Here we present essential background information before diving into the bindu. We review the yogic cosmology on which understanding the bindu is based. We discuss the essential yogic method – pratiprasava – which allows one to discover the cosmos described by yoga.
Contents for The Yogic View of Consciousness:
|Intro||Ch 1||Ch 2||Ch 3||Ch 4||Ch 5||Ch 6||Ch7||Ch 8|
|Ch 9||Ch 10||Ch 11||Ch 12||Ch 13||Ch 14||Ch 15||Ch 16||Ch 17|
|Ch 18||Ch 19||Ch 20||Ch 21||Ch 22||Ch 23||Ch 24||Ch 25||Ch 26|
|Ch 27||Ch 28||Ch 29||Ch 30||Ch 31||Ch 32||Ch 33|
We turn our attention now to the bindu. As with the Absolute, the bindu discussions will spread over several posts. No other author I have read discussed this topic as much as Taimni. Thus, he will serve as our intellectual guide as we traverse ideas alien to the Western mind, and relativity obscure even to the Hindu mind.
After explaining Taimni’s concept of the bindu, the discussion will diverge along the lines of the practical and the theoretical. The bindu has important bearing on practical aspects of altered states of consciousness. It is via that bindu that we travel amongst the different states of consciousness. Theoretically, I will look at perhaps the only major Western framework to have anticipated the bindu: Leibniz’ Monadology. As with many other things in math and science, we find Leibniz there first. All of this will invoke math concepts, hence the previous discussion about math and the Relative.
Up to now, I’ve described the bindu as a doorway between the Absolute and the individual mind, “buried” under all four strata of consciousness, and thus hidden from our 1st person conscious awareness. However, this view is not the whole story. The bindu is more subtle and abstract and is more than just a simple doorway between the Relative and the Absolute. I discussed this in the 2nd plane talk column, but here we will explore the idea much more in depth over several posts.
Our goal now is to discuss background information for understanding the full scope of the bindu concept. We review yogic cosmology, and we discuss the yoga methods underling the bindu concept. As with all ideas in yoga, the bindu is not merely an intellectual concept. It is a reality experienced in altered states induced by yoga practices. The bindu is quite real, and it explains how yoga is even possible.
As such, the bindu is at the center of everything, quite literally, as we shall see.
Sources and Citations
Taimni and SwamiJ are the only two sources I have seen that discuss the bindu in any detail. SwamiJ’s description is here and is an excellent overview of the topic in the context of traditional Eastern thought and yoga practices.
To my knowledge, Taimni first discussed the bindu in The Science of Yoga. In Man, God and the Universe , he dedicated three chapters (chpt. 23-25) to discussing the bindu. The idea is also expressed in his two works on Kashmiri Shaivism: The Ultimate Reality and Realization (a translation of Vasugupta’s Shiva Sutras) and The Secret of Self Realization (a translation of Pratyabhijna Hridayam of Ksemaraja). Part 2 invoked aphorism 3.15 from the Shiva Sutras, where the bindu is described as a “seed”.
My goal is to draw from these various sources, and tell Taimni’s bindu story in an organized manner. To tell the bindu story, we need to know the overall context within which this story sits. Thus, the main purpose of this post is to set the stage to discuss the bindu concept in its fullness.
The Big Picture
Taimni modernized and systematized ideas that ranged in age from the ancient Hindu Upanishads (circa 3000 BC) to the relatively modern teachings of Kashmiri Shaivism (900 AD). The big picture he synthesized goes like this.
There is one reality: The Absolute. The Absolute has two aspects, the unmanifest and the manifest. Using the Samkhya ideas from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we can divide the manifest into the four layers of gunas and corresponding state of consciousness. Visually, we can flow-chart this on the left, and make a graphic, shown on the right. Two notes about the graphic: (1) the black dot in the middle represents the Absolute, and is supposed to be just a point, and (2) the involution/evolution arrows are explained further on below.
