Monthly Archives: August 2008

The happiness of the modern yogi [Essay]

Happiness is the birthright of every spirit-soul, at least according to the Sanskrit saying, Ananda-mayo bhyasat. That is good news we can all use. After all, many of us have experienced moments of happiness; yet an enduring, persistent kind of happiness has been largely elusive.

So where is this birthright of bliss of which the Vedas speak? An important clue lies hidden in a word we hear on almost a daily basis, “Yoga.” Not the yoga of stretchy-pretzel-limbed fame; but rather Yoga as the timeless knowledge of the Self. The word is a cryptic passage to a realm beyond the impermanence of material life. Yoga invites us to experience that which lies outside the boundaries of body and mind. Yoga is not a belief, or a fact. It is an impulse, a drive, a longing to connect with something real. Yoga is the exquisite pursuit of a life more real than the transient glamour and fleeting joys that punctuate the otherwise drab and anxious tone of material life.

The modern yogi’s journey of self-discovery begins when the appeal of material objects and objectives begins to pale. This can begin as disillusionment with our preconceived notions of life, or the creeping realization that even if we got everything on our wish list, we wouldn’t necessarily be happy. This idea emerges in most of the wisdom traditions. As our spirituality matures, it begins to emerge in our consciousness.

It can be a bittersweet realization that true happiness or what I prefer to call anxiety-free happiness (ananda in Sanskrit) is not to be found in material artifacts or accomplishments. It can be hard to let go of the deep-seeded belief that the right partner, the right bank account, the right environment will make us whole (even if we know intellectually that is not the case.) As André Gide once said, “One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” So, it is normal to have pangs of remorse as we slowly turn our backs on the sea of material longings that beckon and promise to fulfill us. In many ways it is a revolutionary thing to turn away from hopes we have harbored our whole lives.

Yoga, as I am describing it for the modern person, is the spirit of this revolution. This is a revolution against anxiety, dread, and fear. This is a revolution in pursuit of absolute truth, absolute happiness, and absolute freedoms. Yoga is a next-generation paradigm that portends the end of relative happiness. Yoga psychology champions a happiness that is not dependent on external factors. This type of happiness is a completely internal state that arises or disappears in spite of external factors and not because of them. A happiness based in the bliss-from-beyond is the result of turning toward the ephemeral and its loss is the result of turning away. When the modern yogi understands this it slowly becomes easier and easier to participate fully in life; while at the same time maintain an internal distance from it.

Consequently, the modern yogi becomes a citizen of two worlds – on the inside you identify with the journey of discovery, with the mystery of God, with your dharma which is described in certain Vedic texts as das-anu-das-anu-das… meaning, the servant of the servant of the servant of Spirit. On the outside you play the roles you are presented with, and you play them with feeling, and with commitment, but you don’t accept them as who you are because you are increasingly aware that you are the servant of the servant of Spirit. The modern yogi is one with and yet separate from the world at the same time.

This oneness and simultaneous difference is the beauty, the mystery and the philosophical underpinning of Yoga: the more you become free from the influence of matter, ego, dualism (distinguishing between pain and pleasure); the more you see the inherent spirit in all, the easier it will become to participate in the rituals and roles of daily life. The need for personal gratification will no longer be the driving force in your life, because you will have rediscovered your bliss. Instead you will participate in life for the sake of serving others. And even more you will want to help those around you rediscover their bliss. The modern yogi is filled with longing to help fellow yogis restart or continue on their individual journey of self-discovery.

Of course this may sound like so much lovely philosophy. What if we are not yet firmly on the path of the modern yogi? What if we feel a longing in our hearts for other things, alongside our desire to serve others? What if we want a loving wife, a compassionate husband, a house of our own, a good future for our kids? The beauty of the modern yogi path is that whether you are changing diapers, holding hands at sunset, paying bills online, or going it alone, living like a monk, it doesn’t matter. The modern yogi simply stands (or sits) in the place that they are, and uses that moment to connect to spirit. The modern yogi does this by paying attention; paying attention to breath, to sensation, to sound, and above all to the burgeoning sense that she or he is an observer.

