(Abhāva) Non-existence; absence.
No other; sameness. Exponents of bheda regard themselves as “other than God,” whereas exponents of abheda regard God as the Absolute or Infinite—from which nothing is separate. The difference between bheda and abheda is essentially the same as that between dvaita and advaita.
The superior intellect, free from ideas of differentiation between the “I” and the world.
Abhinavagupta (circa 950-1016 A.D.) was a great philosopher, mystic, and scholar from Kashmir. He was born into a family of intellectuals and mystics, and studied all the schools of philosophy and art of his time. He produced many written works, including devotional songs, philosophical treatises, and aesthetic commentaries. His most revered work is the Tantraloka, an encyclopedic text on Trika Yoga. According to Abhinavagupta: “Other achievements are in vain if one has missed the supreme reality, the Self. But once one has attained this reality there is nothing left that one could desire.”
“Fear of death” or the instinct to protect the physical body. It is one of the five kleshas (causes of suffering). According to the Yoga Sutrasof Patanjali (2:9): “Abhinivesha is sustained by its own empirical experiences; it affects even the learned.” Patanjali says that this klesha is present even in learned people, which means it cannot be transcended by mere intellectual understanding or knowledge derived from studying scriptures and comparing doctrinal views. Read more.
(Abhyāsa): Repetition; perseverance. It designates perseverant spiritual practice. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali states that abhyasa and vairagya (dispassion; detachment) represent the two essential aspects of spiritual life. The Shiva Samhita (4:9) affirms: “Through practice comes perfection; through practice one will attain liberation.” Read more.
Non-duality. Advaita literally means “not two,” and is a monistic or non-dualistic system that essentially refers to the unity of atman (the Self) and Brahman (the Supreme Absolute). This doctrine says that nothing exists apart from the Spirit and everything is a form assumed by the Spirit. In traditional advaita teachings, spiritual realization was sought not through yogic sadhana (practice) but via the discrimination of the Real, the Truth, the One, from the unreal, the illusory, “that which IT is not.” The one and only goal of the teachings of advaita is the pursuit of unity and singularity. See Advaita Vedanta.
(Advaita Vedānta): Non-dual Vedanta. It is considered the pearl of Indian philosophy and has influenced virtually all schools of Indian thought. The supreme truth of advaita is the non-dual reality of Brahman, in which atman (the Supreme Self) and Brahman (the Ultimate Reality) are absolutely unified. Thus, the message of Advaita Vedanta is that only the Absolute, Undivided Self is real. It is the only Truth to be seen, surrendered to, and, ultimately, realized. Advaita Vedanta is commonly misunderstood as an intellectual philosophy, when it is actually quite practical. It seeks to awaken viveka (discrimination), which leads to Self-realization.
Non-dual; single; unique. As a noun, it is used to describe atman (the Ultimate Reality).
(Advaya Tāraka Upanishad): “The Sacred Teaching of the Non-Dual Liberator.” It is one of the shortest Yoga Upanishads, consisting in only nineteen short passages. This little-known yogic treatise describes a superior form of yoga, Taraka Yoga. Advaya Taraka, “The Non-dual Liberator,” is the Transcendental Consciousness that reveals itself to the yogi in a “multitude of fires.” Advaya Taraka Upanishad presents methods for the revelation of the mysterious spiritual light, the Light of all lights, which represents the ultimate background of our being. The practices it recommends mainly refer to the awareness of the subtle light. The great efficiency of this esoteric teaching is that this awareness very quickly leads to samadhi, a state in which samsara (the phenomenal world) is transcended.
Fire. One of the five tattvas (fundamental elements) that create the physical Cosmos. It also refers to digestive and psychosomatic heat as well as the god of fire in the Vedas. See Tejas Tattva.
“I”—the individuality. In general, aham refers to the limited personality. However, in Kashmir Shaivism, it designates the ultimate pure Subject, the transcendental Self, Shiva.
“I am the Absolute (Brahman).” One of the four mahavakyas (great affirmations) of the Upanishads.
(Aham Sphuraṇa): The throb or vibration of Self-awareness-bliss in the Heart. It is a term used in the teachings of Ramana Maharshi.
(Aham Vṛtti): “The whirl of ‘I.’” Translated as the “I”-feeling or the “pure ‘I am’-feeling,” “I”-sense, or “I”-thought, it represents the irreducible element of any human knowledge, experience, perception, etc. According to Ramana Maharshi, aham vritti has the following essential characteristics:
- It originates from a place called the Heart Center, located on the right side of the chest in the human body.
- It is the very source of the personality, the irreducible starting point of all experiences.
- It has the tendency to identify and attach itself to different experiences. This very identification “solidifies” the ego-consciousness.
- Tracing it back to its source is a way to reveal atman (the Supreme Self). Read more.
(Ahaṃkāra): Literally, “‘I’-maker.” It is the ego, or the principle of individuation.
(Ahiṃsā): Non-violence. The first of the yamas, as outlined by Patanjali. In order to practice ahimsa, we should not only refrain from physical violence, but also bring awareness to the habitual ways in which we judge and cause harm to others verbally or mentally. Patanjali recommends that we seek to purify these patterns through the cultivation of positive tendencies such as compassion, courage (the cure for aggressive fear), and understanding. Read more about the yama here.
(Ājñā Cakra): The (mental) “command center.” It is the sixth energy center in the human being, located in the middle of the forehead. Ajna represents intelligence, deep insight, and connection with the cosmic mind. It also coordinates all the chakras below it. This chakra is so named because it represents the level of awareness and harmony where it is possible for direct mind-to-mind communication between two people. Ajna chakra is known as the center of siddhis (paranormal psychic powers), which include clairvoyance and telepathy. Ajna chakra is also the command center, which means that those who awaken it have control over thoughts, emotions, and prana. Ajna chakra represents an elevated level of awareness, the level where the vestiges of imperfection are burned away. At this level, the mind becomes a perfect instrument for Self-revelation. Read more about the chakras.
(Ajñāna): Ignorance; lack of knowledge. In Sanskrit, the prefix “a” is a negative, so the word literally means “without wisdom.”
(Ākāśa): Radiance. This term refers to Ether, the most subtle of the five tattvas (fundamental elements) that create the physical Cosmos. Derived from the Sanskrit root kas, meaning “to be visible” or “to shine,” akasha shines in all directions. Akasha also signifies Infinite Space, the sky, and infinity. Beyond its physical designations, akasha is another name for Brahman (the Supreme Reality).
Without mind; transmental. It is the ecstatic state of enlightenment in which manas (the mind) is transcended. It is associated with the states of samadhi.
(Amṛta): Immortal; imperishable. Amrita refers to the nectar of immortality, as spiritual liberation is equated to deathlessness. According to the Shiva Samhita, this divine nectar has two forms: 1) one flows through ida nadi and nourishes the body, and 2) the other flows from chandra (the Moon), a secret energy center in the head, bringing spiritual transformation (when properly directed).
(Amṛta Nāḍī): The energy channel which, according to Ramana Maharshi, rises from the Heart Center (in the middle of the chest one finger-width to the right) to the head. The ascension of energy via this channel supports the mental and psychological activities of the individual, creating a false sense of separateness. The energy of Pure Consciousness rises through amrita nadi, providing the power for the mind instrument to function.
(Anāhata Cakra): The “un-struck” center. This name refers to the fact that shabda Brahman (the cosmic sound) is heard mostly at this level. This sound begins in the Heart as OM, the seed of all sounds. It is the fourth energy center in the human body, located in the middle of the chest. It is related to the Air element and the Heart, bestowing unconditional love, selflessness, humility, affection, and transpersonal emotions. Anahata chakra is the seat of harmony, good tendencies, tolerance, sanctity, balance, and compassion. At this level, there is no longer any attachment to security, worldly pleasures, honors, or social status, as the motivating force is love. Unconditional love dawns in anahata chakra. Read more about the chakras.
(Ānanda): Pure Bliss; spiritual beatitude. Ananda is absolute happiness without object and without end. It expresses the nature of Brahman (the Supreme Reality). This bliss comes from the same source as sat (Pure Existence) and chit (Pure Awareness). Supreme Bliss, unending joy, and delight are the very radiance of the Spiritual Heart. Ananda is not just the emotion of being happy, which usually leads to unhappiness when it goes away. It is not happiness as opposed to unhappiness. We tend to cling to things that make us happy, trying to control them, and somehow we just chase them away. Being inseparable from and of the same nature as sat and chit, ananda arises spontaneously, not on demand. It is revealed only in total surrender to the Spiritual Heart.
(Ānandamaya Kośa): The “sheath composed of bliss,” the causal body. It is fifth of the five coverings that obstruct the freedom of the Supreme Self. It leads the jiva (individual soul) to identify with the causal body. In Taittiriya Upanishad, it is identified with the transcendental Reality itself, though the later yogic tradition considers it a fine veil around the Self. Read more about the five bodies here.
Anandamayi Ma (1896-1982), born Nirmala Sundari, was from a poor Brahmin family in Bengal. She was revered as a saint, guru, and avatara, and attracted devotees from around the world. To her, the supreme vocation was the aspiration for Self-realization—all else was secondary. Her guiding principle was, “When you find God you find yourself; and when you find yourself, you find God.”
(Annamaya Kośa): The “sheath composed of food,” the physical body. It is the least subtle of the five coverings that obstruct the freedom of the Supreme Self. It leads the jiva (individual soul) to identify with the physical body. Read more about the five bodies here.
“Inner instrument” or “internal organ.” Antahkarana is the psychological expression for the totality of functions involved in waking-dream consciousness. This includes all the faculties involved in the process of knowing the world:
- The intellect, buddhi
- The “I”-maker, ahamkara
- The subconscious mind, chitta
- The sensorial, processing mind, manas
The inner space of the Heart, the mystical center of being.
“Divine Grace” or “blessing,” the catalyst and cause of any spiritual awakening. Through grace, spiritual insight and illumination happens naturally. In Hridaya Yoga, grace is not seen as an external energy, but as the very essence of the Spiritual Heart. It is spanda, the Sacred Tremor of the Heart.
(Apāna Vāyu): The “air that moves away,” one of the five vayus (vital airs). Apana vayu is the downward and outward flow of energy in the body. It is mainly responsible for exhalation and the elimination of waste materials. It governs the eliminative functions (excretion, urination, menstruation, ejaculation, and perspiration) and childbirth. It is situated mostly in the lower part of the body—from the genitals to the knees or, alternatively, from the abdomen to the calves or even the feet. It is a descending energy, used in Hatha Yoga to awaken kundalini shakti. Many pranayama techniques reverse the direction of the flow of apana vayu and unite it with prana vayu. According to the Shiva Samhita, apana vayu and prana vayu are the two most important vital airs. Their union is considered particularly important, bringing profound spiritual effects. It is related to prithivi (the Earth element). Read more about the vayus.
“To not grab around,” the fifth yama (moral restriction) listed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It is the directive for aspirants on the yogic path to live a life of simplicity, taking only what is needed in each moment. Aparigraha does not mean to completely renounce all belongings and take up a begging bowl. It means to take a look at what we possess, what we actually need and use, and what could be redistributed to those who are more in need. Read more about the yama here.
The Water element, one of the pancha bhutas (five elements that compose the material Cosmos). It is the source of the five bodily liquids: saliva, urine, semen, blood, and perspiration. Its symbol is a silver or white crescent moon. Apas tattva is associated with svadhisthana chakra.
(Ardhanārīśvara): “Half-female Lord,” a traditional representation of Shiva as half-male, half-female, suggesting the integration of polarity, the union between the masculine principle and the feminine principle. Along with Hakini Devi, he is the presiding deity of ajna chakra. Ardhanarishvara illustrates how Shakti is inseparable from Shiva. The union of these principles is the womb of all creation. The male half of Ardhanarishvara has camphor-blue skin. He holds a trident in his right hand. The female side of Ardhanarishvara is pink. She wears a red sari and shining golden ornaments are wound around her neck and arms. She holds a pink lotus, a symbol of purity. All duality has ceased—Ardhanarishvara is a complete entity, self-emanating and illustrious, having control over the mind and prana.
God in the form of Arunachala, a sacred hill in Thiruvannamalai, India. The word is a contraction of Arunachala and Ishvara (Lord).
(Āsana): Posture (in particular, a yoga pose); seat. This is the aspect of yoga that is most familiar to those in the West. Yet, perhaps less understood is that the practice of asanas is not only for the benefit of the physical body, but also for cultivating a deep meditative state in which the body, mind, and soul are brought into a beautiful state of harmony. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines asana as “a stable, firm, and comfortable posture” (2:46), and that “the practice of asana is accompanied by the dissolution of effort and meditation on the infinite.” (2:47) Thus, asana refers to a physical posture in which aspirants stay and meditate on their Supreme Nature. In each asana we can open certain chakras (energy centers), and thus, we come into resonance with energies that exist in both the microcosm and macrocosm. As we learn how to use the asanas to awaken the universal energies within, we can also work on developing certain psychological aspects, such as determination, forgiveness, creativity, and intuition.
(Āśrama): Hermitage. The establishment and the spiritual family that grows up around a sage or guru.
(Aṣṭāṅga Yoga): The “yoga of eight limbs,” is the path outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. It refers to eight branches or angas (limbs). These are: Yama, moral restrictions, Niyama, disciplines, Asana, physical postures, Pranayama, control of the breath and energy, Pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses, Dharana, concentration, Dhyana, meditation, and Samadhi, the blissful state of union between subject and object. Read more.
(Asmitā): “I am-ness,” represents the feeling of being just a personal entity. It is the sense of the ego. According to the Yoga Sutras, asmita is one of the five kleshas (causes of suffering). It is the limitation of the egoic consciousness. As Patanjali said in the Yoga Sutras (2:6): “I am-ness (asmita) is the apparent identification of the powers of vision [i.e., the instruments of knowledge (the sense organs and mind)] with the Seer [i.e., the Supreme Self, the Witness Consciousness].” Read more.
“Non-stealing” or “non-theft,” is the third yama (moral restriction) recommended by Patanjali. Stealing is taking something that does not belong to you or which was not freely given. The desire to steal another’s belongings, property, or attributes is rooted in jealousy, insecurity, competition, the desire to possess, or the feeling of being poor or not having enough. Read more about the yama here.
(Ātmā Nivedana): “Self-offering,” one of the aspects of Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of devotion). It means the total surrender of the ego and the unconditional worship of the Divine (a surrender to God). Through atma nivedana, the devotee enters the immortal body of God—a total surrender of the individual consciousness. This condition is found mostly during samadhi (states of ecstasy). It is one of the nine anga (limbs) of Bhakti Yoga expounded by Rupa Gosvamin (a devotional spiritual master of the Vaishnava tradition) in his work Bhakti Rasa Amrita Sindhu (“The Ocean of the Immortal Essence of Devotion”).
(Ātmā Pratyabhijñā): “Self-recognition,” refers to the state of enlightenment in which adepts recognize their true nature as the Ultimate Self or Reality in the form of Shiva.
(Ātmā Svarūpa): Literally the “form of the Spirit,” this term is used to indicate that the Universe has no intrinsic reality but exists only as a manifestation of the Spirit.
