Advanced Yoga Practices
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Your Chosen Ideal (Audio)
June 18, 2009
New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the archive, as previous
lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why
Traditionally, bhakti is considered to be love of God, which usually places
it in the realm of religion. This is well
and good, but there is another side of bhakti that is not necessarily
religious. Bhakti may also be regarded as spiritual without any religious
There are many forms of bhakti, as many as there are
chosen ideals and attributes that we can imagine. Unlimited! Here, we will
not get into well-known traditional expressions of bhakti very much. It is
the province of the religions. For those who love to worship in their
religious tradition, that is very good. For those who are not inclined that
way, it is not the end of bhakti. Yoga and spiritual development can
progress very well with or without traditional modes of worship. It can work
either way, or both ways.
Directed desire is the essential ingredient
in all spiritual practice. It is bhakti that gets us to our meditation seat
each day. Then we easily favor the procedure of our practice. Daily yoga
practices are designed to open us up steadily over time. Then we have a
constantly purifying and opening nervous system, a growing desire for truth
and enlightenment, and we are always hankering to go to the next level of
ever-evolving chosen ideal is what keeps this
process going up and up.
While we know that desire leads to action, we also know that desire left on
its own without the benefit of an underlying vision will be pulling us in
many directions at the same time. Our emotion is a powerful fuel, but if it
is not provided with a reliable channel for its expression through desire,
not much good will come from it. The mind is also involved in this, because
it is our emotions expressing as desires that inform the mind. From there,
it is onward to action. So, it all begins with how we point our emotions. It
is about what we favor with our emotional energy. Desire is always seeking
more, and it is up to us to provide that more in the form of an inspired
vision, our chosen ideal.
We have used the word "vision" to represent the channel for desire
leading to action. This implies that desire can be focused through a fixed
lens. While in theory this is true, especially in worldly endeavors, it is
an over-simplification when we consider the much broader scope of human
spiritual transformation. In that case, we are not seeking a particular
material outcome, but the purification and opening of the human nervous
system so it can express its full potential.
In considering a
systematic approach to bhakti, the cultivation of unending desire for
spiritual realization, the concept of "chosen ideal" provides the necessary
flexibility. The Sanskrit word "ishta" means chosen ideal, and offers the
range of expression we need to travel the continuum of bhakti from where we
are today to the highest reaches of devotion, and the resulting outpouring
of divine love coming from within us, leading to liberation in all aspects
What do we mean
by chosen ideal? Our well-meaning religious institutions may interpret it to
be the god or ideal of our religion: Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Allah, etc.
This may be so if that is what resonates in our heart. But our chosen ideal
can come in other forms also.
It can be a dedicated inquiry, such as,
"Who am I, and what am I doing here?" Or the simple question, "Is there more
than this which I am living now?"
It can be an affirmation, such as,
"I will know the truth and the truth will set me free."
It can be an
ideal of discrimination, such as, "This is true, and this is not true."
And so on ...
ideal is chosen by us, no one else. It is entirely personal. It can be a
blend of ideals, such as the icons and ideals of our religion mixed with
inquiry, affirmation and discrimination. And we will carry these through
life, even as our ideal expands as we undergo the inner purification and
opening associated with the ongoing process of human spiritual
Personality will play a role in ones chosen ideal.
Those who are demonstratively devotional by nature may be inclined toward
outer forms of devotion like worshipful conduct, singing, spiritual dancing,
etc. Others who may be more analytical may be inclined toward introspection
in stillness, self-inquiry and other less visible devotional acts.
Regardless of the choice of ishta, there will be devotion involved as we
become committed to the course we have chosen. As our commitment deepens,
our chosen ideal will evolve and change over time, according to our rising
realization of truth. The more clearly we see what is emerging within us,
the more concrete it will become, and our ideal will continue to evolve
toward progressively more advanced stages.