As your capacity for paying attention expands it is likely you will experience more spiritual or ephemeral emotions: lightness, giddiness, buoyancy, etc… All this opens you up to a grander scheme. The trick is to avoid the pitfall of assuming too quickly that someone or something is orchestrating these experiences which you are beginning to observe. The caveat is on the “assuming too quickly.” For jumping too quickly to metaphysical conclusions runs the risk of becoming mired in sentimentality. It is worth it in the spiritual process to pace yourself, question everything, and don’t accept every experience as necessarily spiritual. It is of little value to become religiously sentimental. Sentimentality, like any superficial redressing, is the touchy-feely remapping of the false ego.

It is also easy, but equally disadvantageous, to try to just feel better by believing in you, or some newly conceived version of you. Many of the new age and recent self help movements simply push out the boundaries of self-esteem, resulting in an expansion of the false ego (the source of our misery and material misidentification.) The more authentic process is to have respect for the body and mind that surround you, while you work on discovering your true Self and whether or not someone is orchestrating all this.

The fact is something, or someone, probably is orchestrating the experience we call life on Earth. And Yoga is about exploring the mystery, the beauty, and the romance of making a connection with whomever it is that lies beyond the resoundingly transient realm of our senses. The modern yogi path is about doing that without dogma and ill-conceived ritual. Leaving behind the man-made means of escapism; the yogi instead looks for an internal way to touch the wings of hope, to trace out the path of spirit. The modern yogi may regulate and follow certain rules, but not for rule’s sake. Rather the rising spirit-star relies on mantra and practice. Mantras provide the fuel and the landscape. Yoga practice is the repetition of new spirit-affirming skills, replacing old, ego-entrenching acts.

All this requires a very new and real bravery; a courage born of compassion and kindness. Without this fearless determination to discover what lies on the unseen shore of one’s consciousness, the journey of self-discovery stalls in the ports of self-pity and complacency.

Perhaps the most difficult part of initiating this journey is being willing to surrender hope of finding fulfillment for our many material desires; desires that surround us and pervade every aspect of our experience. Desires overwhelm us because they spring from the soul. The soul’s desires are for spiritual romance and adventure. Fortunately the desires of the soul can be fulfilled. Unfortunately, while we are trapped in this material body, our desires turn from spiritual objectives to material objectives; and we find ourselves chasing mirage-like fantasies that never fully materialize (and if they do we live in anxiety knowing they won’t last). It won’t be easy to overcome the influence of the body, mind, and the material universe; but you can be confident that it is possible, and it is possible in this life time.

This world is real because it feels real. And it will go on feeling real for most of us for a very long time. But if we can wake up in the morning and make a decision: that no matter how real it feels, whatever happiness or distress we experience, we will perceive it with equal amusement and observation. We will observe ourselves the way a parent watches a child at the beach, sharing the triumph of the sand castle and the dismay of its erosion by the tide, but all the while knowing it is just a play date with the sea.

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The modern yogi’s path to conscious finance

The old-school-mystic yoga path requires, among other things, total renunciation (vairagya in Sanskrit.) The modern yogi is encouraged to renounce by using everything in service of the Divine. This dovetailing or engaging everything you have (time, talent, money, etc…) is called yukta in Sanskrit. So the modern yogi’s rallying cry is yukta vairagya: use everything in service of spirit.

If, powerful material desires exist in the heart, they can be used to fuel the spiritual journey. The great danger for the modern yogi, is getting lost in personal sense gratification. The solution is to simplify one’s lifestyle to the furthest extent possible.

The fully surrendered yogi gives up everything in pursuit of his spiritual mission. That might be a bit extreme for most people. Four-hundred-and-fifty years ago, the Bhakti yoga scholar Jiva Goswami gave the formula for the ideal modern yogi: 50/25/25. The idea was, “Simplify your life so that you can use fifty percent of your income for charity and good works; live on twenty-five percent, and the rest should be invested for retirement and future care of family.” While this would be a challenge for most, it is not unheard of here in America. In December 2007, People Magazine highlighted a number of people living the fifty percent rule.

