The Flow of Soma ~ By David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri)


Soma and Ananda

The Vedic ritual reaches its climax in the Soma offering, in which specially prepared plant juices are offered into the sacred fire (Agni) as the drink of the Gods. But this ancient ritual reflects a deeper internal ritual or alchemy of awareness that is its real import. In exploring this process, we will discover many secrets of the practice of Yoga, including the path of Self-inquiry or Jnana Yoga.

Soma is first of all part of a great universal symbolism. Soma pervades the outer world as water in its various forms on the earth and in the sky, as the sap of plants, the vital fluids in animals, the Moon, and even the waters (vibratory field) of space. Soma exists inside ourselves as a psychological principle of feeling, love and inspiration, including as our creativity that we manifest in diverse forms.

Yet beyond this, Soma is a spiritual principle, an aspect of the infinite and a key to immortality. In the state of meditation, the brain and mind naturally secrete a special type of Soma or nectar of peace and contentment, which reflects this spiritual Soma. Ultimately Soma is the bliss of all existence, the Ananda through which the universe is created and into which it must return. It is this Soma or Ananda that is the prima materia or ultimate substance behind the entire world.

Soma and Agni: Bliss and Consciousness

However, to really understand Soma, we must also understand Agni, the fire, light or energy principle, which is its counterpart. In Vedic thought, the twin principles of Agni and Soma are behind all workings in the universe on all levels. On an outer level, they refer to the great elements of fire and water, but their inner symbolism goes much deeper. Such a twofold division of reality takes many forms like Purusha and Prakriti, Vishnu and Lakshmi, and Shiva and Shakti. Indeed, Lord Shiva, the supreme Godhead, is said to be Agni-Somatmakam or both Agni and Soma in nature. His right side is Agni in nature–fiery, harsh or masculine. His left side is Soma in nature– watery, gentle or feminine. These are the basis of his two manifestations as fierce (ghora or Agni) and gentle (saumya or Soma).

Yet even as elements, Agni and Soma are more than any outer symbolism. Agni as fire represents light (Jyoti) in the broadest sense, which includes the light of perception and the light of consciousness, not simply light as a material principle. Soma as water (Apas) is the medium on which light can be reflected, which is ultimately a quality of light itself. In this regard Soma is not only water, but the mind and ultimately, the reflective power of consciousness itself.

Soma as a cosmic power, however, is not simply watery in its nature. It has an oily quality that can nourish and sustain fire. In this regard it has been compared to ghee (ghrita) in texture. All objects that we see are like fuel for the flame of our awareness. Soma also has a sweet quality and has been compared to honey (madhu). All that we see is like a flower, from which the honey of bliss can be extracted. These properties that can sustain light and provide joy pervade all of space. Great yogis can access them with their subtle bodies (the linga or fire body) and move at will through all the worlds, finding nourishment and delight in all that they perceive.

Soma is the delight which is the counterpart of light. On the deepest level, Agni is the fire of consciousness (Chidagni) that is reflected in the Soma or water of bliss. In this regard Agni and Soma are ultimately the same, two complementary aspects of Brahman.

Objectless Delight

The highest Soma is the delight inherent in existence itself (Brahman), not simply the pleasure produced by contact with external objects. Soma is the ‘pure delight’ that we are truly seeking in all that we pursue, not mere temporary pleasure that wears away the senses and is only its reflection. Any happiness that is based upon contact with an external object must be fleeting and must eventually end in pain. This higher ‘objectless’ joy or self-delight can only be perceived by an internal consciousness beyond the fluctuations of the mind, by the unwavering flame of awareness. We can achieve that through taking the state of the witness (sakshi-bhava), which provides the joy of perception and avoids the pain of involvement. As long as we rely on external contacts to gain our Soma or happiness, we cannot escape from the wheel of sorrow.

We are all seeking some form of happiness in life. We all want lasting bliss. This seeking of Soma is inherent in the soul, which is ever seeking to return to its origin in God. Similarly, we are always extracting some form of Soma out of our life experience. This essence or rasa is ultimately delight. That is why the Upanishads refer to the Self as rasa (raso vai sah).

The Self is said to be the fluidity of water, the heat of fire, the power of the wind to move, the power of the earth to hold and the power of space to pervade. It is the unique quality or special essence, what is the highest and best in all things. This unique essence is Soma. We discover the Self by going to the essence of our own nature. The Self is the eye of the eye, the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind. It is the truth of truth. This extraction of the essence from all that we know is extracting the Soma that is hidden in all things. This extraction process occurs in the purification filter (pavitra) of the heart, by the light of which we can discern the heart or core of all things.

