Photograph as Icon VIII: Epilogue

The Photograph as Icon VIII  

The Photograph As Icon is the third project in a trilogy of projects exploring Sacred Art and The Sacred in art in relation to my creative process.   The other two projects are "An Imaginary Book" and The Angels.   To conclude this project I will interweave new photographs I've made in the past few months with excerpts from Swami Muktananda's commentaries on the Siva Sutras, a collection of very brief, very concentrated aphorisms (sutras) belonging to the tradition of Saivism of Kashmir, a region of North India.  

I have found these commentaries particularly meaningful in the way they expound so beautifully upon nondualism or Unity Consciousness, for the symmetrical Icon photographs are indeed images of unity.  Also of importance to me is the fact that the teachings of Muktananda, a great modern-day saint of India, are very close in spirit and content to Corbin's Sufi mystic, Ibn 'Arabi of 12th century Spain.   

The story of Origin of the revealed texts which comprise the Siva Sutras and which lay the foundation for the philosophical tradition known as Kashmir Saivism, is also of special interest to me because of how it relates to my Icon project entitled The Interiorization of Stones.   As the story of Origin goes: in the latter part of the eighth century the sage Vasugupta had a dream in which he was directed by Lord Siva to a very large stone lying on the shore of a brook at the foot of Mahadev Mountain in the forests near the city of Shrinagar, in Kashmir.  As Vasugupta stood before the stone it overturned of its own accord and revealed seventy-seven aphorisms, the Siva Sutras, etched on its underside.


The great Siddha Yoga Master, Swami Muktananda (1908-1982) first published his book of commentaries on a selection of the Siva Sutras, and other important texts of Kashmir Saivism, in 1975.  The translations you will read here are from the most current (1997) edition of the book entitled Nothing Exists That Is Not SIVA.  In the Introduction to that book, Swami Shantananda writes: "In selecting the texts for commentary, a long-established practice among the spiritual teachers of India, Baba chose those passages that reflect his experience of the spiritual journey and the path that he set forward for his own disciples."  

Note: Swami Muktanana, the founder of the Siddha Yoga Path, is considered to have been one of the greatest living saints of modern India.  Just before he died in 1982 he passed on the divine power of the Siddha Lineage to Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, whom I met in 1987.   I have studied Siddha Yoga Meditation with Gurumayi's guidance--and grace--for the past 28 years.  ~    Baba Muktananda was a Siddha Guru, a true Guru--a Master of meditation who lived constantly in the state of Unity Consciousness, in the conscious awareness of his identity with Siva, the Supreme Self.  He was blessed with the grace-bestowing power of God, that is to say, he could transmit his grace into other individuals to activate their creative process known as yoga.  The transmission of grace is known as Shatipat.  Baba's commentaries on the traditional Sivite texts come from a place of realized knowing based in personal experience.  click here to learn more 


Before we go to Baba Muktananda's commentaries on the Siva Sutras, I want to address the concept of Grace to which Baba refers so often in his many commentaries and other writings.  In order to do this I will draw from another section of Baba's commentaries in the same book, this time from a collection of Shivite texts known as the Pratyabhijna-hrdayam [Self-recognition].   

In Baba's commentary on sutra #10 of the Pratyabhijna-hrdayam he writes about grace in the context of what is known as the Five Functions or Grand Processes of Siva, which are: 1) creation,  2) sustenance,  3) dissolution,  4) concealment, and  5) grace.  These five processes occur at the cosmic level when Siva (God) manifests as the entire universe, and at the microcosmic level as individual human form.  Here is what Baba writes about all this:

The philosophy of Self-recognition [Pratyabhijna-hrdayam] teaches that the world is not false [illusion, maya, the result of ignorance].  Emanating from supreme Siva, the world runs by His will.  By His will also He withdraws it one day.  Parashiva is in need of no other materials to create the universe; He constantly carries out the five functions.  In just the way that Siva is the supreme creator and destroyer of the universe, the individual self continually performs the five processes in a limited way.  Creation, sustenance, destruction, concealment, and grace are continually going on, both on the cosmic level and on the individual level.  

