26 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside reading Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice.
What questions arise when I focus on “breath” as an object of Vedanta meditation?
For Advaita Vedanta, breath is an experience, an object of awareness. It is yet another object to see as lit up by pure consciousness. I am not the breath; I am the pure consciousness that illuminates the experience of breathing in this moment. That is the discernment part of this meditation. Then, see that Breath is something that cannot happen without pure consciousness. I am that pure consciousness. Thus, breath is contained within pure consciousness. It comes and goes.
Advaita Vedanta meditation is not so much concerned with all the varieties of pranayama exercises found in yoga systems. An interesting book to read about Swami Vivekananda’s formulations of his Raja Yoga system is Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice by Mark Singleton. Singleton discusses Genevieve Stebbins as an influential pioneer whose 19th century harmonial gymnastics system of esoteric dance and movement impacted and enabled the popular explosion of yogasana today. Singleton’s book offers a detailed history of how modern postural yoga is a combination of Eastern and Western influences. Today’s popular yoga classes are the result of a cross-pollination of ideas, an East/West exchange. Vivekananda learned as much from Stebbins as she learned from the hatha tradition. He relied on the popularity, nomenclature, and spirit of Stebbin’s work to propagate hath yoga in the West.
There is always a conversation going on; there is always an exchange. Singleton’s book reveals how it is not so simple for Indian nationalists to claim modern postural yoga as its own ancient teachings.
Now, what about kriya? Let’s take my personal example: Kundalini Yoga as Taught by Yogi Bhajan didn’t claim to be asana based; it relied on methods combining many teachings from hatha yoga, Shakta Tantra, Kashmiri Shaivism, the Sikh gurus, and Vedanta.
Now get this: I was taught that kriya-based method by an African-American former Broadway actress in Los Angeles; her teacher was a Punjabi-born man who, at one point in his life, had attended an all-girls Catholic school in Northern India.
Right there that is already a whirlwind of subtle influences that embody a constellation of combinations and cross-pollinations. It feels impossible to try to squeeze into one lineage. Seems more fun to celebrate that diversity and exchange. That exchange is lit up by consciousness. We are beyond the exchange. We are that consciousness.
Thus, it is impossible to pinpoint a pure lineage. So, as Professor Rambachan discusses that he wanted Vedanta to be having a conversation with a wider variety of conversation partners. Perhaps Vedanta is already having that conversation, and we merely need to breathe with it, acknowledge it, and observe.
Meditating on breath, a Jnana yogi might ask, “Just as the history of yogasana is a history of exchange between East and West, the history of the breath is an exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide through all beings. Pure Consciousness has observed every single exchange throughout time. If we are this Pure Consciousness, how can we not absolutely adore one another?”