Photography & Yoga 9. Discipline of Seeing

Photography and Yoga  ~ Part 9 ~
The Discipline of Seeing

What is the purpose of seeing?  
What is the goal of these beautiful instruments, 
these eyes, the means of perception?
Who sees through the eyes?
Swami Chidvilasananda 

Photography is, of course, about seeing, but it's also about picture-making.  For many years, I had the nagging feeling that picture-making was not enough.  Now, as I practice photography in the understanding that it is one of my yogic practices, it has become for me even more of a discipline: the two practices--photography and yoga--have merged into one.  When I photograph, or when I contemplate my photographs; when I meditate, chant or study the yogic scriptures . . . I allow my my mind to slow down and become quite.  As I photograph I turn my mind inward, then I am able to focus not only on the outer reality of what I am seeing, but at the same time I am able to become focused on the more subtle, intuitive, corresponding inner reality--what the yogis term the space of the Heart, the realm of the Self.  

Seeing photographically--a term first coined by the great photographer, Edward Weston (click here)--has become for me a process of seeing outward things inwardly.  In other words, I see the world and its photographic possibilities simultaneously, not only through the particularities and peculiarities the photographic medium, but also through the subtle, intuitive Eyes of the Heart.  (Note: I will devote Part 10 of this project on The Heart.)  

The goal of yoga is to reach a state of mind that is totally and constantly identified with or merged with the Supreme Consciousness, the Divine Self, what some traditions call God, or Shiva, etc.  The discipline of photography helps me to enter into that realm of consciousness which then allows me to "see" and experience the world as the play of Consciousness, as the play of the Self.   To borrow a phrase that Swami Muktananda often used, photography as a form of meditation, as a yogic practice, helps me to see the world "as it truly is."   A successful photograph--for me--is an image that merges the inner and outer corresponding worlds into a single pictorial reality that resonates with the stillness, the Consciousness, of the Self.  I call such photographic images symbols or equivalents.

What the Great Beings See
When someone asked Swami Muktananda how the world of diverse forms appeared to him, and, do these names and forms really exist in that divine vision? . . . he answered:

The univers is just as you see it; it doesn't have any independent existence. ~  As long as you do not perceive the Truth, you look upon the universe as diverse and manifold.  When one reaches a certain state in meditation by the grace of the Guru one does not perceive different objects any longer.  One perceives only the same Self, ones own Self, pervading everywhere.  [The great saint] Shankaracharya says the same thing, that the universe is nothing but God; God Himself is the material causes of the universe.

As long as one is not enlightened, one sees the world, but after enlightenment, one's perception becomes entirely different.  When [the great poet-saint] Tukaram had a direct vision of the final Truth, he exclaimed, "This world is not a world.  This world is, in fact, supreme Brahman, the highest Lord.  This world is His expansion, this world is nothing but the light of the Self, this world is nothing but the supreme Being."

Another said wrote:  "I have see that all creatures, high and low, gods and human beings, animals, birds, and aquatic creatures are all one.  My sense of differences has dissolved completely, and I see only the supreme Being everywhere in everything and everyone."

The world is as you see it.  What you see outside is a creation of your own vision.  If your vision become divine the world would not appear to you as it appeared before.  That is why Shavite philosophy says that you should cultivate the awareness " I am Shiva," which is true sadhana. . .  Shankaracharya said that it is Brahman, the absolute Being, who assumes different names and forms and who performs different functions and activities.  ~  None of the concepts such as matter or void are real.  The truth is that this universe is a play, a sport, of the infinite being.   Swami Muktananda, Darshan #48 


In Gurumayi's book The Yoga of Discipline she devotes two chapters on the discipline of seeing, and there is much in her teachings that relate directly to my practice of photography.  For example, Seeing photographically--in the terms that Gurumayi has written about in her book, means "to have the Darshan [the vision] of the Lord, the Self."  The practice of photography helps me cultivate that vision which, Gurumayi teaches, is known in yoga as "witness-consciousness" -- "the awareness 'I am Shiva' and everything I see is a form of 'The Lord.'"  

As a picture-maker, the challenge is to translate that interior vision into a photographic image that "communicates" or projects outwardly towards other viewers the experience of my vision in which the seer and the seen--myself and the other--becomes One.  Photographs that function for me as symbols accomplish that task, and as such are a form of sacred art.  The most successful images contain the grace, the shakti of that meditative experience; they vibrate and radiate with that vital, mysterious, essential energy.  In the process of contemplating such images, I am able to take that energy into myself and absorb it.  This experience of imbibing the images and their energy takes me deeper into the silent space of the Heart

The discipline of photographing and contemplating my photographs has helps me to use my eyes for what the yogic saints say is their true purpose: "to see the form of God." 

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The Discipline of Seeing  part I
Swami Chidvilasananda  excerpts from her book The Yoga of Discipline  

Teach Your Eyes How To See  
The eyes are very important; perception is very significant.  The world is as you see it. . .  If you cannot use these eyes to have the darshan of the Lord, then what is the use of these eyes? . . .  You must teach your eyes what to see, how to see, when to see.

Baba Muktananda said: "When, through the grace of my Guru, Nityananda, I saw the light of pure Consciousness, it settled in my eyes and transformed them.  This light is known as the lotion which enables blind eyes to see for the first time."

The great poet-saint Kabir sings of this lotion:  "Since I applied the lotion of my Guru's Grace all that I can see is Rama, Rama, the Lord Rama everywhere."