In the moment of perception we create the object; its appearance in our mind is its creation therein.  When the image of a cow vibrates in the mind, the cow is created; the thought of a bridge is the creation of that bridge.  Thus whatever throbs in our mind comes into existence . . . 

When after hearing and seeing many different objects, we suddenly become aware of their identity with Consciousness, we accomplish the fifth task: grace.  Grace is nothing but seeing objects as one with self-luminous Citi [the creative power of Siva], even though they may appear to be different.  

Those who, on receiving grace, continually contemplate Consciousness or Parasiva within themselves . . . regard the cosmos as an expansion of their own Self.  Such . . . a person is a free soul.  But those who consider the objects of perception to be different from the Self forever remain in bondage.  

The wise man contemplates the five processes within himself and is soon intoxicated, identifying himself with Siva.  He sits calmly and watches the various thoughts arise in his mind.  Citi Herself becomes these thoughts.  In the boundless expanse of Her blissful Consciousness, She creates and dissolves countless worlds.  This is Her wonderful play.


About the Icon Photographs
All the photographs below were made during the time that I was writing the texts for the first seven Icon chapters or parts, between December 2014 and mid February, 2015.  Most of the symmetrical photographs that appear in parts I-VII were constructed before I wrote the texts, from source photographs that had appeared in earlier projects on my website.  All of the Interiorization of Stones photographs appeared first either in the Angels project or the Acadia : Arcadia? project.   

We have had a very rough winter this year (2014-15), and so you will see below several images of snow and ice interspersed with photographs made inside our home.  The one exception is image #7 which was made at night under a commercial entrance canopy.  Winter is a time for me to "go inside;" even the snow and ice photographs have a very interior feeling to them, it seems to me.  

The function of any Icon, or symbolic photograph, is to help us go deep inside and still the mind, free it from thoughts.  This stillness, or inner silence opens the heart; an open heart allows us to see with the Eyes of the heart, in a mode of pure being, or Unity Consciousness, Self-recognition.  Gurumayi said in a 1989 talk that "recognition of the Self springs out of intense longing.  In this longing," she says, "there is grace, and it is grace that reveals the immense Being who dwells in your own heart."  Corbin termed this process of going inside the heart Interiorization; Baba Muktanana termed it the grace of meditation.  

There is nothing more sacred than the Self, Siva, the source of grace.  An image that stills the mind and opens the heart functions as a vehicle of grace, and this qualifies the image--according to my understanding--as an Icon, a living form of Sacred Art.   


Icon VIII  #1  (source image: night light and bench back rails) 


Siva Sutra 1:1

caitanya atma
Consciousness is the Self


He who dwells in all places, things, and times as one with all . . . illuminating everything, is called caitanya, Consciousness.  He is the Self.

Though He is nothing, He becomes everything necessary at the proper time.  

Though the very essence of formlessness, He lives on the far shore of formlessness. 

Like sparks arising spontaneously and infinitely from a blazing fire, infinite universes rise and set of their own accord out of Him, yet remain one with Him.  

To create forms or to have created forms . . .  for Him these are all natural and spontaneous activities, not artificial.  He becomes nothing even while creating.  It is His nature.  He alone is caitanya atman, the conscious Self. 

Icon VIII  #2  (source image: frost crystals on small tree limbs) 


Siva Sutra 1:4

Matrka [the power of sound inherent
in the letters of the alphabet] is the source
of limited knowledge.


Matrka arises in the heart,  from the inner speech. . .  Each word has it own meaning, the meaning creates its own image, and that image has its own feeling.  Whenever an image is created in the mind, one experiences an emotion, whether happiness or unhappiness, friendship or enmity.

Matrka is the source not only of our pain and pleasure but of this entire universe. . .  just as matrka helps us to contract, it also helps us to expand ourselves. . .  Sit quietly and watch the play of the matrka sakti.  Watch how the letters of the alphabet compose words, how the meaning of the words creates images in the mind; watch how you become involved in these images.  

