Seamless Robes

Recently on a visit to the ruins of a medieval monastery i stood at the foot of an impressive stone Irish High Cross that was carved with images from the biblical story of Christ. One weathered panel showed Roman soldiers (as evidenced by their helmets) holding a robe. I also have a wooden 15th century cross depicting objects from the same scene, in this case, a robe and three dice. These carvings illustrate a curiously highlighted moment in the gospels when the Roman soldiers took Christ’s garments, divided them up, but then because this robe was something special, decided to cast lots for it: “This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.” (John 19:23 NIV)

The recurring detail of the seamless robe i think resonates with the human imagination because it serves as a symbol of the radically equal state of cognition, called non-dual awareness or the unitive state, which is the goal and the heart of world mystical traditions. It is explicitly stated by Patañjali in the Yoga Sūtra that the purpose of all yogic practices is this non-dual experience or samādhi, which can only be described by metaphor. This ‘oceanic feeling’ frees the nervous system of deep tensions, providing a rejuvenating neural bath that humans require lest they go crazy with the intolerable stress of egoic self-concept and the horror of being intractably limited to a temporal body.

As a student of Tantra I really like the seamless robe metaphor: imagining existence itself as one fabric woven of subject and object, Shiva and Shakti, temporal and eternal, the union of opposites. And since quantum physicists are known to refer to the ‘fabric of the cosmos’ we can trust this analogy as relevant even to a factual assessment of reality.

The word Tantra itself suggests the weaving of cloth, the root “tan” referring to the extension of threads on a loom. The loom symbol, which reaches back in the yoga canon at least to the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, holds more than just surface charm. It hints at a handy Tantric tool for realization: understanding that we are weaving the fabric of our consciousness with each breath allows us to feel our way into the unitive state fairly easily. By weaving the inner and outer with love, Tantric breath awareness marries the subject with the object, bestowing an incomparable felt-sense of infinitude at our core. This is “sahaj samādhi” aka, natural samādhi.

I AM That I AM: Dissolving the illusion of Separation

This bliss-filled non dual state which is yogic samādhi is a transformation of identity whereby the observer identifies with the observed.  Such a point of view is stated in the Shiva Sutra 1:14: Dṛśyaṁ śarīram,  “The world you see is your body.”

The seamless robe of knowing the universe as your extended body is the liberating perspective expressed in what i call the “I AM soliloquies” of awakened poets and seers throughout time.

Among myriad examples, we have this song of the pre-Christian druid, Amergin:

I am the wind that breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the murmur of the billows,
I am the ox of the seven combats,
I am the hawk upon the rocks,
I am the beam of the sun,
I am the fairest of flowers,
I am the wild boar in valour,
I am a salmon in the water,
I am a lake in the plain,
I am a word of knowledge,
I am the point of the lance of battle,
I am the God who lights fire in the head
Who but I throws light into the meeting on the mountain?
Who but I announces the ages of the moon?
Who but I teaches the place where couches the sun?

And this excerpt from the 4th century Nag Hamadi material, mysteriously entitled “Thunder, Perfect Mind”:

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter.
I am the barren one and many are her sons.
I am she whose wedding is great, and I have not taken a husband.
I am the midwife and she who does not bear.
I am the solace of my labor pains.
I am the bride and the bridegroom…

As Krishna proclaims in the Bhagavad Gita:

“I am the liquidity of water, I am the light of the sun and the moon, I am the syllable OM in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man. I am the pure fragrance of the earth, and I am the heat in fire. I am the life of all that lives… (Bhagavad Gītā 7.8/9)

When Moses asked the Burning Bush to reveal its name:

“I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’… This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.” (Exodus 3:14-15, NIV)

And, as Jesus confirmed: “Before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 5:58 ESV)

In Tantric breath practices, we understand that in uniting the inhalation and exhalation with the mantra Ham-Sah, or So’ham. we are always naturally repeating this name: I AM THAT I AM, which is simply active recognition of one’s essential nature as pervasive, unconditioned existence-consciousness. By intuiting infinite awareness as the axial foundation of personal experience we redeem ourselves from mortal fear.

This mobius strip, awareness of awareness, is also anciently symbolized by the Uroborous, the snake which swallows its own tail. A snake is a particularly apt descriptor of the spine-brain apparatus which in meditation is made to do self-inquiry, consciousness using consciousness to investigate consciousness. Thus the triad of subject, object and the awareness that unites them is seamlessly joined.

A Quantum Leap in Consciousness

A charming Hindu symbol of the seamless unitive state is that of baby Vishnu reclining among the stars, biting his own toe. When a baby bites his toe, he learns that the seemingly unrelated object hovering above him is actually part of his own body. Likewise, humanity, in the infancy of its cognitive evolution, awakens through meditative practices to the fact that, in spite of the external appearance of multiplicity, there is truly one universal body, and, as quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger stated, one cosmic mind.

When a baby’s understanding matures and he comes to ownership of the body, he significantly expands domain and mastery over his life.  In the same way, inner recognition of oneness expands an individual’s power and capacity to manifest creatively in the universe. For this reason fully realized beings like Christ are seen to have “miraculous” powers which are actually the result of their advanced apprehension of reality.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road.

It is delightful to have a taste of total identification and oneness when meditating or in an awe-inspiring natural setting but much more of a challenge to be ‘at one’ in the society of our fellow human beings. We are wired by nature to be unconsciously selfish, competitive and hierarchical.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patañjali offers a prescription for obtaining seamless oneness when in the company of ‘others’:

[Samadhi results from] “cultivating good will toward the fortunate, compassion toward the unfortunate, delight in the virtuous, indifference toward the wicked.” (Yoga Sūtras I.33)

When moving among our fellow humans there are countless opportunities to practice this weaving of the seamless robe of unity, especially, i find, by cultivating “goodwill toward the fortunate.” If, when i see a person who is healthy, beautiful, happy and thriving, I am able to generate the feeling of joy i would have if all these things pertained to me, then i reverse engineer the non-dual state.  The state of realization is effected by the will, by the intention to throw the dice, “sell everything you have” -the limited ego – and obtain the garment of bliss.