Photography and Yoga 11: Threshold of the Formless

Photography and Yoga  ~ Part 11 ~
Threshold of the Formless  

The Still Space Between the Breaths
 . . . a person has only one heart.  In scriptural terms the heart is in the chest as well as at the top of the head.  However, it is the same heart that extends from one place to the other.  A yogi who meditates on the sahasrara, the upper heart, considers this thousand-peteled lotus to be the heart.  The heart is the same for everybody--for yogis and for regular citizens.  The breath goes out and comes in, and there is a space inside where it becomes still for just a second.  The breath has merged inside, and it hasn't yet started to come out; it is still in the state of merging.  The space where it merges is the true heart.  Swami Muktananda

Before we begin, it is necessary I think to offer some contextual information.  The text you will see below is a revised version of the Epilogue to my Acadia : Arcadia? project.  The pair of photographs you will see repeatedly here, placed one immediately above the other,  form a vertical diptych.  Though each picture is complete in itself, more importantly together they generate a new meaning, a new but invisible, subtle image space that spontaneously occurs between the images.   It is this formless space that is of the utmost consideration here.  Just as Swami Muktananda writes about the space between the breaths,I want to bring attention, here, to the space between these two photographs.

Both photographs were first published in my Angels project as part of a larger group of pictures entitled Rock Flowers.  I had been in the process of completing The Angles when my wife and I decided to take a trip to Maine to visit Acadia National Park.  While visiting the park I took some photographs of rocks which I later transformed into symmetrical photographs that were collected together as the Rock Flowers.  

The two images presented her were my favorites among all that I made during our visit to Acadia.  I noticed immediately that they formed a complimentary pair, but the images gained even more meaning for me when by chance I re-visited a book I have studied many times earlier, written by a Siddha Yoga teacher, Swami Kripananda, entitled The Guru's Sandals : Threshold to the Formless.  

Though much of the text in Swamiji's book is rather esoteric, I am especially fascinated by the book's reference to the formless reality that exists between the in-breath and the out-breath, that point where they merge, which Baba Muktananda has said is the space of the Heart, the space of the Self.   The space between photographs has been an important concern to me in several earlier bodies of work, and particularly the Color Diptychs of 1990-92, which I will be mentioning again in the forthcoming Epilogue to the Photography and Yoga project.  Welcome to the Threshold of the Formless.  

Symmetrical Photograph, below ~ Mandala #1    
 "Rock Flower" from The Angels project

Symmetrical Photograph, above ~ Mandala #2    
 "Rock Flower" from The Angels project

Threshold to the Formless
I must ask you to consider the two symmetrical photographs above as a metaphorical pair of sandals which in their complementarity represents an invisible, interior unity that Swami Kripananda elaborates upon in her remarkable book The Guru's Sandals ~ Threshold of the Formless.  After I present and explore some of the essential points covered by Swami Kripananda in her book, I will then offer some of my own personal commentaries on the two photographs, how I understand the images individually, as a related pair, and in relationship to the ancient yogic treatise Swami Kripananda presents regarding the Guru's Feet and the Guru's Sandals.

Note:  Swami Kripananda is a monk of the Saraswati order; she received her initiation from the Siddha Yoga master Swami Muktananda, founder of the Siddha Yoga Path.  She continues to study with Muktananda's spiritual heir, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda,  Swamiji writes and teaches courses about Siddha Yoga meditation for Gurumayi.

Sacred Objects
Swami Kripananda writes in her book The Guru's Sandals:  

Why the desire to worship the Guru's feet?  Baba Muktananda once said:  "The Guru's feet are revered because all the Guru's shakti dwells in the feet.   . . . the vibrations  of the inner Self constantly flow out through the feet.  The nerves of the subtle body that come from the sahasrara reach right down to the feet.  . . . More shakti flows from the feet than from any other part of the body.  The glory of the Guru's feet or the Guru's sandals is great."  