(Ātman): The transcendental Self. The etymology of atman clearly shows its meaning, as the prefix a- is a negation and tma means “darkness.” Therefore, atma or atman means “the opposite of darkness” or “shining.” As such, it is a key concept in Hindu metaphysics. Atman is the immortal and immutable aspect of mortal existence. It is the substratum of every object in creation, including humanity. The Self cannot be seen, cannot be perceived, cannot be reached, cannot be grasped, because It is the seer, the observer, the indweller of all embodied beings, and the doer of everything. In other words, the Self reveals itself only to itself. No finite act of cognition is involved. It is the supreme revelation. In this way, the Self becomes the subject, the object, and the means of the experience.
Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950) was born in India to a wealthy Bengali family. He was a renowned yogi, teacher, philosopher, and writer. While imprisoned for his writings opposing British rule in India, he had a profound spiritual transformation that led him to give up political life for spiritual pursuits. He settled in Pondicherry (now known as Puducherry), where he wrote extensively and developed an approach known as “Integral Yoga.” With his spiritual collaborator Mirra Alfassa (“The Mother”), he founded the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Their teachings aim for transformation through conscious evolution, helping people integrate their physical, mental, and spiritual aspects in order to manifest the Divine on Earth.
(Avalokiteśvara): The “Lord who looks down,” is the Bodhisattva of Universal Compassion. The name is metaphorically translated as the “One Who Hears the Cries of the World,” and is an example of perfect compassion. Avalokiteshvara listens to and feels the pain and suffering of the world. He embodies the compassion of all Buddhas (awakened ones). Long ago, he vowed not to return to nirvana until he has assisted every being on Earth in achieving nirvana (liberation from suffering).
(Avatāra): Incarnation; avatar; descent of God in a worldly form; a divine manifestation, usually a manifestation of Vishnu (God as the Preserver and Sustainer of the Cosmos).
(Avidyā): “Nescience” or “ignorance,” is a synonym for ajnana that denotes spiritual ignorance. According to the Yoga Sutras, it is the first and the most important of the five kleshas (causes of suffering that bind humans to the cycle of rebirth). In fact, it is the root cause of the other four kleshas. In the Yoga Sutras (2.5), Patanjali says: “Ignorance (avidya) is seeing [that which is] eternal, pure, joyful, and [pertaining to] the Self as ephemeral, impure, sorrowful, and [pertaining to] the non-self (anatman).” Read more.
Intuitive understanding, free from any thoughts or mental expressions.
(Āyurveda): The traditional Hindu system of medicine.
A great ancient yogi who, according to some spiritual seekers, still occasionally appears in certain areas of the Indian Himalayan Region. Legends affirm that he was born in the physical realm on November 30, 203 A.D. At the age of eleven, he joined a group of wandering ascetics. In this way he met Boganatar, a great teacher of Siddha Yoga. Boganatar sent him to another yoga master, Aghastyar. Although he was just eleven, Babaji began a strong tapas. On his forty-eighth day of fasting and meditation, Aghastyar revealed himself to Babaji and began to teach him (mainly Kriya Yoga and pranayama techniques). These practices enabled Babaji to quickly reach the state of sarupa samadhi (the condition in which the yogi transubstantiates the physical body).
The Paralyzer Goddess, the eighth of the Dasha Maha Vidyas (Ten Great Wisdoms). Her name comes from the Sanskrit words bagala, which is a distortion of the root valga meaning a “bridle,” and mukha, which means “face.” Therefore, Bagalamukhi literally means “one whose face has the power to capture.” Bagalamukhi’s name refers to her power to stun, stop, or paralyze. She is the power of arresting any movement, action, thought, or word in its course. Thus, she opens us to the ineffable nature of the present moment. Her paralyzing power applies to motion, thought, and initiative.
Contract; hold; tighten; or lock. Bandhas are a class of Hatha Yoga techniques that aim to lock prana in particular areas and redirect its flow into sushumna nadi. The bandhas assist us in the awakening, accumulation, and control of subtle energies for the purpose of spiritual transformation. They also induce a state of pratyahara (interiorization), which can ultimately help us go beyond duality. Bandhas involve the contraction of the muscles in specific areas of the body. There are three bandhas: mula bandha (the contraction of the muscles in the area of the perineum), uddiyana bandha (a contraction in the abdominal area), and jalandhara bandha (the locking of the throat).
(Bhagavad Gītā): The “Divine Song” or “God-Song.” Probably the most widely studied Hindu scripture, it shares teachings from Krishna, the eighth avatara of Vishnu. It is part of a larger epic text, the Mahabharata.
God; the Lord. The noun form of the adjective bhagavad (holy or divine), it is a frequently used word for “God.” Terms such as Ishvara, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and other names for the various aspects of God, are more technical or philosophical. In ordinary conversation, people say either Bhagavan (God) or Swami (the Lord). The term Bhagavan is commonly used to address those few supreme sages who are recognized as being completely One with God.
The “Brahmin nun.” An ascetic who was an adept of Tantra Yoga and Vaishnavism. Along with Totapuri, she was one of the two main spiritual teachers of Ramakrishna. When she met him in 1861, Ramakrishna had already experienced many mystical states but lacked the theoretical and practical knowledge needed to stabilize his realizations. It is said that upon meeting him, Bhairavi burst into tears and said, “My son, I have been looking for you for a long time.” She guided Ramakrishna for three years, in which time she initiated him into Tantric practices leading to spiritual communion.
(Bhajana): A devotional hymn. (From the Sanskrit bhaj, “to worship.”) Usually one person sings a bhajan, whereas kirtan is call and response—the leader sings and the sangha (community) responds. In kirtan, people usually stand and dance, while in bhajans, people sit. Therefore, the major difference in these two types of devotional singing is that bhajans are usually performed by a soloist, while kirtan involves the audience.
Devotee. A person who opens their Heart and surrenders to God through love and devotion. An adept of Bhakti Yoga. Ramakrishna said: “God exists in all beings. Who, then, is a devotee? He whose mind dwells on God. But this is not possible as long as one has egotism and vanity. The water of God’s grace cannot collect on the high mound of egotism. It runs down.”
Devotion; love. It is derived from the root bhaj, meaning “to participate in.” It denotes “loving involvement and devotion.” Bhakti is usually translated as “devotion” and is understood as human adoration of the Divine. However, the Sanskrit term bhakti more accurately expresses a mutual love—it is the intimacy of love shared. But this “sharing” does not refer to the feeling (often experienced in personal love) that if we love someone they “must” answer our love by loving us back. “Love shared” refers to Divine Love, a love that is always mutual because it points towards the same reality—Love, pure and simple. It is also mutual because it radiates from the same divine Heart.
The “path of devotion to and adoration of the Divine” means unconditional love for the Divine and putting our faith in God. Krishna’s discussions with Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita exemplify this path. The Gita says liberation can happen without devotion if we practice detachment—that is, being in the world but not attached to it. The liberation accessible through devotion is a superior kind. By “awakening to the divine Krishna,” the yogi attains liberation. Those who are on this path personify the Absolute as a god, goddess, the Divine Mother, or another special representation. They devote their lives and actions to their ishta devata (tutelary deity) or to God, present in their Heart as a Father, Mother, or Divine Lover. They sing their adoration, write poems, or dance—immersed in the ecstasy of love. Read more.
Otherness. See Abheda.
The Goddess of Space, the fourth of the Dasha Maha Vidyas (Ten Great Wisdoms). The Sanskrit name Bhuvaneshvari comes from bhuvana, meaning “world,” and Ishvari, meaning “Supreme Goddess” or “Supreme Mother.” Therefore, Bhuvaneshvari is the Supreme Mother of the worlds. As akasha (Ether), she not only creates worlds, but also sustains, supports, and nourishes them. She is an all-pervading force, the holder of space. Another name for Bhuvaneshvari is maya. The word maya comes from the root ma, meaning to measure—through Bhuvaneshvari’s action, the immeasurable is measured as space. In the Vedas, Bhuvaneshvari is known as Aditi—the Great Cosmic Mother, infinite and indestructible. She is known as primordial space, the origin of all manifestation, and the cosmic womb. Light comes to life in her, and therefore she is the mother of all suns and solar deities. The Divine Mother Bhuvaneshvari creates space so that all things in the manifest world can eventually arise.
(Bīja): Seed; source; or point. This term mainly refers to the subconscious tendencies. Bija also symbolically represents the object of concentration. In states of samadhi “with seed,” there is always an object toward which we direct the mind. The yogic tradition also generally states that any object viewed as being different from the one who perceives it (the knowing Subject), is ultimately a bija (seed) of suffering regardless of how much happiness it brings in the moment. Therefore, in the most profound spiritual states, the limited consciousness associated with any kind of object, and even the subconscious tendencies, must be transcended in order to deepen into a state of nirbija samadhi (samadhi without any latent subconscious tendencies). In the Hatha Yoga context, bija represents the central point of a chakra (energy center).
(Bīja Mantra): “Seed syllable,” a syllable or group of syllables or phonemes, usually devoid of any obvious meaning. Because of this, they are beyond any language. We do not need to know or to learn a language, such as Hindi or Sanskrit in order to use a mantra. An example of a bija mantra is OM. Often, bija mantras express the quintessence of a long mantra and of the corresponding deity (which also has a long mantra ascribed to it). Thus, the bija mantra is the root vibration representing the essential nature of the deity.
Drop; dot; seed; the essence of an energy or phenomenon; the dot over the mantra OM, suggesting transcendence. In Ayurveda, it represents semen and the vital energy of the human being. According to the yogic tradition, the bindu (understood as subtle energy) can be experienced and controlled at two different levels: the reproductive organs (the seat of the physical bindu) and bindu visarga (the seat of the subtle bindu-nectar), in the head.
(Brahmā): Lord of Creation; God as the Creator. Ishvara (the Personal God) is conceived as having the threefold aspect of Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver), and Shiva (the Destroyer).
(Brahmā Granthi): The “knot of Brahma,” is the first energetic and psychic contraction preventing the free flow of prana (energy) in the human being. Such a knot is seen as a tangle of nadis (energy channels). It is situated in muladhara chakra and symbolizes the attachment to the material world. It is linked to the survival instinct, the urge to procreate, instinctive tendencies, passivity, desire, and tamas (inertia). When Brahma granthi is pierced (or transcended), kundalini is able to rise beyond muladhara chakra without being held back by the attractions and instinctual patterns of the personality. See Granthi, Vishnu Granthi, and Rudra Granthi.
(Brahmacarya): “Worshiping the Supreme,” “living in Brahman,” “living under the tutelage of Brahman,” or “following Brahman.” It is sometimes translated as “to live a life of holiness and worship.” It is the fourth yama (moral restriction) recommended by Patanjali. There are essentially two ways to understand brahmacharya:
- In conventional Indian Hinduism, brahmacharya was the attitude of renouncing all sexual activity.
- In Tantra Yoga, brahmacharya means sexual continence, the control of sexual energy.
It is also understood as self-restraint, celibacy, and “chastity in thought, word, and deed.” Brahmacharya is a general directive to cultivate an excellent level of restraint and control in life. Read more about the yama here.
“One without a second.” Brahman is not only the principle and Creator (as God) of all there is, but is also fully present within each individual. Brahman is the highest and ultimate conception, the Absolute, about which nothing can be postulated, since any assertion would be a limitation. The first stage in the manifestation of Brahman is Ishvara (the Personal God).
(Brahmāṇḍa): The “Cosmic Egg,” is a universal symbol of the source of the entire Cosmos. In India (as in many other mythologies: Greek, Egyptian, Chinese, etc.), the Universe is traditionally represented as an egg. In yoga, following the principle of correspondence, the human being can also be represented as an egg, suggesting its integrality, wholeness.
The “aperture of Brahma,” the opening of sushumna nadi (the central energy channel) at the crown of the head. It is where the polarity of ida nadi and pingala nadi dissolves in the Consciousness of Oneness. Above brahmarandhra is sahasrara, where there is no polarity. Brahmarandhra is the ending point of sushumna nadi and corresponds to the fontanel in the physical body.
Hindus are traditionally divided into four varnas (castes), of which the Brahmins are seen as the highest. They are the priests and teachers, devoted to lives of spirituality and sacred learning.
(Brihadāranyaka Upaniṣad): The “Great Forest Upanishad” is probably the oldest Upanishad and its earliest sections may date back to 1500 B.C. This work contains the first clear enunciation of the doctrines of rebirth and liberation.
“Awakened One.” In Buddhism, it refers to any sage who has awakened to the Supreme Reality. This term also specifically refers to the founder of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha.
“The Intellect,” is an instrument of discrimination, a capacity for judgment. It is also called “the higher mind,” as it brings the power of wisdom. It is the highest aspect of antahkarana (the internal organ), which determines, decides, and comes to a logical conclusion regarding any act of knowledge or experience. In the cosmic unfolding of creation, buddhi produces ahamkara (the ego principle). It determines our intellectual attitudes, fortifies our beliefs, and makes understanding possible. In some Upanishads, buddhi is considered higher than the rational mind because it is attracted directly to atman (the Supreme Self) and not towards illusory objects. Because of this, it is also called the Heart, seen as an instrument that creates the conditions for direct knowledge. Buddhi makes spiritual knowledge possible.
A Dominican reformer, theologian, scholastic philosopher, and mystic, St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) had an active but short life, campaigning to restore the papacy to Rome (from Avignon), advocating the reform of the clergy, and advising people that repentance and renewal could be done through the “total love for God.” She reported a “mystical marriage” with Jesus at age nineteen and, upon her death, left behind hundreds of letters considered to be great Tuscan literature. Her biographer claims that she was told by Christ to leave behind her withdrawn life of piety to enter the public life of the world, which she did, helping the poor and ill until her death by a stroke at the age of thirty-three.
“The fourth,” a term in Vedanta referring to the transcendental Self that is beyond the three common states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and deep sleep.
(Caitanya): Consciousness; sentience.
(Cakra): Plexus; wheel; vortex. Refers to different centers in the subtle anatomy of the human being, known under different names, including pranic centers, psychic centers, psycho-energetic centers, and cerebrospinal centers. They correspond to different levels of consciousness. The yogic tradition mentions different chakra systems, out of which the six chakra system is the most popular. This includes: muladhara, svadhisthana, manipura, anahata, vishuddha, and ajna. A seventh center, sahasrara, is described, but it is not considered a chakra. This is due not only to the wholeness of the energy that it represents, but also because it is considered to be “the seat of Shiva,” and “the abode of Supreme Consciousness”—it expresses not only immanent energy, but also transcendence. Read more about the chakras.
(Candra): The Moon. The expression of feminine, passive energy. Governing the night, it is in connection with transcendence and the ineffable. It is often called soma (the nectar or elixir that gives life, euphoria, and longevity). It is the cup, settled in the sky, which contains the drink of the gods—an exalting ambrosia. The Moon animates and also cures, which is why it is known as “The Master of Herbs” (and, more generally, of plants), osadhi pati. As a gentle and merciful balm, its silver rays soothe and console, inciting quietness and reverence.
(Cidākāśa): The ether or “space” of Consciousness; asmita (“I am-ness”); the spiritual space at the level of ajna chakra or in the Heart; Brahman.
The Goddess of Endless Courage and Striking Force, the sixth of the Dasha Maha Vidyas (Ten Great Wisdoms). Her name literally means “the severed head.” She is the divine power that takes the human being beyond the mind, beyond the identification “I am the body,” to reveal the essence of Pure Consciousness. To be without a head is a Tantric metaphor for going beyond the mind. The image of the beheaded goddess has a more dramatic impact on our psyche and conveys her significance more clearly than something simply theoretical.
