Decoding Mystical Symbols In Art – Interview With Sacred Artist And Author Charles “Ekabhumi” Ellik
The Full Discussion
Learn how to decode sacred images! Join us as we sit down with my good friend, the incredible sacred artist and author, Ekabhumi Ellik. Ekabhumi lives a life immersed in his sacred art, and recently added his own contribution to the Adult Coloring craze by releasing the Shakti Coloring Book. In this podcast we discuss mystical symbols and how we can begin to “read” sacred images by understanding basic concepts of what certain symbols mean. Why does this deity carry a sword but that one a mace? What does it tell us when a deity is holding a lotus flower? With this basic understanding, you can begin to look at sacred images in a whole new light!
Think about this before you bring home the statue of any deity. Ask yourself, would you want that person as your roommate? So Ganesha is pretty easygoing, he likes the sweets, he’s pretty chill, he gets along with everybody. Easy roommate right?
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I’m Ashton Szabo and I’m here with yogi poet, author, teacher and artist extraordinary, Charles “Ekabhumi” Elli. He’s illustrated Sally Kenton’s book Shakti Awakening, Hareesh Wallis’ book Tantra Illuminated, and recently came out with his own book of art which I actually have here, The Shakti Coloring Book: Goddesses, Mandalas, and the Power of Sacred Geometry.
He’s here with us today to talk about decoding secret art. How to better understand the deeper meanings behind these ancient symbols, as well as modern symbols.
Ekabhumi, welcome. How are you?
I’m doing great, it’s a pleasure to be here man.
Awesome! Well I’m excited as well. Really happy that you’ve decide to come in and join us on the podcast.
You know just diving straight in, one of the things that I love so much about India is that everywhere you go in India, not only is there like a rich history and story behind the place and someone that’s been like doing some type of practice for hundreds of thousands of years. But the entire culture is immersed and saturated in imagery, and all of these images have a deeper meaning to them.
Now in our culture, we get saturated with images as well. We’re constantly bombarded just the same with images. But instead of having a deeper meaning to them, it’s like someone’s trying to get us to buy something or, you know, we might have some symbols that kind of point to like, well this is a status symbol. “I’ve got a Gucci bag and that means I’m rich,” but it’s not really alluding to something deeper than that.
But with the growth of the popularity of yoga in the west, a lot of people are starting to get exposed to a lot of these images from the east, and I think as people see and get exposed more to them, there’s a natural curiosity to learn more about them. So I know that you not only create this sacred art and a lot of the symbols that we’re talking about. I know you’re also immersed in various practices and teachings that a lot of these images are conveying. And I understand too, that you used to teach children’s yoga and you started creating some of these images originally as part of a teaching tool for your children.
Now is that actually kind of what inspired you to go deeper into sacred art?
Did you already kind of have a passion for it and then it was just as natural platform and grew from there?
What really got you into sacred art?
The short answer is yes. The kids class really sort of kicked my ass into gear. I had been having the urge to be making sacred art, but I hadn’t really gave myself permission to do it. So, especially Hindu iconography, it’s so complicated and everything is sacred and people are sensitive about it.
But it’s like at the kids class, I’m doing it for the kids, and I could draw cartoons and it could be playful and it was fun. I could really focus on very simple principles that the kids needed to learn, and then the coloring will help them to settle down and focus to memorize things, and then the parents could do it with them.
So that’s really got me into gear to making sacred art per se. But of course, I had a degree in art from college, number one. Number two, I’ve been feeling a strong urge to make sacred art ever since I’ve been assigned a deity practice by the guru that I had at the time. And he assigned me, actually, he wanted me to keep a picture of the deity I was assigned. He said,
“In your wallet, like the picture of your sweetheart. So you see it every day.”
And the problem was that none of the calendar art and the sort of the mainstream pictures I saw of this Goddess matched what I was experiencing when I was doing the practice. I was having these visionary experiences, and I don’t think that’s unusual. It sounds really extraordinary, but when people go into these practices, and even, I believe, if people go into visionary spiritual practices of any tradition in the world, they’re going to start having visionary experiences if they’re doing meditative practices. And we need a vocabulary to understand that.
I don’t feel that a lot of the modern depictions of the Hindu deities match what’s actually happening inside the “chidakasha,” the cave of experience, the screen behind our eyelids when we’re actually doing the practice. And so, being unable to find an image that matched what I was experiencing, I kept getting this little tickle in the back of my head. It’s like,
“Well, you could do this, you could draw this”.
I was like,
“No, no not worthy. No, no I don’t understand this stuff. No, no I’m really not sure”.
And I did do the pictures for the kids coloring class and then finally, I broke down and did an image of this Goddess in the way that matched how I experienced her.
