The Yoga of Sensation and Perception

Posted on in On Our Radar by Rupert Spira


Our essential nature of pure awareness or consciousness is veiled, in most cases, by the belief that consciousness is located in or as the body. With this fundamental mistake, consciousness seems to contract into a separate self that we feel to be “me,” and the world seems to become separate, other, “not me.” Although this division of experience never actually takes place, it is a powerful illusion that seems to divide the oneness of experience into two separate things. With this apparent division, suffering is born and the search for happiness begins.

In most cases a friend or teacher is required to point out this fundamental mistake, and through association with him or her—through conversation, meditation, investigation, and simply spending time together—the dense web of beliefs and feelings that compose the knot of separation is dissolved. This dissolution is sometimes called awakening. It is the awakening of consciousness to its own being as the reality of all things. However, the understanding that our essential nature of pure awareness is ever-present and unlimited is just the first stage.

One of the most common complaints on the spiritual path is that in spite of our clear understanding, we continue to feel, act, and relate in ways that betray the presence of a separate self. The reason for this is that our understanding has not been taken deeply into the body, and remains only at the level of thought. We may understand that everything appears in consciousness, is known by consciousness, and is made of consciousness, and yet we may still feel the body as something solid, dense, limited, and located. Likewise, and as an inevitable corollary to this feeling, we may perceive the world as something that is separate and at a distance from ourselves.

This feeling of solidity, density, and locality substantiates and validates the belief in being a separate self. The belief and the feeling mutually support one another and are thus responsible for the complexity and tenacity of the apparently temporary, limited self around whom most of our lives revolve. In fact, the feeling of being a separate self is deeper and lasts much longer than the belief. For instance, a conflict may arise in a relationship which, although subsequently resolved, may leave a residue of tensions in the body that take some time to dissipate. During our lives a network of such tensions and contractions have been laid down, layer upon layer, in the body. Long after their apparent cause has been resolved and forgotten, this network remains alive as a sort of memory or echo in the body, mimicking the presence of a separate self that supposedly lives there.

The approach that I call the Yoga of Sensation and Perception is aimed at dissolving the discrepancy between what we understand and what we feel. This approach starts with the recognition of our true nature and proceeds from there to fully investigate the relationship between consciousness and objective experience. We explore the body as it is really experienced, and in doing so, liberate it from the tyranny of a nonexistent separate self. We allow the body to gradually return to its natural, organic state of openness, transparency, and sensitivity. We learn to feel and move the body in a way that is consistent with our understanding.

The well-defined borders or contours that seem to separate the body from others and the environment are seen and experienced to be nonexistent. To begin with, we feel that the body is made of permeable space, in direct contact with everyone and everything, no longer sealed up in a clearly defined, impervious container. The borders between ourself and the object, other or world dissolve, until we can no longer locate ourself as someone, somewhere. In time, we drop the space-like aspect of our self: we are no longer the open, empty space of awareness but rather the dimensionless presence of pure knowing. We know and feel our self as the light of pure, dimensionless knowing, which not only intimately pervades the entirety of our experience, but is its only substance and reality.

“The approach that I call the Yoga of Sensation and Perception is aimed at dissolving the discrepancy between what we understand and what we feel. This approach starts with the recognition of our true nature and proceeds from there to fully investigate the relationship between consciousness and objective experience.”

In the Vedantic tradition, the path of self-enquiry is initiated by a question such as, “Who am I?” or “What is it that is aware of my experience?” Such questions have the power to invite the mind away from its customary objects of interest—thoughts, images, feelings, sensations, and perceptions—and toward its source, the subjective experience of being aware, or consciousness itself, allowing consciousness to recognize its own eternal, infinite nature. In order to undertake this inward-facing path, one first has to separate oneself from everything that is not inherent in one’s essential being. Establishing the presence and primacy of our essential identity of pure consciousness in this way, we arrive at the conclusion that “I am nothing that can be thought, felt, sensed, or perceived; that is, I am nothing. I am the ever-present witness of experience.”

The Tantric path, of which the Yoga of Sensation and Perception is a contemporary expression, involves a turning toward experience, an exploration of objective experience in the light of our enlightened understanding. If the Vedantic path is the path from “I am something”—a body and mind—to “I am nothing,” the Tantric path could be said to be the path from “I am nothing” to “I am everything.” If the Vedantic path is one of exclusion or discrimination, the Tantric path is one of inclusion or love. Thus, the two traditions of Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism are complementary aspects of a complete approach to the exploration of experience.

This path of inclusion or love involves a realignment of feelings, sensations, perceptions, activities, and relationships with the recognition of our eternal, infinite nature of pure consciousness. It is the second stage of the spiritual process, in which the residues of the separate self in the body are gradually exposed by, surrendered to, and in time gradually dissolved in the light of awareness. It is a way of inviting the body to be felt and the world to be perceived in a way that is consistent with the understanding that consciousness is the sole and ultimate reality of all experience. We do not want to simply know that I am eternal, infinite consciousness. We want to feel it, and we want to live in a way that is consistent with this feeling-understanding in all realms of experience.

This last phase of the spiritual path is an endless process that is described variously in the spiritual traditions as the establishment process, the Great Rebirth, and the transfiguration. It is a process in which the body and the world are progressively permeated by and saturated with the open, empty transparency of our true nature. It is the “outshining” of the mind, body, and world by the light of pure knowing.

Rupert Spira met his teacher, Francis Lucille, in 1997, whereupon he was introduced to the Direct Path teachings of Atmananda Krishna Menon. Rupert holds regular meetings and retreats in Europe and the US, including the upcoming Science and Nonduality (SAND) Conference, where he will give a keynote on the nature of consciousness. This essay is excerpted from his forthcoming book Transparent Body, Luminous World: The Tantric Yoga of Sensation and Perception (Sahaja Publications, Nov. 2016).

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