(Cit): “Pure Awareness” or “Pure Consciousness.” This term is used in yoga and Vedanta to denote the pure, transcendental, and universal Consciousness. Through chit, sat (Pure Existence) becomes aware of itself. Pure Existence cannot really be present unless it is aware of its Existence. Being and Awareness are united in mutual interdependence. In order for Consciousness to be present, it must Be. In other words, there must be sat (Being-ness). In order to experience the very fact of our own Being, Consciousness must be present to experience this Being.
The pure light of Consciousness.
One of the main schools of orthodox Hindu philosophy. It seeks “union” with the Absolute via a practical system of philosophically grounded sadhana (spiritual practices). It is the philosophy expressed by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, an ancient dualistic yogic approach that distinguishes between purusha (Spirit) and prakriti (Nature). The text is the first systematic exposition of yoga and explains the fundamentals of yogic philosophy. The term Classical Yoga also denotes the important period in the history of yoga when the Yoga Sutras was very influential (around 200-600 A.D.). After this period, Tantric influences became more prominent in India. Read more.
(Ḍākinī): Enlightened, immortal female deities that act as muses for spiritual practice. Dakinis guard the deeper mysteries of the Self, representing inspiration and non-conceptual understanding and pushing aspirants to transcend duality and cross the barriers to enlightenment. Dakinis can be likened to angels or other supernatural beings, and are symbolically representative of primordial wisdom. They test our awareness and dedication to sadhana (spiritual practice). A female spiritual practitioner who has attained some insights but is not yet fully liberated from samsara is considered a worldly dakini.
(Daśa Mahā Vidyā Yoga): The “yoga of the Ten Great Wisdoms,” which consists in the adoration of the ten basic energies of manifestation and of our lives. The Universal Energies of eternity, compassion, space, knowledge, love, beauty, purity, vacuity, courage, sacrifice, fascination, stopping, transformation, concentration, harmony, healing, splendor, wealth, abundance, and celebration are some of the aspects of the ten maha vidyas. They can be awakened in the aspirant by using rituals, meditations on mantras (sacred words) and yantras (sacred diagrams), and other specific techniques.
The first Christian hermits. Beginning around the third century A.D., they abandoned the cities of the pagan world to live in solitude or, later, in monastic communities (mainly in the Scetes Desert of Egypt). They were ascetics who emphasized an ascent to God through great austerities, stoic self-discipline, and privations that led to the illumination of Divine Unity.
Divine, celestial being.
(Dhāraṇā): “Concentration,” the sixth limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. It is one of the internal stages. The word dharana comes from the root dhri, meaning “to hold.” In the Yoga Sutras (111:1), Patanjali describes concentration as “the binding of consciousness (mind) to a single place.” This “place” may be physical (a material object like a candle flame or flower), energetic (a chakra, energy center, or nadi, energy channel), or a repeated mental thought, image, sound, light, or mantra. Concentration can be inward or outward and the practice can be performed with the eyes open or closed.
Divine order; rightfulness; universal virtue; spiritual law. Dharma represents the natural laws of the Universe, which are inherent in the structure of reality and at the same time suggest our natural duty. When following dharma, we see ourselves as “sui generis” instruments in the “orchestra” of the Universe. With this comes acceptance, humbleness, and letting go. It is an attitude that says: “I can’t do what Einstein did, but I am not at all sorry about that. I am fulfilled, and my heart radiates joy because in this very acceptance, humbleness, and love I integrate myself in the most harmonious way within the Universe.”
The Goddess of the Void, the seventh of the Dasha Maha Vidyas (Ten Great Wisdoms). Her name comes from the Sanskrit words dhuma, meaning “smoke,” and vati, meaning “consisting of.” Literally, Dhumavati means “the smoky one” or “the one who is composed of smoke.” She is the smoky swallower of the Universe. She is the void. She is the only goddess that does not have a shakta (consort), because she is completely beyond duality.
(Dhyāna): Meditation; contemplation. It is the seventh limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. Once the mind has become one-pointed, focused, and able to remain in dharana (concentration) with only one object in its attention, we open naturally to dhyana. In dhyana, the flow of attention on a gross or subtle object continues spontaneously and without force—we have moved from effort to effortlessness, and the object of concentration is now an object of deep fascination.
(Dīkṣā): A formal initiation offered by a guru to a disciple. The word diksha comes from the root do (dyati), meaning “to cut” or “to destroy.” In the initiation, all the limiting forces of the ego are destroyed in order to reveal Pure Existence.
(Doṣa): The biological humors or psychophysiological energies described in Ayurveda. There are three doshas, called vata, pitta, and kapha, and each is mainly a combination of two of the five bhutas (elements). Together, the doshas orchestrate all the activities that occur within us.
(Dṛṣṭi): Vision; philosophy; way of gazing. It can also mean “global vision” or “spiritual vision.” In the yogic tradition, there are many forms of ocular convergence and ways of gazing, called drishti. The two best known are bhrumadhya (gazing between the eyebrows) and nasagra (gazing at the tip of the nose). Beyond technical advice about the external way of gazing, yogis emphasize the “steadiness of vision,” which refers to the capacity of “seeing” our very essence (the Self) as the supreme Witness of the body, the senses, and the mind.
A twofold division in spiritual or philosophical doctrines; the fact of recognizing subject and object or two complementary yet opposite states or forces; the state of perceiving a separation between the “I” and the “rest of the world.” This false sense of separation disappears when we have the revelation of the one Reality.
(Dveṣa): Aversion; hatred; repulsion. It is one of the five kleshas (causes of the suffering). In the Yoga Sutras (2:8), Patanjali defines it in this way: “Aversion (dvesha) [is that which] is based on sorrowful [experiences].” Dvesha is the repulsion felt towards any person or object that is a source of pain or unhappiness to us. Repulsion and attraction are two faces of the same coin. Looking for pleasure and avoiding pain has never been a valid spiritual path. They both keep the human being at the level of the mind, grasping for what is pleasurable and rejecting what it is not pleasurable. They both direct the being in the external world, keeping the illusion that we may attain happiness by rejecting that which produces suffering and embracing that which gives pleasure. Dvesha is only raga (attachment) in the negative. Read more.
A German theologian, philosopher, and mystic, Meister Eckhart (circa 1260-1328) reached insight into the journey of the soul and the Supreme Truth through Christian prayer and contemplation. He was one of the most influential fourteenth century Neoplatonists and introduced many novel concepts to Christian metaphysics. His manner of expression was simple yet abstract, and bold enough to get him tried for heresy during the Inquisition, although he died before a verdict was issued.
The common English translation for samadhi, suggesting the overwhelming feeling of joy the yogi experiences in such a state. However, the word “ecstasy” comes from the Greek “ekstasis,” which means “to be or stand outside oneself.” Therefore, the term is not very appropriate—in states of samadhi (especially in forms of samadhi without object, like nirvikalpa), yogis are not outside themselves but go deeper inside. Also, even though ecstatic bliss usually accompanies states of samadhi, it is not their main feature. Nevertheless, in Hridaya Yoga we still use the common English translation (“ecstasy”) for the lower forms of samadhi and apply the term “enstasis” to nirvikalpa samadhi.
(Ekāgra): “One-pointed,” a concentrated, single-pointed state of mind. According to Vyasa’s Yoga Bhashya, the most authoritative commentary on the Yoga Sutras, when the mind has attained the ability to be one-pointed, meditation becomes possible and the real practice of yoga begins. Our internal and external activities are no longer a distraction and we can focus on daily tasks while undisturbed and unaffected by other stimuli. We can rest comfortably in the awareness of the present moment.
Waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and turya (the fourth state, which is the state of enlightenment). In general, all Western science starts from the reference of a waking state of consciousness. Here, sleep and dreams have appeared as psychophysical phenomena to be analyzed from the standpoint of the waking consciousness. All the other states—dream, deep sleep, etc.—are analyzed from this perspective. Advaita Vedanta affirms that the waking consciousness is just a relative, not absolute, point of reference. The waking state is not the ultimate, absolute reality. The dream and deep sleep states are a second and third dimension of Pure Consciousness. Thus, we can more easily understand the relative character of wakefulness. Here Pure Consciousness, as revealed in turya, is the real continuous reference.
An example of a real karma yogi. He worked tirelessly on himself and for the welfare of the Indian nation. In pursuing the ideal of Karma Yoga, Gandhi completely gave up his personal life. He did so with serenity, keeping the name of God, Ram, on his lips. He embraced his destiny, trusting that none of his spiritual efforts could ever be lost, as is indeed the solemn promise of Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita—which Gandhi read daily for inspiration. He used to send “respectable” people who came to help him in his noble mission to clean toilets because he wanted to teach them the beauty of Karma Yoga—the beauty of surrender, of serving selflessly without attachment to the act itself.
(Gaṇeśa): Ganesha is one of the most beloved gods in Hinduism. He is known as the remover of obstacles, patron of the arts, and guardian of new beginnings. He brings good fortune, prosperity, and success. He is said to be the son of Shiva and Parvati and is represented with the head of an elephant. It is said that Parvati, wishing to bathe, created a boy and assigned him the task of guarding the entrance to her bathroom. When her husband Shiva returned, he was denied access by Ganesha and killed the boy in a fit of rage, decapitating him with his sword. Parvati was upset, so Shiva sent his warriors to fetch the head of the first dead creature they found, which happened to be an elephant. The head was attached to the body and the boy was brought back to life. The elephant’s head symbolizes unmatched wisdom and the gaining of knowledge through reflection and listening. Because of his role as his mother’s doorkeeper, Ganesha is often placed facing doorways to keep out the unworthy.
(Gheraṇḍa Saṁhitā): Yogic scripture written in the late seventeenth century by the sage Gheranda. It is one of the three classic texts of Hatha Yoga (along with the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Shiva Samhita).
The chief disciple of the great yogi Matsyendranath, Gorakshanath lived circa the eleventh century A.D. Along with Matsyendranath, he is considered one of the founders of Hatha Yoga. Among other texts, he is the author of the Goraksha Paddhati, one of the oldest yogic scriptures. One of the eighty-four mahasiddhas, Gorakshanath is also said to have founded the Kanphata (“split-ear”) order of the Nathas, which gets its name from the split earlobes of its adherents.
“Knot,” an energetic and psychic contraction preventing the free flow of prana (energy) along sushumna nadi. Such a knot is seen as a tangle of nadis (energy channels). The granthis impede the awakening of the chakras and the rising of kundalini shakti (the fundamental force of our being, generally lying dormant in muladhara chakra). In order for kundalini to achieve its final upward movement to sahasrara, it must first pierce through the three granthis (named Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra). According to the tradition, these three psychic knots are located at the level of muladhara, anahata, and ajna chakras. Each granthi can be associated with a particular state of contraction of the personal consciousness.
St. Gregory of Sinai (circa 1260-1346) was instrumental in the emergence of “technical” (Athonite) Hesychasm on Mount Athos, Greece. The first formal teachings of the Prayer of the Heart (the Jesus Prayer) come from him. Due to Muslim raids on Athos, he sought protection in Bulgaria, where he founded a monastery.
(Guṇa): Attribute; quality; strand. This word has many connotations, but the most common usage belongs to the vocabulary of the yoga and Samkhya traditions, where it refers to the well-known triad of forces—sattva, rajas, and tamas—that are thought to be the fundamental qualities of prakriti (Nature). These qualities are considered the primary dynamic forces of Nature, as they represent the principles of activity and dynamism (rajas), inertia (tamas), and harmony (sattva). Their combined interaction creates the entire manifest world. They underlie all material as well as psycho-mental phenomena.
One who is “heavy.” It is the traditional name for a teacher, preceptor, or spiritual master whose authority is “weighty.”
(Haṭha Yoga): The “yoga of determined effort,” consists of a group of practices, including asanas (physical postures), shatkarmas or kriyas (purification practices), pranayamas (practices to control the breathing and the subtle energies), mudras (symbolic gestures and attitudes), bandhas (energy locks), and the calming of the mind through relaxation. All of these practices are geared toward preparing the body for meditation and higher forms of spiritual practice.
(Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā): “Light on Hatha Yoga,” a yogic scripture likely written in the fifteenth century by the great yogi Svatmarama. It is one of the three classic texts of Hatha Yoga (along with the Gheranda Samhita and the Shiva Samhita). This treatise explains the physical practice of many essential yogic techniques and presents the more refined spiritual practices of Raja Yoga. It also describes the practice of Laya Yoga (meditative absorption) via nada anusandhana (the awareness of the inner sound).
The object of meditation situated in the middle of the chest, one finger-width to the right. It is the place of awareness recommended by Ramana Maharshi and represents one of the three pointers in Hridaya Meditation. In general, the awareness of the chest area is a simple, direct, basic practice. It can be found as an important element in Sufism, Christianity, and Judaism. The Heart Center is a “sui generis” portal to the ineffable. Read more.
Our essential and ultimate nature, the ineffable dimension of our being. It is another name for atman (the Supreme Self). The Spiritual Heart is the Supreme Consciousness, the ultimate Subject, the pure “I.” It is the Witness Consciousness, that intimate observer of all our thoughts, emotions, and sensations, our minds, and the entire Universe in both its inner and outer dimensions. The Spiritual Heart is not just a spark of God—the Spiritual Heart is God.
A body of esoteric teachings from ancient Egypt. Their author was Hermes Trismegistus (“Thrice Greatest Hermes,” suggesting his majesty in the three worlds—physical, astral, and causal). The entire esoteric tradition of the West (including alchemy, astrology, magic, and Gnosticism) is inspired by the Hermetic tradition.
“Quietism,” a mystical tradition of prayer in the Christian Orthodox Church. It is described in great detail in the Philokalia, a compilation of the writings on prayer and spiritual life by various saints. The Hesychasts were renunciants (usually monks) who believed that asceticism, detachment from the material world, submission to a teacher, prayer, and the perfect relaxation of the body and will would bring an inner stillness that would lead to the vision of the eternal light of God. The Prayer of the Heart (or the “Jesus Prayer”), taught in the Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat, is an integral practice in Hesychasm. This prayer is the unceasing appeal to Jesus’s benevolence: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
(Hiraṇyagarbha): Cosmic intelligence; cosmic mind; cosmic egg.
(Hṛd Ākāśa): “The Ether of the Heart,” is the boundless space of Pure Awareness, which is both inside and outside what we usually consider “our being.” Hrid akasha is omnipresent; it penetrates the three-dimensionality of space and yet also resides beyond it. It is the domain of the Heart. This infinite domain is Love-Awareness, God, or “the Kingdom of God,” as Jesus described it. This warm tremor of the Heart unifies and encompasses everything. In this way, the duality of the inner domain (the realm of “me”) and the outer domain (the realm of “you”) fades away. At first, the chest cavity seems larger than usual. Then, we become aware that gradually, the space of the Heart expands and we unfold into a non-dual condition.
Self-awareness, which is awareness of the pure individual consciousness, the awareness of aham vritti (the “I am”-feeling). It is a term used by Ramana Maharshi.
(Idā Nāḍī): The “comfort energy channel.” It is the passive, feminine, yin energy channel in the subtle body. It lies to the left of sushumna nadi, and its energy is complementary to that of pingala nadi (the masculine, active, yang energy channel that is to the right of neutral sushumna). Ida nadi, also known as chandra nadi, begins at a subtle level in muladhara chakra, goes along the back on the left side of the spine, and intersects with pingala nadi in ajna chakra (the coordinator of polarity in the being).