The very first drawing I did I posted it on Facebook, of course. And it’s like, “Oh, I just did this drawing today,” and the scholar Hareesh Wallis, that was the first image he saw, he was blown away because this is an image of a Goddess that he works with. And he was so flabbergasted, and it was so, it meant so much his experience of her that he hired me to illustrate his book and that just launched my career, like out of the box. There’s no, like, spending years practicing at home alone. It was the first real deity image that I did and it really just popped out of me like a birth, because there wasn’t a lot of practicing. I just sat down one day and put in eight hours and out came the image.
Being a committed yogi, you’ve already kind of mentioned that you had a guru at the time that was pointing you to a particular image.
What is currently, like, what does your practice look like?
I mean, do you have a daily practice?
We were talking the other day, you’re mentioning there’s a heavy meditative component to your practice right now.
Are you working a lot with this imagery still?
Or is it more meditative practice?
Do you still do things like asana?
What does your practice look like these days?
Well I think that my primary practice is taking care of my health, and my secondary practice is keeping my wife happy, because that’s the GoddessI live with. And then if we’re going to actually talk techniques that people might recognize as yoga, I do put in anywhere from two to five hours of seated meditation, currently. I’m working with a very wrathful and very ancient tantric Goddess by the name of Paloshin Parshini (7:43). Most closely related to the Goddess people now know as Kali.
And I still do asana practice, but because I’m a householder, and I work, and I’m teaching, and I have things to cook and dishes to wash, it’s very difficult when you’re putting in 2 to 5 hours of seated meditation every day to find the time for asana. I’m really, really missing it. And I’ve got to say now, that I’m doing so much meditative practice-because I was an asana teacher for almost seven years-I really get why asana practice is so helpful for seated meditation, why it is so helpful for the, if you might call higher energetic practices and visualization practices. It really helps to harmonize your system and settle the mind. It makes everything easier and so, when I don’t get to do my asana practice each day-I’m only practicing like twice a week right now-and I really, really miss it.
And I’ve got to say for anyone listening out there, if you’re a meditator, do some asana. It will only make your meditation better. And if you’re an asana person, I highly recommend the meditation because it is going to happen sooner or later anyway.
It’s inevitable, so you might as well practice now, and make it a regular part of your asana practice. Do it at the end of your asana thing, you do your Shavasana and sit, and just while you’re doing a pranayama “nadi shodhana” or you’re chanting the names of God-that could be any deity, not just a Hindu deity-just take ten or fifteen minutes. The asana practice gives you that clear mind, settled body space. It’s such a beautiful state to meditate in after doing an asana practice. I just see people-you and I have both taught-you see people, you finish the class and they don’t even do the Shavasana. They stand right up, go grab their shit, grab their phone, turn it on, start checking the email. They leave this, like, the sweet spot. It’s like they’ve missed the whole, they’ve missed the ugh… it’s a shame.
Yeah. Well, indeed.
So let’s say that I’m the beginning yogi and perhaps even the person that’s so busy, that they’ve got out to hop out of class before the Shavasana. I’m the person. I’m coming in a little bit more and I’m starting to see these images, whether it’s in my yoga studio, or I see them at a local alternative bookstore, or online and I’m starting to get attracted to the images like, “Oh that that looks like something that’s interesting.”
What’s your advice?
Like, where does someone like that go?
What do they do?
How do they start to find out more about more this stuff?
I’m mean do they just go in and Google something?
Or even if they don’t even know what that image is.
What’s a good way to kind of deepen the interest?
Or sort of kind of get their foot in the door of learning more about this stuff?
First off, I want to encourage people and I want to validate people’s curiosity. I don’t want to discourage people. But I’ve got to say, what my teachers told me, which is,
“Believe nothing on the Internet and that Wikipedia is like a giant horizon of mixed messages and unreliable data.”
That said, I’ve learned a lot online, and I still look online if nothing else, just to see what the popular conception of things are. But the problem is when you just do a very superficial research on the internet, mostly what you’re getting is what has been written by very religious people, by people who are devotees. So their deity, whatever their deity is, is the numero uno and everybody else is just an emanation of their deity’s line of truth, and so everything tends to be very biased.
The other issue is that this very religious and moral interpretation of the deities, isn’t necessarily compatible with our yogic practice. Because again, we were saying, you and I agree that it’s kind of inevitable, that some kind of meditative experience is going to come up if you do asana practice long enough. At least there’ll be windows of opportunity. It’s going to come in your field of awareness because it’s part of the energetic practice. Its part of what it’s designed to do.
So I also believe that our experiences of deities, whether or not they look like they have an elephant trunk or not, that’s also going to start to come up as our spiritual practice deepens.