The yogi pursues matrka sakti;  he watches it and makes it steady.  He brings it under his control. . . . One who understands the play of matrka shakti and makes it still, rises above pain and pleasure.  One cannot attain peace as long as he is driven by the play of the matrka sakti. . .  Through yoga, the movements of the mind are stilled and the power of matrka is overcome.   

                                                                                Icon VIII  #3  (source image: table legs and shadows on wall) 


Siva Sutra 1:16

By the awareness of pure being,
unbounded divine power is attained.


Shri Jnanesvar Maharaj says in his book Jnanesvari that just as a person can see a pot as clay without having to break it to pieces, in the same way one should cultivate the awareness of the Self as he universe without discarding the universe or running away from it.  This is the awareness of pure being, and by its means one easily attains the state of the Lord, Master of the world.  

One who wishes to meditate on pure being should meditate on Parasiva, who equally pervades everywhere, within and without.  Meditate on the external universe, considering every bit of it--animate and inanimate--as pure Consciousness, Not only the supremely effulgent Consciousness within one's heart, but also the senses and the body are the same Citi.  Regarding all aspects of the world this way, with a mind free from thought, one rises above the state of bondage and merges into supreme light.  The scriptures say:

It consists of the Consciousness in all bodies
and contains the entire world, and at the same time,
it is the supreme source of a mind that is free from thought.

Here the aspirant is asked to meditate with a silent mind.  If he could look upon the unceasing flow of images that arise in his mind as nothing but the mind, he would be free. In the same way that the universe made of Consciousness is Consciousness, and pots made from clay are clay . . . so that phantasmagoria of innumerable thoughts and fancies is nothing but the mind.  And the mind is throbbing Chiti.  By this true insight, the mind becomes tranquil.  To become perfectly still, seeing the whole cosmos as a play of Consciousness and submerging oneself in that divine play, to meditate on Siva by becoming Siva--this is the awareness of pure being.

Icon VIII  #4  (source image:snow covered bush) 


Siva Sutra 1:18

The bliss of loka is the bliss of samadhi.


Loka includes the whole multitude of things that can be perceived by the inner and the outer senses.  In this context, all thing that can be known, together with the beings who know them, are called loka.  This is the yogi's understanding of the terms perceiver and perceived:  by the yoga of knowledge, he comes to realize that the seer is the seen and the seen is the seer.  Normally when two people are looking at each other, each appears as the object of perceptions to the other.  But to the [knower of the truth], the perceiver is also the object of perception.  Such awareness allows him to rest in the realization of the knowledge "I am Siva."  This is supreme bliss.  This is the highest samadhi, the ultimate state of enlightenment.  The yogi who looks upon the universe as his own body drinks the nectar of ecstasy.  He seen the vast variety of forms--everything animate and inanimate, the endless modifications around him--as diverse and yet one, for the all appear in his own indivisible Self.  For him all worlds are vibrations of the  one Self, throbbing with its  bliss.  This is the bliss of loka, the ecstasy of samadhi.  

Icon VIII  #5  (source image: cat ball under chair legs and cross bars) 


Siva Sutra 2:1

The mind is mantra.


This is a  key aphorism; it can be the foundation for a sadhana [spiritual practice] of liberation.  Virtually all religions--including Hinduism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christiantiy--practice their own forms of mantra repetition. . . It is because we are ignorant of the true potency of mantra that the mantra deity does not manifest [for many of us].  

In this aphorism Parasiva gives us the secret of mantra:  the mind of the aspirant who practices mantra is itself the mantra.  By means of the mind we become aware of the supreme truth.  It is with the mind that we repeat mantras, we contemplate their meaning, we come to know their essence and their goal. . .  It is with the mind that we understand the meaning of the sacred syllable Om.  The scriptures say:

Om is Brahman in the form of one syllable.
Om is the universe.  Om is all.

This one pulsation is the throb underlying the entire universe.  Our understanding of the highest reality is based on our comprehension of this single syllable, Om.  Om is the symbol for the pulsation of the highest levels of creation.  

