Can a yogi whose aim is enlightenment still enjoy sensory life? Can I practice detachment and still love the taste of hot chocolate on a chilly day? I’m troubled because if I find myself enjoying a taste or a sound, I think I am wasting my time practicing yoga. Can a balance be struck?
The answer is absolutely, yet your conflict on the subject is understandable. The misconception that the material, sense-perceiving realm is diametrically opposed to the spiritual realm most likely springs from the principle of asceticism, where as part of a worthy spiritual commitment, one practices strict self-denial of material needs and pleasures. Although this is one way to advance spiritually, it may not be the most complimentary practice for you in particular or for modern, Western life in general. In fact, the mistaken association of asceticism to a multitude of spiritual studies has likely kept spiritual study at an arm’s length from many who have no desire to subscribe to it.
To condemn sensory pleasures passes judgment on the Bhuloka, or the material plane of earth and incarnation, as being an inferior to the subtler Antarloka (astral) and Sivaloka or Karanloka (causal) planes. The molecules of the material plane, where the sensory world exists, make it denser but not intrinsically less spiritual than other planes.
Traditionally, yoga professes that each mortal life is a precious opportunity to advance toward enlightenment and the given material body serves as a vessel for the soul from which to do its spiritual work. This incarnate figure is equipped with pain sensors, which prevent us from injuring our bodies and compromising their abilities to carry us. Pleasure sensors entice our interest in food and sex, which fundamentally serve to sustain our species. Here it seems our sensory life is quite imperative to the spiritual advancement of ourselves and of others.
Specifically, Laya yoga’s techniques strive for a spiritually perfect, energetic state when all aspects of one’s nature are equally invigorated. Here the seven wheel-like chakras (including the root or muladhara chakra where the most material, survival-oriented needs reside) optimally spin with differing hues and sonic vibrations, but nonetheless, with equal and synergistic importance.
The misconception that the material plane is somehow outside of grace is a great scar that many spiritual seekers would be served to overcome; yet there is a very true and valid concern at hand. The problem with sensory reality occurs only when the focus upon it predominates daily living so much, that we live in the illusion that material gratification is the worthiest pursuit and sensory information is the only way to perceive truth. Many would say these illusions represent the two most common and challenging, collective karmas of the West. One is the door to gluttony and greed, two of Christianity’s seven deadly sins, and the other denies our innate intuitive and psychic abilities.
More lightly, it is our mere familiarity with the earth plane that makes it seem so ordinary. Particularly as yogis in the West, we are often attracted to the remote for its esoteric quality. One great spiritual lesson is to learn to appreciate the mystical value of what is commonly before you. So drink up with pleasure, Sarah. See your hot chocolate for what it is on every level. Neither overindulge nor deny yourself. Instead use the particular pleasure you perceive when you drink hot chocolate on a chilly day as a metaphor for larger issues that will surely come your way.
Yogi Marlon’s monthly yoga advice column is available free to approved websites. If you would like this content automatically inserted into your website every month, you can find out about getting it by Clicking here.