Awareness, Space and 'Spirituality'


The Principles and Practices of Awareness - both in their traditional exposition as millennia-old yogic philosophical principles and practices and in their exposition as The New Yoga of Awareness - share in common a crucial understanding of the ‘spiritual’, albeit one which is concealed by the very terms ‘spirit’, ‘holy spirit’, ‘spirituality’, ‘the spiritual world’ etc. Western ‘spirituality’ gives metaphysical and religious primacy to the notion of ‘spirit’ as such - even though its nature is never exactly defined. In contrast, Indian religious metaphysics gives primacy to the notion of space or Akasha (pronounced ‘aakash’). The Awareness Principle too, understands space as a primary dimension of subjectivity or awareness, indeed as identical with that pure or transcendental awareness which is ‘God’. That is why one of the most important if not primary Practices of Awareness advocated in the Shaivist Tantras (in particular the Vijnanabhairavatantra) is the expansion of awareness through identification with space.
The term ‘Akasha’ is translated both as ‘space’ and as ‘aether’ or ‘ether’. That is because it is understood as pervaded by awareness in the form of Prana - the primordial ‘air’, ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ of awareness. This is also the root meaning of ‘spirit’ in its derivation from Latin ‘spirare’ (to breathe), the term ‘spiritus’ being a Latin translation of the Greek ‘pneuma’ (air/wind) and cognate also with the root meaning of the Greek ‘psyche’ (breath). To be ‘spiritual’ in the Indian yogic sense is to be capable, quite literally, of a different, more primordial type of re-spiration or breathing. This primordial respiration is a ‘transpiration’ in which we sense ourselves breathing in our awareness of the clear, luminous expansiveness of the space around us, not through our lungs alone but through every pore of our skin. In this way we can come to experience breathing as an in-breath of the pure ‘air’ of awareness itself. It is not just the immaterial nature of this higher air or ‘aether’ of awareness, but this long-lost experience of breathing this immaterial air that lies concealed behind the otherwise vague Western notion of ‘spirit’. In contrast it is given much richer definition through the yogic term ‘Prana’ - understood as that invisible breath or ‘air’ of awareness that pervades the entirety of space – both the space around us and the space which constitutes the larger part of every atom of ‘matter’.
The twin-meaning of ‘Akasha’ as (1) ‘space’ and (2) aether, together with the meaning of ‘aether’ itself as a ‘purer’, ‘higher’ – indeed less air-filled and thus more spacious ‘air’ - is symbolised by the Himalayan mountaintop, both as a place of meditation and as the very abode of the Hindu god Shiva – that deity who is both Lord of Yoga and who personifies and embodies the absolute or divine awareness as such.

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