Before the openings occur,
there can be a tendency toward a more rigid view of the chosen ideal. This
is certainly the case in most of the religions, where the ideal is often
chosen for us rather than by us. And even in the individual there can be an
inflexibility in the relationship with a chosen ideal. It is the difference
between an icon representing a fixed view, or the same icon facilitating
steadily expanding inner experience. Spiritual practices such as deep
meditation and spinal breathing pranayama will unwind the rigidness that may
be occurring in our relationship with a chosen ideal. Then a gradual shift
in our relationship with our ideal can occur, according to need as inner
awareness expands, with more inner silence moving in the outer expressions
of our life.
silence expands, our relationship with our ishta will expand also, through a
constant gentle nudging coming from within. It is like the clothes we wear
as we grow up. The bigger we become the bigger our clothes will become. Our
ishta is like that too infinitely expandable. The more we can see, the
further our vision will reach beyond the limits we have known before. While
we may have begun with an icon we derived from our religion or elsewhere,
filling us from within, in the end, we may see our ishta encompassing the
whole of humanity, and beyond to the entire universe. The larger our spirit
becomes, the more we are filled, and the larger our ishta becomes, even if
it is still represented by the same small icon on the altar of our devotion,
whether it be a physical icon, or a non-physical ishta in our heart. It can
be all of these.
Our ishta does not have to be fixed. In fact, it is
good if we allow ourselves the flexibility to see our ideal as
ever-expanding, even if still represented by a relatively fixed object or
idea. The expansion is natural as we move along on our spiritual path. The
expansion of our ishta is facilitated by a gentle favoring of our chosen
ideal and the practices we will be inspired to undertake, rather than rigid
concentration on ishta or means. We will find the greatest progress in
favoring and releasing, favoring and releasing.
There is a paradox in this, and that is that the path of yoga is
ultimately a path of release, of letting go. The doing we do in yoga is an
undoing. When letting go into the divine flow becomes the ideal, the ideal
itself will dissolve. That is when we have become the thing itself. This is
the stage of abiding inner silence, ecstatic bliss, and outpouring divine
love in unity. This is enlightenment. We arrive in this state through
practices and living a full life over the long term, so there is much doing
in this letting go. It has also been called "active surrender."
are some general steps we may notice occurring as our chosen ideal evolves
over time through the process of bhakti and yoga practices:
- Inspiration and questions forming our ideal.
- Redirecting our energies of attraction and aversion.
- Adding practices for purification and opening.
- Expansion of stillness and the rise of ecstasy.
- Refining perception of divine experiences.
- Surrender to the neurobiological transformation (kundalini).
- The inner process itself becoming the ideal.
- The ideal expanding outward to others.
- Service emerging as the ideal outpouring divine love (active
- All as ishta unity stillness in action in the field of Oneness.
These steps may tend to overlap and we may not experience
each of them clearly. The evolution of our chosen ideal is a process
resulting from our inner purification and opening, which will be unique to
our nature, and dependent on our bhakti and the practices we undertake.
Nevertheless, the stages of an evolving ishta will be more or less along the
lines given above beginning with our ideal forming around what inspires us,
to increasingly more palpable experiences arising within and around us over
time, which leave no doubt that great evolutionary forces are at work within
us. As we expand from within, our ideal expands also, even as it becomes
more real to us in every way.
So, an icon that inspires us, or a simple question like "Who am I?"
asked with emotion, can lead to devotion to a high spiritual ideal, to many
yoga practices, to a more peaceful and creative life, and ultimately to
direct perception of the divine flow moving within and around us. It all
leads to the divine seen as our own self in all who we may encounter. Then
this becomes a life of personal self in sacred service to divine Self. It is
an unending divine romance occurring within and all around us!
Our ishta evolves from a simple inspiration and longing for truth to the
full expression of truth realized in daily living. The ideal continues to
expand as we do. Throughout, we can have the same ishta we began with, in
ever-expanding form, corresponding with our never-ending inner expansion. It
is the journey of love and longing from separation to union. Through our
evolution and the expansion of our view, we go beyond the bondage of
orbiting opposites to the union of stillness in action. Then our ishta and
our journey have become One.
The guru is in you.
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Note: For detailed
discussion on the role of our chosen ideal on our spiritual path, see the
Bhakti and Karma Yoga book,
and AYP Plus.