Swamiji explains that when yogis focus their attention and their devotion on a sacred object--it could be a mantra, or a mandala, or a ritual pair of sandals which are understood to represent the Guru's feet--they often have interior experiences which open the yogi to the great, silent, luminous space of the Self.  This is the goal of meditation, the goal of the mantra, mandala, or sacred object.  Swamiji writes

The sandals become luminous and transparent . . . and a subtle door opens into another realm, one that is beyond thoughts, where all divisive walls recede and shapes dissolve into pure Consciousness.  The form [i.e., the mantra, the mandala, the sandals] has led to the formless. 

The Guru's feet [symbolized by the image of a pair of sandals] exists within the yogi's innermost sacred place: the sahasrara in the crown of the head--the highest, most subtle spiritual center, or chakra in the body.  The great yogic sages say that the sahasrara is the seat of our true identity, our oneness with the vast Ocean of Consciousness . . . the Absolute, God, Shiva, the divine Self.

So'ham~Hamsa Mantra   
Swamiji explains that the sound of our breathing in and breathing out naturally manifests the supreme mantra So'ham--or in reversed order, the mantra is Hamsa.  This natural mantra is the sound form of the Guru's feet.  She says in truth we are being breathed by God.  Each in-breath, Ham and each out-breath, Sa forms the natural and constantly repeating mantra So'ham~Hamsa which means: 'I Am That" ~ "I am God" ~ "I am the Absolute" ~ "I am Shiva" ~ "I am the Self".  

The sound of the mantra So'ham~Hamsa carries great symbolic meaning.  Swamiji writes:

Hamthe in-breath, represents Shiva, the all pervasive supreme Reality, the absolute Being that in the form of pure Consciousness permeates all creatures, and all things.  He dwells in every person as their inner most Self. 

Sathe out-breath, represents Shakti, the energy of Shiva.  Shakti is the divine cosmic power that creates and maintains the countless galaxies and worlds.  She is the consort of Shiva, the active aspect of the formless Absolute; the joyous divine energy that unfolds the universe, assuming the billions of shapes and forms that we see around us. . .  Whereas Shiva is the experiencer, Shakti is what is experienced, the objective universe.  

Ham, the in-breath, also represents the bindu, the dimensionless still point into which all thoughts and perceptions . . . and the entire universe are absorbed.  

Sa, the out-going breath, also repreresents visarga, the creation of the world of perceptions, thoughts, and ideas.  

The mantra Hamsa~So'ham then, represents the union of all opposites: male and female, Shiva and Shakti, the world within and the world without.   

Swamiji summarizes all this with the following exclamation:  

This is an astonishing fact--our breath is mantra, and the resonance of these sacred syllables that are both God and Goddess is the etheric substance out of which the feet of the Guru in the crown of our head are formed.  They are made of breath, they are made of sound, they are made of mantra, and the mantra signifies the highest truth --"I am That, I am the Absolute."

As these syllables dissolve on the inside and on the outside, for a split second there is no thought, no feeling, nothing.  Then from this moment of nothingness the syllables arise once again.  It is in this space, [the space between the syllables, the space between the "in" and "out" breaths] where there is neither thought nor feeling, that the Truth [the Self] exists.  

Boundaries dissolve, and the outside and the inside become one. . .  When we are able to maintain the awareness of Hamsa or So'ham, "I am That," we draw near to the reality of the Guru's feet, the profound state of absolute union and equality-consciousness in which the Guru is established.  

Note: the world Guru in ordinary terms means "teacher."  However, a True Guru (a satguru or sadhguru) is not merely a human being, but rather a transcendent cosmic principle which has taken a physical form and as such serves as the grace bestowing embodiment of the Absolute--in other words, the Guru Principle.    


The Triangular Mandala 
Swami Kripananda comments on selected verses from an ancient yogic scripture, the Paduka Panchaka.  One of the verses speaks of a triangle made up of all the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, each side symbolized by the letters A, Ka, and Tha.  The triangle exists in the center of the sahasrara, in the crown of the head.   The scripture says the triangle has the "character" of a mandala.   