This scheme was called “yogic cosmology” in Part 9 of What is Science?. The diagram above is more complete than that discussed in What is Science? The new diagram contains the unmanifest and Absolute, in addition to the four states of the manifest gunas. Together, the manifest + unmanifest + the Absolute is the big picture required to fully understand the bindu.
Overview of the Bindu Discussion
The bindu story I will build over subsequent posts is as follows:
First, for an individual mind, the bindu provides a bridge across the various borders depicted in the diagram. That is, the bindu is not solely located at the “bottom” of the mind as we have discussed to this point, but in fact connects all the levels of the mind together.
Second, individual minds form a hierarchy corresponding to the natural systems we observe in our sensory experience. Each such mind has its own bindu. This entire hierarchy is linked via the bindus. That is, the whole of manifestation is one vast hierarchical network linked via the bindus of the various grades of mind that exist in nature. The only qualitative picture like this in the West is Leibniz Monadology. We can fortify all this with some network and dynamical math ideas (don’t worry, I won’t use equations!), and even some kooky, head-spinning transfinite number stuff.
The previous two paragraphs succinctly describe Taimni’s ideas. They also summarize the general theory of yoga. The only way to explain and make sense of yoga as a whole, and samadhi in particular, is because all of manifestation is one huge interconnected network. In this network, the nodes are the variety of minds and the links are the bindus.
Bindus are not easy doors to open. Certain features operate spontaneously and generate waking/sleeping/dreaming, and life and death as we know it. To access the other features of bindus, one must use yoga methods or some functionally equivalent surrogate.
I say again: this whole business is quite abstract. So put on your walking shoes as we have a bit of distance to cover.
Yoga Cosmology in Brief
The diagram above provides a first pass outline of yogic cosmology. Much of the rest of the book will go into greater detail, so this section merely asserts everything as definitions. I’ll compare and contrast to analogous Western ideas if these exist.
The yogic cosmology is a triple ontology of the Manifest, the Unmanifest, and the Absolute. However, it is really a single ontology perceived in three ways. The single ontological category is consciousness. The triple ontology corresponds to different conditions of consciousness as follows:
- Absolute = consciousness perfectly undisturbed, at equilibrium.
- Unmanifest = consciousness partitioned by distinctions that perfectly cancel out.
- Manifest = consciousness in states of movement, or disequilibrium.
If it is a single ontological category—consciousness—perceived in three different ways, then why aren’t I calling it a triple epistemology instead? Because epistemologically, the three categories only makes sense from a relative standpoint. Knowledge and acts of knowing do not exist as such in the Unmanifest or Absolute. Knowledge, knowing, epistemology is a relative phenomenon. From a relative standpoint, consciousness seems to exist simultaneously in these three states.
In contrast, the West is confused about ontology. Generally, it assumes a single ontology but doesn’t know what it is. Idealism and physicalism are opposite ontologies to the Western mind. The world is made of mind or the world is made of matter. The West isn’t sure which is correct. Maybe it’s both: dualism. We’ll spend a lot of time ahead critiquing this, so my comments now are introductory.
We discussed the Absolute in Chapters 4-7, so the general idea should be clear. The West doesn’t have a clear equivalent to the Absolute. Historically, one may associate ideas of God or Infinity with it. But in the West, these are merely intellectual ideas. The Absolute in yoga is a real experience.
The Unmanifest was briefly mentioned in Chapter 6, when discussing Gaudiya Vaishnavism. In Hinduism, it is a realm of potential from which the Manifest arises. Its chief characteristic is listed above: the pregnant co-existence of opposites. The Unmanifest is also an experience in altered states of consciousness. We will come in this book to call it the Movement, an ungraspable something-or-another, that is the immediate source of the Manifest.
The West also doesn’t have a clear idea of the Unmanifest. There are various flirtations with the idea in the history of Western thought. One example from classical philosophy is Hegel’s idea of “spirt” as the source of the dialectic. “Spirit” is a primordial something-or-another out of which opposites arise and manifest.