In the same way, we must consider mantra to be one with the supreme Self.  Mantra is the undifferentiated, integral awareness of the nature of the Divine; it should not be regarded as separate from God.  Being one with God, it is full of bliss.  It arises by itself.  It is the vibration of mantra that springs forth as a universe.  The whole cosmos throbs in the mind,  which itself is mantra.  The person who attains oneness with mantra by remaining in unity-consciousness annihilates the world of dualities.  

One who constantly repeats a mantra with correct understanding is raised by its power to divinity.  This is the purpose of mantra.

It is important to see that we are not primarily concerned with the component syllables of a mantra or its deity in the usual sense.  Here the word mantra refers to the mind, particularly to the throbbing movement of the mind by which a yogi mediates.  Syllables uttered aloud do not constitute a mantra.  Indeed, mantra is the great Sakti who brings the syllables to life; it is the awareness of inner unity.

The mantra loses its power if the mantra, the repeater, and the supreme Lord who is the goal of the mantra are kept in three separate compartments. . .  The distinction between an object and its name is imaginary.  If a seeker distinguishes between the worshiper and the worshiped, the devotee and the Lord, he can never achieve realization.

The mantra syllables, the mantra deity,
and the mantra repeater form an indistinguishable unity. 

This is the truth.  They appear different only to an intellect caught in dualities.  Parasiva is the cause of the universe . . . Thus the various . . . mantras, rules and rituals, time and space are all nothing but universal Consciousness.  The Consciousness of unity pulsing within a seeker is mantra.  The one who repeats the mantra is Siva, the mantra Namah Sivaya is Siva, and the Lord of the mantra--its goal--is Siva.   The secret of the realization of a mantra lies in repeating it, having identified oneself completely with Siva.  

Icon VIII  #6  (source image: frost crystals on bush against clear early morning light) 


Siva Sutra 3:11

The senses are the spectators.


The senses are the spectators who watch the Self stage the drama of the universe in the theatre of one's own being.  The sport of the atman is constantly observed by the five organs of perception, the five organs of action, and the fourfold psychic instrument.  The king of yogis who has received the Guru's grace while watching the drama of the universe being rolled out attains Self-realization when he turns inward.  His inner experience teaches him that the whole world springs from his own Self.  His sense of difference dissolved, he rises to the awareness "I am Siva."

Icon VIII  #7  (source image: restaurant entrance ceiling light ) 


Siva Sutra 3:16

The yogi who is established in a steady posture 
easily becomes immersed in the ocean of the heart.


Here the words steady posture do not mean a sitting posture; it means the posture of true knowledge and understanding.  Constant awareness of the identity of the universe and the Self, of the all-pervading one being, is the steady posture.  Remaining firm in this posture, one need not resort to other practices.  He is continually reflecting, "I am Consciousness, which is both immanent and transcendent."  

Such a state is possible only as a result of the Guru's initiation, which awakens the inner Sakti and stabilizes the mind in the heart, that vast ocean of bliss, the scene of Parasakti's joyful reveling. 

Devotion to the Guru enables the yogi to enter there.  The yogi of steady posture finds his entrance through meditation, and when he comes out from his immersion in the ocean of the heart, he sees the sport of Parasakti in the outer universe too.  His natural meditation goes on whether he is seated or standing, conversing or performing sense functions.  He beholds the bliss of his heart flowing all around him.  This constant meditation comes only through the Guru's grace.

Icon VIII  #8  (source image: snow drift mounds & shapes) 

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The Next Project
Image #8 above, along with many synchronistic occurrences over the past few days, has inspired me with the direction for the next project.  Please watch my "Latest Additions" section at the top of my Welcome Page for an announcement of the availability of the new project.  ~   Thank You for visiting The Photograph as Icon project.  I invite you to see the related hyperlinked projects listed below and I encourage you to visit my Welcome Page for a complete listing of hyperlinked project titles on my photography website. 
Steven Foster


This part VIII of my project regarding the photograph as Icon was first 
posted ithe"Latest Addition" section of my Website's 
"Welcome Page"  0n February 16 , 2015

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.