Now whether we recognize them as Hindu deities and not, or whether we just recognize them as a light in virtues, we’re going to start having experiences. And as a result of these experiences, the great icons of divinity from all world traditions are going to start making more sense to us. We’re going to get attracted to them, because we’re going to be grappling with our internal experience as we shift and grow as a spiritual being, and we’re going to need a vocabulary to describe this experience. Whether those are Christian icons or ancient Greek icons, or Egyptian icons, or Hindu icons, I think that’s also an inevitable part of the practice. If you do it long enough that your energy body is going to start, and your mind is going to want to understand, what’s happening to your energy body, and your energy body is going to go and start seeking the company of people of similar temperament, right? This word that the Buddhists call “sangai,” which is so beautiful. It’s like your spiritual family.
If you’re biker and gang banger, you are going to want to find your bros and you’re going to hang out with them, and if you’re yogi, sooner or later you’re going to start feeling a certain kind of camaraderie, and you want to start hang out with the people who have similar values and a similar temperament.
That includes the iconography. Because the friends that we start cultivating-again whether we call them deities, or we call them archetypes, or we call them enlightened virtue, power, consciousness energy-whatever you want to call them, these start becoming a part of our circle of friends too.
Where do they go to find out more information?
Okay, I’m sorry I want to answer your question more directly. It’s really hard dude, it’s really hard because there are not many services that go through this deeper interpretation of the icons. There’s a lot of books out there. Some of them are okay, some of them are better than okay. I’ve been doing a series of courses with livingsanskrit.com, and then the Mattamayura Institute, that’s a complicated name. But Mattamayura, it comes up. Spell it like it sounds. There’s a couple of books I brought with me. Although it’s the Buddhist book, I really think that this is probably the best book out there for
We’ll say the name for those that aren’t joining us with a video, so it’s the Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs by Robert Beer.
The reason why this book is so valuable, is that he goes into what the iconography means, and how it relates to the spiritual practice, which is so rare in books that speak about the iconography. There’s a big book version, and then there’s a smaller paperback version. For the average person doing asana, the smaller paperback version is fine.
It’s easy to find and easy to buy and that’s why I recommend starting. You just have to translate the names from the Buddhist pantheon into the Hindu pantheon. But really, as some of the scholars I’ve talked to agree, tantric Hindu practice, basically went up the mountain in the 9th century and was preserved in Nepal and Tibet. The iconography, even if the names are different, the deities are different, and some of the practices are slightly different from Tibetan Buddhism. But the iconography is virtually identical, the same symbols mean almost exactly the same thing. The same clothing, the same animal skins, the same postures, the same Mundras. It’s very very similar and so that’s a great place to start. It’s a good reliable book.
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Awesome. So let’s dive into some perhaps some more specific examples. Walking in again, so let’s say like an alternative bookstore or yoga studio, I think a very common image that we see-not only in India it’s very common, but common here in the West-is that of Ganesha, the elephant-headed child. And well let’s say, I know nothing about this. I just walk in, I see this image or picture or a statue of this kind of chubby kid with an elephant head and you know he’s got some different arms and one hand he’s got a certain way, and he’s got an axe in one hand, he’s holding some sweets, got a lotus and there’s a mouse hanging out by his feet. Like,
What all this is kind of pointing to? Is it just kind of like, hey there just happened to be a mouse there, and so they’re doing that.
How do we start to really understand the deeper meaning of these symbols?
And I know there’s obviously multiple layers of it, but where can we start to just dip our feet in, to get a sense of what these symbols might mean?
Okay. Well first off. Ganesha is one of the most popular deities throughout all of Asia. He’s been adopted into many many different traditions and even what we would call religions. And it’s because the principle that this elephant-headed figure represents is so key to get on our side as spiritual practitioners.
He’s the Lord of things, Ghana means thing. He’s Ganapati the Lord of things. He’s kind of like a cosmic telephone operator. He helps to make the connection from this thing to its meaning, or from this thing to how it applies in my life. And that’s why he’s invoked before rituals and teachings in almost every spiritual lineage related to Buddhism or to Hindu-whether it’s Tantra or Orthodox or Vaishnavisn or Shivaism. All of these different traditions, they all invoke Ganesha as Lord of things. And that’s why he’s at the front door of yoga studios and Indian restaurants. He’s also the guardian of thresholds, because it’s knowing “where am I right now,” that’s kind of the thing, and “where am I going to,” that’s another thing. And so, he helps us to figure out where we are and where we’re going.