Here is a list of ideas for practicing yukta vairagya – modern detachment:

1. Keep a journal for one month of what you spend and what resources you use
2. Have a family meeting and brainstorm on how much less you can live on
3. Make a dream list of what charities or spiritual programs you would support if you freed up 50% of your income
4. Plan a volunteer vacation
5. Choose a number (1-30) for the day each month you will do a major life style simplification overhaul
6. Push the boundaries of sustainability: each quarter set a new and higher green standard for yourself and/or your business
7. Make a 10 year plan to grow your income and shrink your living standard
8. Have family and community contests to discover new ways to simplify and reduce
9. Create a web page or blog journaling your down-sizing
10. Create a facebook/myspace community to promote simple living-evolved thinking
11. When you make or receive food mentally offer it to the divine with the love of a lost lover, as if they were finally joining you for dinner.
12. Whatever new purchases you make, bring them home and offer them to the divine as you understand him/her
13. Create a sacred space or alter in your home, bring in flowers and incense daily
14. Play mantras, kirtan, gospel, or any spiritual music throughout your home (even when you are not there)
15. Find spiritual sounds you can play quietly while you sleep
16. Start a book club, reading classic literature but exploring the spiritual meaning
17. Create a community meeting online or live to discuss the Sanskrit texts (Bhagavad Gita, etc)
18. Encourage your employer to bring in a onsite yoga and wellness program
19. Read from a spiritually inspirational book at least once a day
20. Associate with people who have advanced spiritual knowledge
21. Smile, chant & serve

Six mantras and the secret yogi lifestyle of abundance… [Article]

Any failure to live in abundance is a result of mental conditioning. Unfortunately, thinking or wishing will rarely remove these mental roadblocks. Dislodging the conditioning that has created our current sense of scarcity demands a new behavior. Actually, if abundance is to be attained, a new lifestyle is required: The secret lifestyle of the modern yogi.

The secret of the modern yogi’s lifestyle is in having a conscious approach to finance. The essence of this approach is to make as much money as you can; live on as little as you can, and use the rest to serve spirit and humanity. The consequence of this leaves one feeling deeply satisfied.

It sounds simple, and it is. So what is keeping people from setting out on a lifestyle of simple living and evolved thinking? The problem, whether we like to admit it or not, is that we are deeply invested in the fantasy of financial freedom. We place a great deal of stock in the idea that somewhere, somehow, enough money is going to set us free. We have dumped our assets into consumption, catching up, and keeping up. We are deeply dug in, with debt-based lifestyles. Unwinding these long-standing cultural and emotional investments won’t be easy. Fortunately, help is available in the age-old teachings of Yoga.

Yoga is a Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is an ancient language, and the wellspring of yoga philosophy. Sanskrit words, and the sounds they are made of, are far richer and more magical than the words in our modern languages. Each Sanskrit sound is a both a story and an adventure. Each Sanskrit sound is a mantra. A mantra is a sound vibration powerful enough to push back the boundaries of the mind. (In Sanskrit mantra literally means, that which can liberate the mind.) Sanskrit mantras are doorways to another universe: the universe of self-discovery.

Yoga’s process of self-discovery can show us a way out of the conundrum of wanting more for humanity without wanting less for ourselves. To understand how yoga psychology can accomplish this feat, and bring us to a state of abundance, we must understand six Sanskrit words or mantras. They are: karma, dharma, kama, kripa, yajna, and yoga. Taken together these six mantras form the basis of the modern yogi’s lifestyle.

Karma

Karma is physics. It is the consequence of past actions. Karma is responsible for your genetics, your culture, and your lot in life. Genetics is the kind of body you have (tall, short, athletic, hobbled, etc.) Culture is the circumstances of your birth and/or upbringing (race, class etc,) and your lot is what you have coming in life (money, difficulties, good times, etc…) This can be a bit of a difficult pill to for some to swallow. It makes some feel as though they are hopelessly trapped by destiny. This, however, is not the case. There is plenty of hope.

