my past. Like ghosts they hang clouding the future. They are therefore exorcised through yoga practise thereby letting in more light and giving an inner sense of freedom.
When I first began practising Shiva Yoga I was full of expectations: the possibility of heightened consciousness, self knowledge and an understanding of life; the universe and everything was on my list. My head was certainly in the stars as I aimed high. However, I didn’t realise I was in for a bumpy ride.
I had this idea in my mind that by practising yoga I would soon realise that destined peace and tranquillity, that knowledge and all the wonderful experiences that come with it. This is what I wanted and this is how I wanted to be. I could almost pretend I was there already, though inwardly I knew the truth.
At first, there was a shock to my system. After months of practise and not really getting what I was after my enthusiasm swung from “I can do it” to “no I can’t” and from being inspired to finding the meditation difficult. I was able to stick at the meditation practise and sometimes I just thought of it as a preparation for what was to come. I did not expect it to be so difficult and wondered if this was going to work for me. I didn’t even know how I might know when whatever might happen happened. I was really wondering how I might know something inwardly in a deeper experience rather than just being on the surface. Blazing lights and something dramatic would have done nicely but that would have been missing the point.
I remember asking Richard “how will I know when I have such spiritual experience”. This may seem a daft question but to me it was the unknown. Although I expected ‘things’ to happen I did not really understand then or know what to expect. Richard just said, “like a fish that bites on the end of a fishing line, you will know it”.
So, it was back to the meditation. Now, after 16 years of practise I realise the significance of the meditation practise. What I thought or expected from the Shiva Yoga meditation has turned out differently. Instead of glamorous experiences, I began to realise my own pain and suffering, which is well noted in Buddhism. This is not really what I wanted to see but I had to see it for it was true. It can be so hard to look inside at oneself and see the truth. It is no wonder why many people give up the process of meditation when faced with such inner reality. However, as Kumaraswamiji points out, pain and suffering is not the final word, for the final word is nothing less than a state of Being, consciousness and bliss (Sat Chit & Anananda). There have been times when I could have given up, for satchitananda was not what I experienced. However, over a period of years I have found a new self awareness that has helped me see things for what they are. The meditation practise has enabled me to face myself as opposed to escaping my problems. Now I began to understand what those oppressive mask like faces meant all that time ago when I started that breathing meditation. In one sense it signified being prepared for the unknown; in another sense it symbolized both fear and ‘darkness’. If we are spiritually illumined there is no darkness but I was just a beginner.
From Shiva Yoga practise, a dawning of consciousness occurred inside me. It was subtle yet extraordinary. It is a light that is thrown upon both the emotions and mind. The mind, like the moon, is always absorbent of more light. And the more light the less fixed and rigid the mind becomes. Thus we can soar to great heights whilst delving deep inside. Such new awareness or illumination helps us to see what we need to see. If there are problems or issues to be dealt with, then that is what we must do. Not by rejecting that negative part of ourselves but by accepting ourselves in both the positive and negative can our consciousness or interior reality be transformed into something higher, more spiritual.
So, at first with great difficulty I have learned to accept myself in both my strengths and weaknesses, both the positive and the negative. If negative emotions or thoughts block us from getting inside our self, then we remain stuck until we have the courage to face it.
We can try to hide certain aspects of ourselves from others but we can never really fool our true self. The meditation is therefore an opening up process of our self. It has certainly helped me have greater sympathy for others and be more accepting of them. In fact this whole process of meditation can turn our world completely inside out in that we begin to see from within as opposed to seeing at a more superficial level, from without. Hence, it is nothing less than profound. This inner seeing is the awakening of the Third Eye. It is possible to understand our past as it is possible to glimpse the future. When we learn to see things as they are, then we can get behind the glamour or superficial level and intuit the reality behind things and our self. As Kumaraswamiji says, “The real hides behind the apparent and the apparent masquerades as the real”.
Shiva Yoga takes us into the centre of our ‘own’ being. The further inward we go, the more light we find – the light of our soul. This is where we find illumination. It seems absurd that humankind seeks such pleasure and power in and through ‘matter’, the material world and all its delights when it is nothing more than fools gold. Enjoyment of material things is not the problem, it is only when that is the be all and end all which seems to mark the aim of so many of us in a consumerist materialistic world. Material things are ephemeral. They do not last. In this world what can we grasp that will not dissolve in our hands? Everything here on this planet is born and dies. The only enduring substance is that which has a spiritual basis or such values that are supported by that basis. Hence the soul or spirit is that permanent principle within us and all things. It is that secret connection between all beings. It is that light that guides us and transforms us. If our spiritual consciousness burns dimly, like a darkened room, then it is possible to awaken it through such Yoga practise.
Shiva Yoga is not a quick fix. It takes years to put the basics in place and impatience just sets back that goal. My own impatience has had a good hammering and I am still learning this basic fact. However, the rewards of such effort cannot be underestimated in view of the fact that we acquire greater self understanding thus also helping us to find our way in life.
Sincerity is an important aspect of the yoga practise, for we are searching for that higher consciousness and power inside us rather than making our human ego more powerful. In this way we can use our developed abilities for the good of oneself and others and develop a little compassion.. As Kumaraswamiji says, be good and do good. Shiva Yoga does bring greater powers of perception and intuition but it is unwise to yearn for certain powers that only enlarge ones ego – which is egoism.
Shiva Yoga is a path that can put us in touch with ourselves and the ultimate reality. The Yogi Adepts confer upon humankind that there is that divine spark in all of us and it is possible to realise this. That this Spark or Soul (Sharana) is one with the Universal Divine (Shakti). That even behind this Cosmic Divine there exists the ultimate Ground of all existence: the Transcendent Divine (Shiva). Shiva Yoga provides us with this marvellous challenge, to experience this universal and Transcendent spirit that exists within.
From a historical point of view, Shiva Yoga is an ancient practice or spiritual discipline. In the ancient Indus Valley of India (Mohenjodaro – around 5000 years ago) there are signs of Shiva Yoga practise with regards to various conical stones (Istalingas) found there along with other artefacts. In his book Technique of Opening the Third Eye kumaraswamiji explains the links between various artefacts found in the Indus Valley and how they relate to Shiva yoga.
What I have learnt from the practical aspects and teachings of Shiva Yoga is that inner seeing and transformation is not only possible but actual. It is a technique that enables us to experience this change which does not mean we shall change into something other than what we are but will enable a transformation into what we truly are. In other words it means that we begin to learn more about ourselves, our feelings, our mind and what lies behind it all. We can’t become something different from what we are but we realise what we are both in potential as a human individual and also as a spiritual or cosmic being. Instead of our outer life changing we begin to see what we really are and from here our view of life will change. If we look at life from the bottom of the mountain we can only see the surrounding hillsides. Once we rise further up the mountain our view becomes greater and we can see ‘things’ that we could not see before. If we get to the top of the mountain, we can see all around and below; we therefore have an enlightened view. There may be different paths up the mountain but the view from the top is the same. As we spiritually develop it is inevitable that our view of life will be greater than before. We can see more clearly and understand things that were hidden from us. From here it is easier to accept our limitations but also to grasp our potential.
Aum Shanti Shanti Shanti —- John Thorpe