So setting all that aside, the images that we see of Hindu deities whether we’re talking about Ganesha or Shiva or Hanuman or Shiva or any of them, right? They’re like a visual book, they’re like a pictogram. Not just a pictogram that represents one thing, because Ganesha does a lot of stuff. But more like a book that you can actually look at the clothes that he’s wearing, the ornaments that he’s wearing, the objects that he’s holding in his hands, his little buddy the mouse, which is called the Vahana or the vehicle, right? The kinds of ornaments he has, like his crown. All these things are laden with symbolism that give you clues to what you might experience if you start working with this divine principle that we’ve given a name, and we personified, and called Ganesha.
So a few things. One is because Ganesha’s so popular, there’s many different kinds of depictions. Now, you said this chubby kid. You’ve got to remember that we can approach Ganesha in the Hindu tradition, even in the Christian religion we can approach Jesus as the child, right? And there’s many hymns and prayers to Jesus as the child. So the child’s form of Ganesha is Bala Ganesha, Bala meaning child, Balasana, child’s posture. So most of the Hindu deities have child forms. Then you can approach Ganesha as a friend, or as a father figure, like as a spouse. I mean I know it sounds a little strange, but Ganesha is actually a pretty erotic deity, and if you look at his iconography that trunk, he gets up to all kinds of fittings with it man, it’s pretty something.
So you’ve got to remember, that there’s lots of different forms of the deity. So even looking at his age is a big clue immediately to how you are interacting with that divine principle of knowing how things fit together. You know, invoking that principle of intuitive understanding of how things relate to each other because that’s what he represents.
Now, he often carries a hatchet. That’s really the power of discernment separating real from unreal. Many deities carry sharp instruments, some of them covered with blood, right? Almost always this sharp instrument can be broken down to separating real from unreal. There’s different meanings like, a flame knife that’s skins off the fake persona has a slightly different meaning from the sword of righteousness, right? That cleaves right from wrong.
Remember his power, is the power of things, knowing how things fit together and where they fit. So I really interpret his hatchet as discernment. Knowing real from unreal, and knowing what is appropriate and inappropriate.
You also see him holding a lotus sometimes. The lotus is a quintessential Hindu symbol, it appears in the hands of many different deities. It really represents purity, it represents the ability to stay pure in the world which is considered kind of impure and dirty. It’s a quality of immaculate birth, because it represents the cosmic womb and it’s associated with Mother Goddess.
Another thing that you see him carrying a lot are sweets. These are particularly important for Ganesha. Sometimes other deities, you’ll see them holding a cup full of blood. Sometimes that cup is a skull cup and that represents our skull. So that’s really, in the Buddhist tradition especially they emphasizes skull cup, this represents the empty mind. That when you’ve cleared your mind of thoughts and preconceptions of the brain, all of your ideas of what you think is right or wrong, then it’s empty and can be filled with the nectar of realization, the nectar of enlightenment. That’s what the blood symbolizes because red Shakti is like power. It’s the Goddess herself. And so, that’s the nectar of realization. So when you’ve cleared your mind and you really understand your relationship with the universe, it becomes filled with this nectar of realization.
In Ganesha’s case it’s filled with sweets because Ganesha loves the sweetness of life. He’s got his big belly, he’s easygoing. Very different from his brother, Skanda. So the reason why the sweets are so important for Ganesha, and that’s the sweetness of his realization, obviously, same symbolism, right here, but it’s not filled with blood, it’s not power, it’s sweetness. So when his trunk turns towards the sweets, we are invoking this knowledge of things and how they fit together, so that we may experience the sweetness of life. But when his trunk is turned to the right, away from the ball of sweets, that means that he’s more interested in getting things done. He’s more interested in practice or he’s more interested in his hatchet, which is almost always held in his right hand. He’s more interested in kicking ass, if you will, rather than lying around and eating sweets.
This is why as a beginner, you should always pick a statue of Ganesha that has his trunk turning to the left towards the sweetness. Because an elephant, a hungry elephant, you don’t want to get the way of a hungry elephant. That’s all they got to say when I talked to people in India, right? A Hungry elephant cannot be stopped. But an elephant that’s got food in its mouth, its easy going, it’s peaceful, and it’s okay, right? So it’s a big clue about the disposition of this principle that you’re invoking into your yogic practice.
So that covers just a couple of the basic symbols. Oh yeah, and you mention the thing where he’s holding up his hand, like, fingers up palm forward. It seems to be kind of a universal human symbol for,
“I’ve got nothing hidden, there’s nothing in my hand, I’m not here to hurt you. Hello, Greetings.”
In Hindu iconography, that palm forward, fingers up symbol is Abhaya, the mudra of no fear.