Karma is inextricably intertwined with past lives. When we view life through the lens of past lives, life makes more sense. It is easier to understand why good things happen to bad people and vice-versa. The karma described in yoga philosophy is somewhat different than the popular notion of instant karma. According to the yogic theory of karma the results of your activities in this life have more to do with what you did in previous births. This can be very confusing to contemplate and might even suggest a course of inaction, “why put out the effort if outcomes are predetermined?” This is not recommended, because failure to play the game to your fullest dooms you to another round with increased difficulties. Karma is the hard-wired consequences of your actions, going back farther than you can ever remember. It is not a reason to give up or feel defeat.

The most discomforting aspect of karma is that, although you know what your genetics and culture are, you can never know what lot awaits you. Even Vedic sciences like astrology, Brighu readings, or face reading, give only cursory and vague indications of what lies ahead. So, what do you do if you have no way of knowing if prosperity or tragedy awaits you? You do what any spiritual warrior would do. You assume the best, and prepare for the worst.

Dharma

If karma is what you are stuck with, dharma is what you do with your karma. Dharma is an exciting and multifaceted story. It has to do with what is right. In that sense dharma means virtue. Dharma also holds the key to discovering who you really are. Dharma is your essence, your true nature. Dharma is inherently reciprocal. When you protect dharma, dharma protects you. Dharma is the opportunity to redefine who you are by choosing to be defined by your actions (dharma) rather than your assets (karma.) So, if life hands you obstacles, or even a tragedy, you either go dharmic on it, and turn the fire of adversity into fuel for growth or you capitulate and let the fire burn down all hope.

The essence of dharma is the drive to connect with spirit. This same impulse is part of the creative impulse. This is why art, music, science, and literature, is, at its best, about gaining access to the indescribable, the mysterious, and the exquisite-absolute truth. The negation of dharma is the laborious effort to try and control the unconquerable realm of matter. Because matter is transient it offers only the illusion of stability and can never be fully controlled. Consequently, no amount of material success will ever bring a sense of abundance. Dharma is the courage-instilling-adventure of stepping into the unknown and discovering who we really are, and what we are capable of.

Kama

In your heart is a city overpopulated with longings, lust, and desires of every possible size and shape. If this city had a name it would be Kama. Kama includes every material desire you have, or will ever have. Kama also represents one of the greatest opportunities for spiritual growth that awaits you: the chance to harness a force greater than all the material obstacles put together. Kama is the secret weapon of all great yogis and spiritual warriors. Because they know that kama does not originate in the realm of matter. Kama is originally a part of spirit, intrinsic to the soul. Only as a consequence of our having forgotten our spiritual nature did kama become colored by material desires. The secret to redirecting the power of kama is to replace our material goals with spiritual goals. You do this by analyzing your material wishes and figuring out a way to make them spiritual. [See box inset for examples]

Basically the modern yogi only has three options for dealing with the endless desires of the heart: 1) ignore or repress them and eventually suffer the consequences, 2) submit to them and attempt to fulfill them and eventually suffer the consequences, or 3) engage them in the pursuit of spirit and make them work for you.

Kripa

If the mysterious, the exquisite, or the absolute have an emblem, it is the inconceivable quality of kripa, or mercy. Kripa means grace. It is the only force capable of making an end run on karma. Outrageous quantities of it are all around us, yet it cannot be mined or extracted at will. Those who attain it know its intrinsic properties: uncontrollable and undeserved. Though we can never command it, we can dispense it freely. It is the one thing you can never purchase, yet you have an unlimited supply to give away.

For those who are interested in obtaining it, yoga philosophy does offer one clue; it is all about who you know. Similar to knowing the doorman at a club and getting an undeserved break, resulting in quicker entry, association with spiritually advanced persons results in being moved to the head of the line. Consequently, the modern yogi is always anxious to serve the saintly.

Yajna (pronounced yug-yuh)

Yajna is Sanskrit for sacrifice. In the ancient practice of mystic yoga, sacrifice involved elaborate rituals or extreme acts of self-denial. For the modern yogi sacrifice is about engaging everything you have in service of spirit and humanity. In other words, “What is the least you can need, so you can do the most for others?”

