April 3-8, 2018
There are moments when you just know you’ve landed some place magical, and I am at precisely such a place. I arrive here having traveled the lush forested land through what my driver tells me is an unusually powerful thunderstorm, and I believe that natural intensity was a foreshadowing of things to come. The rain has now stopped, leaving behind a rich layer of freshness that hangs in the air, and while the late afternoon heat begins to envelop me, it brings with it a scented bath of jasmine and gardenia so strong it blissfully intoxicates me. Immune to the heat, a melodic chorus of no less than a thousand birds fills my ears, punctuated by the insistent mewing of wild peacocks lurking nearby. Here, it is impossible not to be immediately engaged with nature on several levels simultaneously. The ground itself has a certain magnetism to it, making everything just a little more vibrant, just a little more alive.
As evening twilight approaches… that undefined juncture where day no longer exists but night has not yet begun… where you are moving away from one reality and into another, I begin to understand that this is a metaphor for the place I am in my life… a place anyone on the spiritual path inevitably finds themselves: no longer solely engaged in the external reality you took to be absolute, yet neither fully connected to the vast internal reality you now know exists. This land, this ashram, is a sanctuary meant to assist in bridging those two worlds.
According to the map I am at Isha Yoga Center, located in the lush foothills of the Velliangiri Mountains in Southern India, but beyond the practical science of surveillance and cartography, my internal source informs me I am in some version of Nirvana. Sadhguru, a fully realized yogi and mystic known worldwide for his rich, frank, modern-day take on the ancient Yogic sciences created this spiritual abode some 25 years ago when, on one of his long motorcycle rides across the country he came upon the exact scene he’d had visions of since his childhood. Now understanding the significance of these visions, and that building this place was the inevitable continuance of a mission he had failed to complete in previous lifetimes, he set forth to create a place where those entering their internal twilight… that place of moving from one level of inner, experiential understanding to another, could seek solace, guidance, and inspiration.
While there is an abundant amount of material at this ashram to write about, I keep finding myself at a loss for how to encapsulate it in mere words. How does one express the integration of physical experiences facilitated by sensory input, the intellectual absorption of wisdom passed down from time-eternal, and the emotion that springs forth from innate places that have no name? Simply being here touches upon all the layers of your being, bringing with them a wholeness that is at once highly exhilarating and incredibly serene. It is also a gentle reminder that this feeling of wholeness is who we are at our core and should not to be forgotten. Ever.
They say that art is one of the highest mediums for expressing and connecting to one’s own divinity, and that sentiment is clearly manifest here. For me at least, there is a visual aesthetic adorning these sacred structures that speaks directly to my soul, evoking an emotional response not unlike that which you might derive from standing before the painting of a great master and finding some sort of abstruse access to the emotion of the artist at the time of it’s painting.
Beyond the incomparable foundation that nature provides, the temples here are an art form unto themselves. I suppose this could be said of any place that stands as a representation of spiritual or religious beliefs and serves as a gathering place for it’s believers… Buddhist temples, Catholic churches, Jewish synagogues, Muslim mosques, the list goes on. Inevitably, each lineage brings with it a certain visual effect full of symbolism that continues to follow it’s specific origins and traditions. Here, however, Sadhguru has created an enigmatic space where rich Yogic tradition and symbolism meets modern interpretation… and this is entirely in alignment with the man himself, who brings wit, logic and simplicity to ancient and somewhat esoteric teachings that are often steeped in ritual and ideology that is hard for Westerners to understand.
But that is the beauty of art. It is not an intellectual process. The moment I stand before the 11 foot black granite statue of the great sage Patanjali, the revered “father of yoga” who brought the teachings into written form via the essential Yoga Sutras centuries ago, all intellectual understanding of this representation becomes irrelevant. This carved shape, which depicts a fusion of man and snake symbolizing the divine nature of man evolving from his earthbound self, speaks directly to that lofty place inside of me where inspiration lays dormant, waiting for evocation. His commanding presence penetrates me with an intensity that sternly says you have a purpose here on this earth, do not forget that, while his hands, pressed together at heart center, remind me that this process is ultimately one born out of love. It moves me to tears within seconds.