So, the deeper understanding of this that I hope that your listeners get, is not just that Ganesha has these powers. Is not just that you want to get these powers by worshipping him or invoking that principle. But rather, that these symbols deities are holding in their hands represent the characteristic virtues that we are cultivating by invoking that principle into our life. So when we are invoking that principle of knowing where things belong, and the right relationship between things. When we’re invoking discernment, when we’re invoking purity, then we’re going to taste the sweetness of life and we will have no fear. They all fit together.
And, if we were really truly understand the sweetness of life, the nectar of realization and we have no fear-remember the two attributes in his front hands the ball of sweets and the palm facing forward-we’re going to have discernment; we’re going to have purity. because they all fit together, its all part of the same package.
And then furthermore, and you’ll like this man, you’ll notice that the arms radiate from the heart chakra. So anything that’s on the arms or held in the hands is understood to be an emanation of the heart chakra, which is the wisdom mind. So when you see the attributes held by the deities, this really represents the fruition of your wisdom mind expressing its power into the world, just like the symbol of the deity.
Awesome I love it. You know, let’s change gears for a moment and switch to another really common symbol that you see all over yoga studios, and that is of this, you know, this chaotic figure, dancing in flames,
As we both know this is an extremely rich symbol. I mean, literally lifetimes can be spent teaching on the significance and layers to it.
But if I’m this beginning yoga student again, and I walk into a yoga studio and see this giant Nataraja and I’m drawn to it like,
“What is it pointing towards, and why should I care?”
As someone is like, okay well, I grew up in the west. This isn’t part of my religion or anything like that. But I see this symbol and it’s interesting enough, but what might draw me into it further?
Well, first off. Even though we’re in the west, and this is a “Hindu symbol,” you get people like Oppenheimer quoting the Bhagavad-Gita. You get the statue this not that, ours the one that you’re describing right here, they’ve got a huge version of it in front of the Large Hadron Collider in Europe as a symbol of the dance of the universe, the dance of energy. Shiva, if we can really oversimplify things, Shiva is consciousness. So he’s engaging in the dance, and it’s not your personal thinking-brain kind of consciousness, but the underlying intelligent-I don’t want to say intelligent like brain, it’s really hard to translate these Sanskrit things into English-but you see intelligent patterning of the universe’s inherently conscious nature that is being represented.
Whoo! Say that five times fast and we will… (laughs)
I don’t really even remember what I just said (laughs)
But this is why physicists love this symbol. Because there seems to be this very intelligent patterning to the universe, this cohesive quality to it. It seems almost playful, and it’s exuberant, and this is what’s being represented by Shiva in his Tandava dance, right?
Now, you’re not going to see this symbol of Shiva in a studio of people who are devotees of Krishna or Vishnu. We have to understand, Ganesha appears almost everywhere. It’s like, I want to understand how things fit together. But the people who worship Vishnu kind of have a different understanding of the nature of the universe, and the underlining organizing principle. So the first thing you know, when you walk into a studio that has a big statue of Shiva, is that these people are at least nominally aligned with Shiva and the iconography of that particular yogic tradition.
Before you think that,
“That thing is really cool man, I love it. I want one of those to take it home with me because that’s bitchin man”.
These symbols are potent images that help to re-pattern our unconscious mind, if you will, our deep seated knowing. And when you start practicing yoga, we’re coming into alignment with these principles. They are coming alive in our field of awareness, and when we bring one of these potent symbols home it’s kind of like a seed crystal. It starts anchoring those principles into our life.
So one of my teachers said, think about this before you bring home the statue of any deity, ask yourself,
“Would you want that person as your roommate?”
So Ganesha is pretty easygoing, he likes the sweets, he’s pretty chill, he gets along with everybody. Easy roommate right? That’s why they sang Ganesha to little kids.
Now, Shiva Nataraja, he’s in the process of destroying the universe man. He’s crushing the dwarf of ignorance, right? He’s holding a flame, he’s hiding things and revealing things, then he’s banging his drum about the rhythm of the universe, there’s a big circle of flames around him, and he’s gorgeous. I mean, he’s sexy. There’s no doubt about it, right?
But do you really want that as your roommate? And in the tradition it actually says no, that this symbol is to be worshipped in temples, but at home it might actually disturb the harmony and the peacefulness that you want to cultivate in a home environment.
Unless it’s somebody like you Ashton, who’s a yogi and this is your life, then you might bring Nataraja home.
I don’t know, I might take Nataraja out of the living room now and put him back in my altar room. Because maybe that’s making a little too much chaos in the living room.