The Seer and the Seen

Relative to the Yoga of Knowledge (Jnana Yoga), Agni is the seer and Soma is the seen. Seeing has a fiery quality and works through light. The seen is the field illumined by light and is actually only light or consciousness reflected externally. Our very power of seeing is a power of fire while all that we see is potentially fuel for it. If our seeing is clear then it can disclose the Soma or Ananda hidden in all that we see. The fire of seeing is able to ripen, cook or bring out the essence of all that we observe. The key to the alchemy of Jnana (Self-knowledge) is that whatever we look at with full attention, with a fully energized Agni or fire of awareness, will yield Soma or delight, not as an external enjoyment but as the very bliss of the Self.

When we look at things directly, without division, their essence comes forth, which is Ananda. This is the state of Samadhi, which is the flowing of Soma at an inner level. The unity of Agni and Soma is the unity of the perceiver and the perceived. When we learn to look at our inner self wholly and fully, through the practice of Self-inquiry, then the delight inherent in the Self must come forth as the ultimate Soma or self-delight.

The Five Koshas

The five sheaths or koshas are a common yogic teaching going back to the Taittiriya Upanishad. Each of these five levels of our nature has its own form of Agni or fire, which is its essential energy. Each has its equivalent form of Soma, which is its main fuel. Agni is the eater or enjoyer, while Soma is the food or substance enjoyed.

At the physical level (Annamaya kosha), the digestive fire (Jathargni) is the Agni, and the food and drink we take in through the mouth is the Soma. Higher physical forms of Soma include special rejuvenating foods, beverages and herbs that can revitalize the body, brain and nervous system.

At the pranic or vital level (Pranamaya kosha), Pranagni or the vital fire is the Agni and our vital enjoyments of exercise and activity are the Soma. Higher Pranic forms of Soma including Pranayama practices that can revitalize our internal Pranas and balance their energies towards transformation.

At the level of the outer or sensory mind (Manomaya kosha), the mental fire (Manasika Agni) is the Agni and our various sensory enjoyments are the Soma. Higher mental forms of Soma include mantra, visualizations and meditations that bring in a higher level of experience into the mind.

At the level of the inner or discriminating mind (Vijnanamaya Kosha), the Buddhi or discriminating intelligence is the Agni and the various principles, beliefs, ideas or dharmas that we pursue in life are the Soma. Special types of Soma for the higher mind include formless meditations on truth, unity, bliss and harmony.

At the level of the soul (Jiva or Anandamaya kosha), our inner consciousness (Chitta) is the Agni, and our entire life experiences and memories are the Soma. Special types of Soma for it include the practice of Self-inquiry in which we digest our life-experiences, burning up our Samskaras (internal karmic tendencies) and turn them into pure awareness.

In this way, the soul or Jiva takes in substances, impressions and ideas from the external world and extracts the nectar of Ananda from them, just as a bee gathers pollen from various flowers and turns them into honey. The ultimate result is the essence (rasa) of our experience that becomes the Ananda or Soma Kosha, in which our karmas and samskaras are held. Those who have cultivated the fire of awareness are able to turn all their experience, including that of sorrow, into Soma or Ananda. This takes them beyond the field of all the Koshas.

Agni and Soma and the Practice of Yoga

In the practice of Yoga, Agni is the fiery Kundalini force that dwells in the root or earth chakra below. It is the power of aspiration that rises from below and ascends to the heavens above. Soma is the watery nectar that dwells in the crown or head chakra. It is the power of Divine grace that descends from above. As Agni rises, Soma descends. The oily drops of Soma provide the fuel for Agni to aid in its upward movement.

The Yoga tradition teaches us that the crown chakra is the region of the Moon or Soma (Chandra Kanda), just as the lower three chakras are the region of fire (Agni-Kanda). Soma, according to the Vedas, flows in a thousand streams. These are the thousand currents of the crown chakra, the Sahasrara or thousand petalled lotus. Physiologically, Agni relates to the solar plexus, while Soma relates to the soft palate in the head, the source of saliva and other secretions in the head. Balancing these two energy centers is an important Yoga practice.

Soma and the Heart

Yet in Vedic thought, Soma descends and flows through the purification filter (pavitra) of the heart, which is also the original home of Agni. The heart is the meeting place of the dual principles of Agni and Soma, fire and water, or consciousness and delight. In this regard we must remember that the spiritual heart or hridaya is not simply a location in the chest. It is also linked with the center of the thousand-petalled lotus.

Everything is contained in the small space (dahara akasha) within heart, including all the other chakras. It contains the entire universe, all worlds and planes of experience, all time and space, and what is beyond all manifestation as well. It is the ultimate abode of God and the soul. In fact, the soul is Soma or the food for God in his creation. In this supreme place, God is the inextinguishable fire and the entire universe is its unending Soma offering.