The sense organs; usually refers to the jnanendriyas (the five organs of perception), even though the yogic philosophy of tattvas (constitutive categories of creation) also speaks about the karmendriyas (the five organs of action).
An attitude of being aware of the Spiritual Heart by using the awareness of madhyama prana (the pauses at the end of inhalation and exhalation) as a pointer. It is, as Swami Lakshman Joo mentioned: “The gradual dawning in the spiritual aspirant of the awareness which shines in the central point found between inhaling and exhaling.” Thus, being settled in the inner asana means being stabilized in the awareness of the Stillness of the Spiritual Heart. It is a gateway to perfect equilibrium, through which we go beyond manifestation, polarity, and the chakras, to where atman (the Supreme Self) is revealed.
(Īśvarapraṇidhāna): “Uninterrupted devotion or surrender to God,” the final niyama (moral restraint) indicated by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. The practice of ishvarapranidhana purifies the remaining desires in the mind. It also orients the mind towards the Divine, until there is no desire for anything but God. The desire for union (yoga) is all that remains in a mind purified by constant devotion. Read more about the niyama here.
(Īśvara): “Personal” God; a form or expression of the Supreme Reality.
(Jāgrat): Wakefulness, one of the Four States of Consciousness. In this state, atman (the Supreme Self) is mainly mis-identified with annamaya kosha (the “sheath composed of food”). Thus, the jiva (soul) travels in objectivity and becomes an object itself, mostly ignoring its subjective consciousness. In the waking state, the jiva is caught up with objects (both external and internal) and loses the awareness of its true nature as pure “subject.”
Repetition of a mantra or the name of God; invocation; incantation.
(Jīva): Individual soul.
(Jīvātman): “Living self,” the individual consciousness or psyche, which is atman (the perfect infinite spirit) covered over by the veil of ignorance and limitation. According to yoga, liberation consists in the merging of jivatman with atman (the Supreme Self).
(Jñāna): Transcendental, non-mediated, direct Knowledge; Divine Wisdom or Understanding; Spiritual Enlightenment.
(Jñāna Yoga): The “yoga of direct knowledge,” is the yoga of wisdom, of inquiry into the Real Self—the path of the sage. This form of yoga dates back as far as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. It is often mistakenly considered the yoga of intense study of scriptures and sacred texts. Even though theoretical study is not rejected, it does not define the spirit of jnana yoga. Here, the aspirant develops the discernment to distinguish between real and unreal in an attempt to discern the Self from the non-Self (the relative, the ephemeral). It is generally identified with Vedanta and Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism). Read more.
A Spanish mystic, priest, and friar who lived from 1542-1591. He is considered a major figure in the Catholic Reformation and the changes he and St. Teresa of Ávila advocated led to the founding of the Discalced (“barefoot”) Carmelites. He was well known for his prolific writings on the soul united with God in prayer, revealing profound mystical expressions, experiences, and insights. His commentaries rely on positive statements about God, first for their context—enabling the mind to be directed in attention and love toward God and no other—and second, for their verbal expression. This state of being directed toward God is typified when the mind moves toward a loving, non-conceptual knowledge of God, setting aside images and concepts.
Isolation; aloneness; absolute Oneness; one of the 108 Upanishads; one of the names of the Self. In Classical Yoga, it represents the final emancipation, suggesting the detachment from all that is changeable (prakriti) in an unconditional existence in the spirit (purusha). In the Yoga Sutras (2:25), kaivalya refers to the Self’s innate capacity to witness the contents of consciousness (thoughts, emotions, sensations, etc.) with complete detachment.
(Kāla): “Time” or “Death.” Time seen as a source of relativity, indicating the ephemeral nature of human experiences. (Kalā): “Part,” expressing a limited action or energy; phase of an event; part of a letter or word; creativity. In Kashmir Shaivism, it is one of the thirty-six tattvas (fundamental categories of existence), related to the way in which the Oneness of Shiva Consciousness is divided by the veils of maya (cosmic illusion).
(Kālī): The first of the Dasha Maha Vidyas (Ten Great Wisdoms), Kali is the Hindu Goddess of Time, representing the evolutionary aspect of the Divine. The name Kali comes from the Sanskrit word kala, meaning “time.” Kala represents the process of objectification perceived as movement and event from the initial state of pure subjectivity. Therefore, Kali is the one who “spins the wheel of universal time,” who cooks and ripens all things, who is the spiraling process of evolution. Her name also means “she who is black” or “she who is death,” and she is known to destroy the illusions of the ego in order to remove the obstacles in the way of Self-realization. Although sometimes represented as a daunting figure, she has a strong nurturing energy and is known to her devotees as the Mother of the Universe.
“The age of Kali,” refers to the last of the four yugas (eons or cosmic cycles)—Satya, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali. In this context, “Kali” refers to the demon Kali, the reigning lord of Kali Yuga. In some Hindu texts, Kali Yuga is considered a period of decadence in which people are less able to recognize the divine and sacred nature of their being. It is said that old Vedic spiritual methods are not suitable during Kali Yuga, while Tantra is a more efficient spiritual path for this age. The current era of Kali Yuga is thought to have begun in 3102 B.C.
Imagination; creation of the mind.
(Kāma): Desire, lust; pleasure; sensuality. It is one of the purushartha (four goals of human life).
The Lotus Goddess, the tenth of the Dasha Maha Vidyas (Ten Great Wisdoms). Her name comes from the Sanskrit word kamala, meaning “lotus.” Kamalatmika can be translated as “she of the lotus.” Kamalatmika is none other than Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity and wife of Vishnu. Of all the Dasha Maha Vidya, Kamalatmika is the best known, most popular, and has the oldest tradition of worship outside the Maha Vidya context. She is the last of the Maha Vidyas, and has almost completely auspicious, beneficial, and desirable qualities.
The “[Energetic] Bulb,” is a bulbous subtle organ that is considered in Hatha Yoga to be the origin point of the network of nadis (energy channels through which prana circulates in the whole subtle body). In Hatha Yoga, the lower abdominal area is not only associated with manipura chakra, but with this other, very important subtle structure. This structure is also known as kanda yoni the “bulb source,” and kanda sthana, the “bulb place.” Traditional Hatha Yoga texts state that the kanda is egg-shaped, soft, and white. The kanda is not situated (as are the other chakras) on sushumna nadi, but in the middle of the body. It is seen as a secret alchemical reservoir from which prana flows, first through muladhara and then through the other chakras during the ascension of kundalini.
(Kapha Doṣa): One of the three biological humors or psychophysiological energies described in Ayurveda. It is made up of the elements apas (Water) and prithivi (Earth). People with more kapha dosha in their constitutions tend to be of larger proportions, with robust frames, padded joints, thick, smooth skin that may tend towards oiliness, and thick, wavy hair. “Stable” and “calm” are words that define their minds, speech, and actions. They are easy-going and supportive in relationships. They have a steady way of walking. There is a quality of serenity in their smiles. They are long, heavy sleepers and uncomfortable in damp, clammy environments. Calm and sweetness of disposition are hallmarks of balanced kapha. Loyalty is the keyword for kapha dosha people.
Action, operating through the Law of Cause and Effect; destiny that people make for themselves through their actions. There are three types of karma: prarabdha (that which is to be worked out in this lifetime), sanchita (that which existed at the beginning of this life and is held over), and agami or kriyamana (new karma which is accumulated in this life and added to the sanchita deposit). The law of karma combines the theories of predestination and cause and effect, as a person’s present actions cause or predestine their future state.
The “yoga of [conscious and detached] action,” is the path of service and selfless action. Karma Yoga teaches the value of not being egotistically attached to the outcome of our actions. The results are consecrated to a larger purpose—to the Divine, the Spiritual Heart, the Absolute (as it is envisioned or understood by each aspirant)—without expecting anything in return. Every action is done with love, out of dedication to service, for the good and well-being of others. Therefore, there is no attachment to what is done, or to its outcome. Karma Yoga is mentioned in the Vedas. Vedic philosophers believed that only through (ritualized) action could humans ever hope to appease the gods. The discussions between Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita provide a very comprehensive understanding and example of what Karma Yoga is—that our efforts (how we act in the world and how we perform our duties) can create a future free from suffering. Karma Yoga helps aspirants overcome individual limitations by integrating themselves in a larger harmony. Read more.
(Kāya Kalpa): “Ageless body” or “body fashioning,” is an Ayurvedic treatment for rejuvenating the body. It calls for seclusion in darkness, meditation, and the application of various herbal concoctions. It is even seen as a form of yoga—Ayurvedic medicine was developed in Southern India at about the same time that Hatha Yoga was being developed. Kaya kalpa has three main objectives: Slowing the aging process, maintaining excellent physical health and youthful vitality, and delaying physical death until the attainment of jivanmukta (spiritual liberation while in a physical body). In Hridaya Yoga, spending a period of time meditating in total darkness is referred to as a Dark Retreat. This practice is equivalent to kaya kalpa, however, its main objective is not physical rejuvenation but the direct understanding that we are not just the physical body.
(Kāya Sthairyam): “Bodily immobility,” involves concentration on the steadiness of the body to induce steadiness of the mind, leading to Pure Stillness.
“Absolute (or complete) retention.” It is the retention of breath without inhalation or exhalation, which leads to stillness of the mind. Kevala kumbhaka is an advanced form of pranayama (control and awareness of the energies associated with breathing). It is obtained after a perseverant practice of pranayama and should occur without strain. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (2:73-74) affirms that for the yogi who is able to obtain kevala kumbhaka “…nothing in the three worlds is difficult for him to obtain.” Kevala kumbhaka is also a condition that may appear during deep meditation.
“The Ether of the Heart,” the etheric void, free from duality, that exists in the center of the Heart. It is identical to the initial vibration, spanda. According to Abhinavagupta, this eternal Heart is the still and vibrant center of Consciousness, a universal receptacle wherein all the universes are born and withdrawn. He states that from kha surges the non-dual state of bliss where we attain spanda (the Sacred Tremor of the Heart), and to attain spanda is to attain efficiency. Vyoman is a similar term. Khechari Mudra
(Kleśa): The fundamental causes of suffering. The Yoga Sutras identifies the five kleshas as: avidya, ignorance, asmita, “I am-ness” (the limitation of the ego consciousness), raga, attachment, dvesha, hatred, and abhinivesha, fear of death. Read more.
(Kośa): “Sheath” or “casing.” All major spiritual traditions sanction the belief that the physical body is not the only vehicle in which consciousness can express itself or in which the Spirit or Self (atman) manifests itself. Thus, most schools of Post-Classical Yoga and Vedanta accept the doctrine of the pancha kosha (five bodies), which was first introduced in the ancient Taittiriya Upanishad (2:7). That scripture speaks of the five coverings that obstruct the pure light of the transcendental Self:
- Annamaya kosha, the “sheath composed of food”
- Pranamaya kosha, the “sheath composed of life force”
- Manomaya kosha, the “sheath composed of mind”
- Vijnanamaya kosha, the “sheath composed of wisdom”
- Anandamaya kosha, the “sheath composed of bliss”
Read more about the five bodies here.
(Kṛṣṇa): The eighth avatara of Vishnu. His name literally means “black,” and he is often depicted with black or blue skin. Krishna is the embodiment of love and divine joy, and an instigator of all forms of knowledge. The worship of Krishna is part of Vaishnavism. He was born the eighth child of Devaki, the sister of the demon king Kamsa. The sage Narada predicted that Kamsa would be killed by his nephew, so Kamsa killed Devaki’s first six sons. The seventh, Balarama, escaped, and the eighth, Krishna, was secretly exchanged for a cowherd’s daughter. Krishna had enormous love for his foster mother Yashoda, and their relationship stands as a great example of both the love between a mother and child and the love for God seen as a child. Krishna was famous for teasing Yashoda and the gopis (milkmaids)—he and his friends would steal milk and butter, hide the clothes of bathing girls, and even break the water pots the milkmaids were carrying on their heads. The meaning of Krishna’s teasing was that he wanted to destroy their ignorance, teaching them not to be attached to matter or forms but to focus solely on God. Legends say that one moonlit night Krishna multiplied his body to dance with all the gopis and fulfill their desire for union with him. The love between Krishna and the gopis represents the divine play between reality and illusion, purusha (Spirit) and prakriti (Nature), divinity and humanity.
(Kriyā): Physical action; ritual; the power of activity; a class of yogic practices leading to purification. Sometimes a synonym for karma, in the sense of action.
(Kriyā Yoga): A form of yoga briefly explained by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (2:1), before the presentation of Ashtanga Yoga. Kriya Yoga brings the purification of the subconscious mind through three means: tapas (asceticism), svadhyaya (study of sacred texts), and ishvarapranidhana (devotion to the Divine). In other yoga contexts, Kriya Yoga is an equivalent for Karma Yoga (the yoga of action done with detachment, awareness, and love). In modern times, Paramahamsa Yogananda offered a spiritual path called Kriya Yoga. Its teachings use bhakti (devotion), pranayama (breath control), and dhyana (meditation) in order to awaken kundalini shakti. He claims that the legendary master Babaji first revealed the teachings.
(Kṣipta): “Agitated,” a completely distracted state of mind. It is the lowest of the Five States of Mind described in Vyasa’s Yoga Bhashya, the most authoritative commentary on the Yoga Sutras. The kshipta mind is active, restless, fickle, disturbed, and wandering. Although it is the most common state that the majority of people experience in their waking lives, the yogic perspective asserts that it should be overcome. Dominated by rajas guna (the active principle), it is a state of complete restlessness in which the mind jumps from one object of fascination to another. When in this state, the being is at the mercy of thoughts and emotions, which move as a hummingbird flits from flower to flower.
“Pot-like” retention, one of the phases of pranayama (conscious control and extension of breath). Kumbhaka is a condition without inhalation or exhalation that is associated with the act of increased awareness and the opening of the being toward subtle energies. Many yogis consider that kumbhaka is the main aspect of pranayama. Prolonging the duration of the retention is thought to prolong life itself, and is generally considered a key to inner transformation. It is also one of the most direct means of effecting changes in consciousness.
(Kuṇḍalinī Śakti): Primordial cosmic energy; the Serpent Power. It is the fundamental life force and, at the same time, the supreme spiritual energy usually lying dormant and coiled three-and-a-half times around muladhara chakra at the base of the subtle spine. In Tantra Yoga, kundalini is an aspect of Shakti, divine female energy and the inseparable lover of Shiva. Kundalini is generally defined as an essential potentiality of our being which, upon awakening, opens us to a cosmic, non-personal dimension of energy. Spiritual realization results from the transformations that it produces.
The Kashmiri poet Lalleshvari, widely known as Lalla (1320-1392), left an unhappy early marriage to become a disciple of the Shaivite guru Siddha Srikantha. She reached enlightenment and began singing songs to Shiva, dancing naked, and expressing her divine ecstasy in unconventional ways. Lalleshvari was very influential in shaping Kashmiri culture and attitudes toward life and religion, and her sayings constitute a memory of the Kashmiri classical age in popular consciousness. Her verses are the earliest compositions in the Kashmiri language to have come down to the modern era.
“[Meditative] absorption.” In the Tantric tradition, laya can be translated in two ways. It means:
- The absorption of the ego and the individual mind in Pure Consciousness.
- The absorption of the individual energy in its original cosmic source.
