All The World’s A Stage # 51
All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, said William Shakespeare 600 years ago. Some 500 years prior, in the 11th cent CE, Kṣemaraja, the foremost disciple of the erudite Tantric sage Abhinavagupta, wrote a sutra text of 20 aphorisms called The Pratyabijna Hrdayam in which he stated in sutra 8: The positions of all the various systems of philosophy constitute the very stages and planes of the great Consciousness. [translation Paul Muller-Ortega]
“Pratyabijna” means “recognition,” not as in simply remembering, but as “awareness,” awareness of who we truly are and hṛdaya, means heart. As translated by Paul Muller-Ortega this beautiful text is “The Heart of Self Recognition. In the original Sanskrit sutra 8 states, TAD-BHÚMIKÁḤ SARVA-DARS̄ANA-STHITAYAḤ. The positions of all the various systems of philosophy constitute the very stages and planes of the great Consciousness.
In his commentary Paul states: “all of the various possible stances, viewpoints, and moment by moment perspectives that arise within every conscious being, at every and all moments in time, in every plane of existence, thus each ad all represent the roles and stances that, like a cosmic actor, or life a divine dancer, the great Consciousness is enacting, experiencing, and permitting to arise within Itself.”
To be an accomplished actor, the performer must melt into the role; there must be a seamless merging such that the truth of the individual playing the part is hidden. That said, the actor knows who they truly are even as their skill permits a flawless disappearance into the role. She may be playing the Queen of England calling for heads to role, but she is not delusional, no necks will be severed; she understands it is a part.
We have reverse engineered this ‘skill’ if you will. We have taken on the many roles of life to such a complete degree, that we have forgotten the truth of who we are. We are indeed, daughter, sister, mother, lawyer, chef and much more, but this is not the whole story. These identities all emerge from a source and that source is whole full and complete, containing every possible iteration and, it has been forgotten. In fact, the great masters tell us that in some manner, we only take on all these other parts to fill the sense of incompleteness all humans feel. This sense of lack has us looking ever outward, like some heat seeking missile, for the missing piece that will complete the whole.
Meditation is the journey in to source, the mechanism that permits that remembrance. But still the question remains, how DO we ever really recognize the absolute in our planetary experience, in our personal day-to-day life, or in our meditation?
What is recognition? Past knowledge meeting present circumstances results in the light of recognition. It is the “ah ha or ah, that is what that means” moment. We have these all the time in life. A dear friend tells us of someone they just know we will love. They fill us on on all the details, why we will get along so well, what we have in common; their quirks and dry sense of humor. One day we are at a party and introduced to someone, as we are getting to know them, that dear friend walks up and whispers in our ear, “this is who I was speaking of”. Instantly we recognize the person as the past knowledge moves forward to meet the present circumstance and light dawns!
Kṣemarāja tells us in his text that we can have the experience of our deepest nature, of absolute consciousness every day, but we don’t recognize it, and in that, we fail to value the gift we hold in our very being. And in that failure to recognize, we lose so much.
Some traditions state that in order to recover this, we must relinquish, let go of the objects of life that capture our attention and prohibit awareness from traveling inward. We must renounce, as it were, our humanity in order to capture our divinity. Only then can we know the truth of who we are and while this may have some effect on our embodied life, we can never be unified, united in consciousness until we leave this body. This is the teaching of Classical Yoga as spoken of in the Yoga Sutras.
The Śaiva Tantric masters posit otherwise. Yes, we must learn how to “temporarily” release these limited roles and merge in the wholeness of source. But, and this is an important distinction, is only the first part of the journey. The second act requires us to bring the riches found there back out into life in order to serve life; in order to enrich and enhance and support all the roles we play while fully knowing, experiencing the truth of who we are as we simultaneously dance to the tune of life.
This knowing, experiencing is not something we can intellectually decide. In order to be more than a philosophical discussion there must be a method, a way for this experience to occur.
This is the hallmark of the Śaiva Tantra tradition and it is initiatory as there is something to learn. That something is natural and spontaneous and also ultra ultra subtle. It must be learned and practiced, daily. Only then can one have an experience of what is being so beautifully expressed. And experience is necessary for recognition to occur.
Knowledge and experience, in Sanskrit jñāna and vijñāna, the fundamental principle of the Śaiva Tantra. What is the knowledge that will permit the experience and how does one authentically acquire it? One without the other is incomplete. Authentic knowledge & deep experience of that knowledge: intellectual and a specialized ‘gnosis ‘or inner knowledge experienced first in interiorized states then brought out; to see, know the sacredness of life beyond what our somewhat crude gross level senses perceive; to do this we must refine on every level.
One can make all kinds of statements: I believe in ‘unity consciousness’, but the question remains, what do we experience? With out a method, a path and someone to guide you, it remains a part played. That said, there is so much to be gained in playing these roles; it is how we experience all that life has to offer. But we suffer mightily when we take them to be our sole and true identity.
I am a dancer at heart always have been. In my mind, I move with skill and grace even when it may appear otherwise. I’m learning, experiencing that because I spend time each day aligning with the very source of the music, I can partner with a kind of innocence, a non-manipulation; and in that, I actually move with skill and grace in life and not just in my mind. This is Nataraja’s dance and a taste of true freedom.