The photo above is of Swami Sivananda. Swami denotes a Hindu religious teacher. Sivananda is his name, a compound word made of both Shiva and ananda. Shiva is the first yogi. He is the transformative force in the Hindu pantheon. He is also the destroyer. He is also the archetype of the perfect practitioner who willingly destroys themselves to rebuild themselves. Ananda is bliss. If you put it all together Sivananda means the bliss of transformation that comes from destruction. That’s quite a name! In this photo, Swami Sivananda is meditating while he dies. That’s why his disciples are surrounding him and bracing him upright. This process is called Mahasamadhi, the Great Unifying. If you’ve meditated before you can imagine how intense it would be to so mindfully pass away. What does the body feel like during such a transition? Where does the mind go? What happens after the last exhale? To think, “These eyes will never open again. I will never come out of this meditation!” It’s an impressive and extreme commitment to awareness, which translates to an impressive and extreme commitment to life. Take a look again at the image. He seems childlike. I see a strange inversion of birth. A big baby whose body has grown old. Coddled by those that love him, Swami Sivananda is savoring the greatest lesson of life not yet learned whilst life dwindles out. This is a breathtaking example of yoga as a life long practice.
Life seems to be outside us but the most moving elements of life actually exist inside. By the end, whether we are prepared or not life will end and we'll be yanked inside, through and beyond body, thought, and emotion. The significance of the internal will be learned eventually. The lesson enforced by life's natural process. The yogi is well prepared to masterfully transition through this destiny.
The mind, to the yogi's, extends in two directions. The first mental direction is called vibhu. Vibhu is the cosmic direction which means it's the direction of the physical world. It's outward. Relative to you, vibhu is when the mind extends towards your environment. It's external. From your immediate surroundings, vibhu expands out into the literal space around you. It reaches over the earth, then the sky, then the atmosphere, then the solar system, galaxy, universe, and beyond. It moves towards the physical and the massive. Our senses move in the direction of vibhu to connect us to the material world. Most of the time we are externally oriented. Our brains are constantly processing where we are, who's around us, what we're doing, and where we're going. Consider how much time you spend interacting with the physical environment around you. Is there an alternative? Most would never think there is. The discovery, exploration, and documentation of this alternative direction of life is the value of yoga to humanity.
The second direction is anu. Anu means atomic. Anu moves in the opposite direction of vibhu, internally. Anu extends towards the internal and leads ultimately into the purely immaterial or spirit. The world from the perspective of spirit, which harbors no Self to judge, desire, or fear, lives up to the timeless poetry of Rumi or Emerson. From spirit, you can see why life is a miracle. Anu supports vibhu the way a clear palette supports the tasting of food. To practice the internal mind and move towards anu, think of feeling your internal organs, then your cells, then the organelles inside your cells, then proteins, then molecules, then atoms, then subatomic particles, then the infinitesimal unknown. Since our senses are directed outwardly, the ability to focus on the internal involves a negating of the senses which is called pratyahara. Let your eyes go blind. Let your ears go deaf. Let your skin go numb. Let consciousness, the sixth sense, fall inwardly. That is the direction of practice, truth, and happiness.
To shift towards anu takes a lot of focus. As an animal, you depend on your environment to survive. Notice that you're wiery of the environment because it can be dangerous or you're fixated on it because it's interesting. You're also concerned with how others perceive you and how you present yourself because you're a social creature. You're also obsessed with the outside because there are resources out there! You're biologically and socially designed to fixate on vibhu. Biology is a particularly challenging thing to override. But when our biology begins to fail, when our senses dissolve, when the brain degrades, when our systems shut down, we begin to sink inwardly. This is death. Death is the descent into our most subtle nature. Death is also what gives value to life. Sivananda! Because life is momentary it's also meaningful and exciting. The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, appreciates death as a tool to encourage his mindfulness, taking full advantage of the dynamics between mortality and appreciation of life as an eternal spectacle. This appreciation of death, which is similar to the practice of sensitizing the mind to the internal and subtle sensations of the body, is a common aspect of the spiritually gifted. To internalize the mind isn't a practice on death but both death and anu involve a sort of dissolution and nuance. The value of meditating on death is similar to the value of meditating on anu. From the deep internal, far in the direction of anu, close and closer to spirit, life is beautified!