Not Higher Nor Lower: Comments on Dualism

It is a staple of so many religions that there is a “higher” and “lower” expression of existence. The higher is typically associated with consciousness and pursuits of abstraction and transcendence, whereas the body, emotions and the material world get the shaft as the “lower” realm of existence. Naturally, there is a not-so-subtle sexism built into this hierarchical distribution, as the feminine has often been the energy of the body and emotions, thus seen as an inferior force in the face of the more masculine practices of thought, abstraction and transcendence.

Even the yoga of Patanjali (considered the first formal organizer of yoga philosophy) makes this distinction in the form of Purusha (consciousness) and Prakrti (matter). The incarnations of Purusha and Prakrti always posit Purusha as a masculine deity and Prakrti as feminine. According to Patanjali, the path of yoga is to purge oneself of samskaras (imprints) that tie one to matter, enabling a greater identification with consciousness. Indeed, liberation is conceived as liberation from matter, and therefore the feminine.

It is my view that we cannot accept this as the goal of yoga, and I am not alone. There can be no higher and lower. There can only be this moment that has been dissected unnecessarily into quadrants that deflect us from what should be the primary goal: integration, the unified understanding of mind, body and cosmos.

The modern asana-centered yoga is not Patanjali‘s yoga, and nor should it be. The focus of yoga as a unification of body and mind is more related to the tantric tradition than it is to Patanjali‘s vision.

Don’t let your toes curl. Tantra has had a bad wrap for centuries, too often reduced to that infamous text, the Kama Sutra, and its many contortionist prescriptions for sexual experimentation. While it might deserve a read, the Kama Sutra is only a fraction of the truth that is tantra: the truth that one can only experience enlightenment through embodiment.

What a relief! Finally, a program that’s not telling me I either have to transcend my body or wait until I reach the afterlife before I’ll be in heaven. Indeed, heaven is an embodied experience, possible here, possible now, in this bag of flesh and bones. Not through a subjugation of matter, but by a sustainable marriage between the masculine and feminine – a balanced integration of the yin and the yang.

So we would do well to discard the “higher” and the “lower” as if they signified objective levels of being. The “higher”, if useful at all, should only be a metaphor for the horizon of possibility that is integrated, expansive living. But we don’t “leave behind” the material on our path toward light. We see it as never having been different from light in the first place.