The Symbolic Life of Yoga
and Tantra
A symbolic and archetypal exploration of the meaning of the texts at the heart of yoga and tantra.
The Symbolic Life of Yoga
and Tantra
The heart of yoga and tantra is neither ancient nor foreign, but lies at the very center of human flourishing and lived experience
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A series of six-week courses rooted in The Symbolic Life of Yoga and Tantra and based on such texts as the UpanishadsYoga SutrasSamkhya texts, various Tantric texts, the Bhagavad Gita and more. You may attend any of these courses, seminars, and discussions in The Symbolic Life of Yoga and Tantra series. Once you are registered, no further registration is required. Neither are fees required, although donations are always welcome, following the custom in ancient India. If you find the courses valuable, let your conscience be your guide.

Between the years 327 and 325 BCE, the Greek philosopher Pyrrho, traveling with Alexander the Great's army in Northwest India, encountered a group of people he called the gymnosophia "naked philosophers." He was impressed by their austere, philosophical mode of living. Less impressed by him, they are said to have told Pyrrho that he would never attain to wisdom if he fawned before kings such as Alexander. The Greek philosopher took their advice to heart and resolved to change his life.

This  ancient story, more than 2,000 years old, has been retold and relived countless times with slight variations up until the present day. The profound influence of India's philosophical and spiritual traditions on life in the West cannot be underestimated. The teachings of the yogis and tantrikas of ancient India have found their way into the minds of French, German and English philosophers of the 18th and 19th century and the American Transcendentalists of the 19th century (for example, Emerson and Thoreau), and Indian philosophy has exerted a deep influence on 19th and 20th century psychologists such as William James, Carl Jung, Erich Fromm, Carl Rogers, Stanislav Grof, and others. Today, the teachings of yoga and tantra have become ubiquitous in the West. From our choice of contemplative or spiritual paths and healing methods, to creative expressions in the arts and popular culture, the influence of yoga and tantra is is widespread and even as common as apple pie.

These courses are concerned with the symbolic and archetypal meanings of the paths of yoga and tantra. The language of these philosophies has found its way into our culture: we embrace mindfulness practice, stress management, conscious community, and spiritual seeking, but do we truly understand these ancient, foreign voices, and do we know how to translate their words and apply them to our life experience today? If these questions matter to you, please join me in this series as we delve into the  Symbolic Life of Yoga and Tantra.

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The Symbolic Life of Yoga and Tantra: Introduction

A four-week introduction beginning
Thursday, April 6, 2023
7:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

You've Never Read the Upanishads?

Six-Week Course beginning
Thursday, June 1, 2023
7:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali - Foundations

No session on 9/14
Sessions resume
September 21
7:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

The Sāmkhya Kārikā and the Roots of Yoga

Six-Week Course beginning
Thursday, September 28, 2023
7:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

The Bhagavad Gita: Alchemy of Circumstance

Six-Week Course beginning
Thursday, November 9, 2023
7:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

The Devī Māhātmya: On the Path to Tantra

Six-Week Course beginning
Thursday, January 18 2024
7:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

December 2023
January 2024
February 2024
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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