[Note: I want to pause here and make sure we understand the very important corresponding relationship between mantra and mandala.  It is understood in yogic traditions that a mantra is the sacred sound body of a deity.  A mandala is also a sacred object--a deity, in the form of color, lines, and geometrical design.]  

Swamiji writes:  

Imagine two white lotuses, one above the other, with their centers touching.  The larger upper lotus, [brilliant white, of a thousand petals] is downward turned, and the smaller twelve-petaled lotus is beneath it and upward turned.  These lotuses are extremely subtle, they are not made of solid substance but of light, visible only to the subtle eye.

In the center [of the sahasrara] where these lotuses meet, there is a triangle with its apex pointing down.  The lines of this triangle are actually composed of all the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet.

Inside the triangle is a full moon . . .  [and in the very center of the triangle and the moon] is the supreme bindu, or Blue Pearl.  It is a small, brilliant blue dot the size of a sesame seed, yet it is the source of everything.  

The bindu is the first form to emerge out of mahashunya, the Great Void.  Mahashunya is emptiness in the sense that it is without manifest creation, and yet it is filled with the potential of all conceivable names, forms, and worlds.  

The bindu is the state of the gathered-up power of Consciousness that is about to create the universe.  Therefore, it is called the "primordial seed of the universe" . . .   All of the combined energies of creation--from lightning bolts and raging rivers to the the subtlest radiance of God--lie in a potential form within the Blue Pearl.  

The Paduka Panchaka tells us that the A~Ka~Tha triangle--which is visible only to the subtle eye and has the character of a mandala--is naturally formed, or self-created.  Swamiji comments: 

When a seeker meditates on the Guru's feet, it is here that they are envisioned.  This object of worship [the triangle, with the moon inside and in their center, the bindu] is not just built into us; it is from this place that our very being has evolved.

Lake of Nectar
There is a "pot of nectar" inside the full moon and triangular mandala where the feet of the Guru rest.  She writes: Within the mandala . . . in the sahasrara, can be found the mysterious "pot of nectar" of which the poet-saints and mystics speak.   The "pot of nectar" takes the form of a crescent moon, she tells us, and it is from the crescent moon that the nectar flows down continually showering grace upon us.  It is this nectar which gives us the experience: "God dwells within me, as me."  

Verse six of the Paduka Panchaka, says:  

"I adore the two lotus feet of the Guru in my head . . .  [which are] radiant with the beautiful luster of lotuses growing in a lake of nectar."   

Merging Into the Formless 
The culmination of these esoteric yogic teachings regarding the repetition of the mantras, and the contemplation of the mandalas, is merging with the Guru's feet, that divine presence which "dwells within us, as us."  When we (the small self) merge with the all pervasive Divine Self the images of the dual world dissolve, and, as Swami Kripananda writes . . . we leave behind the realm of names and forms, and cross over the threshold to the Formless, the Supreme.   

Swamiji concludes her book with the story of a man who saw, in a dream, his Guru, Baba Muktananda.  He ran to Baba, and with great open-hearted love and devotion kneeled, weeping at his feet.  Then, in his dream, kneeling, he touched Baba's feet with the top of his head.  The man writes of his inner experience:  

"I became one with Baba and experienced myself as the center of the universe, like some central sun of pure light and being, which emanated the entire cosmos from its own Self. . .   Then I woke up feeling permeated with light.  Even though it was dark outside, the entire room was filled with effulgence."


This is an astonishing fact--our breath is mantra
and the feet of the Guru are made of breath 
they are made of sound 
-the mantra So'ham~
Hamsa which 
"I am That"  
"I am the Absolute"

Commentary on the Two Photographs 
The two symmetrical photographs presented here, which have come from a suite of five images entitled  Rock Flowers, form a perfect complementary, interactive pair, or diptych.  The individual images which for me functions as a visual equivalent for the text material discussed in Swami Kripananda's book The Guru's Sandals ~ Threshold of the Formless.  Following are some brief commentaries on the relationships I find particularly meaningful between these images and the text.

