The tidings are that in this world--which is like a cauldron with the sun as its fire, days and nights as its fuel, and months and seasons as its wooden ladle--all creatures are being cooked by time. ~Mahabharata (Yakhsa Prashna or Story of the Righteous Crane)
Yogic healing sciences are not just the esoteric spiritual practices of asana, mantra and meditation popular in the west. They span every aspect of life, from the day to day management of our body through practical living guidance, food and natural cures of Ayurveda to the metaphysical mathematical algorithms of Vedic Astrology that reveal our destiny. There are yogic healing prescriptions for every aspect of life including relationships, governance, parenting, business, architecture, temple building, and even warfare.
Yoga scriptures refer to them as Natural Laws or Dharma that make life and the universe possible. Like all yogic concepts, Dharma is a very complex and profound concept that defies any concise English translation, but at the simplest level it is really our willingness to "meet life on nature's terms" without resistance. Just as the laws of physics that govern the physical universe cannot be willed away, the laws of nature or Dharma too are eternal and innate, and will hold true through the ages and all cultures.
These Dharmic laws were woven into the fabric of the Indian culture, cuisine, worship, ritual, language, literature, myths and code of conduct over thousands of years, which made them more organic and accessible. Much like the Tao in Chinese culture, or Shinto in Japanese and Wakan-Tanka for the Native Americans.
In the west, with no social structure to help uphold these laws and no ancestors to pass them on we have to rely on our gurus from India or dive into the study of classical texts and scriptures on our own to grasp this vast and deep knowledge. Often in the commerce driven (27 billon dollar Yoga industry in the US alone) many novice teachers circumvent the laws or replace them with a new set of laws that are more palatable to our culture and society. Sometimes the teachings are so watered down that they have no resemblance to the Yogic teachings at all.
The result is an inorganic amalgam of beliefs, much confusion mixed with pseudo science or interpretations that are contradictory, too complicated and feel archaic and outdated .
Law of the Five Great Elements
Most people don't realize that while all the yogic sciences are metaphysical, the path that is laid out for this journey is systematic, practical and methodical.
For the purpose of this article we will focus on one aspect of Yogic natural law, the Pancha Maha Bhutas, or the five elements - water, fire, earth, air and ether - and how they function in our body/mind/consciousness. This path is called Bhuta Shudhi - or Elemental Purification, which is the first and most fundamental building block of all Yogic practices.
The final goal of Yoga practice is mastery over the five elements, which allows a Yogi to create the elements from within at will and even manipulate and change material reality. (In my life, I have only met one such Yogi, who is my guru Amma - I have seen her defy reality on many occasions, including almost no sleep for the last 30 years - but that's for another blog).
Most of us will not reach that level of mastery in this life but whether we will experience life as a wondrous journey, or as a constant struggle will depend on the extent to which these elements are cooperating within us.
Cosmic Self (Being of Time)
In the Yogic tradition the universe is a living being, all pervading without limitations and boundaries. He is called "purusha" or cosmic being. The Vedic Horoscope is called kala (time)purusha (being) or "being of time". In other words, our horoscope is the cosmic being living within the limitations of time and matter.
While, we are all attracted by the allure of our awesome cosmic nature, the conundrum we find hard to resolve is that Time has endowed with a strong personhood, or a unique sense of self (first house in the horoscope) that totally overshadows our cosmic universal identity. A few momentary glimpses of our cosmic self during spiritual practices begins our journey but the full realization takes life times. Following the laws of Dharma can aid us immensely in our journey and keep us from getting side tracked or fall into the new age "magical thinking" culture.
The path of Dharma, or natural law, emphasizes slowly freeing ourselves from our personhood and personality, so we can access our cosmic nature. In the personality centered culture that we live in how many Yoga practitioners are familiar with the yogic practice of "Neti Neti", roughly defined as "not this, not that" as a method of Yogic spiritual inquiry to discover what we are not: I am not this body, I am not this thought, I am not this emotion, I am not this experience. In other words the moment we are ready to say it is this or that, or I get it, we have not understood it at all.
All such yogic practices first and foremost require harmonious functioning of the elements in our body, mind and consciousness.
Cosmic Body (Ayurveda)
Ayurveda approaches the human body as an extension of the universal body through the lens of the five elements, which manifest as hormones, neurotransmitter and chemicals in our physiology.
The burn of fire, the softness of water, the hardness of earth, the movements of air, the infinite space of ether are all contained in our bodies and its actions in varying degrees. In the process of governing the body these elements go into excess mode as doshas - Vata (air and ether) pitta (fire and water), kapha (water and earth).
Ayurveda treats the body by maintaining an equilibrium of these elements. While pharmaceutical medicine totally ignores the five elements, even holistic medicine and modern day Ayurveda are falling into the drug disease model. For example, popular Ayurvedic herbs, supported by scientific resereach, such as Turmeric and Ashwagandha are being prescribed en masse without regard to their elemental qualities.
Traditional Ayurveda has a deep understanding of the elemental make up of each and every food, herb, spice, and environmental factor and their relationship to our unique constitution (doshas), so that they can be consumed in the right combinations and amounts at the right time.
Ayurveda is very hard for most of us in the west to grasp because we are not used to considering the energies of the elements in what we consume. Telling people that their cocoa nibs, flax seed, ginger, turmeric, almond milk, maca powder, raw kale smoothie may be contributing to the imbalance of elements in their body is often met with a lot of resistance and skepticism at first.
Cosmic Mind (Ayurveda Psychology)
Turbulent or calm thoughts, anger, joy, compassion, will, desire, suppressed and past life memories are all varying expressions of the elements in our mind. Ayurveda psychology requires a delicate balancing act of nature's forces like wild fires from raging in our minds (high fire/pitta), high winds from making us lose focus and concentration (high air/vata) or emotional floods (high water/kapha) from taking over our ability to navigate life.
The path of Dharma prescribes that we understand that every activity we partake in and every impression we consume effects the balance of the elements in our mind. Most people are not aware that Ayurveda Psychology deeply understands the elemental nature even of different types of meditation, mantra, asana and lifestyle. It prescribes that they be practiced in the right amount and combination with our own constitutional imbalances in mind.
Cosmic Consciousness (Vedic Astrology)
The sun and moon and the solar system, the stars, planets and the galaxies too reside within us. The Sun (fire) as our universal soul and the moon (water) as our individualized consciousness here on earth work hand in hand to unfold our evolution.
Much like the cycles of the cosmos or the seasons of the earth, we have planetary cycles in our lives (dashas) of dormancy/limitation (Saturn - air), growth/abundance (Jupiter - water), chaos/out of control (Rahu - air), conflict/competition (Mars - fire), harmony/love (Venus - water), duality/knowledge (Mercury- earth), dissolution/enlightenment (ketu - fire). These cycles are seen through the Jyotish lens of karmic seasons, as part of our natural law journey.
A good astrologer, like a good weather forecaster reveals these cycles but what she teaches you about Dharma or natural laws, to avoid one planet and its associated element from controlling our destiny, is more important than the prediction.
Inner and Outer Ecology
Maintaining the body/mind/consciousness ecosystem is just as delicate a balancing act as restoring the earth's ecosystem and there are no simple formulas that work for everyone as each person's physical/mental and karmic ecosystem is unique.
The term holistic in Yoga means much more than treating our body as a whole or living off the grid, conserving energy and eating organic food - it means living life on nature's terms. It means not resisting natural laws. It means restoring our inner ecosystem by following the cosmic laws of Dharma and karma. Our planet's future depends on us creating a sustainable inner ecology.