Saturday, March 27, 2010

More Human than Humans

"Of great virility and enthusiasm, good looking, courageous, learned in scriptures, studious, sane of mind, not melancholy, keeping young, regular in food, with his senses under control, free from fear, clean, skillful, generous, helpful to all, firm, intelligent, independent, forgiving, of good character, of gentle speech and worshipping his Guru, such is a supreme seeker, fit for all forms of Yoga. He can reach enlightenment in three years."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 54th paragraph of the Introduction.

During a recent trip to the museum I heard a tour guide at the Art Institute of Chicago talking about a granite sculpture from 12th century India. It was of a deity with many arms. Each hand was either holding a symbolic object or making a communicative gesture. The guide was saying something about how the deities weren’t considered to be very different from people, they were just “more human than humans”. And this is what the many arms represent: increased humanity.

I want to say that it also might represent humans’ capacity across time, with each arm representing what we might do at different ages. When one aspect of life is over I can imagine discovering a new capacity that will allow me to go forward and do what needs to be done during this time. And so the representation with all those arms shown together can also be seen as a timeless state because it represents more than a moment, these abilities are all shown in one image, even thought the aspects might be experienced by people one at a time.

This is how I see Mr. Iyengar’s description of the “supreme seeker”: The “supreme seeker” is “more human than humans.”

These qualities listed above are all things that I have worked on at one time or another. (...except possibly virility, unless I try to stretch that word into a gender-neutral one like vigor.) So I don’t feel that the “supreme seeker” is a space alien or anything, but this person described here is pretty extreme from my viewpoint.

I imagine a deity with many arms, each arm representing one of the qualities of the “supreme seeker”: enthusiastic, good looking, courageous, studious, sane of mind, not melancholy… This list is totally overwhelming for me!

One could see our problems as having just as many arms as our ideals. Qualities of the anti-seeker: dejected, ugly, fearful, ADD, insane, melancholy… And we could see this as overwhelming or choose to take it one thing at a time.

The concept of a super-human can either overwhelm us (as it does me) and turn us off or we can take it as it comes with an open mind. One thing at a time…

We can shrink back in fear and say the world is only what I can hold in my two hands and see with my eyes right now. Realize that this is a reduced viewpoint. And it is an important place where we pay our bills and do things for our loved ones and friends.

But to ignore the incredible circumstances of our lives in the larger view is to ignore something important. Life is bigger than it might seem in a moment when I am balancing my checkbook!

As a group we literally have this many arms. Maybe I don't have to do it all myself. I was in a yoga class once where the teacher said that the next Buddha wasn't going to be an individual, but a group of people like an enlightened community. I'm not sure what that would look like, but I like the idea.

I was a baby and all the heights of little girl to my current height. There are fluctuations in my weight from time to time...all different aspects of "me". I could make an image of a creature with baby arms, little girl arms and the arms of a woman and it might represent me across time. This kind of image looks totally freaky to our eyes that are accustomed to photographic technology which only captures one moment at a time...

I experienced living in about five households before age seven. I think that each of these held a slightly different me. My parents experienced difficulty soon after I was born so I lived with them together only for a while. Then I lived with my Mom and Grandparents. And then I lived with just Mom for a little while. Then I lived with Nana and Grampa alone. After that I lived with Aunt, Uncle and Cousin. Then to Father and Step Mother where I had my seventh birthday.

Maybe I think that every moment holds a different me, and that every breath informs me differently.

When perceived across time I am more human than I can be in any one moment.

So is it that far off that I might have been all of those good qualities at one moment or another, even if I don't carry all of them right at this moment? And I also have at one point or another held all of the opposite descriptors... Maybe that's where spiritual concepts like "You are all of this, already. There's nowhere to go." type of thoughts come from. We already are all different states of ourselves, holding all the opposites already, so what is there to do?

Once we realize that we are not doing things from a lack of this or that, we can begin to do things freely, creatively...

Holy fragmentation, Bat Man! How can I keep it all straight? Maybe I just can't. When I consider all the aspects of myself I have been already, it is almost too much. Life just is what it is from moment to moment, and at the same time it is so much more than an individual moment.

And at the same time I strive to concentrate my positive energy to go forth as well as I can. I think Yoga helps with that.


YogaforCynics said...

I'm inclined to think we all have all of those qualities, and their opposites, to different degrees all the maybe being more human than human simply means to have enough arms to embrace all of our multitudinous selves?

Elize said...

great ponderings here: "We already are all different states of ourselves..." and the concepts of being-all-things-now! and I love the photo :)

Bob Weisenberg said...

Great post, Brooks.

The Bhagavad Gita is very clear on the solution to this "achievement dilemma" and psychological pain it creates. And the solution is elegantly simple, so simple that one can recall it easily anytime one feels the pressure to achieve more or depressed by not making the grade. In fact this could be said to be the main theme of the entire Bhagavad Gita:

"Act Decisively, But With No Ego Attachment to the Results".

Easy to say, hard to do. But that's why we have Yoga! And even though I used the phrase "hard to do", the effort required is one of greater and greater relaxation, so it's kind of a paradox. It's only "hard" because "relaxation" is hard. But it's not really hard once you get going. It's, well, relaxing!

I'm sure even Iyengar himself would agree.

Bob Weisenberg