:: The Role of the Spiritual Heart and Self-Inquiry :: Ramana Maharshi’s teachings on non-duality emphasize the role of the spiritual heart or hridaya as the seat of the Atman and the place of Self-realization. He taught Self-inquiry primarily as a method of tracing our thoughts back to the spiritual heart, in which they can all be dissolved into pure awareness. The same focus on the spiritual heart is perhaps the central teaching of the Upanishads and the ancient Vedic Yoga. This approach, however, though simple is not easy. It requires a great power of concentration, not simply as a mental exercise but as the full gathering of our awareness, thought, emotion, sensation and even instinct! The difficulty for the ordinary aspirant, whose thoughts and feelings are scattered at both conscious and unconscious levels, is being able to gather and focus the mind and prana in the heart in order to really set this process in motion. It requires the full energization of the meaning of one’s life and experience, not only through this but through all incarnations! In this regard, the main obstacle is the prana itself. Our minds naturally move outward with the prana, though the breathing process, our vital functions and the process of sensory perception. We only return to the spiritual heart during one period of the day, this is unconsciously and mechanically in the state of deep sleep. Only a very focused and determined mind can turn this pranic current around and be able take the awareness into the heart and hold it there. It requires the combination of the most consummate insight, purpose and passion. In this context, the key practice in Yoga is Pratyahara or withdrawal from the senses. Up to that point all practice is external with body, mind and prana. Pratyhara is the decisive inner turn in which one directs the energy and awareness within. As such, it is the most difficult phase of Yoga, determining whether the Yoga is real or just a play of the outer personality. Pratyahara requires that we switch the polarity of our pranic current, allowing it to flow inward instead of outward. This is the decisive turn in Self-inquiry as well. If our pranic current is not directed within, then our introspection has no substance to it. This Pratyahara is the basis for real Self-inquiry. We find that Ramana practiced this by initiating a powerful simulated death experience as part of the practice of Self-inquiry that led to his realization when he was boy. Self-inquiry depends upon the Pratyahara of the spiritual heart and inner concretion that comes through it. :: Aids in Turning the Current Within :: Yet the Yogi is not left without aids in this process, which is the culmination of all yogic practices. There is much that we can do to prepare the ground to make this process really work. The first aid, naturally, is the practice of pranayama or control of the breath and vital force. Deepening and internalizing the breath naturally internalizes our awareness and takes us into the spiritual heart. We can take the pranic current that usually is the enemy that carries the mind outward and makes it captive to the external world, and turn it into a friend to guide the mind within to the inner world of the heart. Another related method is the use of mantra. Mantra is the concentrated energization of the mind through using special sounds, words, names or concepts. The mantric current naturally takes us back to the heart, which is the ultimate source of all sounds, the site of the unstruck sound, the sound of the Eternal. Yet mantra is most effective when combined with the awareness of a deity. A mantra is a name or power of the deity. It is not just a sound or energy without significance. Mantra in this regard leads us to Bhakti or devotion. It is devotion to the Divine within that allows us to internalize our energy. Combining pranayama and mantra is yet better. For this it is helpful to relate to a Deity who rules over both mantra and speech. This is the dominion of the Goddess. We must remember that the ego cannot really practice Yoga or Self-inquiry. The Self-internalization is done by our internal being, which is the soul or non-ego. This is our universal Self that is one with the deities or cosmic power. So the deity is also the inspiration of our inner Self through whom the Yoga can proceed, just as the ego recedes. Our own effort to practice the Yoga can defeat its purpose by injecting our self-concern into it. Focus on the deity allows this self-concern to dissolve. In this regard, one of the main deities that can facilitate mergence into the heart, is the great Goddess Kali. :: Kali and the Yoga of Knowledge :: Kali is the primary Goddess of Yoga, the background Yoga Shakti, the power of Yoga or Kriya Shakti. She is the power that takes our energy within, which causes us to seek the eternal and lose interest in the ordinary outer affairs of life. She is the electrical stirring of the soul to Divinity. She is the voice of God reverberating within us and the will of God as it works through us, when we let our little self or ego fade into the background. Kali is the power of the great current of awareness. She is also the power that allows the mind to concentrate. Kali is the great Prana or cosmic life-force, she represents the most primal will of all life, which is to live forever and to never die. This core wish for immortality is not some mere delusion or arrogance within us, it is the very reflection of Sat or pure Being into creation, the portion of the Eternal that is our soul. Kali represents the most primal desire, which is to love all and be one with all, to find the perfect, pure and eternal love, which is the presence of Shiva, the Eternal Being and Consciousness hidden in all life. Hidden even in ordinary desires is her ascending force to get us to seek something more beautiful and wondrous, to take us beyond our boundaries, to make us unhappy with what we already have, in order to reach a greater reality beyond. Her desire or will-power generates in the human being the decisive moment of spiritual awakening, in which we realize that true happiness cannot be found in the outward world but only within. Then she redirects our life as a mystic journey to the inner source, the heart of creation, and the Eternal flame. Kali’s Shakti works to direct and focus our energies within, back to the heart and the core of our being. Kali’s energy works to reverse the ordinary process of creation. Hers is the power that merges earth into water, water into fire, fire into air, air into ether, ether into mind, and mind into pure consciousness. She takes us back from the many to the One, reintegrating the world into our deepest Self and Being. This means that Kali’s energy is like a simulated death experience. She helps us withdraw our full attention from the outer mind, emotions and senses into the inner heart. In this regard, Kali is the prime Goddess of Jnana or Self-knowledge. She takes us back to the Self in the heart, unifying all our experience within it. Kali is Nirvana Shakti, the power that takes us to dissolution or Nirvana. She is the magnetic pull of Nirvana within us. In Yogic terms, Kali is the Nirodha Shakti, the power that gives the ability to dissolve the fluctuations of the mind stuff of chitta, that is the tradition definition of Yoga through Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Her power checks, negates, masters and dissolves all functions of mind and prana into the infinite silent calm of the Purusha within the heart. Not surprisingly, Kali is the main Goddess worshipped by many great yogis. One is reminded of the experience of Ramakrishna, who was a great devotee of Kali. After learning the Self-knowledge of Vedanta through his guru Tota Puri, Ramakrishna meditated on the Self within the heart in order to realize it. In doing so, the image of Kali arose, he found that he had to break through his attachment to her by removing her form with the sword of knowledge. Yet he came to realize that the sword of knowledge was also that of Kali. She projects a form to help us along the way, but destroys that form when it has fulfilled its purpose, taking us within to her formless being that is her real state.