Interview with Ludivine Leborgne – Ayurveda Magazine
André Riehl is a real yogi “Made in France”, who from a young age has pursued the quest for transcendence and union. His life indeed is a story worthy of an initiatory novel: André had the privilege to cross the road of many spiritual masters, accomplished and enlightened beings such as Ma Ananda Mayee, liberated Indian mystic, who was also the guru of Arnaud Desjardins and his wife Véronique. But also Goenka Ji, the great Buddhist figure who created Vipassana retreats oh-so-popular around the world, and even his master Chandra Swami, who allows him to integrate all the lessons previously received..
André Riehl gives us a deep, philosophical, poetic interview on Nidra Yoga, his specialty. He paints an uncompromising portrait of the current state of Yoga around the world and reveals a forgotten history of India, that of the men and women living before the Vedic era, the India behind the Tantric culture. Finally, he subtly reminds us of the ultimate goal of all Yoga practice: Samadhi, the state of unity. Meeting with Ludivine
1. Dear André, what is Nidrâ Yoga, what is the origin of this approach, and finally, can you explain this practice?
The first meaning of Nidra means budding, as happens during springtime. Symbolically, this represents the strength in oneself that allows us to reseed and renew entire forests, that is to say, all of our hidden potential wealth.
The second meaning of Nidra is equivalent to that of awakening. In Indian symbolism he is represented in two ways: When Vishnu falls asleep and goes into a slumber after creating the world. He knows that by waking up this world will be damaged and altered by humans. He dreams of the world so that he can remember it when he awakes and rebuild it. His dream keeps the world in activity. According to the Vishnouite tradition, nidra is the sleep of God; and we are God’s dream. In Shivaite culture, it’s a little different. One of Shiva’s names is: the “Lord of Sleep”, and he has as companion the universal goddess who is sometimes interpreted as the “Night”. Shiva illuminates the night. In short, he is the one who reveals the depths of the unconscious and the unknown. This second point of view of Nidra refers to the state of origin, to the very nature of the living.nt.
The last meaning of Nidra is much more practical: it simply means “to sleep” or “sleep”, which contains two categories:
- the sleep like at bedtime, or at nap time;
- to sleep during the waking state, where one is absent, not attentive to what is happening.
Budding, the original creative state of life, ordinary sleep, and lack of attention in everyday life are the different meanings that can be given to the term Nidra.
Between the 9th and 12th centuries, new teachings appeared in India, the Tantras. Tan derives from the root of tat which means That, something that cannot be defined. As for the suffix tra, it means to protect, preserve. Tantra can be understood as “preserving that which cannot be defined”.
In India for a long time already, a huge cultural protectionism has developed through the caste system, and even today a very strong nationalist revival is emerging, bringing forward Hinduism, Vedism or Brahmanism.
The Vedas, the invention of Sanskrit, the caste system, the belief in reincarnation, they all come originally from a population coming from Central Asia, the Aryans who would have invaded India, or more precisely the plain of the Dekkan, about 4000 years ago.
But the indigenous culture was maintained despite the invasion of the Aryans, and these people who retreated into the forests have preserved ancestral teachings, which were written several centuries later and became this huge body called tantras.
In short, these tantras are the transcription of knowledge and teachings that have been transmitted orally for millennia. Nidrâ Yoga belongs to this tantric wave. And it turns out that for centuries and still today, many forms of yoga from Vedism and Brahmanism reject these older teachings..
Nidrâ Yoga comes from men and women who lived in forests and were in very close relationship with nature. And like all other humans, they asked themselves the questions: “Is there an origin to life, is there a creator, is it possible to know him?…” Everywhere on our planet, when men have been confronted with nature, simply because they live there daily, these types of questions have come into sharp focus..
In Guadeloupe for example, there are still communities leading a contemplative life very close to nature. Their daily life is not overloaded with activities, projects, desires … They cultivate the earth, eat, sleep and live peacefully; and this contemplative and natural life obviously produces states of greater sensitivity giving access to direct and intuitive knowledge of the living.
The movement, the activity of nature has been called shakti in Shaivism or prakriti in classical Hinduism.
And the function creating and perceiving this same nature has been called Shiva in Tantrism and Purusha in Hinduism classical culture.
