Nidrâ Yoga arises in “Pranam“
France Spring 2001
Among the great traditional approaches from India there is Shaiva Siddhânta, which belongs to the great Shaivite tradition and is a little known in the West. It is related to an immense devotional dynamic that developed in the south of India around the tenth century, spreading throughout the country to Kashmir and even beyond the Himalayan barrier. This strong period of influence lasted until the fourteenth century.
A doctrine based on the âgama, but also on the védas, the Shaiva Siddhânta is sometimes translated by the Sanskritists as the “In-Between path”, where the imperceptible original creative principle (Shiva) and the evolutionary dynamism of creation (Shakti) remain in an indissoluble but differentiated union (in Sanskrit bhedâbheda, different and not different); hence the name “In-Between path”.
Every path naturally tends towards a goal or a desired object, and sometimes even one predefined. It has been found many times that when it is reached or seems close to being reached, it appears at the same time that it is not the end of the quest. Being surprised by this evidence usually invites the seeker to a sudden incursion into a “natural movement into the nature of the self”, that vast and silent feeling that seems without origin and without end.
To respond to this invitation is to give priority to this inexpressible Link that merges them in reconciliation, duality and non-duality.
For the one who is on the path (âchârya), the Teaching carries a double message: the journey is without a future and its past is without existence. Thus, the path is nothing but a presence at the very center of each step. But as long as the belief of a journey remains, it seems essential to move forward. This is why the “In-Between path” insists on this intimate marriage of the Motionless and the Moving.
Thus, it is at the heart of that-which-moves (thought) which holds the state of meditative tranquility resulting from deep sleep: Nidra. Nidra Yoga, however, is only one of the many propositions of Shaiva Siddhânta.
Nidra has many meanings and its etymology has served many times to embellish the mythology of India.
Thus, it is the ultimate state of meditation where Shiva, the archetypal yogi, perishes and in which manifestation (creation) dissolves. It is a light sleep, which at the end of a cosmic cycle, precedes the awakening of Vishnu, the great creator of the worlds. Finally, it is the sleep of Brahma who maintains the universe in each of its four phases: appearance, maintenance, dissolution and emptiness.
From a more literal point of view, nidra means meditative sleep. It also has the sense of budding, flowering, and hatching.
Finally, nidra yoga (genitive compound in Sanskrit often translated as “yoga of sleep”) also carries the traditional image affirming that we are only the dream of the imperceptible activity of the creator.
It turns out that when we are completely conscious even in a dream or deep sleep, this Union emerges, merging all the differences of manifestation and leaving space for an intimate perception of non-separation.
Thus, we can say that the state of nidra yoga is nothing more than a pure opening without object. It is sometimes described using the metaphor of an iceberg. This mass of ice can be considered as consisting of three stages:
- the visible part, corresponding to the waking state, or conscious;
- la lignthe line of water, the dreaming state, or subconscious;
- the invisible part, underwater, the state of sleep without dream, or unconscious.
These three parts or states do not have, despite appearances, stable boundaries or separations.
It is enough for the iceberg to change in response to a warming or cooling of the climate – which is permanent – so that these separations are no longer measurable. On the other hand, the line of water is also very unstable, perhaps even non-existent, given the movement of the surrounding waves.
In reality, and ultimately, there is no real separation because all parts of the iceberg are of the same nature. Only the eye differentiates.
It is then very simple to see that the iceberg is all of these parts. Beyond the metaphor, consciousness (the iceberg) is not different from the parts which constitute it (conscious, subconscious and unconscious).
But more intimately still, this iceberg is of the same nature as the ocean in which it bathes. In their deepest nature, all these elements are simultaneously different and not different. The simultaneous perception of these three activities of thought then gives birth to turîya (the fourth state), in which different and not different are inseparable, the Sanskrit term meaning “pure impersonal spirit”.
In its practical form, nidra yoga can be considered in three degrees or levels, each dynamic and connected to each other: sleep, dream, death.
The work consists in bringing, through conscious thought, a very deep state of relaxation in each part of the physical body (muscles, organs and bones), simultaneously developing a very acute perception of all its constituents. This systematic and detailed recognition of the body induces both a relaxation and a very intense concentration, generally well beyond what is called relaxation. It is also a question, at this level of practice, to appease all sensory processes while boosting their function.
This second part essentially deals with the process of thought and mental imagery. It consists in dissociating the accumulated energy in the mental images and the subconscious memories, trapped in mental and psychic schemas, in order to return to fluidity. This work is better known as the liberation of samskara (latencies and memories that can have significant repercussions, including blockages in the body and the psyche). In this part of the work, we also address the very process of the organization of thought, its role, its limit, its activities and its impact on behavior.
In its third phase, nidra yoga approaches the threshold of possibility, the very origin of thought, death to be understood here as cessation of thought. Attention will be invited to slide into the heart of deep sleep (sleep without dreams). Having traversed the meandering labyrinth of thought in the waking state, in the daydream and in the different degrees of the nocturnal dream (personal, collective and archetypal), this last step consists of identifying, on the basis of it, the consciousness-witness, the very one that allows us to know that we have slept, while there is no memory of this particular phase of sleep. This appears as a sudden feeling of silence and space. One is delighted, in every sense of the word. The formal teaching of this approach to nidra yoga finds here its end. It opens, however, to an ultimate phase of transmission, which takes place naturally and spontaneously. Slowly unveiled, through unpredictable and dazzling notes, is the very nature of Living in its intangible virginity: the One and the Multiple are at once identical and different.
Here we come to the metaphor of the iceberg and the ocean, which, while being of the same nature (water), have different appearances and properties. We sometimes add to this image another that of clouds, also made of water but evaporated, to signify the three stages of thought: solid, fluid and evanescent. These incursions in the Real have neither sense nor nonsense. They are accompanied by an intimate feeling of joy, without object or reason.
If this approach has been kept both intact and open, it is mainly because it has never mentioned anything other than this “natural movement into the nature of the self “, this first innocence. To cross the multiple fields which constitute the conscience, with eyes wide open, always carries the risk of lingering on one of its elements and thus perpetuating the fragmentation within the very heart of the personality. It is for this reason that the In-Between path, while giving the fundamental priority to the essentials, does not spare the idiosyncrasies of the individual, even if they are only false certitudes.
This has made it possible over the centuries to develop a teaching that is flexible, rigorous and open. It is not a question of manipulating or adapting the research, but one of considering all our beliefs, aspirations and hopes, in order to deepen their meaning, to denounce their falsification and finally to liberate them. This process of counting itself carries many secondary effects (or experiences) that should be put in their proper place so that they do not become objects of interest. This is why teaching always emphasizes observation and listening, which are a form of attention without any object.
Being in silence without an object does not imply without any reference. What arises at the end of self-exploration is letting go, an abandonment. This is not knowledge. The ultimate point lies in the recognition that knowing that nothing is known is still too much.
Sleep Dream Death © André Riehl