The unspeakable is our own eschatology, a symbolic, shamanic death in the form of reorientation and initiation via communion with the divine, in preparation for the real thing. In the ego death of experiences that beget paradigm shifts, we rehearse our own eventual passing. We prepare for the unknown by confronting the unknown.
This is why we fear reorientation, clinging to our familiar identities and habitual strategies, even when we are painfully aware they are no longer serving us. The ego constellation resists death at all costs, even as we see progress in our spiritual work. The purity and joy of innate divine consciousness is scary when perceived through dim windows stained by the ego, because we assume it is other, rather than an awesome flash of a previously unknown part of ourselves. Ram Dass reminds us that “the higher wisdom only comes from direct experience; you have to become it.”
Sacrifice as a cultural ideal is understood as part of the fabric of life in the Bhagavad Gita, in a way that is very different than many of us know in the Western world today. It can be hard to understand why, in this part of the epic, it is righteous and dharmic for Arjuna to fight a war in which he, sometimes brutally, and at Krishna’s behest, kills his kith and ken. In his biography of the Gita, Richard Davis writes about understanding war and sacrifice in context. In the apocalypse vision, Krishna already embodies Arjuna’s dharmic role in war, in full surrender to his dharma, embodied as the instrument of God in death. Just as myriad streams of practice paths coalesce into the ocean of mokṣa (मोक्ष), so too do all the warriors on the field of battle stream into Krishna’s fearsome manifold maw, their heads crushed like grapes, visibly clinging to his fangs.
With a violence that can be difficult to accept and understand, nature is self-regulating, and often in conflict with our small personal desires and dramas. The Vedic culture that predates the Bhagavad Gita sought to align human rite and ritual with the ordering of the cosmos, in a moral definition of harmonious holistic health that is unfamiliar to us in the individualistic West. We are reminded that the health of our seeming separate selves is in fact not separate from the health of the whole, that our seeming separate human bodies are not separate from the earth and the greater cosmos.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna’s divine revelation catalyzes divine regulation of the corrupt warrior culture that needs to be wiped clean, a social, political, and cosmic mega-purge. A fragmented, depraved society and cosmos are torn apart, and reconstituted in a new age: after the holocaust of the Kurukshetra battle, the Dvapara era ends, and Kali Yuga begins. Of physical yoga practice, BKS Iyengar said that we enter the yoga classroom with fragmented and distracted minds. Through learning the anatomy and alignment of postural yoga, we pick ourselves to pieces, and reintegrate ourselves as a result, leaving the classroom in hard-won wholeness and integration. So in practice, we deconstruct our selves, and resynthesize the complementary and paradoxical forces within us, micro-cosmically mirroring, in our own dynamic equanimity, a kind of universal homeostasis, the constant atmic dynamism that reconciles and re-reconciles us back to equilibrium. The aggregate rhythmic dynamism of the self in the timeless now is sattvic, (from sattva, सत्त्व, meaning balanced and wholesome luminescent peace).
In the renewal of Indic and tantric timeless time, these temporal ripples reverberate infinitely in all directions. From the point of view of linear time, the repetition of the lesson prior to and following a direct experience of the absolute extends, wavelike, away from its temporal epicenter. We have had this rippling experience before and after yoga classes, meditation retreats, in build up to and resolution of the spanda of orgasm, and in ceremonial entheogenic practice. We see it in the arc of story-line and ritual. We see this mirroring in Krishna’s repetition of his lessons before and after chapter 11. These are containers for non-duality.
Oppenheimer noticed the wisdom beyond rationality in his observation of electrons:
If we ask, for instance, whether the position of the electron remains the same, we must say no. If we ask whether the electron’s position changes with time, we must say no. If we ask whether the electron is at rest, we must say no. If we ask whether it is in motion, we must say no.
Ram Dass writes of Oppenheimer’s observation, “you can’t say that [particles] are either this or that, but just some sort of patterning of the energy… [and] then everything in the universe is made up of the very same stuff, and it’s all absolutely interchangeable at every moment.”