Essentially, both phenomena refer to the same dissolution of individuality in the ocean of Universal Existence and Energy. It can also be seen as a merging, an absorption of breath, mind, subtle sounds, etc., in the Heart.
A spiritual path consisting of the meditative absorption of the mind in its origin, Pure Consciousness. The Sanskrit word laya means “absorption,” and describes the process of the dissolution of the conditional mind. Its principle consists in using an object of meditation that creates a strong fascination for the mind. In this way, any other perception, thought, or emotion becomes unimportant and irrelevant. In general, whatever process is adopted to attain a higher state of consciousness has to be one that can totally absorb and preoccupy the mind. Keeping the witnessing attitude, in the absence of any disturbance from the mind, the yogi can surrender the individual egoic consciousness much more easily.
(Līlā): Play. Advaita Vedanta sees the whole Cosmos as a purely spontaneous, free creation or divine play of Brahman, the Absolute.
(Liṅga): Mark or sign; can also denote the symbol of the male principle, Shiva. Its root meaning is “that in which all beings are absorbed.” It also designates the penis, one of the sixteen adharas (supports for meditation) according to Hatha Yoga.
A common mechanism or form of ignorance through which people cheat themselves and tend to forget the essential values of existence. Often, people live in compensation, knowing that even though their lifestyle is not what they really want, the few pleasures and desires that their agitated lives can provide are still a way to forget their incapacity to face the shallowness of their reality and commit to a deeper journey. Vairagya (dispassion, detachment) and abhyasa (spiritual practice) are the yogic remedies for living in this way. Vairagya is the abandonment of the false values, mental filters, and dogmas that create an incorrect interpretation of things and generate an erroneous relationship with the world and everything around us. Mental projections and false perceptions are the reason for our attachments and aversions, our likes and dislikes. When we free ourselves from the cloud of our habits, prejudices, and attachments, and start to practice Self-Enquiry, a natural consonance with all the values radiating from the Spiritual Heart arises. Thus, we stop living in compensation.
An essential attitude recommended in Hridaya Yoga. It is the attitude of embracing (without contractions) any external or internal event. It is based on the capacity of being rooted in the Witness Consciousness, the real essence of our being. This openness is simultaneously external (toward different circumstances in life) and internal (toward the Spiritual Heart).
A dream in which we become aware of the fact that we are dreaming. Lucid dreams occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Nearly everyone has had at least one lucid dream, but without a perseverant practice of meditation or Yoga Nidra, very few people frequently experience this phenomenon.
(Mahākāsha): Great space.
(Maharṣi): “Maha Rishi,” a great rishi (sage). It is a term to describe those who open a new path to Realization. It is also a name of Vishnu, as the fountainhead of initiation and paths to Realization.
(Mahāvākya): The four “Great Sayings” or “Great Affirmations” of the Upanishads, which indicate the unity of atman (the individual essence) and Brahman. The sayings are:
- Prajnanam Brahman, “Consciousness Is Brahman”
- Ayam Atma Brahma, “The Self [Atman] Is Brahman”
- Tat Tvam Asi, “Thou Art That”
- Aham Brahmasmi, “I Am Brahman”
(Māheśvara): Parama Shiva; the highest lord; the Absolute.
(Mala): Impurity seen as a limiting condition of any human being that has not revealed their Divine Essence. Therefore, it is essentially caused by avidya (ignorance).
According to Kashmir Shaivism, there are three kind of malas (impurities) that limit consciousness: anava mala, mayiya mala, and karma mala.
- Anava mala is what makes us believe that we are a limited individual consciousness and not Shiva. It is the innate imperfection of an anu (individual being) or jiva (soul). This kind of mala is considered beginningless but it ends in moksha (liberation).
- Mayiya mala is the jiva’s misconception that the physical body is the real Self. It is the bondage caused by maya. This causes pleasure, pain, and the transmigration of the soul. Shaiva Siddhanta yogis regarded maya as real (in a relative sense), eternal, and the material cause of the world. As maya is real, its creation (the world) is therefore also real, not an illusion—as is affirmed in Advaita Vedanta.
- Karma mala is the limitation resulting in selfish action in the world of maya. Instead of having the complete freedom to act (which Shiva has), the jiva experiences an attachment to action and the limitations inherent in any personal act. This is regarded as Shiva’s “playfulness”! The Shiva Sutras regards this mala as maha pasa (the “great bondage”), which is not destroyed even when the whole universe is annihilated in pralaya (cosmic dissolution).
(Mālā): “Garland” or “rosary,” a string of prayer beads. Rosaries are used in many religions (including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism) to keep count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a prayer, mantra, or the name of a deity. A mala is usually made of 108 beads from a variety of materials, the favorite being rudraksha. One repetition is said for each bead, usually while turning the thumb clockwise around the bead. Symbolically, the string that unites the beads represents the underlying Supreme Reality, while the beads themselves represent the effort of spiritual practice.
Constant thinking, reflection, pondering, and meditation. Reflection on what has been heard.
The sense-mind. It is a mental instrument (sometimes seen as an indriya, sense organ) that assimilates and synthesizes sense impressions. Thus, it enables the jiva (human soul) to make contact with external objects. It is involved with these objects and consequently gives rise to the possessive “my” and “mine.” The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (4:26) compares manas to unsteady mercury. It is complementary to buddhi (the superior mind, which processes consciousness as intuition and wisdom). Because manas is somewhat blind (lacking discriminating objectivity), it is referred to as a mental condition of vikalpa (doubt).
(Maṇḍala): “Circle.” A circular diagram similar to a yantra that serves as a tool for concentration and meditation. A mandala can be seen as an integrated structure organized around a central unifying principle. Mandalas generally feature a bindu (dot), representing the point of potentiality of both the Cosmos and the mind. The bindu is surrounded by a circle or series of circles and enclosed by four square gates. Frequently used in Tibetan Buddhist practices, mandalas can often be very complex pictorial representations. They represent the sacred environment and dwelling place of a Buddha, bodhisattva, or deity. A mandala is used to worship a deity and become one with it through visualization practices.
(Maṇipūra Cakra): “The city of jewels” center. In Sanskrit, mani means “gem” or “jewel,” and pur means “city.” Therefore, the word manipura can be translated as “the city of jewels,” referring to the intensity of prana (energy) at this level. It is the third energy center in the human body, and attunes with agni (the subtle energy of fire). Manipura chakra is the center of dynamism and energy. It helps sublimate sexual energy into a more subtle form of energy called ojas. Manipura chakra is associated with the predominant drive of seeking power, attention, social position, and fame. At this level, the sense of the ego crystallizes. Therefore, the primordial concern of the human being at the level of consciousness of manipura chakra is acquiring identity in the world, personal power, recognition, and fame. In Hridaya Yoga terminology, this is the level where the “I”-feeling identifies with power, social status, position, fame, worldly ambitions, and respect (self-respect and also the pursuit of earning). Read more about the chakras.
Involution and dissolution of the mind into its cause, Pure Awareness.
(Manomaya Kośa): The “sheath composed of the mind;” the astral body. It is third of the five coverings that obstruct the freedom of the Supreme Self. It makes the jiva (individual soul) identify with the astral body. Read more about the five bodies.
Sacred syllable, word, or set of words that have spiritual potency. From its etymology, there are two main ways of translating the word mantra, a “mind instrument” and a form of mental activity that brings salvation.
- The Sanskrit word mantra comes from man (“mind” or “to think”) and the suffix tra, which is used to make words denoting instruments or objects. Thus, a mantra is an instrument of thought, or a mind instrument.
A mantra is a tool to transport the mind from a state of activity to one of stillness and silence. Therefore, thinking activity associated with a mantra is no ordinary thinking: it is not vikalpa (the conceptual, discursive form of thought that accompanies empirical language). It is a more intense, more effective thinking activity, a cogitation that is also one-pointed, since it is connected with a concentrated form of speech and endowed with special potency and efficacy.
- Another etymological interpretation of the word mantra relates the suffix tra to the Sanskrit root trai (“to save”). In this way, mantra is seen as a special form of “mental activity that brings salvation.”
The Goddess of Expression, the ninth of the Dasha Maha Vidyas (Ten Great Wisdoms). Her name comes from the Sanskrit root mati, meaning “intelligence.” It refers to Matangi’s attributes as a goddess who bestows knowledge, talent, and expressive play.
Known as the “Lord of the Fishes,” Matsyendranath (circa the tenth century A.D.) is revered as the founder of Hatha Yoga, having been initiated into the teachings by Shiva himself. While Shiva is known as Adinatha (“Primordial Lord”), Matsyendranath is considered the chief representative of the Natha lineage. One of the eighty-four mahasiddhas, he is associated with the Kaula sect of the Siddha Yoga movement. His main disciple was Gorakshanath.
Noble Silence. There is a reverential silence that can be felt by everyone in moments of sacredness, moments when the ego is forgotten. Keeping mauna is a way to open ourselves to this sacredness. According to the Bhagavad Gita, mauna is not about training our mouths, but about training our minds in not speaking. It is deeply transformative because it helps us quiet the mind and, more importantly, acknowledge the background of Stillness that is our Real Nature.
(Māyā): Veiling and projecting power, the illusive power of Brahman; the source of the five kanchukas (limiting coverings of the jiva). From the Sanskrit root ma, meaning “to measure,” it refers to the limiting principle of the Divine. In Shaivism, it represents a tattva (principle) of veiling the Infinite and projecting the finite. It is the power of Parama Shiva, bringing finitude.
A temporary condition in which the absence of thoughts is experienced. Mental void is still a state of the mind. Although this state is characterized by the absence of thoughts, the mind (the individual consciousness) may nonetheless be very present. Therefore, mental void is not identical to Pure Awareness. Pure Awareness (or Stillness) is the expression of the dissolution of the egoic consciousness (and its strategies and grabbing attitudes). Even though Stillness is more easily revealed when the mind is silent, mental void is not an absolute requirement for its revelation. Thus, the mind can continue to function while our awareness is centered mainly on Stillness, which is the background of all personal experiences.
A Rajput princess and Hindu mystical singer, circa 1498-1547. She was a significant figure in the Sant tradition of the Vaishnava Bhakti movement, contributing 1,200-1,300 prayerful songs to Krishna worshippers during India’s Middle Ages.
(Mokṣa): Spiritual Liberation and freedom from illusion. It represents spiritual emancipation from existential bondage. In dualistic philosophy, the term is generally used to mean the salvation of a purified soul in the presence of God. In non-duality, moksha is used in its complete and ultimate sense of liberation from all ignorance and duality through the continuous realization of atman (the Supreme Self) as one with Brahman. Moksha is one of the purushartha (four goals of human life).
(Mūḍha): “Dull.” A dull, lethargic state of mind. It is the second of the Five States of Mind described in Vyasa’s Yoga Bhashya, the most authoritative commentary on the Yoga Sutras. The mudha mind is dull, heavy, and forgetful. Dominated by tamas guna (the inert principle), it is a state in which the mind is dim, slow-witted, sleepy, lethargic, and lacking alertness. This state produces laziness in the being, which makes it difficult to be productive. The mudha mind is slightly more settled than the kshipta mind, but as the active disturbances of the first agitated state have settled down the mind may be more easily trained.
(Mudrā): “Gesture,” “attitude,” or “seal.” Mudras can be described as psychic, emotional, devotional, and aesthetic gestures or attitudes. From a yogic standpoint, mudras represent attitudes and gestures meant to channel prana (energy) in a certain way to deepen concentration and awareness and to induce higher states of consciousness. That is why mudra is also defined as a “seal,” “short-cut,” or “circuit bypass.” A mudra also radiates the beauty of an elevated consciousness.
(Mūla): Origin; root.
(Mūla Prakṛti): “Primordial Nature,” the root material cause of Universal Manifestation. It is that which existed before all things. Inside it is the potential for all the various determinations that are present within the Cosmos. The Puranas describe mula prakriti as identical to maya (the “Mother of forms”). It is said to be undifferentiated and to have no possibility for differentiation. This makes mula prakriti empty of inherent qualities. It can be intuited only by its effects, as it has no separate parts. In alchemy, the nigredo phase suggests bringing any substance to this same primordial, undifferentiated nature.
(Mūlādhāra Cakra): The “basic substratum” center. In Sanskrit, mula means “root” or “base” and adhara means “substratum” or support.” Therefore, the word muladhara means “the basic substratum” or “the support center,” referring to its characteristic of being the foundation center of the human being. It is the first chakra, located in the area of the perineum. It is the seat of vitality (the “battery” of the being) and is attuned with Earth energies and mechanical forces such as gravity. In the Hridaya Yoga understanding, this is the level at which the “I” identifies with the physical body and with individual existence in a physical form. This gross identification of the “I”-feeling is the root of all the attributes related to muladhara chakra, such as self-centeredness, the desire to have food and shelter, the accumulation of material goods, money, friends, etc. Read more about the chakras.
Sage or realized being. The term is etymologically connected with mauna (silence), suggesting a wise human being who lives in solitude and silence.
(Mūrti): Idol; the form of a deity.
(Nāda): Sound. This term is derived from the Sanskrit root nad, meaning “to flow.” It is a subtle sound that brings the flow of the dissolution of the individual consciousness, a state in which the mind is constantly focused on and fascinated by the subtle sound. The term nada is also used in Hindu musical theory to denote the subtle aspects of musical sound. There are two kinds of nada:
- Ahata is sound as it is normally perceived. In other words, it is the conscious realization of musical sound by human beings.
- Anahata is the subtle and mystical essence of sound. Anahata is heard by yogis in meditation and is not only related to anahata chakra, but can be experienced in connection to each chakra. In a yogic context, nada refers mainly to anahata nada, that subtle, ineffable sound.
(Nāda Yoga): The practice of listening to the subtle inner sound through which a unified consciousness is revealed. Nada Yoga was closely associated with the original Hatha Yoga, representing for some of the great Hatha Yoga masters its very coronation. Svatmarama, the author of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, speaks of Adinatha, the primal master (i.e., Shiva) as having taught innumerable ways to achieve laya (the dissolution of the mind). However, the text particularly recommends nada anusandhana (the awareness of the inner sound): “Adinatha (Shiva) propounded innumerable paths to laya (absorption of the mind), and they are all extant. Of these, the practice of nada anusandhana (listening to anahata nada, the inner transcendental sound) is the best of them all, in my opinion.” (4:66)
(Nāḍī): A subtle channel of prana (energy). Generally, the Hatha Yoga tradition speaks about 72,000 nadis conveying the life force. Sushumna, ida, and pingala are the three main ones. In the state of nirvikalpa samadhi, an important part of the energies passing through them is absorbed in the single para or amrita nadi.
(Nāmarūpa): Name and form. A term that expresses the relative nature of the world (seen as a limited, superficial reality—only names and forms).
Literally, “not this, not thus” or “neither this, nor that,” neti neti represents a process of discriminating the world and the relative existence from the Absolute Reality of the Self. It uses dis-identification with or negation of all names and forms in order to arrive at the underlying truth. This phrase is a well-known Upanishadic response to the inquiring practitioner who uses the mind to find a positive description of the transcendental Self. Whatever can be said about the Supreme Reality is ultimately not true.
(Nirguṇa): Without attributes; unqualified. It applies to the transcendental Reality that eternally abides beyond the gunas (qualities or primary constituents of Nature).