The Two Lotus Flowers in the Sahasrara 
Swamiji explains in her book how two lotuses, one larger, above, the other smaller, below, with their centers touching are seated in the center of the sahasrara in the crown of the head.   The mandala image #1 above of course corresponds to the "larger, brilliantly white lotus flower of a thousand petals."  Indeed, the frame can't contain its ever expanding, explosive power.  The mandala image #2 below it corresponds to the "smaller twelve-petaled lotus flower" which is not only below the larger lotus, but the two touch each other at their centers.    

The text states that in the space where the centers of the two flowers meet there is a triangle "which has the character of a mandala," and it is inside the triangle where the Guru's feet dwell.  In the center of the triangle there is said to be a bindu, or Blue Pearl which is "the source of everything."  This progression of "centers," one inside the next . . . culminating in the point or dot known as the bindu is, for me, a hauntingly mysterious and deeply subtle image for me to contemplate.  Trying to imagine this inward progression becomes a form of meditation in itself which takes me deeper and deeper within.  The Mandala Image #2 has that character of inward movement for me; I feel a strong pull to go inside the image when I contemplate it.  The image promises some profoundly mysterious revelation; it functions as a mirror that unveils some deep and true aspect of myself that, though unknown, is sensed as a powerful inner presence

At the heart of both symmetrical photographs is a central space which culminates into a point or bindu. . . impossible to really see with the ordinary eyes, for that point is subtle, beyond sense perception.  These centers pulsate as if they are the origin points of the image itself.  In the #1 mandala above, the center is the point of origin which has unfolded from within itself.  In the #2 mandala below, the center is the final destination, the still and silent endpoint of life's perpetual innward journey.


Out-Breath ~ Shakti : Creative Force of the Universe
The #1 mandala image is luminous, "of a white luster" as mentioned in verse 45 of the Guru Gita, one of the "indispensable texts" of Siddha Yoga (verse 45 is quoted below).   The brilliant energy of the image projects expansively outward, as if "flashing forth" from within itself.   The image manifests as an explosive creative force which for me relates to the Sa aspect of the Hamsa~So'ham mantra, the out-breath, which represents Shakti, the vital creative energy of Shiva.  The image gives sensible imaginative form corresponding to the Formless Absolute. 

Swamiji writes: Shakti is the divine cosmic power that creates and maintains the countless galaxies and worlds.  She is the consort of Shiva, the active aspect of the formless Absolute; the joyous divine energy that unfolds the universe, assuming the billions of shapes and forms that we see around us. . . Whereas Shiva is the experiencer, Shakti is what is experienced, the objective universe.


In-Breath ~ Shiva : Pure Consciousness which permeates all 
The mandala image #2 is the visual counterpart to image #1.  It is dark, it has an internal red luster--as mentioned in verse 45 of the Guru Gita.   And the energy of the image has an inward-drawing quality, as if it has opened only in order that it might fold into itself.  This image has the kind of visual energy that can serve as an invitation to the contemplator to go inside and experience one's own interior-most Self.  

The #2 image represents for me the Ham aspect of the Hamsa--So'ham mantra, the in-breath which represents Shiva . . . the all pervasive supreme Reality, the absolute Being that in the form of pure Consciousness permeates all creatures, and all things.  He dwells in every person as their inner most Self.  


Union of Opposites ~ Unity of Being
The two mandala images presented together, one above the other as a vertical diptych, is a complementary and inseparable pair.  I like to imagine these two images as One, in some ineffable way connected at their centers.  Together they represent the natural self-created mantra of the breath, Hamsa~So'ham,  the breath of God which is breathing each one of us in and out;  Shiva and Shakti as One, as the Unity of Being.  


Verse 45
Shri Guru Gita

Vande gurupadadvandvam
sivasaktyatmakam param.

Salutations to the Guru's two feet, which are within
the reach of speech, thought, and contemplation
and which have different lusters--white and red--
representing Shiva and Shakti.



This part 11 of the Yoga & Photography project was 
announced in the "Latest Addition" section 
of my website's Welcome Page on
September 18 , 2015
Much of the material on this page is a 
revised version of the Epilogue
for my project Acadia - Arcadia?

Acadia : Arcadia? 

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.