Since the appearance of quantum mechanics, physics has been forced to consider ideas related to the Unmanifest. The “quantum foam” or “quantum vacuum” approximate the idea of the unmanifest, albeit in purely physical terms. However, taking Weyl into account, qualitative interpretations of mathematical frameworks are a shaky exercise at best. Yet it is common practice in physics to consider the quantum vacuum as the source of the spontaneous appearance of virtual particles. The quantum vacuum is a potential from which “stuff” spontaneously manifests.
The Gunas and Manifestation
The single ontology the West seeks to describe is, most often, equivalent to the yogic Manifest. Since the ancient Greeks, the West has been hell-bent on describing the Manifest, with only partial success. In yoga, the Manifest, taken as a whole is called Prakriti (the daughter of Shakti, the mother of the gunas). The Manifest is composed of gunas. There are three gunas called rajas, tamas, and sattva. There are four phases of the gunas called: visesa, avisesa, linga, and alinga. By “phase” I mean something analogous to the phases of water: ice, liquid, and vapor. A table helps organize all this.
There is confusion as to what the gunas are. Hindus use the terms intuitively, and for the most part, correctly. But they are hard pressed to precisely define the gunas. In the academic study of yoga, authors recognize the gunas are in some sense analogous to the atoms of Western science. The gunas are the “stuff” of which Manifestation is composed. But the gunas are not elements, nor are they substances. I described the gunas in the Introduction of What is Science? and repeat the essentials here.
The gunas are the three main patterns of movement. They are manifestations of energy, called Shakti in Hinduism. Tamas is inertial movement that eventually comes to rest. Rajas is what we today call chaotic dynamics, unpredictable movement. Sattva is rhythmic movement, like in a light wave. In Samkhya, the world is not made of “stuff” it is made of patterns of movement: gunas.
I also previously discussed the four phases of the gunas. The phases go from specific to general in the following sense. Visesa means “individual instances of”, as in a specific tree, star, or person. Avisesa means “not specific” and is best translated as “archetype” or “template”. Avisesa overlaps in meaning with Aristotle’s concept of “essence”. Linga means “marked”. Imagine a completed puzzle of a forest scene that shows the lines of demarcation between the pieces. You see how the individual pieces fit into the whole scene. Thus, linga specifies the relationships between the archetypes. Alinga, unmarked, is the whole and corresponds to seeing the scene not as a puzzle, but as an uninterrupted whole.
The four phases of gunas correspond to entire worlds, spheres, dimensions, or planes of existence (choose your term). The four worlds interpenetrate and interact in all manner of complex ways. The world of visesa gunas is the physical world. Avisesa gunas is, roughly speaking, the world of the mind. The worlds of linga and alinga gunas are ill-understood in the West. As a first pass, we can define linga gunas as the level of souls or spirits, corresponding to religious ideas of Heavens.
Alinga gunas is closest to the Western idea of God, as the source or plan for Manifestation. Thus, the general idea of God in the West is closer in meaning to alinga gunas than to the Absolute. The ancient Greeks and Medieval theologians recognized the alinga level in their concept of the Logos, the divine plan that drives manifested existence. However, modern Western cultures have become simple-mindedly secular, and the sense of unity associated with the classical Western concept of God has, for the most part, been abandoned. In modern times the vibrations of alinga gunas find expression in things like the desire for Grand Unification in physics, or (circa 1900) in Hilbert’s (failed) program to unify math.
I have covered these concepts very briefly. Again, the remainder of the book will continue to fill in details.
Running the Movie Backwards
Since the Absolute and Unmanifest (let alone the avisesa, linga, and alinga gunas) are not part of any modern Western views of things, we need to spend some time discussing how yoga can even claim they are a part of reality. We need to ask how one can know of such things. Is this all just airy-fairy fantasy? On what basis are these claims supported?
Yogic teachings claim the four states of gunas, the unmanifest, and the Absolute are discovered in the inner depths of consciousness via advanced forms of samadhi. To better understand the yogic claims, we must digress on some physics thinking because yoga is the physicist’s concept of “time reversible” with a vengeance.