Some people are apprehensive about the word sacrifice. Interestingly, the word sacrifice is synonymous with the word yoga. In this context of modern yoga, sacrifice does not mean performing painful austerities. It means making everything sacred. This is the  origin of the word (Latin=sacrificium; from sacer or holy + fic, from facere to make.)

Making life sacred is based on the practice of engagement (versus renunciation.) Yogic engagement means you give more than you use. The modern yogi should be able to support spiritual programs, give in charity, and provide for the welfare of those who work exclusively for the benefit of humanity.

All of this takes money. From this perspective the modern yogi is expected to make money, but not for personal indulgence. The guiding principle is, “What is the minimum needed to serve the server?”

Yoga

The word Yoga is a powerful mantra. It is a universe of stories, histories and adventures. Yoga opens the door to a waking world where each day brings new awareness and experience.
Literally it means, “To yoke”. This yoking, or connecting, refers to restoring the relationship between the self and its original source, the source of all abundance. Another Sanskrit synonym for yoga is atma-jnana: which means journey of self-discovery. Yoga has always been about self-discernment; i.e. knowing yourself. Through self-knowledge yogis discover what they can they can and cannot control. A yogi then derives power from knowing they have no control over life’s outcomes. Yoga is about living what you can control and not being controlled by what you cannot live.

Abundance exists in the now

It is interesting to note that abundance seems to elude the poor and rich alike. Too little money will almost always lead to unhappiness. Too much money also leads to unhappiness (although not the same unhappiness of being too poor.) After meeting one’s basic needs, increasing income tends to lead to increased consumption. This leads to what researchers call, the hedonic-treadmill-hypothesis, where nothing is ever quite enough. Fortunately, spiritual happiness depends neither on abject poverty, nor material success. It does, however, depend on being able to live in a state of abundance.

Abundance is not measured by what you have, but by what you can give away. Those who have little but give a lot are often happy. Those who have a lot, but give little, often are not. If you start today and figure out what is the least you can need, so you can do the most for others, then abundance manifests immediately. Why wait for something that exists in the now.

Also: Practical tips for conscious finance

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Looks like we’re going to be here a while… [ESSAY]

Culver City, California – A tired and poor black man shuffles by the Starbucks. A motivated-pencil-skirted young woman strides briskly into the store. A hip-hop based soundtrack plays over the scene from a Mercedes-Benz idling at the stop light. Jacaranda-tree-filtered-sunlight gently fills the outdoor patio. The question occurs to me at that precise moment. What is this place? What am I doing here?

This query seems to stir up a desire to be of help to others. As that thought rises up through the self-conscious soup of my mind, I can’t help blushing at the unoriginality of it.

It feels both presumptuous and arrogant to think I can be of help to anyone. Up to this point I had thought, if I knew more about yoga and its psychological implications than most people, I would be allowed to play the part of teacher or expert. In a quiet moment of self-honesty, however, this seems hopelessly grandiose.

As that hopped-up caterpillar sitting on his toadstool puffing on his hookah would rightfully say to me, “And whoooo are YOU?!??” After all, my life has hardly been a paragon of principle and virtue. I have lied, cheated, stolen, and participated in countless amounts of self-indulgence. However, having been there, done that, the longing to be a little more selfless and perhaps encourage others to share this journey of self-reclamation with me persists. Why invite others to come along on this journey? The words of Mark Twain come to mind, “Misery can be experienced on its own but to get the full measure of joy you have someone to share it with.”

Inviting others to share any type of journey or event, however, is fraught with peril. Not just the peril of presumption that arises from thinking one knows better than others, but even worse, the risk of over-thinking and mechanized parts of life that are meant to stay organic and spontaneous.

The good news for the reluctant explorer is that the journey suggested in these letters is predicated on Yoga (the ancient transformative one, not the sweating and bending one.) The wisdom reservoir of Yoga has a plan for defusing the tension and tendency of over mechanizing the journey of self-discovery.

