C ontents Acknowledgments ix Preface xi Introduction 1 Part One E astern Perspectives One The Spiritual Enterprise 5 twO The Cosmic Person 14 three The Ladder of Being 26 fOur The Organs of the Soul 41 five The Yoga of the Subtle Body 50 six The Subtle Body in Sufi Cosmology 61 seven The Bodies of Buddha 75 eight The Taoist Body of Inner Alchemy 84 nine East Meets West 97.
A cknowledgments I am indebted to many people who, knowingly or especially Dr. James E. Robinson, who first gave me unknowingly, have been involved in the production of the opportunity to write about the Subtle Body and to this book. I would like to thank all students and clients, teach it in a university master’s degree program. A spe- past and present, who have been my greatest teachers; my cial thank you goes to Gyorgyi Byworth for bringing yoga tutor, Latvian poet Velta Snikere Wilson, for keep- the resulting study module to the attention of Dr. Ervin ing the connection, and whose patience and forbearance Laszlo, whom I’d like to thank for enthusiastically rec- through the trials and tribulations of exile have been ommending it to Inner Traditions Acquisitions Editor an inspiration for over three decades; the many healers Jon Graham, and to Jon for his foresight in seeing its who shared their knowledge with me at just the right potential as a book; to my editor Laura Schlivek and the moments, including Dr. Ramakant Kenny, Dr. Vasant rest of the team at Inner Traditions for overseeing its Lad, and Shrimati Shamala Chandran; the many friends “rebirth.” who encouraged me to write a book that addresses their I would like to express my grateful thanks to interests at an intelligent professional and academic Professor Olga Louchakova, Dr. Arielle Warner, David level, for their patience in awaiting its arrival and their Osborn, and the other authors who generously permit- support through difficult times, among them Christine ted me to “borrow” from their books and articles; to Jon Meek, Carol Deans Shinwell, and Lady Ann Clyde; my Moult for the picture of his yoga class; to Bob Clyatt spiritual brothers and sisters in the Yogic, Buddhist, and for his kindness in permitting me to use the picture Tantric communities, particularly Dr. M. L. Gharote, of his beautiful sculpture of Gandhi; and last, but cer- Dharmacharyi Lokamitra, and my dear friend Swami tainly not least, to Eric Franklin for his huge contribu- Sivadhara Saraswati, with whom wide-ranging conversa- tion, hundreds of hours of dedicated work in producing tions and shared experiences, both spiritual and mate- the illustrations, the chapter “Science, Philosophy, and rial, have been a “gift.” the Subtle Body,” and his unflagging help and support I would also like to thank my academic colleagues, throughout.
P reface When I was six I had my first mystical experience. On ing their conversation. They were talking about yoga, my sixth birthday, my mother got me up at dawn to take about which I had only the vaguest notion, but it a photograph in the garden. It was a typical summer seemed to have something to do with breathing. Just as morning in the highlands of Scotland, one of those days they were going to join their friends in the next game, that starts with swirling grey mist and later gives way I found the courage to ask them if yoga could help me to balmy sunshine. As my mother was fiddling with the with my breathing problem. They said they were very camera, which seemed to have jammed, I became aware sure that it could. However, as they were being called of how patient and calm I felt. This was unlike me. I was by their friends to start the next game, I didn’t have a hyperactive child who did everything at high speed, so time to ask how I could learn it. sitting still was usually torture for me. Then the mist Attempts to find a teacher or a class proved fruitless, began to clear, and suddenly from within the shrouds of so I searched the local library and, fortunately, found a grey, the Japanese cherry blossom tree in the center of do-it-yourself book written by Ernest Wood, also known the garden appeared like a vision out of a dream; I had by his Indian name, Shri Sattwikagraganya. Professor an extraordinary sense of well-being, of connectedness, Wood was a Sanskrit scholar, a translator, and prolific of being merged with the tree in its “beingness” and author of works on yoga, with an interest in Buddhism with the whole world that surrounded us. and theosophy, who became the first “guru” of many an I never forgot the feeling of that experience, although isolated yoga student like myself half a century ago. I it only lasted minutes, perhaps even seconds. It became say “fortunately” because he introduced me to the path the archetypal sacred “place” to which I constantly of rāja yoga, which, as John Collins points out in his returned whenever I needed peace, solace, guidance, or book on mysticism, is the path of the “spiritual warrior,” knowledge. In the spiritual life, however, I discovered requiring discipline and determination.1 And discipline that there are many ways of knowing. and determination were exactly what I required over the The next significant experience came ten years next year as I struggled with the roles of teacher and later when I discovered yoga. When I was fourteen a student. Still, thanks to Professor Wood’s clear instruc- TB patch had been found on one of my lungs, which tions, I succeeded in no small measure: when I went for explained the long and frequent bouts of bronchitis my next x-ray, the patch on the lung had disappeared, that had occurred throughout my childhood and had and the breathing exercises I’d learned became an indis- left me with breathing problems. I was still suffering pensable part of the “spiritual toolkit” that helped to from shortness of breath nearly two years later when I keep me in reasonable health thereafter.
I ntroduction The idea that the human being is a complex—including ten: “The ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Greeks, the a material body and a nonmaterial, or subtle, body—has Indians of North America, the Polynesian Kahunas, the persisted throughout the ages and is common to many Incas, the early Christians, the Vedic seers of India, and cultures, though the term subtle body itself is of relatively the medieval alchemists and mystics of Europe have all recent origin. In many traditions, the entities considered in one way or another seen man and the study of his to be parts of the subtle body constitute what we might anatomy, both physical and subtle, as a key to the nature today interpret as a map of levels of consciousness, or as of God and the universe.”2 Extant writings on the subtle a hierarchy of nonmaterial entities, each existing on its body and its functions include the esoteric cosmologies own plane of reality, while surrounding and enveloping of Gnosticism, Neo-Platonism, Kabbalah, and Sufism the same visible and tangible physical form, the gross and, nearer our own era, of Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, body. Schematic descriptions of the subtle body vary in Anthroposophy, and the “Fourth Way” philosophy of the different traditions, but in most cases belong to a Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. Today, we have “New Age” cosmology, a system of thought that attempts to discover philosophers who, from beginnings perhaps attributable the origin, purpose, and destiny of the whole universe, to Helena Blavatsky, herself a founder of Theosophy not merely of humankind within it. in the later nineteenth century, include a new breed of An underlying tenet of all philosophical, religious, holistic psychologist-philosophers such as Ken Wilber.
One T he Spiritual Enterprise The common theme of most of the major religions of the world is the striving for a lost unity. Religion always proceeds from an existential dichotomy between man and the world, between man and God or the gods. Man longs for unity, longs to overcome the dichotomy; wholeness rather than division seems to him necessary for living.
twO T he Cosmic Person The hidden dimension of macrocosmic existence, of the universe at large, has its precise parallel in the microcosm of the human body-mind. The “deep structures” of the body share in the “deep structures” of its larger environment. All esoteric traditions assume that there is a correspondence between inner and outer reality.
tHree T he Ladder of Being In certain religious traditions, models of the human body may transcend the visible order to postulate parallel “subtle” or “spiritual” bodies which function to mediate between the material and the transcendent realm. The concept of a “subtle body” provides an especially flexible and malleable field for mapping concepts of the human individual and relating these to wider metaphysical and ideological systems.