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November 2022
Thought for November

What it Takes (11)

by Swami Ambikananda

And even in the Deepest Past…

“It is here, in the human body, that I may be discovered as the Self ~
But not by the ordinary means of perception by which one knows the world.”

~ Bhagavan Sri Kṛṣhṇa,
in The Uddhava Gita

In exploring our body’s place in the search for the Whole Self ~ the self beyond the ‘ahamkara’, or ‘I-maker,’ it serves us well to look deeper into the physical structure of the body, rather than allowing our gaze to simply move past it. As Yogins, we allow our gaze to move through it. Then we discover that things are not what they seem at first glance. A deeper look brings us to the realisation that ~ at a physical level, the level of the body ~ the past is not the past and the body is not just ‘my body’, separated from all other bodies. It is part of the evolving nature of the universe.


Our living, breathing bodies are a testament to pariṇāmavada (see October blog). The cosmologist, Carl Sagan, famously said, “We are made of star stuff.” Indeed, the molecules that forged life on this planet came to our planet earth from distant and long dead stars. Life began on our planet 3 to 4 billion years ago, and the stuff ~ the molecules ~ of your and my body, are made of the same molecules as that early life.


About every five years all the molecules in our body are replaced. By adulthood we are recycled molecules that have formed body after body since life began. This not only creates a deep and unbroken connection to all other life forms on the planet, but to the past as well. This body is not ‘new’ in this sense, it is recycled form previous bodies! As Prof. Tom Oliver remarked, “Each molecule in our body has its own amazing history. 1


Each breath holds a mystery…


Every Breath You Take


Ah! And breathwork : the molecules of oxygen we need so absolutely every moment of our lives, speak also of pariṇāmavada. Of the air we inhale with each breath, about 20% is made up of oxygen. And each exhalation holds about 15% oxygen ~ the very oxygen we inhaled but didn’t use. (We use only about 5% of the oxygen we inhale with each breath.)


Those oxygen molecules were made by the leaves of trees and plants all over the planet. The oxygen molecules I am breathing in right now as I write this, may have come from the tree of an Amazonian forest; it may have travelled on gentle breezes over an ocean and been breathed in by a mighty whale coming up for air. That whale might have breathed it out, unused, in a mighty spurt back into the atmosphere. From there it may have continued its journey to be breathed in by a child taking its first breath and let out unabsorbed in that mighty first scream. In the same hospital as the child was born, it might have been breathed in by a dying man, and then breathed out again in his last breath.


Air moves ~ that is its nature ~ and here now, this oxygen molecule is picked up in my inhalation. My body may use it to stoke the fire that warms me and converts the foods and liquids I eat and drink into energy ~ or it might be part of the 15% I breathe out. If the latter, it will continue its journey.


It gets even more complex, beautiful and mysterious: with each breath that we inhale and with each breath that we exhale, we are breathing in and then breathing out 1020 molecules. That’s billions of molecules. Most of these, true, are gases ~ but not all of them! Some are molecules of our hearts, our kidneys, our lungs, our hands… And these molecules remain in the atmosphere forever… well, as long as there is an atmosphere.


Looking at this, some smart statisticians have calculated that every time we inhale, we are inhaling the molecules of Krishna and Christ and Buddha and Einstein! Each breath is a miracle.


Never alone…


Classical thinking in the European philosophical tradition led to a separation of the psyche from the physical. However, in the philosophical thought of India, and particularly in the Sāṁkhya and Yoga tradition, no such division exists. Unlike the Western tradition, Yoga never proposed a view of separation between body and mind; rather it proposes a construct in which body and mind are an inseparable continuum or evolution of Prakṛti animated by prāṇa (life-force). Disturbance or loss of equilibrium in mind is a disturbance or loss of equilibrium in the body ~ something only recently being explored in the West through the polyvagal theory.


Further, every atom of creation ~ whether the rock sitting on your windowsill, the bird flying overhead, or yourself as you read this, is all Prakṛti infused with awareness (buddhi), the golden reflection of universal consciousness (Puruṣha) in matter (Prakṛti).


Patañjali, in his Yoga Sutra-s, adds a further dimension to Puruṣha : that of Īśvara. My guru used to translate Īśvara as ‘that which is’: it is the universal reality that we all are beyond all boundaries and constructed delineations ~ it cannot be reduced to any description; in the words of the 12th century poet and mystic Akka Mahadevi, it is ‘the Being of our becoming3.’ Or, as Nietzche put it, the ‘unknown text.’ Or, as the physicist David Bohm put it, ‘the implicate order.’


The Transformation


As buddhi expands to become aware of this reality ~ this new reality ~ we are transformed. Even at this ‘physical’ level of the body, when awareness expands into its reality, our transformation has begun. A transformation that will reveal a Truth that is right before us, within us, around us, and which we do not see. Then buddhi is transformed into Buddha, The Awakened. And then, like the Divine Krishna, we too can say, It is here, in the human body, that I may be discovered as the Self…” A universal Self that pervades all.


In conclusion I offer a poem of the great 12th century Yogini and poet, saint, mystic, Akka Mahadevi:


When I did not know myself
Tell me, where were you?
Like the colour in gold,
You were in me.
Though you were here,
I did not know you,
Beloved Bright as Jasmine’3


The body is the first sheath we encounter on our inner journey, and as we explore it through Yogāsana, it begins to reveal the others, the veils we must pass through to encounter that Truth, so that we can say, along with the most ancient of Yogins, ‘so’ham’ ~ I am That.





  1. Uddhava Gita; translated by Swami Ambikananda; publ. by Frances Lincoln, 2000.
  2. The Self Delusion by Tom Oliver; publ. by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2020.
  3. Akka Mahadevi was a Lingayat Yogini who referred to that deeper Self, that Adhyatma, as ‘Beloved Bright as Jasmine’. The Lingayat poets all created their own epithet for that which cannot be named.


©Swami Ambikananda, November 2022


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