(Nirguṇa Brahman): The impersonal Absolute without attributes; the Supreme Reality “without qualities.” It is the ultimate Reality to which no qualities can be attributed. Nirguna applies to the transcendental Reality, which eternally abides beyond the gunas (qualities or primary constituents of Nature). Because of this, Nirguna Brahman is sometimes called Para Brahman (the Supreme Absolute), seen as the unqualified, ultimate Reality about which nothing can be said. It is one of the two notions related to Brahman: nirguna (“without qualities”) and saguna (“with qualities”).
(Nirmāṇakāya): The “emanation body” or “created body,” the grossest of the three bodies of a Buddha, according to Mahayana Buddhism. It is the physical body of a realized being. Even though it is born and dies, it is purified from all attachments and memories of pain, fear, etc. It is the reflection in the body of a purified psyche. It can be compared to the body of a newborn child. Both in Buddhism and Hatha Yoga, it can refer to a body that a Buddha (or a yogi) assumes in order to reveal the path to enlightenment for others. A part of the trikaya doctrine.
Cessation; dissolution. This term is very important, as it is present in the first part of the definition of yoga given in the Yoga Sutras: “Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah.” This means that yoga is the nirodha (cessation) of all the vrittis (movements) of chitta (the mind-field). Because the movements of the mind are quieted, we dis-identify from them and remain as the pure Witness Consciousness (the Supreme Self), or purusha, as Patanjali calls it.
(Nirodha Parināma): “The transformation of dissolution.” This term refers to the deep transformation of the subconscious mind explained and recommended by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (3:9-12). In nirodha parinama, different samskaras (subconscious tendencies) are dissolved or, in other words, sublimated in stillness and peace. Every moment of stillness and clarity (a consequence of deep meditative states) creates subconscious tendencies of nirodha (dissolution). Each instance of nirodha predisposes the practitioner to another. Once firmly grounded in the subconscious, these impressions of nirodha completely transform how we perceive the world and our self-identity. When impressions of nirodha grow sufficiently in number and strength, they permeate the subconscious, replacing impressions of externalization. Over time, samskaras of nirodha become the dominant influence on the mind’s functioning and, thus, all traumas and reactivity are gradually annihilated, bringing moksha (liberation).
“Peaceful, “dissolved,” a condition in which the mind is quiet, not agitated. It is the most elevated of the Five States of Mind described in Vyasa’s Yoga Bhashya, the most authoritative commentary on the Yoga Sutras. The niruddha mind is mastered, controlled, and can easily be witnessed and transcended. In the Yoga Sutras (1:2), Patanjali defines yoga as this state of nirodha (the cessation of all mental fluctuations). This cessation is the doorway through which we go beyond the mind in order to abide in the Self. When the state of niruddha is sustained for a long period of time, the mind is dissolved in Pure Awareness, which leads to moksha (liberation).
(Nirvāna): Extinction; Liberation; final emancipation; enlightenment; a mythological spiritual realm; the dissolution of all limitations of the mind and the cessation of all desire. Although the term comes from Buddhism, it can be found in texts of advaita and yoga.
(Nirvikalpa Samādhi): A state of samadhi (cosmic consciousness) in which the normal human psycho-mental faculties are suspended. In it, all differences between the individual self and Brahman cease to exist. Thus, the soul loses its sense of being limited and different from Brahman (the Universal Consciousness). It is a temporary condition from which there is a return to the normal ego consciousness. However, through its constant repetition, this state dissolves all the samsakaras and vasanas (subconscious traits), leading to liberation. It is the Vedantic equivalent of asamprajnata samadhi in the Classical Yoga of Patanjali.
A great, enlightened sage and Advaita Vedanta master, Nisargadatta Maharaj was born in Bombay, India and lived from 1897-1981. He spent his life as a householder and shopkeeper until, at the age of thirty-six, he met his guru, Sri Siddharameshwar, and began a serious mantra sadhana. On the death of his guru, he left his family and went to the Himalayas to practice. He was later inspired to return to worldly life and the path of action, and devoted the rest of his life to meditation and sharing the Vedantic teachings of his guru. He was known for his penetrating insight and no-nonsense style. His teachings are most well known through the enduring book I Am That.
(Niṣkāma): Without desire.
“[Moral] restraint,” or “discipline,” the second rung in the ladder of the Ashtanga Yoga (eight-limbed yoga) taught by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. It involves five guidelines regarding the interaction with the “inner world”: saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (asceticism), svadhyaya (spiritual study), and ishvarapranidhana (devotion to the Lord). Read more about the niyama here.
Intellect. A concept derived from the writings of Greek philosopher Plotinus (circa 204-270 A.D.). For the Desert Fathers, nous is the highest faculty of human beings, through which they know God (or the inner essences or principles of created things) by means of direct experience or spiritual perception. Unlike “diamoia” (reason), from which it must be carefully distinguished, the intellect of the Heart does not function by formulating abstract concepts and then coming to a conclusion reached through deductive reasoning. Instead, it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition, or simple cognition (the term used by St. Isaac the Syrian). Nous (the intellect), dwells in the “depths of the soul.” It constitutes the innermost aspect of the Heart. The intellect is the organ of contemplation, “the Eye of the Heart.”
Vitality; strength; power; luster. Ojas comes from the root vaj, meaning “to be strong.” It is usually translated as “life force.” Ojas is a subtle energy that is distributed throughout the entire body and incessantly nourishes it—it is the highest form of energy associated with human life. Our spiritual, intellectual, and social accomplishments are nourished and made possible by this energy. Without ojas, there is not a proper foundation for the practice of meditation and yoga.
The condition of non-duality, in which there is no sense of separation between “I” and “the rest of the world.” See Duality and Advaita.
The natural expression of a consciousness that is not preoccupied with achieving one thing or another. It is an impersonal attention, free of attachments; it is the attention of the Witness Consciousness. Therefore, it does not lose itself in the knowing of an object, but it maintains an awareness of the Spiritual Heart, the source of attention itself.
“Lotus-born.” Padmasambhava was born in India in the eighth century. He is known as the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Legends say that the Buddha Amitabha, moved by compassion for the suffering of sentient beings, sent a golden vajra from his heart onto a lotus blossom, which then transformed into a beautiful eight-year-old boy, Padmasambhava. He is said to have come into world in order to teach the Tantras. He personifies the guru principle. Revered in the entire Himalayan region, he is known as the “second Buddha.” The vision of Hridaya Yoga is very aligned with Padmasambhava’s dictum: “Descend with the view while ascending with the conduct. It is most essential to practice these two as one.”
Supreme; beyond; transcendental.
The Supreme Absolute. Another name for Brahman, expressing its supreme and attributeless reality.
The legendary author of the Yoga Sutras. The story of Patanjali’s birth has mythic dimensions. One version says that in order to teach yoga on Earth he fell from heaven in the form of a little snake. He landed in the upturned hands (a gesture known as anjali mudra) of his virgin mother, Gonika—herself a powerful yogini. Here, he’s regarded as an incarnation of the thousand-headed serpent-king named Shesha Remainder or Ananta (endless), whose coils are said to support the god Vishnu. Read about Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga.
(Pingalā Nāḍī): The “tawny energy channel.” It is the masculine, active, yang energy channel in the subtle body. It lies to the right of sushumna nadi, and its energy is complementary to that of ida nadi (the passive, feminine, yin channel that is to the left of neutral sushumna). Pingala nadi, also known as surya nadi, begins at a subtle level in muladhara chakra, goes along the back on the right side of the spine, and intersects with ida nadi in ajna chakra, the coordinator of polarity in the being.
(Pitta Doṣa): One of the three biological humors or psychophysiological energies described in Ayurveda. It is made up of the elements agni (Fire) and apas (Water).
(Prajña): Superior Knowledge; gnosis. It represents a special kind of knowledge, a direct insight into the Supreme Reality or into the very essence of objects, as obtained in samadhi (the ecstatic condition). It is distinct from everyday knowledge gained through the senses, by inference, or from tradition. It stands for the higher consciousness working through the mind in all its stages. Prajna is a synonym for jnana. It can be also a synonym for Supreme Consciousness (Awareness).
(Prakāśa): The Light of Pure Consciousness, the principle of Self-revelation. An expression of Shiva indissolubly united with Shakti. In Kashmir Shaivism, the Supreme Reality is often described as prakasha (the uncreated light) and vimarsha (the reflected light of consciousness).
(Prakṛti): Nature. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, it is the original, uncaused cause of phenomenal existence. It is a compound of the three gunas (sattva, rajas, and tamas). In Ayurveda, it represents the original constitution that a human being inherits at the moment of conception. It is a combination of the three doshas.
(Prakṛtilaya): “Dissolved in Nature” a blissful state of consciousness, mentioned by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. It is a condition in which the ecstatic state is still in connection with objectivity, not yet related to the inherent bliss of Pure Existence. This state is not ultimate liberation, as it is still in the domain of manifestation (albeit at a very subtle level)—the specific limitations of the objective, dualistic existence are still experienced. Prakritilaya also refers to a yogic swoon experienced in meditation, where there is no physical or astral awareness but only identification with the casual body. Here, the mind is devoid of any thoughts and the seeker feels that they have attained the state of bliss. However, soon after coming out of the swoon, their mind is again full of thoughts, dualities, and desires. Because of this, on the spiritual path we should aim to go deeper than prakritilaya.
“[Cosmic] dissolution,” a notion that appears in Hindu metaphysics and mythology. According to the tradition, a cosmic cycle has a duration of 2.16 billion years. At the end of each cycle, the Universe is temporarily dissolved in Vishnu, plunged into a state yoga nidra (yogic sleep), and remains in this condition of pralaya until the great god reawakens. This suggests the dissolution of mental activity and the absorption into the highest Self. However, pralaya, which is actually our dissolution in the Supreme Self, happens in a passive way, as in a deep dream.
(Prāṇa): The principle of energy; life force; vital energy; life breath. The Universal Life Force, which is a vibrant physical and psychic energy. The sum of all the forces of nature, including those that are latent, mysterious, and hidden in the human being, as well as those existing everywhere in the macrocosm. In common contexts, prana means “air.” From a spiritual perspective, even from ancient times prana has been equated with Brahman (the Absolute) as the transcendental source of all life. The Yoga Vasishtha (3:13:31) defines prana as the “vibratory power” (spanda shakti) that underlies all manifestation. This life force, prana, is not of a physical nature per se. It is not a material form of energy. It is, rather, a principle which sustains matter and which is deeply involved in matter’s very existence.
(Prāṇa Vāyu): Of the five vayus, it is the fundamental energizing force. It is the inward moving vital energy that governs respiration and absorption, allowing us to take in everything from air and food to impressions and ideas. It provides propulsive energy, speed, motivation, vitality, and the basic energy that drives us in life. Prana vayu is most active in the region of the lungs and heart. The “seat” of prana vayu is the heart, and this vital air ensures that the heart goes on beating. Read more about the vayus.
(Prāṇamaya Kośa): The “sheath composed of life force;” the etheric body. It is the second of the five coverings that obstruct the freedom of the Supreme Self. It makes the jiva (individual soul) identify with the etheric body. Read more about the five bodies.
(Prāṇayāma): Regulation and control of energy through the breath; the expansion of the vital energy; the extension of the breath. Etymologically, pranayama means “awareness and extension of prana.” It is the fourth rung of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga and an important part of Hatha Yoga.
(Prārabdha): The part of our karma that bears fruit in the present life; the cause of our current destiny. It is the allotted portion of sanchita karma (the general karmic deposit) to be worked out in a given type of environment during a lifetime. It is the karma that is inherited from past lives, but is meant to be dealt with in this lifetime and has begun to produce effects. Prarabdha karma is the “bank deposit” that we use in this life. Some of its aspects, especially those related to the physical body (for example, our genetic inheritance), cannot be altered. So, the wise attitude is to simply accept them as they are and to use them in the best way for spiritual transformation.
(Pratyabhijñā): Recognition of the Divine, Shiva. A philosophy according to which the Supreme Reality is not something to be discovered, imagined, or created, but recognized as that most intimate something which has always been present as the core of our being.
(Pratyāhāra): “To pull away from,” refers to the idea of pulling the senses away from their objects of desire, withdrawing them inward and developing a deep sense of internalization. It is the fifth step of the Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali. With pratyahara, we learn to develop control over the senses. It involves the reorientation of the senses from an external to internal flow, allowing us to become aware of our own desires, fears, and thoughts.
Bhakti (Supreme Devotion) in its absolute aspect; transcendental Love. It is love for love’s sake alone—a love that can take over the human lover, sweep away all distinctions in the ecstasy of union, and fill the soul with intense longing during separation. Another name for prema is para bhakti (supreme or transcendental love).
(Pṛthivī Tattva): The Earth element, one of the pancha bhutas (five material elements that compose the material Cosmos). It is the grossest of the material elements. According to Kashmir Shaivism, there are thirty-six tattvas (categories of existence). Prithivi is the thirty-sixth (the most material) and Shiva (Pure Consciousness) is the first (the subtlest)—essentially, our journey to Pure Consciousness begins from Earth.
(Pūjā): Worship; ritual. It usually refers to formal rituals, but it can express an interiorized attitude as well. The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra (147) says: “Puja does not consist in offering flowers and other gifts. It consists in setting the Heart in the Supreme Ether of Consciousness that is above mental fluctuations. Real adoration means an absorption (in Shiva), through intense mystical fervor.”
(Pūraka): “Filling.” Inhalation, one of the phases of pranayama (conscious control and extension of breath). Puraka is mostly associated with the assimilation of prana (subtle energies). The Brihad Yogi Yajnavalkya Samhita (8:19) refers to the subtle effects of inhalation when defining it as that “restriction of the breath that fills all nadis (subtle channels).” This implies that for a yogi, inhalation is more than the intake of air. It is the attraction of prana (the universal life force) into the body.
(Purāṇa): Ancient; old. An important category of sacred Indian literature that integrates myths, legends, and other traditional lore. In general, they express a non-dual vision. Most of these texts were composed in the post-Christian era.
(Pūrṇa): Full; complete; whole; infinite; perfect. It is an ancient Vedic name for the Absolute.
(Puruṣa): The Self that abides in the heart of all things. It is the spiritual monad, which, according to the philosophy Patanjali expressed in the Yoga Sutras (the Yoga Darshana, known as Classical Yoga), is individual. Conversely, prakriti (Nature) is infinite. Even though purusha (Spirit) is seen as individual (while according to Advaita Vedanta, atman is universal, identical to Brahman), it remains the witness of all psycho-mental phenomena. In the Yoga Sutras (2:21), Patanjali says that prakriti exists only for the sake of serving purusha’s liberation.
Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya al-Qaysiyya (717-801), the first female Sufi saint, spent much of her life in fervent prayer as an ascetic Muslim. After a period in which she was enslaved, she eventually lived in the desert in solitude. She refused many offers of marriage, as she had no time in her life for anything but God. More interesting than her absolute asceticism, however, is the concept of Divine Love that Rabia expressed. She was the first to introduce the idea that God should be loved for God’s own sake, not out of fear—as earlier Sufis had done. She taught that repentance was a gift from God because no one could repent unless God had already accepted them and given them the gift of repentance.
Fortunate; successful; gift. Radha was the beloved of Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu. The name comes from the Sanskrit word aradhana, meaning “homage” or “worship.” It is said that Krishna and Radha were only together in human form for a few years, but they were forever One, and their love grew stronger in separation. Her longing was a catalyst to increase her depth of love for God—a love immortalized as devoted sacrifice. For followers of Vaishnavism, Radha symbolizes absolute Love, adoration, devotion, and surrender to the Supreme Consciousness. Her love is Divine Love, love that keeps increasing regardless of the circumstances. Radha’s love for Krishna represents the true, selfless nature of prema.