Time reversibility can be understood simply. Imagine watching a video of a glass falling to the floor and breaking (or of a green ball smashing through a plate of glass). Then, watch the video in reverse and watch the broken glass shards ascend from the floor and reassemble into the glass. “Time reversibility” is just running the movie backwards.
Running the movie backwards is fundamental in physics. In relativity, quantum mechanics, and classical physics, one can replace the variable time, t, with its negative, -t, and still get sensible answers. This is a deep principle in modern physics, and rests on mathematical symmetry arguments that I will not dwell on here (except to say that Emmy Noether invented this way of thinking, and Weyl also had a hand in developing this line of thought, of course among many others).
That time can be reversed in the fundamental theories of modern physics contradicts our experience that time always moves forward and never backwards. A broken cup does not “unbreak” and a burnt cigarette never “unburns” back to an unsmoked cigarette. Yet the equations of physics do not rule out either possibility. Recall Weyl on math: “the free construction of the possible”; mathematically running time backwards offers no logical contradictions and so just pops out of the “free constructions”. In fact, it seems to have an inevitability in the same sense that 1 + 1 is inevitably 2.
The result seems absurd given our sensory experience of time. Many people feel there must be a defect with the physics theories. I myself have thought this was the case. However, as I have learned more of theoretical physics, it has become clear that this result is quite fundamental, and to eliminate it from so many functional theories in physics seems unlikely, although anything is possible. At the present time, physicists have reconciled the reversibility of time with the apparent irreversibility of the events we perceive in the following fashion.
The work of Boltzmann introduced statistical thinking in physics. This logically allows possibilities such as unbreaking a broken cup, or having a pot of boiling water freeze to ice. These possibilities become extremely improbable statistical events. In this fashion, such “Alice in Wonderland” events can squat in the hinder regions of physical theories without getting in the way of using the theories to describe the stuff we actually do perceive in our sensory experience.
It perhaps seems like a cheap compromise. But it is the fact. Many smart people have tried to wiggle out of this seeming contradiction, but no compelling solution has yet been discovered.
You may ask: why are we even discussing this when the main topic is yoga? It is because yoga has something similar going on. In fact, the yogic view suggests what is being described in physics is real and not merely an artifact of logic.
Pratiprasava: Going Back to the Origin
Yoga claims we can untangle the complexity of our mind backwards to the origin and source of our mind. SwamiJ has a nice summary here and I quote his opening remark:
“The process of Self-realization is one of attention reversing the process of manifestation, of retracing consciousness back through the levels of manifestation to its source.”
This is not just a modern thing, but is described in the Yoga Sutras. The 10 forms of samadhi in Patanjali’s raja yoga are precisely this backwards motion of consciousness retracing itself to its source. Taimni, in The Science of Yoga says it thus:
“Samadhi does nothing more than reverse this involution of consciousness and this evolution or unfoldment of consciousness automatically reveals the subtler aspects of these objects.”
Involution and Evolution
And there are the terms “involution” and “evolution” that were in the above diagram. Let’s briefly define these. We saw in Part 4 that van der Leeuw’s experience of Kaivalya revealed that everything is an expression of what he called “The Rhythm of Creation”:
“These two facts – the eternal limitation of the Absolute to the relative and the eternal liberation of the relative into the Absolute… interpret for us the mystery of Creation.”
This idea is not new or original with van der Leeuw. It is taught in Theosophy and, as we shall see, has roots in ancient Hindu ideas.
In a nutshell, involution is the Absolute involving itself as the Relative. Involution is the process whereby progressively more complex forms come into being to allow increasingly complex expressions of consciousness. Evolution is the Relative returning back to the Absolute (sit tight, I’ll compare this idea of evolution to the Darwinian idea of evolution below. For the moment, just learn the yogic ideas if they are new to you).
These processes are depicted by the arrows on the above diagram. Involution is initiated at the cosmic level. Evolution is initiated at the level of an individual human. The methods of yoga are designed to cause the return of a relative human being back to its source as the Absolute.
Here is one expression of this idea in aphorism 2.10 of the Yoga Sutras:
“These, the subtle ones, can be reduced by resolving them backward into their origin.”