Well I mean, if that’s what you mean altar is in the living room, that’s fine. But the one thing I was told and I was trained in, is that you just don’t want it to be in your bedroom unless you’re serious full-time Sadhaka. Because in your bedroom you want to be able to sleep, and the symbol is so active. In fact, any deity who’s dancing, you don’t want to have a dancing deity in your bedroom because in your bedroom you want to rest.
So this is one big symbol that people can take away from this talk that we’re having. Any deity that’s dancing means that you’re invoking that principle in its most active vigorous and joyful form. So Shiva, there’s many symbols of Shiva and statues of Shiva we’re he’s sitting still, you know, Yugeshira. He’s sitting under a tree and he’s teaching people, he’s got his legs up in lotus. The legs bound means that the energy that’s coming down to the earth, which is where we live, that’s where the feet touch, right? The energy that’s coming down to the earth has been pulled up, so he’s kind of bound in a knot and so his energy is very cohesive and stable.
So any deity you see sitting in lotus posture, the principle that we’re invoking, we’re invoking it in its most stable and peaceful form.
But any deity. Like, I’ve got a statue of Ganesha here on my altar, where he’s dancing, so Ganesha can dance too, right? The chubby kid. Shiva loves to dance, you’re invoking that principle of consciousness in its most vigorous and joyful form. If you’re invoking Ganesha when he’s dancing, you’re invoking Ganesha in his most vigorous and joyful form. You’ve got to be careful about these things, because deities are big, and if you’ve ever been around an elephant, maybe it’s a little bit, you’ve got to be on your toes. If the elephant’s dancing, you don’t want to get crushed. So the idea is that, most beginners should not bring home a dancing deity. Does that make sense?
So the first thing to understand, you’re invoking consciousness in it’s most vigorous, joyful form.
I think it was in, I think it’s in your book actually. I don’t know if it’s in your forward, but Sally Kempton talking about a yantra that you had made for her. She was kind of thinking like, “Okay yeah, I’ll get that yantra in,” and then she gets it and it’s this, like, vibrating powerful like, supercharged yantra. And she’s like, “Man, I had to completely change where I had to put it.” Like it was a whole different vibe, just because of how intense the energy surrounding the yantra actually is, or was.
And for people out there that are like,
What does he mean by energy, and all these mythological beings?
What does this have to do with me?
Again I want to say, that if you’re doing a spiritual practice of any tradition, you’re now expanding your consciousness. You’re coming into alignment with these cosmic principles. So Sally Kempton had to rearrange her whole house around this particular symbol. I went and visited her and it was really great. She built a whole new altar underneath it. But she’s been doing practice for like 40 years, you know?Somebody who’s just walked into the local head shop and they just see a picture of Nataraja or a picture of the Shir Yantra, maybe they’re not going to have that experience right away. So I just want to validate people like, you can’t expect this to just, I mean it could, but it’s not necessarily going to explode in your face the first time you see it.
And we could liken it to, like you know, if I drink a thing of wine I’m like,
“Oh yeah, okay, it’s wine”
And some people drink like,
“Oh yeah there’s a hint of a bacon in there and some strawberries”.
They’re much more tuned to the subtleties of what that flavor has to offer.
That’s a great example, and I’d even add to it. If you’ve been doing a yoga retreat for a week eating nothing but vegetarian food, getting up at dawn every week, and then you get out of yoga retreat and then you go and knock back a bottle of wine, it’s going to hit you differently than if you’ve been having a glass of wine every night for the last month. You’re going to feel it much more intensely. And so it’s the same thing. If you go off and do a weeklong ten day personal retreat and you come back from that, your whole system has been ripped open and purified, cleansed out by this Buddhist practice, right? These symbols and these practices are very likely to have a more profound impact on your energy body, on your system. You’re going to feel it.
So when you see this in the studio, keep in mind that dancing or invoking consciousness- and that’s why it’s a great symbol for a yoga studio-we’re invoking consciousness in its most joyful and vigorous form. He’s got all these symbols in his hands. Again, I could spend a week talking about everything. But keep in mind that this dance that he is doing, he’s destroying the universe, in a very conscious and elegant manner. And the reason why this is important to yogis and why he’s called the Lord of yoga, is that he’s not destroying the physical universe we are living in necessarily. I mean, maybe not right now. What he’s destroying is this story of the universe that we have.
Remember he’s consciousness. He’s destroying this fake universe that we create of stories and prejudices, right?
He’s destroying our attachment to things. He is the lord of yoga because he’s completely non-attached. Because he’s destroying this mental construct of the universe, and he’s just experiencing it as it is. Does it make sense?
And this is why he’s the Lord of yoga. Because most yogic practices, not all of them, the Goddess tradition, the Goddess situation is different. But in most yogic traditions, we’re trying to go from a state of duality to a state of unity. That state of duality is the manifest universe. There is Ashton in San Diego, here’s Ekabhumi in Berkeley, here’s this computer. That in the non-dual state, we’re understanding that this is all part of the same flocks of energy. We’re all part of the same expression of consciousness.
