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Ratha Kalpana

Ratha Kalpana (from Sanskrit ratha ‘chariot’, and kalpana ‘image’) is a metaphor used in Hindu scriptures to describe the relationship between the senses, mind, intellect and the Self. The metaphor was first used in the Katha Upanishad and is thought to have inspired similar descriptions in the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada and Plato’s Phaedrus. Gerald James Larson, a scholar of Indian philosophies, believes that the chariot metaphor contains one of the earliest references to ideas and terminology of the Indian philosophical school Samkhya.


Ratha Kalpana is used, in the third chapter of Katha Upanishad, as a device to explain the hierarchy of various levels of existence. In this context, spiritual practice is seen as a return to consciousness through the levels of manifested existence. The metaphor forms a part of the teaching imparted to Nachiketa, a child seeking knowledge about life after death, by Yama, the Hindu god of death. It follows an instruction by Yama on the difference between preya (pleasant) and shreya (good). William K. Mahony, in The Artful Universe: An Introduction to the Vedic Religious Imagination, writes, “We have in this metaphor an image of a powerful process that can either lead to fulfillment or in which the seeker can become lost.”


Verses 1.3.3–11 of Katha Upanishad deal with the allegoric expression of an individual as a chariot. The body is equated to a chariot where the horses are the senses, the reins are the mind, and the charioteer is the intellect. The master of the chariot is the Self, on forgetting which the charioteer intellect becomes absorbed in the field of action. The verses conclude by describing control of the chariot and contemplation on the Self as ways by which the intellect acquires Self Knowledge.

He who has the understanding of the driver of the chariot and controls the rein of his mind,
he reaches the end of the journey, that supreme abode of the all–pervading

— Katha Upanishad 1.3.10–11[5]

The Chariot Metaphor in Plato’s Phaedrus

Plato paints the picture of a Charioteer (Greek: ἡνίοχος) driving a chariot pulled by two winged horses:

“First the charioteer of the human soul drives a pair, and secondly one of the horses is noble and of noble breed, but the other quite the opposite in breed and character. Therefore in our case the driving is necessarily difficult and troublesome.”

The Charioteer represents intellect, reason, or the part of the soul that must guide the soul to truth; one horse represents rational or moral impulse or the positive part of passionate nature (e.g., righteous indignation); while the other represents the soul’s irrational passions, appetites, or concupiscent nature. The Charioteer directs the entire chariot/soul, trying to stop the horses from going different ways, and to proceed towards enlightenment.

About Sunday morning

Sunday Morning Contemplation is informed by Eastern and Western contemplative traditions. The first, lectio divina has its origins in 6th century Europe. It unfolds in four steps or stages: reading (lectio), reflecting (meditatio), responding (oratio), and silent abiding (contemplatio). Our Eastern inspiration come from the Indian Upanishads (800-200 BCE), where contemplative practice consists of three steps or stages: listening (śravana), reflecting (manana), and meditating (nididhyāsana or dhyāna). Our contemplative practice on Sundays embraces both approaches, and each contemplation will be based on a reading from either tradition.

The texts and teachers I have chosen played a significant role in my life and I believe have much to offer. I will read presellected texts, slowly, with pauses between verses or quotes. The readings will be accompanied by soothing background music. To lessen distraction, I suggest participants close their eyes and listen. However, the screen will display the text so that people can choose to read along or mute the sound and read on their own. If there is time remaining after the contemplative period, participants can choose to either leave or stay for a short discussion.

As a preface to the reading, I will provide a 10-15 minute introduction to the text. When relevant, I’ll review facts about the author/teacher’s life. I will also present a brief explanation of the terms and language encountered in the reading.

Finally, when the contemplation is over, all texts read will be available online to read and/or download at any time on the website.

What I mean by
The Symbolic Life

This website makes liberal use of classical Indian visual art and refers mostly to traditional Indian texts (for example, the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras) in the courses, seminars, and discussions on offer. However, I am not presenting lessons in Hinduism; in fact, teaching mainstream Hinduism is neither my area of interest nor expertise. Rather, my interest in Yoga and Tantra is grounded in the concrete situation in which we find ourselves, in the places where we arrive and from which we depart. Beginning in the here and now, we will explore the underlying meaning of the symbols, stories, images, philosophies, and techniques found in Indian philosophical texts and practice, in light of our world and our current circumstance. We will excavate the meaning of the aphorisms and teaching stories; the symbolic figures of gods, people, and nature; and the sometimes terse, sometimes poetic, philosophy of the texts. Thus, in referring to the Symbolic Life of Yoga and Tantra, I mean not just the symbols themselves, but the rich explication of life that the symbols represent.

Our lived, concrete situation is wonderfully captured in the Sanskrit word loka, whose ancient meaning is “the world.”  The root meaning of both the Sanskrit loka and the English locate (and local, locale, and location) is identical. In the ancient Indian mind, the world is where we are located, in our current circumstance. Thus, the meaning of the symbols of Yoga and Tantra can occur only in the now, in the places where we find ourselves, and not in any imagined ancient and/or foreign world.

To emphasize our place of origin and return, I use the terms “archetypal” and “symbolic” quite frequently. Archetypal meaning is associated with the universal and collective aspects of human experience—what we intimately share with all others regardless of culture or era or epoch—while symbolic language forms a bridge between the realms of the universal with the culturally specific and local. Symbols are the scaffolding upon which human beings build a world and imbue it with meaning.

Think for a moment of pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy, hatred and love, and greed and generosity—universal experiences that ancient Indian thinkers called the dvandva-s. This Sanskrit term is a combination of two words, or rather, one word spoken twice: the word dva (meaning the same as the English “two”) duplicated. Dvandva is commonly translated as “the pair of opposites” or literally “the two-twos” (dvadva). The ancients who coined this compact symbol gave voice to an archetypal human experience that can be further unpacked to reveal deep insights into the human condition. Once we gain an understanding of the various symbols of Yoga and Tantra, we can further excavate their meaning and the archetypes they convey, and thus gain access to, in a practical and meaningful way, the vision of life experienced by the sages. These insights are available to us and are still relevant today, as are the resilient and adaptable techniques and forms of practice that can help us lead richer and more fulfilling lives