(Rāga): Attachment; passion. According to the Yoga Sutras, raga is one of the five kleshas (causes of suffering). “Raga (attachment) [is that which] is based on pleasant [experiences].” (2:7) Read more.
(Rāja Yoga): “Royal Yoga,” denotes a systematic path for reaching spiritual union and generally refers to Ashtanga Yoga (the eight-limbed path Patanjali described in the Yoga Sutras). When the term refers to Patanjali’s form of yoga it is also called Classical Yoga.
(Rajas Guṇa): The Sanskrit word rajas is derived from the root raj or ranj, meaning “to be colored, affected, excited, charmed.” Rajas represents the principle of dynamism and activity. Its fruit is the joy of acting, but also the distress of fault. Rajas tendencies create both raga (attraction, attachment) and dvesha (aversion, hate) for external objects.
(Rāma): The “delightful one,” the seventh avatara (incarnation) of lord Vishnu. He is the main spiritual hero of the Ramayana, the master of the legendary monkey king Hanuman, and an object of great devotion in India.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886) was born near Calcutta and spontaneously reached states of samadhi (ecstasy) as a child. At an early age, he became a priest of the Kali Temple of Dakshineswar and earnestly began the sadhana of the goddess. Following a vision of Kali, he studied with other teachers—including the famous female Tantric guru Bhairavi Brahmani. Eventually, a sage named Totapuri took him to the final stage of enlightenment. His great interest and mission was to teach the Truth of all world religions. His foremost disciple was Swami Vivekananda, who took over this mission.
Named Venkataraman at birth, at the age of sixteen Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) had an intense spiritual experience involving a sudden and overwhelming fear of death. He went into the experience and it became the death of his ego, which invoked a flood of Self-awareness. Soon after, he left home to pursue a purely spiritual life. He went to Arunachala, a South Indian mountain whose name had mysteriously called to him as a holy place worth seeking. He spent his time in deep meditation, often entering high states of consciousness and samadhi. Eventually, he settled on the slopes of Arunachala and his followers built an ashram around him. He answered their questions and commented on the spiritual works they presented to him, always with the same simple point, directing them to the source of their thoughts, as summed up in the “Who am I?” question. Ramana’s revelation regarding Self-Enquiry represents the essential teaching of Hridaya Yoga.
(Recaka): “Emptying,” refers to exhalation, one of the phases of pranayama (conscious control over and extension of the breath). Rechaka is mainly associated with the removal of the consumed subtle energies.
“The howler” or “the roarer,” one of the aspects of Shiva, adored since Vedic times; a name for Shiva in his terrifying aspect; God as the destroyer of what is ephemeral. The transcendental reality is often terrifying for regular people. In the ancient Rig Veda, Rudra is praised as the “mightiest of the mightiest” and ghora (extremely terrifying).
“The knot of Rudra,” is the third energetic and psychic contraction preventing the free flow of prana (energy) in the human being. It is located in ajna chakra (although, according to some yoga practitioners it is at the level of vishuddha chakra or on sushumna nadi between the eyebrows or between vishuddha and ajna chakras). Attachment to siddhis (paranormal powers) is the great hindrance related to ajna chakra and it creates this knot.
The greatest Sufi poet, Afghanistan-born Rumi (1207-1273) lived most of his life in modern-day Turkey. He composed prolific lyric and devotional poems in Persian. Following his death, his followers and his son, Sultan Walad, founded the Mawlawiyah Sufi Order. Also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, this group is famous for its Sufi dancing, known as the “sama” ceremony. Rumi is now one of the world’s most beloved poets.
(Sādhaka): “Accomplisher,” a spiritual practitioner; someone who follows a particular spiritual discipline with the aspiration to purify any inner limitations and thus, reveal the Consciousness of Oneness. According to the Shiva Samhita (5:10-14), there are four types of practitioners, depending on their enthusiasm, energy, character, style of yoga practiced, and commitment to the spiritual process: mild, moderate, ardent, and the most ardent—those who can naturally cross the ocean of the relative world.
(Sādhana): Spiritual discipline practiced in a systematic way under the guidance of a qualified guru.
(Sādhu): “Virtuous;” an ascetic; a righteous person; one who has attained the goal of sadhana.
(Saguṇa Brahman): “Qualified” Brahman, or Brahman “with qualities.” The Absolute conceived of as endowed with qualities. Immanent God. It is the phenomenal dimension of Reality composed of the three gunas (primary constituents of Nature). It is one of the two notions related to Brahman: nirguna (without qualities) and saguna (with qualities).
Spontaneous; natural. Etymologically, it derives from saha, meaning “together,” and ja, meaning “to be born.” Therefore, the direct translation is “born together” or “emerged together.” It suggests that Liberation is not “something” (an energy or a reality) external to us. Liberation and our being “come into existence” or “get born” together. On the other hand, sahaja suggests that samsara (the manifest world) and nirvana (the transcendent reality) are “born together” and therefore there must be a common underlying background from where they originally came and where they coexist.
(Sahasrāra): “The [lotus] of a thousand petals.” Although some texts assert that sahasrara is a chakra, it is not a chakra but a portal towards Oneness, the Supreme Reality of Shiva. It represents the “summum bonum” of all the energies of the human being. It has been translated as the “1,000-petaled lotus,” which signifies its holistic integration, magnitude, and importance in the yogic tradition. Sahasrara is also commonly known as shunya (the void), referring to Shiva as emptiness or transcendence. According to the yogic tradition, sahasrara is located at the top of the head. It represents the culmination of yogic sadhana (spiritual practice). For this reason, it is also known as the “crown center,” which refers not only to the fact that it is “located” on the top of the head, but also because it is the coronation of Hatha Yoga practice. Read more about the chakras.
Retention of breath “associated” with inhalation and exhalation. There are two forms of breath retention: after inhalation and after exhalation. When the breath is retained after a complete inhalation, it is called antara kumbhaka (internal retention). When it is retained after a complete exhalation, it is known as bahya kumbhaka (external retention).
(Sahṛdaya): “With the Heart,” an expression of spiritual aliveness, enthusiasm, and vigor. According to Kashmir Shaivism, a life lived in the Heart is sahridaya. It is a life in which spanda (waves of dynamism issuing forth from the Heart) is a source of spontaneous expression. The absence of sahridaya (spiritual dynamism) causes apathy, lack of vitality, distrust, and inertia. It is the cause of spiritual inefficiency and lack of focus.
“Balancing” or “even essence,” represents an important concept that inspires the Hatha Yoga practice in Hridaya Yoga. It was a very important notion in the Siddha Yoga movement in Southern India (800-1200 A.D.), especially in regards to Hatha Yoga. Sama rasa is the condition in which the physical body expresses divine perfection—it the process of opening towards Shiva and divine energy at the level of the physical body. Better said, it is an awareness of the divine nature of the physical body. Sama rasa reveals the union with Shiva Consciousness, a state in which all differentiation has disappeared. It stands for the process and state of resonating bodily in harmony with the Divine.
(Samādhi): “To place together,” refers to the state in which the subject (the meditator) and the object (of meditation) merge into one. It is the ecstatic condition in which the limited sense of individuality fades away. It is the last anga (limb) of the eightfold path described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, it is also the last stage in the process of samyama (direct knowledge through identification). Therefore, samadhi is the ultimate step before final liberation, or yoga (union with God).
(Samāna Vāyu): The “unifying breath,” is one of the five vayus (vital airs). Active mainly in the area of the navel, it is responsible for the assimilation of food and brings balance between prana vayu (the inward moving air) and apana vayu (the downward moving air). Samana vayu moves from the periphery to the center. It is a concentrating, absorbing, and consolidating force. Its main function is the assimilation of prana in all its forms. It activates and controls the digestive system (the liver, intestines, pancreas, and stomach, as well as their secretions). At the mental level, it facilitates the digestion of ideas, providing nourishment and contentment. It gives us discrimination, mental concentration, and balance. Samana creates the one-pointedness of mind that leads to meditation and, further, to samadhi. Read more about the vayus.
(Sāṃkhya): One of six darshanas (practical visions or philosophies of orthodox Hinduism). Its emphasis is on the laws of nature, the phenomenal aspects of Universal Manifestation. The term samkhya is usually translated as “number,” “enumeration,” “calculating,” or “reasoning,” because this doctrine describes the tattvas (the different layers and degrees of manifestation), looking for their common origin in prakriti (Nature, the undifferentiated universal substance). It is believed that Samkhya was the philosophical basis for Classical Yoga. Because of its focus on the tattvas of prakriti, Samkhya was wrongly believed to be a materialistic or even atheistic system. Although its philosophy does not mention Ishvara (the Personal God), this absence (as René Guénon mentioned) is not a negation, as it is explained by the specific focus of Samkhya—which for the first time studied the intimate laws of existence, the internal processes of the material world, and the mechanisms that govern the various bodies or living organisms. In the Bhagavad Gita (5:4-5), yoga is equated to Karma Yoga and Samkhya to the path of sannyasa (renunciation), with Krishna emphasizing their essential unity.
(Saṃsāra): The worldly life of illusion; the phenomenal, relative reality; manifestation. The cycle of births and deaths.
(Saṃskāra): “Activator,” represents the psychological imprints left in the subconscious by our daily experiences—whether conscious or unconscious, internal or external, desirable or undesirable. The term “activator” suggests that these imprints are not merely passive vestiges of our actions and intentions, but dynamic forces in our psyche. They constantly push the jiva (individual soul) into action. These impressions wait to return to the conscious level of the mind, influencing our future in the form of expectations, sense of self-worth, habits, innate dispositions, and emotions—propelling our lives and generating future karma.
(Saṃyama): “Constraint [of the mind],” is a state of profound identification between the yogi and the contemplated object. It is explained by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (3:4) as the consequence of the continuous practice of dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (ecstatic identification) upon the same object. This technique is the yogi’s way of doing research, since it yields all kinds of prajna (intuitive knowledge). It represents the principal means of acquiring vibhuti (paranormal powers). Examples of the practice of identification and its results are extensively discussed in the third chapter of the Yoga Sutras, called Vibhuti Pada (the path of superhuman powers). The essential “flavor” that radiates from the description of all these paranormal powers is that we are not just the physical body or the personality.
(Sañcita Karma): Unresolved karma that has accumulated in former lives and has not yet taken effect. The cumulative effects of actions done in all of our past lives are “packed” into a concentrated residual of potentiality in our subtlest and innermost layer (the causal level). It is like we have a bank account with a big deposit that represents all our karmic possibilities. From the yogic perspective, not all karmic tendencies will manifest in this life. Referring to sanchita karma is like speaking about a general subconscious for all our potential future lives.
(Saṅgha): Association; assembly; company; community. Refers to a community of people who come together to share spiritual life and practice.
(Saṅkalpa/Saṃkalpa): Volition; intention; will; conviction. The most important activity of the mind, which is always engaged in projecting intentions. Sankalpa is the main mental action that creates samskaras (subconscious activators). We are the result of our sankalpas, generating karma through our inner intentions. Ego-based sankalpas direct us externally and bind us to the external world. Spiritual sankalpas direct us within and help us reach moksha (liberation). The practice of yoga cultivates the sankalpa for Self-realization.
(Saṃtoṣa): “Contentment,” or “unconditional joy,” is the second niyama (moral discipline) in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. To be firmly rooted in santosha is to feel genuine happiness no matter what arises in the sphere of our being. It is to be accepting and to trust that we always receive what we need, whether it is labeled as “good” or “bad.” To practice contentment is to practice a constant awareness of the present moment, where the mind is free from desires and fears about the future as well as pain and regrets about the past. Cultivating santosha allows us to let go of the desires that trap us in ignorance and suffering. A feeling of completeness then arises and we learn to be happy in this moment, with whatever we have and however we are. Only a mind free of desiring, free from thoughts of past and future, can concentrate. Thus, in practicing santosha we naturally improve in our practice of Hatha Yoga and meditation. A state of equanimity arises and labels such as “good” and “bad” that may be applied to experiences are seen as mere judgments of the mind. Read more about the niyama here.
(Sanyāsī): One who has given up home, property, caste, and all human attachments for the spiritual quest. This renunciation is permanent and definitive, whereas a sadhu is free to return to family life. Traditionally, a sanyasi wears an ochre robe as a symbol of renunciation, whereas a sadhu wears a white dhoti.
“Pure Existence,” the very nature of the Absolute; the essence that exists in all forms and substances but that describes even what is beyond the manifest domain, as it is also a “dimension” of the transcendental reality. Sat is pure existence, devoid of any identification with social status, the body, the emotions, the thoughts, or the mind. Thus, the masks of individuality fall away in sat. Pure Existence is not individual. Because of this, the pure “I am”-feeling is not an accurate expression of sat. The pure feeling “I am” can lead us to a complete purification of the subconscious, of all false identifications—avidya (ignorance). When even the pure “I am”-feeling fades, sat (universal Pure Existence) is revealed. Sat is the Source and Nature of all beings, for everything that exists is in its essence.
“True teacher;” the Inner Self who is the ultimate source of all wisdom.
(Satcitānanda): “Pure Existence-Pure Awareness-Pure Bliss.” It constitutes the very svarupa (essence) of Brahman (the Supreme Reality), not just Its attributes. This phrase suggests the unity of these three intrinsic expressions of the Absolute—they are not qualities, for Brahman is ultimately nirguna (unqualified) and akala (without parts), they are the very nature of the Supreme. In nirvikalpa samadhi, the Self is revealed as a unified mass of Bliss and Consciousness, whose very nature is that of Existence.
(Satsaṅga): Association or audience with enlightened ones or sages.
(Sattva Guṇa): The word sattva comes from the Sanskrit root sat, meaning “existence.” Sattva guna represents the principle of harmony and balance. The Bhagavad Gita (14:6) characterizes sattva guna as “immaculate, illuminating, without ill.” However, sattva, by virtue of being one of the gunas, also has a binding effect—it can cause attachment to joy and knowledge.
“Truthfulness,” the second yama (moral restriction) recommended by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. We should practice truth in our actions, speech, and thoughts by always aspiring to act from a place of love and an intention to benefit others, while always maintaining harmony with the truthfulness of the Heart. Read more about the yama here.
(Śauca): “Purity,” the first niyama (moral discipline) listed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Yogis see the body as the vehicle or temple of the soul. Thus, it is very important to have a healthy, clean body so the soul’s purpose can be fulfilled. The physical body can be purified through practicing asanas and pranayama, maintaining a healthy diet, bathing regularly, doing physical exercise, and by practicing various dhautis (cleanses for the internal organs and systems of the body). An aspirant on the yogic path should also cultivate purity of mind, relinquishing negative mental tendencies such as pride, anger, jealousy, dishonesty, judgment, etc. Read more about the niyama here.
This is the essence of Ramana Maharshi’s teachings. He calls Self-Enquiry “the most sacred of sacred.” Indeed, it is a revolutionary spiritual practice. He summarized the method as follows: “What is essential in any sadhana [spiritual practice] is to try to bring back the running mind and fix it on one thing only. Why then should it not be brought back and fixed in Self-attention? That alone is Self-Enquiry (atma vichara). That is all that is to be done!” Read more.