Elsewhere, throughout the temples, art overflows in countless and rather stunning ways. Intricate mandalas constructed from a colorful palette of flower petals lay on the ground in cardinal spaces, sometimes accented by chalked designs of sacred geometry. Huge, pink lotus blossoms float in the waters that surround sacred structures, sometimes accompanied by little flames held afloat by brass plates, sending out sparkles of light inside the dimly lit structures. Intricate paintings depicting symbolic story-telling hover far above you as you dip into the cavernous, subterranean, energized waters of the ritual bathing “kund” while an array of different sized stars cut through the imposing rock on the side walls let an ethereal light shine in on you.
Then there is the sacred snake… an iconic symbol of enlightenment that not only spans eons of time but crosses a vast array of cultures throughout human history… they are lurking everywhere. They are sensuously carved into massive stone structures, and they sit as tiny brass outcrops that peek around every corner or as enormous deities ominously welcoming you into holy spaces, their cobra wings spread wide. Wild configurations of burnished metal serpents descend from high above you as you walk through massive archways between temple areas, reminding you of your inevitable ascension, should you desire it.
And perhaps my favorite pieces of all, the two prostrated yogis, one in front of each of the main temples. Carved of bronze, simultaneously melding with and rising out of the ground, they lay face down directly in front of the temple entrances, blocking your way, making you take pause at the surrender necessary to fully appreciate this place.
Without going into great detail about them, I am obligated here to outline these two main temples, for they are the sole purpose of this ashram and the entire reason Sadhguru took root on this specific land in the first place. The first temple and perhaps the more important of the two, is the Dhyanalinga, dedicated to Shiva, also known (among other things) as Adiyogi… the first yogi. Shiva represents Divine Consciousness, the source of intelligence and pure awareness that is behind all of creation. The second temple is Linga Bhairavi, which represents Shakti, the Divine Feminine that is creation itself, consciousness made manifest. She is the energy that animates every particle in the cosmos, from the smallest micro to the largest macro.
In the Yogic philosophy, these two representations, Shiva and Shakti, are the very essence of all existence, two sides of the same coin, inextricably intertwined… together creating the perpetual cycle of birth, life and the eventual death that takes everything back into the no-thingness from which it came. This same no-thingness that is Shiva, pure consciousness, when assisted by Shakti, then gives rise to creation once again… and so the unfathomable cycles that comprise the entirety of the universe continue on and on. As Sadhguru explains: “Shiva is the centripetal force that holds all of existence together and Shakti is the centrifugal force that gives rise to the explosive diversity of that existence.”
In building these temples, he brings to life the very specific intention of allowing anyone who wishes it, access to the ultimate, powerful, pure life-force energy that he has been able to harness and contain in what is known as the “linga,” and the two main temples are centered around these. It is at this juncture where mysticism comes into play, and where you must let go of using the interpretations brought on by your limited mind space. It is here, in these temples, the Dhyanalinga in particular, where you must surrender to the place inside you that goes beyond the boundaries of your experiential understanding. I will not attempt to explain the ancient technology employed here, as it is blatantly esoteric and I do not understand it on any sort of intellectual level. Likewise, there is much in the Yogic realm that science does not yet understand, although as the years tick by, modern research has begun to steadily verify bit by bit, many laws of reality that Yoga has understood for eons. So if you can find a way to let go of any limiting beliefs and dip into the space of infinite possibility, you can allow yourself access to places you’ve never yet been.
The linga is a statue of sorts, found in Hindu temples since time immemorial. It is an icon, a physical, three-dimensional symbol which, elliptical in shape, is said to represent the initial shape to take place when un-manifest energy begins to manifest itself… from the birth of new cell to the birth of a new galaxy, all things move through the ellipsis at the energetic origin of their birth. The linga represents consciousness taking form, Shakti manifesting Shiva.
