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The Great and Ancient Secret – Part Five

Paradox of the Opposites

Niyama is the opposite to the disciplines of restraint and control. Without it you would be unbalanced. My view of this is different to that stated by many writers, who, I believe, do not really understand these early instructions. Yama is restraint and control, niyama is about release, letting go so that in further stages you can allow discharge if it is necessary. But its need is much deeper than that. The Secret is potent. It flows into you and changes you. But it does not act against your will. Unless you can let go the process of transformation cannot happen.

Traditionally niyama is translated as observances. These include opening to ones teacher, daily worship, and Patanjali gives one as surrender of self. What I am trying to do in my definition above is to state the essence and essential.

Two of the great forces active in your life are control and release. We see this in every full breath – the active drawing in, and the release as we breathe out. To some extent you can control your actions, your breathing, perhaps even your emotions; but these are tiny in comparison with what you cannot control. The controlling aspect of yama is, I believe, a means of strengthening oneself in order to meet and allow the action of what you cannot control – or what should not be controlled. Part of what emerges from the uncontrolled is the process of your developmental growth and ageing. What is vital to understand in connection with this is that we have two wills active in us. There is your conscious will with which you can direct the way you move or speak, and there is the unconscious will that directs your heartbeat and all the millions of other functions underlying your existence.

This is not a new idea. Many ancient thinkers and writers have expressed it in one way or another. For instance Jakob Boehme who lived between 1575 and 1624 wrote that:

Thou must consider that there are in thy Soul two Wills, an inferior Will, which is for driving thee to Things without and below; and a superior Will, which is for drawing to Things within and above. These two Wills are now set together, as it were, Back to Back, and in a direct Contrariety to each other; but in the Beginning, it was not so. (See: Jacob Behmen)

St. Augustine stated it even more strongly in saying:

The new will which I began to have was not yet strong enough to overcome that other will, strengthened by long indulgence. So these two wills, one old, one new, one carnal, the other spiritual, contended with each other and disturbed my soul.

Part of the instructions to allow the Ancient Secret to be experienced was that in our usual life, often blighted by sorrows or difficulties, our conscious will is in many ways in conflict with what Boehme has call the superior will. This is still obvious today if you look around. Countless people struggle, even to their death, with the natural will of their appetite for food. Just as many or more people have a conflict with their sexual drive, their breathing or going to the toilet. Even sleep is difficult for many.

In these struggles we see how the personality is in some way conflicting or struggling against the larger internal will. Of course these are extreme cases, but from the point of view of experiencing the Secret most of us are out of harmony with the wider will that gives us life. The process of Life itself is often blocked, distorted or misdirected in some way in most of us. The signs of this are the loneliness, despair, depression, suicidal impulses, sense of meaningless or feelings of being isolated from life and cut off from oneself. Because of this learning to let go, to drop control, to open to what past cultures have seen as the inner divine is vital for health and to live fully. Quite apart from any rewards of knowing the Secret such as the wonderful freedom and creativity it brings, it is also a healing process that clears out and deals with things from the past that cloud ones mind and heart.

Summary of the First Steps

We can now distil some of what has been said into simpler form.

To recap, Victor Gollancz said it was a ‘contrite heart’ that was the turning point for him. The Ox Herding Pictures show the recognition of another living process with a will of its own – the ox. So this is about the meeting of the two wills. Sufism suggests the losing of oneself – the letting go. But this is also about the two wills in that your conscious ego lets go to know the deeper will. Tolstoy suggested fasting, and that is akin to yama.

So we have control and discipline to strengthen. But at the same time we have the letting go of control. And although that seems to be a loss of discipline, it is usually difficult to do unless you have gained sufficient self control. That is part of the paradox or contradiction of the way. If you have not learned the strength of meeting your unconscious habits and fears, when you let go they will take control. The strength needed is to keep the open space clear so something other than your old hurts, fears, sexual lust and narcissistic urges can emerge.

One of the Eastern statements of instruction says that you must become like an empty cup. If you are not empty nothing new can flow in.

Such teachings are almost universal, although they are expressed in different ways or in symbols. For instance in the little book of instruction titled The Voice of the Silence, the very first words say:

THESE instructions are for those ignorant of the dangers of the lower forces in the psyche. He who would hear the voice of ‘the Soundless Sound’, and comprehend it, has to learn to abstract awareness from the external world. Having become indifferent to objects of perception, the pupil must seek out the ruler of the senses, the Thought-Producer, he who awakes illusion.

The Mind is the great Slayer of the Real.

Let the Disciple slay the Slayer.

The teachings of Patanjali, the great commentator on ancient yoga practice, about taking the first steps is similar, but worded differently.

Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Chitta) from taking various forms (Vrittis). At that time (the time of concentration) the seer (Purusha) rests in his own (unmodified) state. At other times (other than that of concentration) the seer is identified with the modifications.

Putting this is modern language, it says that seeking the unity of self means quieting the normal and habitual manifestations of thought and emotion. When this is achieved the practitioner experiences themselves beyond the surface illusion of their senses and thoughts. When this is not done the practitioner is lost in the illusory world of thoughts and feelings.

The Christian mystics also give a similar instruction. In the classic The Cloud of Unknowing, the unknown author, writing about 500 AD, tells us to approach with ‘naked intent’. But the title of the book tells it all – to stand before that Secret without knowing. Here is both a letting go of all you hold in your personality, and at the same time a quieting of the wayward mind and soul.

But in the original Christian symbols the same is told in a different way. Taken as a symbol instead of a historical character, the Virgin Mary shows us how to approach that forever indefinable Secret – like a young woman freshly become fertile and open with all her heart to the invisible that gives life.

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