When you understand that non-dual state, the manifest universe ceases to be other and in this symbolic sense, it has been destroyed as an objective separate material reality. It’s no longer any different from our body, does that make sense?
Is there, in terms of, I mean because you are so immersed in in this world, in this realm.
Is there a particular image you know, if we can say such a thing, that’s your favorite? Or I mean whether it’s your sort of chosen deity, or something that you love teaching about? Like, something that just kind of sparks your own inner fire, like, “Ah! Every time I see this, I get to talk about this that it really sparks that inner passion inside, because it’s talking to something really powerful.” Do you have anything like that?
Well I’m a Shakta, I love the Goddess and I love Yantras. So we haven’t really talked about Yantras yet or Mandalas. Me being an artist, and I’ve been away from art for a while-remember I was getting this big push to start making images of deities as I’m like, “I’ll start warming up on these geometric symbols. It’ll be easy.”
The yantras are very powerful, in that they are universal symbols of geometric forms that represent patterns of consciousness. So the statue we see of Shiva is a symbol of consciousness, but it looks like a human. But we’ve got to understand that Shiva is not necessarily human. He’s the consciousness of the universe itself. So when we make him look like a person, and we give him, we personify him and make him act like a person or think like a person, we’re actually just narrowing down our ability to understand the vastness of this cosmic principle that we’re calling Shiva.
So a Yantra, being a geometric form, is much closer to this pattern of consciousness, this intelligent arrangement of energy that we could call a deity. So these yantras, I adore them, because I went into this thinking, “Oh it’s just a triangle with some color in it. That’ll be easy.” I started having very profound experiences with them and so I love these symbols. And the most basic yantra is a triangle. So the upward pointing triangle again, the symbol is that the base of the triangle that represents diversity and duality of the universe, lots and lots of things. So that’s why it’s wide base. And the tip of the triangle represents unity. So this is why Shiva is typically associated with the upper pointing triangle.
This is also why you hear Shiva being associated with the linga, right?
The linga means symbol, or sign, right? It’s also interpreted as being the male phallus, right? Shiva and Shakti, the lingam and the yoni, right?
And if you look an upward pointing triangle, it can be interpreted as somewhat phallic. This represents the solar path or the masculine path of yoga, right? We talked about the dissolution of the personal ego and destroying all sense of duality and separation.
The converse version of that, and my favorite symbol, is the downward pointing triangle. The base of that triangle is very narrow, it’s a point and then it moves out to a broad top. That represents the Goddess practice, Goddess Sadhana, which is where you’re starting off as this little nugget, you think you’re special, you’re an individual, right? You think you’re an island, right? No man is an island, that whole cliché, right? But you think that you’re an individual and then you do the Goddess Sadhana and you expand your awareness-and that sounds Tantric, sounds like yogi practice-you’re expanding your awareness until you understand yourself to be the entire universe including duality and all of manifestation.
So the downward-pointing triangle represents manifestation and the yogi process of merging. It’s a watery practice, whereas the upward pointing triangle represents the yogic practice of burning, of dissolution. So the two together make a six pointed star, which you see over and over. I mean the Jewish tradition uses it. They picked it up actually from, well it’s a world symbol. But they started using that in the 13th century, whereas, the six-pointed star, the Shatkona, has been used in the Hindu tradition for thousands of years. Literally, we can trace it back with archaeology. I’m not just throwing numbers out there. It’s like the swastika: ancient Hindu symbol, it first appears about 3000 years ago, this is archaeological hard data, right? And of course in the oral tradition, we understand from the teachings that many of these symbols are even much much older if you’re willing to accept the oral traditions.
So I love yantras and I love that elegant symbol of the Goddess herself, the downward pointing triangle, representing her powers of knowledge, will and action. Coming together as one.
Beautiful. Well if we wanted to connect with you and find out more about this stuff, obviously this is your passion, this is your love, this is your life, how can we find out more about you?
Obviously we can create some links that will be connected with the podcast, but maybe you can talk to that. Some of your courses, website, your book. How can we find your book, which is something that I actually have already gotten as a gift for other people like, I’ve had friends come over, we’ve colored pages together and stuff. I love your book. But yeah, where can we find out more about you?
Well first off you can read about me and a lot of the basic principles of sacred art in the Shakti coloring book. It’s a stealth teaching book because it looks like it’s just for fun, and it looks like it’s really cute, and there’s all these sexy Goddesses in it. But it really is an introduction to sacred art as a spiritual practice, as a meditative practice, and that’s really no different from what we do on the mat. Because really the human body is said to be the ultimate yantra and a yantra, yantrana, it’s an enlightenment machine, it’s a realization device.