The Dhyanalinga however, is no ordinary linga. Both the linga itself and the space in which it is housed are vastly different than the traditional Shiva temples you find throughout India, where the worship of this Divine energy can have a frenetic feel to it amongst the loud chanting and perpetual (and rather ecstatic) ritualistic gestures made by the hordes that gather around. Here, Sadhguru has encapsulated the energy of Shiva using ancient yogic techniques of working with energy, and consecrated it into the largest linga ever to exist. He houses it in a pristine dome (again, not the traditional temple shape) where mandatory silence allows you to sit and simply absorb it’s energy… and trust me, you do. Here, the stillness that is the inherent, shapeless nature of absolute consciousness is made palpable, and it is extraordinary. Simply sitting in silence and turning inward, or perhaps gazing at and absorbing the beauty that is this alter, it would be impossible to not feel something, regardless of whether or not you understand it. If you’re interested, you can read more about Sadhguru’s alchemical process of consecration here.
Nearby, Shiva’s consort Shakti has her own domain in Linga Bhairavi, and similar to the unique and artistic representation that is the Dhyanalinga, this representation of Shakti is unlike any other. As at Dhyanalinga, you are greeted at the entrance by the beautifully carved figure of a prostrating yogi, but where at Dhyanalinga the yogi takes masculine form, here her femininity is obvious as her hair splays across her back and shoulders while her gown softly outlines her shape. You are entering the space of the Divine Feminine, Mother of the Universe.
Inside, you encounter a completely unique representation of this ancient goddess… Sadhguru’s vision of her. The atmosphere here is one of exaltation, where music, ritual and joy represent the miracle of creation. Chanting echo’s through the air as the mantra’s continuously play on, tiny candles burn everywhere, and perpetual offerings are made. Where Dhyanalinga lets you sit and simply be with Divinity, Linga Bhairavi lets you interact with it. There is a nonstop flow of people here, some paying homage with their sacred offerings and asking for specific manifestations in return, some simply sitting on the steps facing the linga deity, choosing to just absorb the beauty of the ritual. In contrast to the ultimate stillness of Shiva’s space, Shakti’s is bursting with life.
Beyond the experience of simply being present in these sacred spaces built on this sacred land, I have come to Isha specifically to attend a four day retreat called “Inner Engineering.” This visit was an afterthought in my trip planning, but upon reading and being highly inspired by Sadhguru’s book by the same name (which I wrote about here) I had a great desire to come to the source and experience the yogic practices that he prescribes along with his effervescent philosophy on how to live a joyous life filled with clarity. I needed to experience what being in these temples might bring and immerse myself in the sanctity of what these practices can be.
I will choose not say much about the retreat itself, as it was extremely personal and I am still processing it, but it is something I would highly recommend to anyone seeking clarity and inspiration in their life. Aside from his ashram here in India, Sadhguru has another main center in the US, located in Tennessee. He also offers this course online, although I have a hard time imagining the full efficacy while not being immersed on site.
What I’ve realized in writing this, is that for each of us there is a unique avenue toward finding that sacred, hard to name space inside, and the portal for that discovery varies immensely, as evidenced by the vast artistic representation brought forth throughout mankind. What I felt and experienced here may only find its way to another at the massive prayer wheels in Tibet, or upon gazing up at the figures of Jesus that adorn the Vatican, while the images here leave them with merely a mild interest at best.
For me, being in nature has always provided this crystal clear connectivity, but for the first time I truly understand what artistic symbolism brings to a man-made sacred space and what it provides for the human soul: a gateway. Through symbolic art, however it is designed, depicted, or expressed, a path opens up before us, ushering us deeper into that vast space between our humanity and our divinity, a space that asks us to look at and explore our very own unique, magical twilight.