The Irish poet W.B. Yeats was active right at the turn of the 20th century, when people like Harry Houdini and Madam Blavatsky were experimenting with what falls under the general name of “mysticism.” They paved the way in the West for the early foundations of yoga. One evening, Yeats’s wife tried “automatic writing,” channeling a spirit and answering, in writing, the questions of a seeker. Yeats was stunned by the results, and when he asked “the spirits” if he should spend his life deciphering their messages, the answer his wife wrote was, “No. We come to bring you metaphors for poetry.” The result was his book, A Vision.
A Vision gave Yeats a way to believe in his own imaginative vision. But he also wrote,
Some will ask if I believe all that this book contains, and I will not know how to answer. Does the word belief, used as they will use it, belong to our age? Can I think of the world as there and I here judging it?
He dodged the question by asking, Is it necessary that I believe? Think of Carl Jung’s statement: “Bidden or unbidden, God is present.”
This week marks the celebration among believers of Ganesha Chaturthi—Ganesha’s birthday. In India, particularly in the South, it’s a ten-day celebration of the Son of Siva and Pavarti, the Lord of Obstacles, God of Wisdom, Ekadanta (“One Toothed”), The Elephant Faced one.
I learned as part of my Ashtanga practice that it would be a good idea to consider the benefits of self study as a regular part of my practice, and to also consider that it might help to surrender my practice to a deity. “Each time you practice mula bandha,” Guruji told Tim Miller, “do it as an offering to Ganesh.” I also know, through my study, that Patanjali says,
Self study promotes union with one’s chosen deity.
Perfect absorption is possible through surrender to the Divine.
Svadhyayat istadevata samprayogah
Samadhi sidhi isvara praidhanat (II.44-5)
Ganesha, it should be said, is my istadevata, my chosen diety, my one point of focus when seeking the Divine. I came from Irish
Catholic stock, although not from a devout family, so I’ve had to learn to do the most basic mental exercises of faith. My route to Ganesha was circuital, and my relationship with Him is complicated. I’m only beginning to learn the real complexities of belief, even though, as an American, it’s said I live in a “religious” country. It has been Ganesha that has removed the obstacles to belief for me (and placed others).
He has helped in the physical, asana practice: It’s Ganesha that I chose to have tattooed on my back, to allow me a place to focus my imagination in the geography of my back pain–a displacement of focus, maybe.
If you would ask why Ganesha, it seemed natural to me to address the Lord of Obstacles in order to find the wisdom of their placement (or absence) when it comes to understanding God.
But belief is and probably always will be an essentially imaginative act for me. Like Yeats, to some extent “belief” doesn’t even enter the equation. You could say that Ganesha gives me metaphors for belief. But because my belief in metaphors is so strong, that I see a metaphor as an imaginative equals sign that’s also quite literal, it becomes something tantamount to belief: Poetic faith.
I recognize, in other words, that as I do puja to Ganesha, as I offer my prayers to him, I am essentially offering my prayers in the forms of the human imagination to a form of the human imagination, which I see as the highest Good. It’s the forms of the human imagination that bring us to Union, or at least a kind of concordance, with the vast landscape of the Divine.
Om gam ganapataye namaha.
Posted by Bobbie