We’ve been contemplating the “chatur purusharthas” recently. They are the four goals of life in the yogic canon: Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. Yoga is said to produce the accomplishment of these goals. So far we have explored Dharma, which is a deep subject pertaining to doing what is right and also doing actions that are right for your particular nature, comparable to the concept of “right livelihood.” Today we are exploring “Artha” the second goal of life, which translates as wealth, opulence, and beauty. I believe our word “art” is derived from this common root.
It’s wonderful to be told that cultivating beauty and abundance is one of the spiritually sanctioned goals of a human birth. In the Judeo-Christian tradition of which i am a part, we get this idea that it is very unspiritual to want plenty and abundance and beauty, (never mind kama, the third goal which is sense-pleasure, particularly the pleasure of erotic and romantic love – we’re going to get into that in a couple of weeks – i hope you’ll be there…)
But today we are talking about the recognition and cultivation of beauty, wealth and abundance. The scriptures advise that if we follow the path of yoga the four goals will develop in our lives. One of the ways that yoga promotes beauty is in how it functions to empty us, rid us of mental clutter. A meditation session produces a great sense of spaciousness in the mind. Ever notice how an interior space becomes beautiful when it is uncluttered? Place one object on a shelf, and its beauty stands out and commands appreciation, but put 20 objects on that shelf and it is no longer charming.
There is a paradox that establishing an awareness of emptiness, spaciousness, results in a greater sense of abundance. What takes our breath away when looking at the majestic empty space of a natural vista? Yoga has a way of making us cognizant of natural vastness and of our connection to it. In removing the noise from our mind, yoga practice makes us sensitive to the simple, boundless beauty of the world.
A recent scientific discovery is that symmetry is a very big part of what makes something beautiful. Even infants will prefer to look at a symmetrical image or especially a symmetrical face, and they will gaze longer at symmetry. Symmetry of the body, of ones life, and even balanced function of the brain hemispheres is cultivated by the practice of asana. In an asana practice one conditions the spine with forward and backbends, right and left, stimulating the spinal cord and nervous system in perfect parity and balance, and this reflects in the symmetry of the body. And practitioners will tell you it reflects in the beauty and equilibrium of their lives.
Balance and symmetry are also a form of wealth. There is a goddess of abundance found on ancient Roman coins called Aequitas, and in one hand is a scale and in the other, a cornucopia. She represents the insight that wealth (and certainly beauty) is not necessarily obtained through over-accumulating, but through having a balance and a continuous flow. That flow is fostered by the skill of letting go. The skill of constantly releasing liberates a cascade of energy, yielding a cornucopia effect of unceasing freshness and abundance.
Yoga sages specify the practice of gratitude and contentment. As Patanjali puts it, “Santosha annutama sukha labha” (Yoga Sutras 2:42): From contentment comes supreme pleasure. How amazing- not that pleasure breeds contentment, but the other way around. So wealth and abundance are cultivated by moving from a concept of scarcity to practicing contentment. This sense of satiety must be developed to experience abundance. Lack of contentment, the habitual failure to appreciate, is a kind of poverty that no money or material can alleviate. It takes courage to be satisfied, because in the back of our minds we fear that the expression of satisfaction and contentment may give the Universe the wrong idea, and make it stop providing. But think about it: when you cook for someone, and they express delight in the food, dont you want to cook for them more? And when they are indifferent, you may be tempted to say say “forget you!” Maybe the Universe is the same way, so gathering our courage, we dare to feel satisfaction, contentment and gratitude, and watch what happens.
Beauty and abundance are not necessarily something to get or acquire, but a practice. To recognize the beauty of the world is a form of spiritual practice, like the singer of the Navaho prayer:
I will walk with beauty before me
I will walk with beauty behind me
I will walk with beauty below me
I will walk with beauty above me
I will walk with beauty around me
my words will be beautiful
in beauty all day long may I walk
So we practice walking in beauty, giving the gift of beauty to the world, especially as yoga is a way of beautifying and cleansing the pranic sheath, (also known as the “mind body” or the subtle energy body.) Through pranayama we make the mind lovely and in this way we offer beauty to the world. It is a gift to others to have a beautiful mind, and it’s something we daily renew through yogic practices , just as every morning we take a shower and brush our teeth. I read a review of a yoga class and the writer said he felt wonderful afterward but after a couple of days, the feeling wore off. Well, i took shower a couple of days ago and that wore off, too.
We cleanse and beautify the mind through pranayama – i do, because the mind easily gets cluttered with judgement or envy or things that depress me, and soon enough i look around and everything is ugly. What i do is love the prana. It is the easiest means to do the interior decorating of the pranic sheath. Love purifies. So we take a breath with love all the way down to the root of the tree of life which is our spine. So we love the breath coming and going, maybe even bringing love as trace neurochemistry out into the atmosphere. and we are weaving the neurochemistry of love into the fabric of our consciousness and of the world.
My Guru refers to a purified mind as a “golden mind” and there are things about gold, its luster, its stability and the fact that it is unreactive, that it easily doesnt oxidise, that make it a good metaphor for the yogically trained mind. A mind like this is an inner treasure. The scriptures call the mind a wish fulfilling gem, the “chintamani.”
Respecting the idea that symmetry supports beauty, lets practice alternate nostril breathing, called “nadi shuddhi.” Shuddhi refers to purity, clarity and cleanliness, and nadi refers to the channels of the pranic sheath – seers tell us there are 72,000 of them. So nadi shuddhi is a yogic practice meant to cleans the pathways of consciousness in our subtle body. We can bring beauty to the world by cleaning our pranic sheath.
So lets go: Nadi Shuddhi
Take a normal inhalation through your nose, then using your right hand, close the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril, close it with your thumb and exhale through the left nostril. Inhale through the left, close it with your ring finger and exhale and inhale through the right nostril.
As you breathe alternately, love the prana, and this will purify your mind.
Pay attention to the space between the breaths. Each breath arcs like a rainbow and at the very end of each rainbow, in the pause at the end of every breath, inhalation and exhalation, there is a pot of gold, your own pure mind-stuff. Lets revel in that inner wealth, and go deeper.