So the human body itself is a living yantra. And so as you work with sacred art, we start to understand our own life as art. So people can find out more about my views and my beliefs and even my bio. It’s just right in the Shakti coloring book. You can get that online, it’s on major websites, Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com. It’s published by Sounds True, they can get it from that site. If they want to order a signed copy from me, that would be really nice. Its oneearthsacredarts.com, in the store. If they follow the link to the store it’s right there. So my name Ekabhumi means “one earth,” so the web sites all one word no spaces, oneearthsacredart.com
Does that include information on how to get in touch with you about your workshops?
I know that you were just recently or still are doing a deity workshop. Where can we find out more about that type of stuff as well?
I’m gonna encourage people to go to livingsanskrit.com. Livingsanskrit.com is a beautiful site, we’re still in process of building it although we already have some classes and newsletters and things going there. We’re going to be launching very soon.
That’s the place where I’m going to be building a step by step course, on Sacred Art as a spiritual practice. It’ll be separated into separate, I guess you’d call it disciplines or categories, so that people will just be able to take or view the classes on iconography, if they’re not interested in making art. Or they can just look at the ritual aspect of it. The livingsanskrit site is going to include not only lessons on Sanskrit, but also in puja. Like, you get these symbols, you take them home, all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh it would be really great, you know I’ve got some incense burning at home. You know, you’re a yoga hippie, you got a candle. Also you’re putting all your things you got in India, somebody gives you little statue of Saraswati they brought back, right?
You start putting all these things together in one spot and before you knowit, you’ve got an altar.
What you do with it?
What does it mean?
Where should it go?
What should I put on there?
What’s not appropriate to put on there?
All this stuff we’re going to have it all put together in the livingsankskrit.com in a very very organized and cohesive way, so that people can actually understand the symbols and what to do with them.
Awesome, that’s exciting! I’ll definitely be looking out for those too. I think actually just saw you’ve got an altar course that has started on livingsanskrit already? Or it’s like uh…tell me about what’s going on right now that I’m seeing.
Well one of the teachers of the livingsanskrit, is a 15th generation Vedic priest. So his family has been doing this, they’re actually the holders of one of the Vedas. And the school that he teaches is a UNESCO World Heritage site. So he’s handling all the ritual stuff. I’m just going to bow out of that. Like, he’s the expert you know I mean? So he’s doing this whole class, we’ve actually filmed it all. It’s in the editing process. It should be up literally within the next week or two. And that’s a whole class on basic simple home puja. And he’s done rituals that take weeks at a time, don’t get me wrong. You can get as complicated as you want to go. But the whole set is designed for the home practitioner, and he’s a total sweetheart.
So he’s doing a very simple class so people can do it at home, invoking these divine principles into our personal experience. And we use an altar, we use these symbols and we use a little ritual practice. It’s just basically a meditation but you’ve got water and a candle and some incense. And so using these-what the Buddhist call material support-you’re using these props to help make your experience of this divine principle, or to make your principle, your meditation more precise and intense; more visceral.
So just like we can have all the experiences that you get on a yoga mat in a yoga class, you can do all that stuff and see that meditation, but it’s more intense when you do it in an asana class. You’re using your body as this wonderful tool for your realization practice. So there’s other things you can use to, like an altar.
Awesome. That’s exciting man, I will definitely look for those when that stuff comes out, and seeing what you continue to grow and that collaboration there, website as well.
Hopefully, maybe there’ll be another book out there. I’ll keep bugging you about making a Hanuman book at some point just for that. So I can grab all that.
But Ekabhumi, I really appreciate your time, your knowledge, sharing with us. I hope we can actually get you back on the show again to talk more about this sort of stuff in the future and dive into. I know you’ve got a vast well of knowledge and understanding.
I’d love to.
Thank you so much for joining us today and looking forward to seeing you again.
It’s really been a pleasure Ashton. Thank you so much for doing this, thank you for having the show, and I’m just so happy that the people who are doing postural yoga are interested in going past just the feel-good health benefits which are awesome. The first step on the Dharma is health cultivation, but I really feel like you are at the forefront of what is happening in modern postural yoga. Which is, all the millions of people who are doing the practice are starting to experience something more to it, and they’re wanting to dig in and they’re wanting to learn more. And I feel like you’re serving that need, and that this show is going to be so important for those folks. So thank you for doing what you’re doing too.
Awesome man. It’s a pleasure. Namaste, we will see you soon. Thanks Ekabhumi.
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