Millennia have passed, many intersections have taken place between different schools of thought, and various philosophies have given rise to a constellation of paths and approaches, all jumbled together. So that today the traditions of Yoga in India (let’s talk only of this) are a mixture of many different approaches that seldom produce this Unifying state of consciousness. On the other hand, they produce a lot of diversities as to the practical exercises.
Nidra Yoga is a method that has been transmitted mainly orally in an ascetic environment, and its historical origin remains imprecise. However, I was able to research two types, the first through meetings, interviews, and some rare writings. The second was a kind of inquiry into memory..
Nidrâ yoga contains exercises allowing one to return very far into the memory of humanity.
And although it may be considered subjective it seems very likely that this teaching comes from a time dating back to prehistory.
The state of nidra was then experienced during a type of walk fostering contemplation …
2. Can you re-situate Nidrâ Yoga in the more specific context related to Pantajali’s “Yoga Sutra”? Is Nidrâ Yoga included in this yoga of eight branches? And fundamentally, what is the purpose of this practice: enlightenment, liberation?
The only thing that all forms of Yoga point to, absolutely all, is what you call “enlightenment, liberation”. There is no form of Yoga interested in anything else, including Pantanjali..
For 50 – 60 years, yoga has been very corrupted by people who have pointed out the side effects that some exercises produce. They put forward these side effects on the pretext of reducing stress, sleeping better, having less pain in the body, having slightly less mental confusion…
The fact of presenting a so-called traditional origin allowed for the maintenance of this corruption of the teachings by insisting on these secondary effects. And it is unclear why the “Yogas Sutras” of Patanjali have become so important, mainly outside of India …
By studying Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we find that he speaks very little about nidrâ. According to the translators – because there is always the question of translation, more than 35 in French and several hundred in English – nidrâ is taken in the sense of sleep. Pantajali presents it as an obstacle to Yoga (union – liberation). It is possible, however, that Patanjali wanted to signify the absence of attention.
In the Tantric Shaivite ways, the existence of a state beyond the waking and sleep is proclaimed, in which the state of nidra is somehow the gateway. There is also a very deep, almost secretive, teaching on sleep breathing that refers to prananidra, which connects a very subtle form of pranayama within one of the states of deep sleep without dreams, which is studied in very advanced nidra yoga practices.
This teaching strongly emphasizes this point that the reason for pranayama is to trigger sleep breathing. It is a breathing mode that one has when one is in deep sleep but while remaining awake, vigilant and attentive. In this mode, there are always inhalations and exhalations, suspensions at full lungs and empty lungs. But we are speaking of another type of suspension in which the sleeper loses consciousness of his identity, the consciousness of being separated from the rest of the world, lives and discovers this state of Unity called liberation or enlightenment.
Access to this state is quite rare because its approach often triggers internal experiences of all kinds that most of the time disturb the tranquility of observation and maintain a kind of attachment or identification. We have the impression that something happens to us personally: this inner experience pleases me, it is interesting, or it makes me questions … but above all, it creates the feeling that there is someone whom I call ME who is experiencing an experience. And this division, triggered by this inner experience between me and the object of experience, distances me greatly from this possibility of liberation, from the state of union. And this is where the learning process of Nidrâ Yoga is. It is about gradually deconstructing the identification processes that are numerous and very powerful. These are very old conditionings that are not only personal, but also conditionings inscribed in the human psyche. They must be deconstructed in order to be less caught by an inner experience and not to engage in immediate identification. It must also be understood that any inner experience is the elimination of a congestion contained in memory..
Here we are very far from Patanjali’s point of view which considers nidrâ, as sleep according to the translations, an obstacle to liberation.
We are here completely opposite to this point of view, affirming that it is possible to return consciously in the process of sleep. And it is possible in this process to dissect the conditioning of the human mind that is not only personal. In the process of deconditioning the human mind, it may happen that there are flashes of non-identification where this evidence of unity occurs; this arises only because conditioned memories which have produced the phenomenon of identification have been released.
Liberation consists in deconstructing the chains that condition us. It lies in removing veils and opacities preventing us from perceiving our true nature. While in Patanjali’s translations, one can understand that there is something to be achieved, on the contrary in the tantric way, one insists on the assertion that there is nothing to achieve. We essentially have to declutter the conditionings. This decluttering reveals that we are LIFE itself. We do not attain it.