Since the eyes travel at great speed, it is necessary to slow them down so they can relearn the purpose of their existence. . .  You can remember to discipline your eyes by pausing.  For example, in India when we go to a temple, we first pause at the door.  We touch the ground, and then we touch our hearts.  We acknowledge that the presence on the ground is also in our heart.  Then finally after going through many doors . . .  you come to the inner part of the temple.  And there, you bow.  You take your time; you bow as long as you want. . . Having purified yourself in this way, through reverence and devotion, continuously acknowledging the presence within and without, then--when you know your eyes have become focused and are ready to receive the Truth--you rest your eyes upon the deity.

In response to a question about why God is so difficult to perceive, Baba Muktananda once said:  "What form would you like to see God in?  He has taken the form of bread in this piece of bread.  Don't try to see Him as stone in bread.  In fruit you should see God as fruit, and in yourself you should see Him as yourself.  Who says that God cannot be seen?  Don't try to see Him as different from the way He has manifested Himself.  Try to see Him as He is." ~  "Whatever you do, you should see your own divinity in everything."  

In Siddha Yoga, we meditate. . .  In the sahasrara, the spiritual center at the crown of the head, you see your own inner light.  This is the way you perceive your own inner divinity.  When you are with God, that's all you see.  When you are with the Guru, that's all you see.  Divinity comes and resides in your eyes.

                                                                Photography & Yoga      Image #30        The Discipline of Seeing           Symmetrical Photograph

The Discipline of Seeing  part II
Swami Chidvilasananda  excerpts from her book The Yoga of Discipline 

Who Is Looking Through Your Eyes?  
The eyes are the windows of the soul, and most of the time the windows are wide open, so anything at all can blow in.  Very few people can control this. . .  It's not what you see that gets you into trouble, its what you think you see that gets you into trouble.   

Everything you see is not what you think it is. . .  What you perceive--and then act on--is often a projection, and projections are symptoms, not of external reality, but of your own inner state.

Ask yourself: What is the purpose of seeing?  What is the goal of these beautiful instruments, these eyes, the means of perception?  

In his Mukteshwari Baba Muktananda described one of the great mysteries of true vision:

He who lives in the eyes
and through them sees form,
whose seat is the eyes, 
who is the eye of all,
who is the great light--
Muktananda, that is the conscious Self. 

Witness-consciousness, sakshi bhava.  The One who is seated in the eyes, that One truly sees.  That One abides in the eyes, and therefore the eyes have the power to see.  This Witness-consciousness is the propelling force of the universe.

Witness-consciousness is called the inner eye, or the third eye, or the light of the eyes.  It is also known as the eye of wisdom, the divine eye, or the celestial eye.  

So who sees through the eyes?  The Witness.  ~  When the Seer and what is seen become one, when you recognize the unity between them, great ecstasy explodes within.  Your perception is cleansed; it becomes divine.  Through the knowledge of the Seer with the eyes, you attain divine perception.  Then you know who is looking through your eyes.  Jnaeshwar Maharaj describes this pure vision in his abhanga [a poem or song of praise].  He says:

I am the Witness; I am the blue light in the Void.
Still I remain different from everything.
When the sight turns inward, hear what it beholds:
The inner eyes see what lies beyond the mind;
then I experience my attributeless being.
Jnanadev says, Nivritti gave the wisdom in which
I saw the whole universe within myself.

Witness-consciousness . . .  There is no place where it is not.  There is no thing in which it doesn't exist.  It just is.  The Witness.  And it is the same Witness in all.  

The poet-saints understood that the true purpose of their eyes was to see the form of God. . . .  They lived with one strong yearning: wanting darshan, the vision of God; never having enough of it; wanting to behold the Truth in all its splendor.  Through the intense acts of remembrance and surrender, they did, in fact, see this entire universe as the light of God.  A Sufi poet-saint said:

O Lord, please let me see You,
for You are dearer to me than my own breath.
You are truly the light of my eyes.
Night and day I remember You incessantly
with the hope that You will fulfill my wish to behold You.

Narsi Mehta, a great poet-saint from the Indian state of Gujarat, sang:

O Lord, please appear to me!
Don't you see how thirsty my eyes are!
O You who are everywhere,
please come into the gloomy temple of my heart and
kindle your flame of love.

Ram Tirth, a modern saint, sang:

Since the eyes of my heart were opened,
I am able to see deep within.
Even when I look at the world around me,
I find my Beloved wherever I turn.

In the language of the saints, it is when the inner eye opens, when the eye of the heart, the subtle eye, becomes active, that a person truly begins to see, truly begins to understand, truly begins to live in the light.  The eyes begin to fathom the mystery of the Truth.

                                    Photography & Yoga      Image #31         The Discipline of Seeing           Symmetrical Photograph

Prepare To Have the Darshan of Infinity
The most incredible thing about a great being is that he is able to impart wisdom, the Truth, through any form at any time.  ~  If you keep yourself open, darshan will happen at all times.  Darshan is always taking place.  When you stop listening only to the limitations of your mind and ego, you will find yourself swimming in the ocean of Consciousness.  In every word you'll experience great joy.  The Truth will emanate from every person.  ~  When the time is right [the great beings, like Baba Muktananda and Bhagawan Nityananda] grant the darshan of infinity.  Until then we always keep ourselves prepared: prepared to experience the Truth, prepared to know the Truth, prepared to have darshan.   Swami Chidvilasananda  August 18     Resonate With Stillness  

The Unchanging Face in the Constantly Changing Drama
Shaivism says that God has two aspects.  He is both transcendent and immanent.  In His transcendental aspect He is supremely pure and beyond the world, but in His immanent aspect He is within the world.  ~  True humanity is to see God's divine and unchanging face in His constantly changing drama.   Swami Muktananda  December 12  Resonate With Stillness


This part 8 of the Yoga & Photography project was 
announced in the "Latest Addition" section 
of my website's Welcome Page on
September 1 , 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.