Self-inquiry and Surrender

Agni is the striving of the soul upward towards the divine, while Soma represents the descending grace of God. Agni represents our will or aspiration to the truth, while Soma represents what inspires us and the goal that we seek. That is why Agni or fire is represented by an upward facing triangle, while water or Soma is represented by a triangle that faces downward.

In this regard, Agni represents Jnana Yoga or the Yoga of Knowledge, which proceeds through the heat and friction of introspection and self-inquiry. This is the main upward movement of the soul. Similarly, Soma represents Bhakti Yoga or the Yoga of Devotion, which proceeds through the flow of surrender. This is the main descending movement of grace.

Self-inquiry (Jnana Yoga) is the best, simplest and most direct method for cultivating our inner fire and reaching the supreme light. Surrender to God or devotion (Bhakti Yoga) is the best, simplest and most direct method for opening up to the flow of grace and reaching the highest delight.

The practice of meditation should always strive to be a dual cultivation of both Agni and Soma, with both deepening perception and joy. A balanced practice should address both Agni and Soma aspects of the practice. Cultivating Agni means cultivating the flame of our awareness, concentration, perception and discrimination. It means increasing the power of the mind to inquire, perceive, penetrate and transform.

Cultivating Soma means cultivating the fuel of devotion, receptivity, love and surrender. It means increasing the power to feel, dissolve, merge and become one with all. We must eventually realize that all things are offerings to the divine light of awareness within us. Then there will be nothing that is not Soma for us.

An internal questioning or Self-inquiry is always naturally occurring within our minds, though broken up or concealed by other habits, impulses and considerations. Our core consciousness is always looking into the meaning and purpose of our lives. We are always reflecting upon ourselves in various ways, through which various feelings and insights or Somas arise that may afford us either pleasure or pain.

Self-inquiry is not about imposing some philosophy upon the mind or even practicing a certain technique, however helpful such factors may be. It is about opening this inner flow of Self-examination that is connected at a deep level with an inner flow of grace. We must cultivate our flame of inquiry but also open up to the flow of grace that makes it possible to sustain it. We must let our inner flame come forth to meet the grace that pervades the entire universe and also is connected to the core of our being.

In this regard there is a helpful metaphor: The mind is like a wick. Knowledge (Jnana) is like the flame, but Devotion (Bhakti) is the oil (ghee). Without the oil to sustain the flame, it will merely burn up the wick. So too, a mind that does not have that flow of grace or devotion, can be burned up or dried out by the flame of knowledge. We should must remember to keep our Soma flowing.

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KNOW YOURSELF, FORGET YOURSELF Five Truths to Transform Your Work, Relationships, and Everyday Life ~ Marc Lesser

We all yearn for clear-cut answers to life’s problems, yet we rarely get them. Formulas fail and contradictions mount. In Know Yourself, Forget Yourself, executive coach and mindfulness teacher Marc Lesser shows that understanding and embracing the points where life feels most confusing, most contradictory can lead us to more satisfaction and joy.

Lesser provides clear guidance and simple practices for embracing five central paradoxes in life and navigating them to increase our effectiveness and happiness. Influenced by the revolutionary mindfulness and emotional intelligence trainings he helped develop at Google, Know Yourself, Forget Yourself is a profound book about cultivating the emotional skills to understand the right path through difficulties and challenges.

Marc Lesser is the CEO, founder and serves on the board of Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI). Marc is a long term Zen student and teacher. He is the author of Know Yourself, Forget Yourself, Less: Accomplishing More By Doing Less, and Z.B.A. Zen of Business Administration; How Zen Practice Can Transform Your Work and Your Life.

He was the founder and former CEO of Brush Dance, a publisher of greeting cards, calendars and gift items, with spiritual themes and artwork. He spent 15 years taking Brush Dance from an idea in his garage to a multi-million dollar publishing company, with distribution throughout the U.S. and the world.

He facilitates retreats for CEO’s, business leaders, and management teams. Has been co-leading Company Time retreats for business leaders for the past 10 years.

He was a resident of the San Francisco Zen Center for 10 years and was former director of Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. He received his M.B.A. degree from New York University and his Undergraduate degree in psychology from Rutgers University. He is currently a board member of the Social Venture Network.

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Coaching Series: Accomplishing More By Doing Less

Being creative and successful in business and your personal lives requires that you be responsive and flexible as you move beyond your comfort zones.

Though it may seem paradoxical, all real change and creativity begins by facing and understanding the reality of your current situation.

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What is that you are really doing? What are you doing that is extraneous? How can you bring more ease to and at the same time enliven your work and personal activities?

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A Talk with Marc Lesser author of KNOW YOURSELF, FORGET YOURSELF
By Marc Lesser

What was your motivation for writing about practical ways to work with paradox?

