Rumi--in an old rendering.

Rumi–in an old rendering.

The Difference Between Power and Morality in Yoga

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”


“The basic rule of yama and niyama are . . . very difficult for the average person. Those rules are really for those who have exhausted most of their samskaras and karmas.”

“Realization comes from within and cannot be comprehended by our present level of awareness of the mind, colored and conditioned as it is by likes and dislikes, false beliefs, . . . false thinking and so on, which are our usual patterns of thought and which are all related to asmita, the ego or “I” principle.”

“The most important thing is not to oppose even violent people.  That is . . . ahimsa, and if the whole thing is discussed more deeply, then it means that you practice the elimination of the complex of enmity [and] disapproval.  In India, such a person is called ajata shatru:  born without an enemy.”

Hatha Yoga Pradipika Muktibodhananda–Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Four Chapters on Freedom:  Commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, p. 15, 42 & 193, respectively

“The authors of texts on Hatha Yoga, such as Swatmarama, were very much aware of the practical difficulties every person faced in relation to yama and niyama . . . Experience has taught us that to practice yama and niyama, discipline, and self-control, a certain quality of mind is needed.   Often, we observe that when we try to practice self-control and discipline, we create more mental problems in our mind and personality . . . because discipline and self-control split the personality.”

–Swami Muktibodhananda, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, p. 5.




It is not readily understood, but yoga is about cultivating power and aligning oneself with power, and this approach may be traced back even to Vedic tapasic practices that predated the dawn of yoga found in the Upanishads.

There are stories of use of this power that do not square with a moral worldview.

p335440-Mahabalipuram-Arjuna_meditatingWe have the famously illustrated story of King Brhadratha, rock-carved at Mahabalipuram, who stood in Tree Pose for a thousand days or a thousand years (depending on who’s telling the tale) in order to bring the Ganges River down from heaven to wash over the graves of his kinsmen.

In this case, his “penance” was to supplicate the power of Shiva to do the deed he wished,  but in other cases “penance” or tapas is cultivated to give the practitioner profound powers of his or her own.

Some of the most dramatic stories of such, come from the biography of Rama’s preceptor, Vishvamitra.  For example:

“Vishvamitra organized a great sacrifice and ritual propitiating the Devas, pleading that they accept Trisanku into heaven.

Not one Deva responded. Angered, Vishvamitra used his yogic powers and ordered Trisanku to rise to heaven. Miraculously, Trisanku rose into the sky until he reached heaven, where he was pushed back down by the king of the gods, Indra.

Enraged even more by this, Vishvamitra commenced the creation of another Universe (including another Brahma) for Trisanku. He had only completed the Universe when Brihaspati, the god of Creation, ordered him to stop.

Vishvamitra by Sanjay Patel

Vishvamitra by Sanjay Patel

Trisanku, however, did not fully transcend through the Trisanku Svarga universe created for him. He remained fixed in the sky and was transformed into a constellation.

In the process of forming a new universe, Vishvamitra used up all the tapas he had gained from his austerities. Therefore after the Trisanku episode, Vishvamitra had to start his prayers again to attain the status of a Brahma Rishi (a godly seer) to equal the storied sage, Vashista.”

(, accessed 13, May 2015)

So, we have the tradition of tapasic force-building.

This is the substrate, as it were—an approach to the evolution of self rooted in an understanding of tapas as a means to power and its expression within a universe primarily seen in “Golden Age” terms—i.e. as wholly “good” but arbitrarily so, if you can get your head around that.

Vishvamitra, from a story where Indra sent Menaka to seduce him away from his penance. .

Vishvamitra, from a story where Indra sent Menaka to seduce him away from his penance. .

The most familiar example of such to Westerners is the slapdash world of Greek myth.

In this period, near 1200 BCE, the Hindu tradition was developing themes of life’s drama consistent with the Greek epic myths while, alternately, the Jewish tradition was developing themes of a moral God concerned with justice and the social good (more on that in a moment).

The later Upanishadic texts (800 BCE – 200 CE) turn tapasic practices toward yoga, i.e. an approach to mainly meditative technologies for the evolution of the self aimed at transcendence.

Then, in the later Tantrik tradition (c. 500 – 1100 CE), this gets translated into a more sophisticated set of technologies for cultivating power.  As one observer of Rod Stryker’s modern teaching of Tantra put it:

“Rod Stryker is the founder of ParaYoga and his lineage, Sri Vidya, is Tantra based. Like most, I wasn’t sure what Tantra even was. In the US people think it’s about sex (that’s one tiny branch of one style!). I learned that Tantra is about the cultivation of power – the power of Shakti, the feminine energy of the world.”

(, accessed 13 May, 2015)

Gunas.tibetan-bon-symbolYoga is not the art of getting onto one side of the good/evil duality.  Partly because this is not possible.

Good and evil occur at a shared level of manifestation of the gunas, the primary tamasic – rajasic – sattvic level of manifestation, and this is transcended through power.

What these quotes from Rumi, Satyananda and Muktibhodananda, and stories of Vishvamitra point us to, is the field that envelopes “this-worldly” choice-making and allow us to transcend it.  That is the field yoga trains us to understand and enter. It is the field that enlightens all action and takes it out of the field of morality.

Krishna Appearing to Arjuna in his Universal Form (as Vishvarupa), from B. Gita, Ch. 11.

Krishna Appearing to Arjuna in his Universal Form (as Vishvarupa), from the Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 11.

As the Bhagavad Gita (2:45) says,

“Be free of these three gunas, O Arjuna, beyond duality, always established in pure existence.”

This is not a field defined by social consensus.

St. JOhnWesterners are commonly constrained by a Judeo-Christian view of the cosmos, one we call “Manichean”—composed of good and evil opposites, so we are challenged to see power as something that is not ego-based or politically-based or morally-based.

So, even Tantra’s power dynamics, and Hatha Yoga’s power dynamics that arose from Tantra, get misconstrued as ego-dynamics.  “Power” on the human plane in the West, has very different connotations than “Shakti” in yoga parlance.

Jesus is referring to this in John 15:7, when he says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever you will, and it shall be done unto you.”

The ego thinks, “Goodie!  Candy!” but, if we “abide” in Jesus, we abide in non-duality, and whatever we ask will be powerfully manifested through dharma, through Shakti, and will not be guided by the ego of the individual or the ego of society.

This understanding of Christ is mystical, and de-emphasized in the institutional tradition.  Instead, we get the Manichean view.

The aim of yoga is to enter this field. It is the field of the Now, as Ekhart Tolle so effectively describes it.  It is only from this place that true Ahimsa can be known—where non-oppositional ideas can be thought and non-oppositional acts executed.

A Tantrik Yantra (Power Symbol)

A Tantrik Yantra (Power Symbol)

In this field, manifestation–in its vast multiplicity of forms and actions—is known as a blessing, is seen as wondrous and “good.”

From this point, action will be taken that is dharmic.  Society may givVishnu Jesus Buddhae its blessing to this action or not.  It is irrelevant to the actor—not because his ego despises society, but because Shakti has acted, not s/he as an individual.

This is the place yoga trains us to understand and enter, ajata shatru:  born without an enemy.