One of the main branches of Hinduism, it is the religious and philosophical tradition centered on the worship of Shiva as the transcendental Reality. Signs of the worship of Shiva dating from as far back as 2500 B.C. have been found in archeological sites in India. Adherents of the many schools of Shaivism have produced a vast literature, which expresses both non-dual and dualistic perspectives. Expressing this non-dual understanding of Shiva, Abhinavagupta, the great teacher of Kashmir Shaivism, wrote: “The truth is, therefore, this: the Supreme Lord manifests freely all the varied play of emissions and absorptions in the sky of his own nature.”
(Śakti): “Power.” Shakti is the dynamic principle of existence, envisioned as being feminine. It is the creative power that explains how inanimate Shiva (Pure Awareness) is manifested in the Universe’s infinite forms. Therefore, Shakti and Shiva are inseparable principles. As the Shiva Purana (7:2:4:10) explains: “Just as the moon does not shine without moonlight, so also Shiva does not shine without Shakti.” Shakti is responsible for creation, and is an agent of change and destruction—she powers existence as well as liberation. The most significant form of Shakti is kundalini shakti. Shakti also refers to the personification of the female form of the Absolute.
One of the main branches of Hinduism, it is the religious and philosophical tradition centered on the worship of the Supreme as Shakti (the dynamic, feminine aspect). In Shaktism, the Goddess or Divine Mother is understood as the active aspect of the transcendental Reality. Shaktas (adherents of Shaktism) worship Shakti in innumerable forms, employing mantras and yantras and performing pujas (ritual offerings) in order to call forth powerful cosmic energies and realize their universal nature. Dasha Maha Vidya Yoga (the yoga of the Ten Great Wisdoms) is a form of Shaktism.
(Śāktopāya): A spiritual path to reveal the Self through shakti (cosmic, undifferentiated energy); a spiritual approach in which a thought naturally and constantly returns to itself, the source of the “I,” Shiva. Thus the duality of subject-object is perpetually dissolved.
(Śāmbhavopāya): A means to reveal the Supreme Consciousness through Shambhu or Shiva (the Supreme Consciousness). It is a perpetual state of freedom from thoughts that allows the realization of the divinity. In this condition, there is no object or support on which the mind is to be steadied or fixed, and the mind ceases to play an active role. Because of this, it is also known as niralamba yoga (supportless yoga).
The main acharya (teacher, preceptor) of Advaita Vedanta, Shankaracharya (788-820 A.D.) was a great Hindu mystic and scholar who brought about the greatest revival of Advaita Vedanta in Indian philosophy and spirituality. Adi Shankaracharya’s (adi means “first”) contributions to advaita thought and Hinduism in general are crucial. In his short lifespan, he alone was responsible for a country that was almost entirely Buddhist again becoming almost entirely Hindu. He revived monism in India and brought a profound understanding of existence. He wrote many commentaries on the sutras and shastras (the Upanishads, etc.) and gained many disciples through his power of spiritual debate. His most important lesson was that reason and abstract philosophizing alone would not lead to moksha (liberation). He believed that it was only through selflessness and love governed by viveka (discrimination) that a devotee could realize his inner Self.
(Satkarman): The six traditional yogic purification practices. Sometimes they are also called the shatkriyas. These practices purify both the physical and subtle bodies. The six categories of cleansing action are: neti (techniques for cleansing the nostrils and air passages), dhauti (a set of practices for purifying the internal organs and systems of the body), nauli (a technique for purifying the abdominal area), basti (techniques for cleansing the lower abdomen and colon), kapalabhati (a technique for cleansing the airways), and trataka (focused gazing practices that purify the mind).
(Śiva): “Benevolent” or “auspicious.” The term Shiva has three main connotations:
- In Shaivism, it is the Supreme Reality, the all-encompassing, ultimate essence of everything. The corresponding concept in Vedanta would be Brahman, however, there are some differences in the ways in which these two spiritual systems refer to the Supreme Reality.
- The unchanging aspect of the Divine. Just as Shakti is the feminine, dynamic, creative power, Shiva is the masculine, immobile, eternal, ultimate witness. Shiva and Shakti are inseparable—it is often said that without Shakti, Shiva would be just a corpse.
- Along with Brahma and Vishnu, Shiva is one of the gods of the Hindu Trimurti. He is known as the destroyer of the Universe. From a spiritual perspective, this “destruction” is actually the deconditioning of the ego in order to make it transparent to divine light. Shiva is depicted in many forms, including Ardhanarishvara, Nataraja, and Dakshinamurti. He is known as the patron of yogis. According to the tradition, Hatha Yoga was reintroduced to the world when Shiva taught it to Matsyendranath.
(Śiva Saṁhitā): This scripture is one of the three classic texts of Hatha Yoga (along with the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Gheranda Samhita), and is considered the most comprehensive. Its author is unknown, as is its date of publication—it was commonly believed to have been written in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, but more recent research suggests that it was written before 1500 A.D. The text presents yoga philosophy and emphasizes that even householders can benefit from its practice. Among other things, it describes the nadis and the subtle anatomy, mentions eighty-four yoga asanas, describes the five types of prana (as well as techniques to regulate them), and introduces several mudras for spiritual transformation.
(Śūnya): The void; the state in which there is no object experienced in the mind.
“Accomplished.” A perfected being; one that has supernatural powers.
(Siddhānta): “Doctrine.” This term is derived from siddha, meaning “accomplished,” and anta, “end.” It denotes the established doctrine of any school of Indian spirituality. The teachings are considered “settled” because they are based on the realizations of the siddhas.
“Perfection” or “accomplishment.” In the yogic scriptures, this term designates either supreme spiritual liberation or a paranormal power. Paranormal powers represent an opening to Universal Shakti (non-personal energy). Often the practice of tapas (austerities) is a way to generate siddhis. In Tantra Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and Raja Yoga, siddhis are considered a consequence of the spiritual process. In Jnana Yoga, they are seen as simple illusions that should also be transcended. From the perspective of authentic spiritual practice, they should never be a goal in themselves.
Swami Sivananda (1887-1963) was born in Pattamadai, South India, as Kuppuswami. He went to medical school in Tanjore and then worked as a doctor in Malaysia. Although he was very successful, when his wife died he renounced the world, went back to India, and became a swami. Swami Sivananda did intense sadhana (spiritual practice) and performed austerities for many years before his illumination. He was an adept of Advaita Vedanta and also promoted Hatha Yoga. He did significant acts of Karma Yoga (selfless service), most notably helping the sick, sharing the gifts of natural Ayurvedic medicine, and publishing hundreds of spiritual books.
(Śloka): Sacred verse; a stanza in Sanskrit poetry or sacred texts.
(Smṛti): Memory, from smri, “to remember.” This term refers to the authoritative traditional Hindu scriptures that are considered “remembered knowledge” (such as the Itihasas and Puranas), as opposed to the “revealed” literature of the Vedas (called shruti). Smriti texts do not have direct authority, but are “derived” from the shruti. Shankaracharya, explains: “The shruti represents a direct perception because, in order to be a real authority, it is necessarily to be independent of any other authority; smriti … derives its authority from another authority than itself.” Therefore, shruti represents direct perception without an intermediary—a revelation, an immediate intuition of sacred knowledge—while smriti is only a “reflection,” reflective knowledge based on a primordial source, the Spiritual Heart.
A Vedantic assertion meaning “I am That (Brahman)” or “The immortal spirit is I.” Etymologically, it comes from sah, meaning “He,” and aham, meaning “I.” According to the yogic tradition, with every inhalation and exhalation of the breath we are unconsciously pronouncing this famous mantra—this ajapa mantra (spiritual phrase uttered silently) is continuously and unconsciously pronounced throughout the entire life of every being.
Nectar; elixir that gives life, euphoria, and longevity. While in Vedic times soma was the beverage of immortality, used as a libation in daily rituals, the later Tantra Yoga and Hatha Yoga traditions saw it as a precious inner fluid meant to confer spiritual immortality (i.e., the revelation of the Supreme Self). The yogis associated this fluid of eternal life with the energy of the Moon (an essential nourishing energy that charges the human being during the night and is “burned” by the inner Sun, whose burning provides the energy manifested in the daily activities of the waking state). Here, daytime is the symbol of dualism and the personal domain of action—a dispersant energy—while nighttime is the symbol of eternity, contemplation, regeneration, and centeredness.
“Quiver” or “vibration;” divine activity; the dynamic aspect of Shiva; the creative primordial vibration. It is the “throb” of the utter bliss of the Ultimate Reality. It is not movement as ordinarily understood, but the transcendental cause of all motion. Spanda is an atemporal vibration. It is a prominent technical concept in Kashmir (or Northern) Shaivism. Spanda is also the name of one of the four main schools of Kashmir Shaivism. The term was introduced by Vasugupta (circa 800 A.D.) and is usually described as the “vibration of consciousness” or the “Sacred Tremor of the Heart.” Read more.
(Spanda Kārikā): This “Composition on Vibration,” authored by either Vasugupta or (less likely) his chief disciple Kallata, is an independent commentary on the Shiva Sutras. It explains the notion of spanda (divine vibration), which is a central doctrine of Kashmir Shaivism. The Spanda Karika contains several significant commentaries, including a vritti by Kallata.
(Sphuraṇa): Throbbing; breaking; bursting forth; pulsing; a vibration.
Another name for atman (the Supreme Self), the Spiritual Heart, the Witness Consciousness, our Real Nature. Stillness refers to the background of awareness, a reality that is beyond duality, beyond positive and negative. Therefore, it is not relative silence as opposed to noise. It is not immobility as opposed to activity, but the background in which all movement and all activity is witnessed. It is not related to any counterpart that belongs to the body or mind. It is the substratum in which all objects, sounds, emotions, and thoughts are embraced. It is not a means of revealing what we really are, because Stillness is what we actually are.
A transformation in the nature or quality of energy. Sublimation represents the inner movement of an energy through which that energy is refined (transformed into a superior form of energy with an elevated frequency). This movement of energy progresses either level by level (from one chakra to the next higher one, thus ascending progressively) or directly from a lower to a higher chakra. It might also happen at the level of the same chakra, in this case bringing refined subtlety to the energy.
The human capacity to consciously let go of the ego and open to atman (the Supreme Self). Surrender is our main chance for Realization. If human beings were not endowed with the capacity to surrender, there would not be any chance to go beyond the cage of personal limitations. Without the surrender of the personality, there would not be empathy, compassion, or love. Surrender is not fatalism, lethargy, passivity, inertia, or resignation. It does not mean giving up, abdication, being unable to answer the challenges of life properly, or being phlegmatic, docile, or abused. What we surrender or abandon is our limitations (dogmas, attachments to sensations, emotions, feelings, thoughts, states of consciousness, etc.).
(Sūrya): The Sun. The expression of masculine, dynamic energy. In the human body, pingala nadi (the solar energy channel) governs the burning processes, while ida nadi (the lunar energy channel) is cooling and calm. Governing daytime, activity, and the spending of energy, surya is connected to time and death. It is the principle of truth and reward, also called Dharma Raja (The Master of Justice), both in its aspects of noble stringency and the power of terrible decisions.
(Suṣumṇā Nāḍī): The “most gracious energy channel.” It is the neutral energy channel that passes through the spine in the subtle body. It begins in muladhara chakra and goes along the middle of the subtle spine to brahmarandhra (the “Brahmic aperture”) at the crown of the head. It is the expression of perfect balance and neutrality between ida nadi and pingala nadi, the polar aspects of our being. Bringing ida and pingala into equilibrium means the absorption of the energy in sushumna, which represents a major focus of Hatha Yoga.
(Suṣupti): Deep sleep. One of the Four States of Consciousness. It is the state in which atman (the Supreme Self) is mainly misidentified with anandamaya kosha (the “sheath composed of bliss”). The jiva (soul) travels in a subjective world without being conscious of it, and becomes one with that unconscious subjectivity. Because it is related to a kosha (body), it still has a fine veil of an objective character, but the content of the experience is just bliss. In deep sleep, the jiva is free from objects but has not yet transcended itself.
(Sūtra): Thread. A brief, essential sentence. Aphoristic words or phrases. A sacred text that guides us (like a thread) towards the essential meaning of a spiritual teaching.
(Svādhiṣṭhāna Cakra): “One’s own dwelling” center. In Sanskrit, sva means “one’s own” or “self,” and adhisthana means “dwelling,” “residence,” or “seat.” Therefore, the literal translation of svadhisthana is “one’s own dwelling,” referring to the fact that, according to the yogic tradition, this chakra is the storehouse of the unconscious mind. The second chakra represents the place where the feeling of a human being as an individual entity solidifies. Svadhisthana grants attunement with water energy and magnetic forces, oversees our instincts (including hunger and sex), and confers sensitivity and social conformism. This chakra is associated with the predominant drive of seeking the personal pleasures offered by the senses—food, drink, lovemaking, etc. From the Hridaya Yoga perspective, this is the level where the “I”-feeling identifies with the pleasure of sensations. Read more about the chakras.
(Svādhyāya): “Self-study,” is the fourth niyama (moral discipline) in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The idea of self-study can essentially be understood in two ways. First, it refers to the recommendation that the aspirant on the path of yoga should study both the classical texts of yoga and the writings of yoga masters in order to fully comprehend the theory behind the practice. Self-study also indicates the practice of studying or contemplating atman (the Self), which is done through constant awareness, remembrance, discipline, meditation, and, especially, Self-Enquiry. This will eventually lead to the revelation of the Self as the very background of existence, on which all manifestation unfolds. Read more about the niyama here.
Dreaming, one of the Four States of Consciousness. It is the state in which atman (the Supreme Self) is mainly misidentified with pranamaya kosha (the “sheath composed of life force”) and manomaya kosha (the “sheath composed of mind”). Thus, the jiva (soul) travels in the cognitive world (the imaginative world of dreams), becomes one with that realm, and loses the consciousness of atman (pure subjectivity). Sometimes while in svapna, atman is misidentified with vijnanamaya kosha (the “sheath composed of intellectual knowledge and understanding”) and then there are lucid dreams. In the dream state, the jiva is caught up with internal objects and loses sight of its true nature as pure “subject.”
(Svarūpa): “Own form,” it represents the essential nature of a thing. Svabhava is a similar term.
(Svāmī): “Lord.” “The Lord” (when speaking of God); a reverential way of addressing spiritual masters or teachers, whether or not they have revealed the Supreme Self; an ascetic or yogi who has been initiated into a religious order; sometimes used merely as a sign of respect.
(Taittirīyopaniṣad): The Taittiriya Upanishad is a Vedic text that speaks about the levels of bliss that can be experienced—from simple pleasure to unexcelled bliss—and the idea that existence is inherently ananda (blissful). Spiritual life consists in discovering the culmination of bliss, which is inherent in Brahman (the Absolute). This scripture also contains the first reference to the doctrine of the five koshas (“sheaths”), of which the fifth and final sheath is composed of Pure Bliss. In the Taittiriya Upanishad (2:4:1), we also find the first recorded mention of the word yoga in a technical sense, as the conscious control of the fickle indriyas (senses).
(Tamas Guṇa): The “quality of darkness,” refers to the principle of inertia and ignorance. The darkness of tamas is the shadow of knowledge and produces confusion and disappointment. Tamas is opposed to sattva (harmony), because the essence of sattva is prakasha (illumination), and the essence of tamas is the absence of light, aprakasha (ignorance).