Nearly everything about being a human involves paradox. One of my favorite quotes is, “If it’s not paradoxical, it’s not true!” I just did a Google search to see who said this, and what came up was…..Marc Lesser. How paradoxical! A paradox is something that appears impossible, but may, in fact be true. Isn’t everything in our lives like this? Especially things that really matter – like time, consciousness, birth and death, war and peace, how we came to be doing whatever we do, our most important relationships – anything we can say about these topics appears impossible.

I began to notice that a few core paradoxes were also core practices in my work and in my life outside of work. I noticed that more and more these paradoxes were becoming fundamental and important truths. I began writing initially to better understand how to work with these paradoxes – in the work that I do with my clients, who are leaders in business and non-profits companies, as well as in my own life.

The expression “know yourself, forget yourself” sounds familiar. Where does it come from?

Yes, thank you Dogen, the 13th century founder of Zen Buddhism in Japan, who famously said – To study the Way is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self; to forget the self is to awaken with everything and everyone. I first encountered this statement when I was in my 20’s and have been working with it ever since.

Is there a way to practice – self-knowing and self-forgetting?

Yes, self-awareness practice and mindfulness practice are practices for both self-knowing and self-forgetting. Think of an athlete – a superior tennis play works diligently on all aspects of self-knowing – details of hitting a ball under multiple conditions, state of mind, strategy. Then when playing a match, these awareness practices have all been embodied and the focus is completely on being present, aware, with little or no focus on self. Self-awareness practices and mindfulness practice are ways to train ourselves to be more present, alive, skillful in our work lives and in all our relationships.

How can I fight for change and accept what is at the same time?

This is a core truth, a core paradox of being human – accepting ourselves completely and making an effort to become more aware and to help others. If we just accept what is, we can be lulled into indifference. If we are always fighting for change, without accepting ourselves and our situation, we can become both nearsighted and stressed. We can make an effort to practice and build our ability in both acceptance and in making changes, skillfully.

Help! My life is stressful. Too much to do and not enough time. What guidance can you offer to get off of this treadmill?

Many people are stressed and in search of an elusive sense of balance. Know Yourself, Forget Yourself presents another approach that addresses underlying issues and is more effective than conventional approaches. Instead of looking outside yourself for balance, find ways to take care of yourself, to take care of your mind. I notice that people looking for balance often try to add more things to an already overflowing life. Our cups are already too full. We don’t need to add more; instead we can change the way we see, broaden our perspective and not get caught by mistaken ideas about balance. And not be narrowed, and stressed, by mistaken beliefs about ourselves.

How can I be confident and question everything at the same time?

Confidence comes from knowing yourself – from accurate emotional awareness, deep listening to yourself and to others. The more confident you become the more you can engage with important questions. The practice of “not knowing” can be a powerful way to develop more confidence.

Marc Lesser, the CEO and cofounder of the nonprofit Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, lived at the San Francisco Zen Center for ten years and is the former director of the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. He lives in Mill Valley, CA.

The Ancestral Continuum: Unlock the Secrets of Who You Really Are ~ By Natalia O’Sullivan and Nicola Graydon

The Ancestral Continuum guides readers on an illuminating journey toward an understanding of how much our lives today are affected by the choices and life experiences of our ancestors. This groundbreaking book does for the subject of ancestor acknowledgement what The Secret did to explain the universal Law of Attraction to a wide audience.

The book combines first-person stories with practical, psychological, and spiritual advice, exercises, rituals, and meditations to help readers connect with their ancestors in a new and profound way. Drawing on many stories, traditions, anecdotes, and philosophies, this book describes the many ways in which our relationship with our ancestors continues beyond death. We learn how, if we remember and honor them in our daily lives, we can re-discover a rich source of gifts, communications, wisdom, and magical synchronicity. As our relationship with them deepens, so too does our understanding our own gifts and talents—our genius—and how to bring them into the world.

Amanda Roberts

Amanda trained as a medium and healer at the College. Amanda teaches classes and workshops at the CPS – many of these are to assist students to connect to their Guardian Angels and Archangels for support, protection, guidance and to assist with their spiritual journey. http://www.bodykarm.com

Natalia O’Sullivan

Natalia O’Sullivan combines modern psychological thinking with ancient wisdom. She is a healer, psychic and counsellor with 20 years experience in the Mind, Body and Spirit field, and is the founder of the Sacred Healer Retreats and The Soul Rescuers Foundation Course. She is the author of Soul Rescuers, Psychic Power, Mind Power, and co-author of The Body Shop Book of Wellbeing. She regularly writes articles on spiritual and
alternative health issues and makes media appearances.

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