Yoga’s built in fluidity compensates for time and circumstance (see my summary on the history of Vedanta.) Yoga additionally suggests an approach that begins with an expedient amount of structure and discipline but blossoms into irrepressible spontaneity (see my article the hidden history of Yoga.)

The goal of these letters (articles, blogs, electronic offerings…) is to hew to the fluid, structured, spontaneous nature of Yoga while exploring the lesser-known face of Yoga: a system of psychology, a healer of identity and the synthesis of celebration and scholarship.

The goal of the author is to offer his services as valet. Allow him to hold your coat and baggage while you enter and explore the working dimensions of the world of yoga psychology.

The goal of life is to learn how to be a modern yogi: balanced, focused, kind, connected to spirit, and happy to serve; all while grabbing a decaf mocha latte, answering your iPhone and surfing the waves of 21st century life.

See you soon.

Your servant with love,

Atma…

The Dark Knight Triumphs

Like Godfather II, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Night is that rarest of sequels: better than the original. In my review of Batman Begins (entitled, Best Batman Movie Yet) I called the film, “a smart and insightful piece of psychological film making.” Dark Knight earns that same accolade and a little more.

The film is a masterful metaphor for the complex challenges of healing the human mind. Gotham City is the mind field and the characters the different aspects of the self wrestling for dominance. Gotham City has risen up from its crime-infested haze, thanks largely to the efforts of the Batman. A more cowed criminal force remains at large, but their weakened state is of much disappointment to the Joker (played with artistic force and psychotic glee by the late Heath Ledger.) Gotham’s recently emerged villain du jour, a dark and volatile psychopath, so perverse that he ends up frightening even the city’s own leading criminals. His goal is not wealth or power but rather to be the voice (and source) of chaos.

The story itself can be viewed as allegory for the well known psycho-spiritual phenomenon, the dark night of the soul. This ‘dark night’ is sometimes experienced by those who have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of virtue and spiritual activism. It is somewhat like the darkness before the dawn. It results from tenacious efforts of the false ego to maintain dominance over the mind field. Consequently, the mind is overwhelmed with feelings of doubt, terror, and conflicting desires. At the worst moments the chaos reigns supreme. This is the capacity of the false ego in the mode of darkness and ignorance. The word for this in Sanskrit is tamasic. This tamasic energy in the uninspired person generally shows up as laziness, envy, hatred… but for the individual striving for virtue and betterment, this energy can take on a blackness (a heart aching, lonely, sense of desolation) that attempts to cover the heart. This is what has come to be known as the, ‘dark night of the soul.’ In the film, Gotham City is experiencing a dark night of the soul (personified by the Joker.)

A person experiencing the dark night of the soul is not to blame. This phenomenon is wired into the nature of material existence. Material energy is designed to confound us in various ways at different times; The dark night of the soul is one possible aspect of the material energy. Another is to cause us to identify with our bodies, our possessions, and our material desires. This is the role of Maya (represented in the film by asst. DA Rachel Dawes – who by the way represented intelligence in the film Batman Begins). Maya’s role in clouding the seeker’s heart and mind is part of the interplay of light and dark–the cosmic dance meant to push us onward and upward.

All the various dark, downward pulling energies work not just on individuals, but on the collective mind as well. One example of this in the Sanskrit texts is the dark and evil personality of Kali who rules over the Iron Age. (Yes [gasp] our present age – that explains all the greed, quarrel, and hypocrisy.)

In other words, the same thing that can happen to the human mind can happen to the world or the various epochs of time. The 18th century Sanskrit scholar Visnavatha Chakravati Thakur described how it is possible for the influence of a dark age (the aforementioned Kali Yuga) to enter into and influence a Golden Age (like Satya yuga.)

Other smaller, but equally vicious agents of change can be put into the game by the Big Guy. These dark force angels are responsible for wreaking havoc on behalf of the drama known as life. They are representatives of God who bring unimaginable hate and destruction. There are several examples of these in the Vedas: the evil Ravana in the Ramayan; the cruel and vicious Hiranyakasipu in the Vedic history of the Nirsinghadeva incarnation, and the malevolent and despicable Kamsa in the Mahabharata.