We can release the fear of ego death, and eventually physical death, in shedding the duality of beginning and end by illuminating the spectrum between, expanding our vision to encompass the infinitude of the endless cycle of birth and life and death. Beyond linear time, birth and death are not full stops, but are rather vertical walls of extremely rapid change. Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, noted for his theory of cognitive development, describes the progression of psychological maturity as it traverses distinct stages. Rather than mapping progress towards wisdom on a consistent 45-degree-angle slope, it follows a step wise process, with fairly flat, steady periods abruptly butting up against the steep walls of developmental obstacles. We suffer in temporary stuckness, and then learn to overcome these obstacles, leading to growth and change. If we expand the two-dimensionality of Piaget’s step wise model, psycho-spiritual development winds up round a spiral. Birth is not the beginning, and death is not the end. Both are ultimately transformative in timeless time.
God is scary, because God is the unfathomable immensity of which we catch the tiniest glimpses, dare we peek amongst the seams of the everyday. Even then, while our heart-intuition knows what we’ve seen, the training in our minds, a natural protective tendency of our automatic brains in the face of the unfamiliar, bolstered by an out-of-balance society, overrides this deep wisdom. God is scary, because we realize that we are not separate, but are rather part of this immensity ourselves. As Iyengar teacher Nikki Costello says of our return to wholeness through practice, “less of myself is obscure to myself.” We have the capacity to embody new facets of being, but it requires sloughing off some of the old identities, in radical growth and change that our smaller selves react to with aversion. The various forms of divinity, however culturally inflected in their appearance, have the power to connect us to the divine, if we cultivate the steadiness to see beyond them. Otherwise they remain another developmental roadblock, miring us in the morass of spiritual bypassing. When we eye gaze with God, breathing up against the bursting seams of our discomfort in the face of the transcendent and immanent other in the formlessness of our underlying nature, and in the form of atmic dynamism, hair standing on end, trembling visibly in the spanda of the it-all, we are unafraid to directly perceive the fullness of beauty and terror. We are greater than the safety and mooring a limited identity, a “me” that this seeming separateness from others affords.
The wealth and variety of yoga practices delineated in the Bhagavad Gita and beyond, the rich Indic tradition and its contemporary diaspora, as well as a wealth of global integrative disciplines, are some examples of frameworks that provide us interpretive scaffolding to integrate experiences which arise that are beyond the familiar. We’re afforded practical and theoretical mooring lest the immensity of these beatific and terrible experiences send us reeling off into the beyond. Once we’ve begun the practices that allow us tiny glimpses behind the curtain of consensus reality, once we begin to recognize the depths of our societal and egoic training, we realize that the rivulets of this conditioning run so deep, that the various cultural images of divinity are still not quite it— they are not yet the substratum of being beneath it all.
Even visions of the supernal Hindu trimūrti-form (त्रिमूर्ति) of God as maker, sustainer, and destroyer, the temptation of Gautama Buddha by the demon Māra, the beatific visitation of an angel to a Christian saint or Jewish mystic, a djinn or demon appearing to Muhammad as the first revelation of the Quran, a Panic appearance to a Pagan, machine elves or the ecstatic vision of Indra’s net in the journey of the psychonaut, even folkloric gnomes, faeries, and aliens, the variety of these experiences beyond the familiar are still egoic and culturally informed fireworks, window dressing of an extraordinary but still limited capacity of true perception.
The infinite fabric of creation, the writhing, foaming quantum embodiment of all possibility, the ground of being behind it all, is ephemerally crystalline, gossamer and so subtly palpable and shifting, so high in its vibration, that we can only begin to stab at it with language, and the limiting construct of the ego. When we let these self-imposed limitations fall away, we discover what Christopher Wallis calls the “seamless unity of flowing energy and pure awareness.” Beyond the baryonic, beyond material and mystical experiences, the substratum is love. Its steady power is poised to penetrate through the veil of the mesmerizing distortion of the everyday, which keeps us hidden from ourselves, limited in our capacity to awaken to love.Arjuna is so devoted in his love of Krishna, that in return, Krishna grants him the divine visions of Chapter 11. The power of love is reciprocal, integrative, and mutual.
We have caught glimpses of divinity in practice, with a fleeting sense of recognition. God is scary, because beyond even fireworks and death, God is love, and when we look God in the eyes, returning this love in kind, sitting and facing the divine, unblinking, tears running down our cheeks, when we bear our vulnerable hearts without hesitation, we can no longer fall back and rest on comfortable identities that used to serve us, but no longer do. God has called bullshit on us, and we’re left no choice b