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Yoga, Time, and Freedom

by Georg Feuerstein


Yoga, according to one traditional definition, is the conquest of time. Ever since the German philosopher Immanuel Kant we have known that time, like space, is a construct of the mind. It is, however, not an inevitable byproduct of the mind. For there are states of consciousness in which time does not factor. Thus, at a certain level of spiritual accomplishment, the yogin might experience a timeless Presence in which all beings or things arise or which is felt to penetrate all beings and things linking them together in a continuum that stretches into infinity.

For the externalized consciousness (vyutthâna-citta), which witnesses the constant changes in its environment (including the body), time is a seemingly omnipresent and overwhelming reality. Curiously, however, time does not present itself uniformly to us. Sometimes it seems to speed up, leading to the experience of not having enough time, while on other occasions it seems to slow down so much that we experience it as thoroughly oppressive. For instance, if we have to work with a deadline, we never seem to have enough time. We become anguished and impatient. But the moment we have to wait for something or someone, time seems to stand still. Then we become anguished and bored. In either case, we behave as if time were our enemy, not realizing that the flow of time is created by the mind itself.

We ourselves construct past, present, and future and fill all three modalities of time with our subjective concerns. We always either want more time or reduce it to suit our purposes, forgetting it is a demon we are constantly conjuring up. The yogin, by contrast, aims at transcending time altogether. As Svâtmârâma, the author of the Hatha-Yoga-Pradîpikâ (34.17) states in the cryptic language of his tradition:

Time, which is composed of day and night, is effected by the sun and the moon. The central channel (sushumnâ), [which is fully activated in the yogic state of ecstasy], swallows time. This is said to be a great secret.

The central channel is the energetic arc that extends from the base of the human trunk to the top of the head. It serves as the conduit for the serpent power (kundalinî-shakti) after it has been duly awakened. When the serpent power flows through or along the axial pathway, the yogin’s mind transcends the common mental split into object and subject. The practitioner becomes the object of his contemplation. When this ecstatic condition happens, the mind inclines toward its own dissolution (laya). Thus the ordinary experience of space and time is suspended. For such a yogin, time literally stands still, because his capacity for imagination (samkalpa) and conceptualization (vikalpa) is held in abeyance. In ecstasy, consciousness abides in a state of utter peacefulness, or a joyousness that is at the same time replete with tranquillity.

The yogin finds himself in a condition of inner freedom. So long as the mental constructs of time and space are impinging on us, freedom remains elusive. We are inmates in a prison of our own making. This is what tradition calls the state of bondage (bandha), which is caused by our spiritual ignorance (avidyâ), that is, our ignorance of who we truly are. When this primal ignorance is lifted by discovering our own true identity (as the ultimate or transcendental Self), we step into freedom: freedom from time and space along with all our karmic conditioning. The state of ecstasy (samâdhi) gives us a taste of our innate freedom. But, the Yoga tradition is clear, we must jettison all hankering even for such extraordinary states in order to firmly attain Self-realization beyond all states of mind. Upon Self-realization, the adept lives in perpetual freedom and happiness regardless of whether he/she is or is not embodied.


© 2000 by Georg Feuerstein


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