In the Yoga Sutras this statement is presented in the context of overcoming the kleshas. Overcoming the kleshas is a key aspect of raja yoga. I won’t explain the kleshas here but if you want to know, this page is a good introduction.
The point of invoking this aphorism is that it illustrates the general principle of “running the movie backwards” employed in yoga. Taimni comments as follows:
“The phrase Pratiprasava means evolution or re-absorption of effect into cause or reversing the process of Prasava or involution. If a number of things are derived in a series from a primary thing by a process of involution they can all be reduced to the original thing by a counter-process of evolution and such a counter process is called Pratiprasava.”
“The important term, “pratiprasava”…refers to the…“counterflow” of the gunas into the their source or state of “equilibrium”.
In short, we run everything backwards. We go from here and now back to the source of our being in the Absolute. We peel back, or unfold, the layers of the mind, one by one, until we return to the source. This is the purpose to which samadhi is put in raja yoga. This process of going backwards in the mind is very similar to the physics idea that t and –t are interchangeable. Both sound equally absurd on the face of it. Both seem to completely contradict our experience. Yet there is every good reason to take both seriously.
Darwin was a Monkey
I want to offer only a few brief remarks comparing the cycle of involution/evolution found in Hindu, yogic, and occult teachings to Darwin’s idea of evolution by natural selection. It can be said simply: the process Darwin identified is a subset of what Hindus/yogis/occultists call involution.
In the yogic cosmology, involution is the creation of the entire manifestation including the creation of: elementary particles, atoms, universes (yes that was a plural), galaxies, solar systems, and all the complex forms found in solar systems, including, yes, living organisms. The evolution of biological life is but one small sliver of the involutionary process.
So, there is no contradiction at all between the yogic cosmology and Darwin’s view of things. Yoga has no problem embracing biological evolution. At least in general. As presently specified in modern biology, there are some serious issues with the so-called “fundamental theory” of biology.
As usual in these cases where there is overlap between Eastern and Western ideas, the issue boils down to one of scope. The Eastern view is cosmic in scope. The Western view of evolution, well…not so much. Because biological evolution is seen in such restricted terms, it suffers as does any limited viewpoint: it doesn’t include the big picture. Then, all the attendant problems of myopia come into play.
Be that as it may, it is not my intent to dwell on this topic. I just wish to conclude with the following. Since Darwin’s ideas were put forth in the 1850s, there has been a continuous conflict with Christianity that is not only intellectually superficial, it is just plain stupid. People that play into this idiotic conflict are themselves idiots, pure and simple.
When we are at the level of discussing the basic symmetry of time reversibility, or discussing Weyl’s philosophical ideas, or the yogic methods that have the potential for a living human being to experience the Absolute, then such idiotic nonsense as Darwinian evolution vs Christianity has no place at the table. It doesn’t even work as a joke or for comic relief. I feel yucky for saying even this much. I need to go shower now and clean this garbage off…hold on, I’ll be right back.
Set the Table
The yogic cosmology is the intellectual background we need to understand what the bindu really is.
Pratiprasava is the general method, or process, by which the yogic cosmology was discovered. The yogi goes stepwise backward, running the movie backward, so to speak: First learning how to go immediately under vitarka to vicara, then vicara to ananda, then ananda to asmita, then from asmita to Kaivalya.
Then, as we saw discussing Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the Absolute seems to have different grades of depth. From the diagram above, we can recognize that what is likely being described here is the penumbra, the transition zone, from the manifest to the Absolute via the unmanifest. The three “grades” of Absolute – Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan – represent the depths through the unmanifest.
How do all these transitions occur?
Through the bindu.
The bindu links all the various grades of gunas together, links the manifest to the unmanifest, and ultimately links the Absolute to the unmanifest.
The bindu is not a simple doorway at all.
Having nicely set our dinner table with the appropriate background information, in Part 10 we will enjoy the ambrosial meal of Taimni’s ideas about the bindu. I must, however, warn the Reader that ingesting these ideas will have psychedelic effects. See you there!
Go to Part 10