One might wonder, “What is the purpose of these evil doers?” But they are crucial to the unfolding of God‘s story or as they say in Sanskrit, lila. Remember that in the Vedic paradigm this whole reality we know so well is just a play, a dream, a construction for our benefit and our development. Bad guys are as important here as they are in any story. Without the protagonist there is no one to move the story forward.

Spoiler alert below!

The Joker plays the role of the dark force angel; he is even self aware of the nature and importance of his role. He doesn’t want anything materialistic. He is just here to teach lessons. The only way to beat the Joker at his game is to not surrender the values he is assailing. When he targeted deception and dishonesty, people died because Batman (who in our analogy to the mind would be compared to intelligence) did not want to surrender his identity. Batman’s dual identity is a rich example of how human intelligence becomes adversely identified with its various roles. When Joker targeted fear and selfishness and set the prisoners in one boat against the good citizens on the boat, they chose compassion and frustrated his dastardly plan altogether. When the Joker disguised evil henchman as hostages, and hostages as henchmen, only the refusal of Batman to accept things as they appeared, and his willingness to seemingly break the rules of conduct–attacking the so called “good guys” to prevent them from harming the true innocents–saved the day. This is what is known as protecting virtue as contrasted by the blind adhesion to virtue practiced by Harvey Dent.

The Joker as the Dark Night of the Soul is able to render the most ardent representative of virtue into an agent of darkness. Harvey Dent was a paragon of upholding virtue (dharma.) But he was known to cling too tightly to his values, creating a dual perception of himself; so much so that he was referred to as “Two-face” in his career as an investigator of police conduct. In the end his over adherence to rules and regulations (known in Sanskrit as niyamagraha) caused him to succumb to the dark influence. This is what happens to those who adhere to the rules simply for the sake of adhering without understanding the larger picture. There can be this dramatic reversal of roles, exemplified when the District Attorney goes on vigilante killing spree. In the end, only the influence of mature intelligence can prevent a warped aspect of the mind, a dysfunction (called an anartha in Sanskrit and represented by Harvey Dent as Two Face) from doing irreparable harm.

Another dark force angel the Joker has traits in common with is the personality of the planet Saturn, known as Shani in Sanskrit. Persons familiar with Vedic astrology are terrified of Shani coming to their house, i.e. influencing their lives. Shani brings sorrow, destruction, loss (although he also brings wealth to some). The lessons to be learned from Saturn is that virtue coupled with compassion, and free from material or ego gratifying desires, are the keys to success. Shani, like the Joker, cannot be eliminated only overcome.

Here is a summary of the Vedic model of the mind based on Samkyha (analytical) Yoga, with the corresponding characters from the film Dark Knight.

Mind : [Sanskrit –Manas] importer/exporter of data, the conscience; that which tells you, “That looks good”, or, “That looks bad.” Represented in the film by – Alfred, Lucius (The overall-inclusive mind field, i.e. ones “heart” is known as Antahkarana; represented by Gotham)
False ego: [Ahamkara] the I or id maker, that which ties you to the material realm; the false ego has three facets: 1) goodness, 2) change (for the sake of change), and 3) darkness (which was represented by the Joker.)
Intelligence: [Buddhi] the part of the mind that is supposed to protect you and lead you in the right direction, but if it succumbs to the false ego it works against you. When it is functional and mature it will do whatever is necessary to help get you back on the path of self development; even sacrifice itself. [Batman]

In the Vedic model it is super consciousness [Paramatma] that is the source of virtue. And the goal of the individual is to regain its original awareness of super consciousness and in this way rise above the influence of the mind altogether. A common underlying (and rarely acknowledged) theme to most modern hero and adventure movies is that without regaining the realm of pure spirit the cycles of life, death, good and evil continue unremittingly. Consequently any well written adventure movie will subconsciously remind us of this.

So while Dark Knight does not give us the answers to life (nor should it necessarily, after all, we are learning to think for ourselves) it does, however, give us an extraordinary, even operatic insight into the challenges facing the human mind.

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