Not Higher Nor Lower: Comments on Dualism

Jacob Kyle

Jul 07,2015

It is a staple of so many religions that there is a “higher” and “lower” expression of existence. The higher is typically associated with consciousness and pursuits of abstraction and transcendence, whereas the body, emotions and the material world get the shaft as the “lower” realm of existence. Naturally, there is a not-so-subtle sexism built into this hierarchical distribution, as the feminine has often been the energy of the body and emotions, thus seen as an inferior force in the face of the more masculine practices of thought, abstraction and transcendence.

Even the yoga of Patanjali (considered the first formal organizer of yoga philosophy) makes this distinction in the form of Purusha (consciousness) and Prakrti (matter). The incarnations of Purusha and Prakrti always posit Purusha as a masculine deity and Prakrti as feminine. According to Patanjali, the path of yoga is to purge oneself of samskaras (imprints) that tie one to matter, enabling a greater identification with consciousness. Indeed, liberation is conceived as liberation from matter, and therefore the feminine.

It is my view that we cannot accept this as the goal of yoga, and I am not alone. There can be no higher and lower. There can only be this moment that has been dissected unnecessarily into quadrants that deflect us from what should be the primary goal: integration, the unified understanding of mind, body and cosmos.

The modern asana-centered yoga is not Patanjali’s yoga, and nor should it be. The focus of yoga as a unification of body and mind is more related to the tantric tradition than it is to Patanjali’s vision.

Don’t let your toes curl. Tantra has had a bad wrap for centuries, too often reduced to that infamous text, the Kama Sutra, and its many contortionist prescriptions for sexual experimentation. While it might deserve a read, the Kama Sutra is only a fraction of the truth that is tantra: the truth that one can only experience enlightenment through embodiment.

What a relief! Finally, a program that’s not telling me I either have to transcend my body or wait until I reach the afterlife before I’ll be in heaven. Indeed, heaven is an embodied experience, possible here, possible now, in this bag of flesh and bones. Not through a subjugation of matter, but by a sustainable marriage between the masculine and feminine – a balanced integration of the yin and the yang.

So we would do well to discard the “higher” and the “lower” as if they signified objective levels of being. The “higher”, if useful at all, should only be a metaphor for the horizon of possibility that is integrated, expansive living. But we don’t “leave behind” the material on our path toward light. We see it as never having been different from light in the first place.

If you liked this article, check out some of Jacob’s other work: Seek the Plum Line, Neural Pathways to Spaciousness, or How Myth Points Us to the Truth.
To browse Jacob’s full archive of writings, go here.

Patanjali Yoga Philosophy Yoga Sutras
Jacob Kyle

Jacob is a yoga asana teacher, writer, philosophy educator and the Founder of Embodied Philosophy, an online educational platform for Eastern philosophies and practices. Jacob holds two Masters Degrees in Philosophy: an MSc in Political Philosophy from the London School of Economics and Political Science (2007), and an MA in the History of Philosophy from the New School for Social Research (2013). He studied Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis at the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research in London. Jacob's ongoing studies in Western and Eastern philosophies have included study of the Yoga Sutras with Edwin Bryant, studies in Tantrik philosophy with Christopher Wallis, and a course in the history of Yoga and Tantra at New York University.  In 2015, Jacob was initiated into Neelakhanta Meditation and has since then been enrolled in Blue Throat Yoga programs under the tutelage of esteemed Kashmir Shaivism scholar Paul Muller-Ortega, studying the texts and practices of the Trika Kula lineage of Kashmir Shaivism.  To augment his yoga teaching practice, he has completed over seven hundred hours of training and workshops with master teachers Nevine Michaan, Kelly Morris, David Regelin, Schuyler Grant, Tias Little, Gabriel Halpern, Zach Dacuk & Leslie Kaminoff.


Embodied Philosophy Forum

A Private Facebook Community


Related Articles
Recent Podcast Episodes