Existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level
100 years ago this word was rarely used in the English vernacular. Now, in 2016, it is a common colloquialism but what does it mean, exactly?
To transcend, in spiritual circles and mystery traditions, means (as it says above) to go beyond the experience of ordinary physical life.
The word beyond could also mean ‘to go higher’, that transcendence feels like an ascension of sorts, a connection to the universe, God, the all, whatever you like to call it. But how do we make this connection?
Through yoga, for thousands of years, transcendence and the leaving of the physical, returning to the truth of one’s being, has, at the very core, been the intention or ‘goal’, if you will. The yoga sutras teach us, very basically, that if we learn to be quiet and concentrate, available to us is utter bliss, a connection to the divine and to the truth of who we are; in yoga we call this Samadhi
One could arguably have an experience of transcendence without necessarily being able to maintain Samadhi, enlightenment etc. Just the very involvement of intensive meditation may give someone the essence or sensation of transcendence, even if momentary and slight. The idea is, then, once we taste this sweet nectar of truth and freedom, we strive to keep returning by refining our discipline and our practice.
However, as a mother of two small children, I know, as well as any other householder, that this endeavor for sanctuary seems easeful at times and arduous at others. I long for the time to practice for hours or sit in meditation every morning. I know how effervescent I feel after a good practice and yet, I still have difficulty making it to the mat.
I think this is poignant because the question here is whether mainstream yoga stays ‘true to its roots.’ I think this is a question on everyone’s mind. As someone who has studied archaeology and psychology, I first ask myself “what does that even mean?” In archaeology there is an adage—good ideas spread quickly. You can follow the trends of ancient people through the movement of art on pottery, the design of jewelry and other artifacts where you see an idea begin in one place and then see how the motif spreads out from the epicenter.
Part of the nature of the movement of ideas, thoughts and art is that, like human behavior, it evolves and it adapts.
In the beginning yoga, we think, developed as a methodology for self-transformation, transcendence and enlightenment. It, however, was never really built for those who were living a householder’s life. Yoga was reserved for spiritual astutes and Brahman.
In the late 1800s, Swami Vivekananda brings yoga to the West. It sparks a few people and yoga has a slow but steady movement throughout the beginning of the 1900s. A couple of world wars later and yoga enjoys a resurgence with the 1960s peace and love revolution. In the 1990s, however, we begin to see the ignition of what yoga is today. I personally believe it was Bikram that strongly facilitated bringing yoga to the masses by changing the intention from transcendence to exercise. This intention shift fed off the Western desire for thinness and the inability for the householder to have a traditionally devout practice because of work, family etc. Admittedly, however, if you’ve ever been in a 110° F room with 50 people for 90 minutes, you can be pretty close to seeing god.
Yoga has traveled out of India, was brought to the masses and, to date, it is estimated that in the U.S. alone there are over 20 million people who do yoga. Truly, this can’t be bad. Whether or not the intention of mainstream yoga is transcendence, exercise or a little bit of both, I think any regular yoga practitioner could argue that most people, if they attend yoga regularly, are leading happier, healthier lives. It may not be that meditation, chanting, Sanskrit or even all the juicy spiritual pieces are being taught. I know this makes some traditionalists cringe but isn’t that part of their yoga? To let go, surrender and trust that everyone is exactly where they need to be in this moment?
I think the yoga most of us seasoned practitioners grew up with, or have practiced, is enriched with a deep spiritual reverence and saturated with the practices that do allow you to transcend, to have out of body experiences, to find that expansive, luminous and radiant peace that is available at the center of the universe. I can’t say whether or not this is what is being taught today. I definitely have had the experience of both in the classroom.
Social media has added an element to this. People are learning yoga from Instagram, they aren’t even making to classes. I can say that I am happy more people are doing yoga and that the consciousness of the planet is clearly changing. I also celebrate that everyone will get to transcendence in their own time through their own practice. It could be yoga, could be climbing a mountain, swimming in a river or painting a beautiful picture. Yoga is a mystery school. Like all others, it endeavors to answer the questions of the universe in a meaningful way for people and to provide an opportunity for direct experience with transcendence. I feel blessed that we live in a world where, now, the mystery schools are revealing themselves so that more people can begin to live in a sweeter way. Perhaps this is transcendence, learning to love one another and live peacefully, thereby bringing heaven to earth.
Shamanic Yoga Institute
(as seen in Canadian Yogi: http://www.canadianyogi.com/transcendence.html)