This is the first article in my series The Fabric of the Universe, a fictional, artistic interpretation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Please note: The translations of the Sanskrit verses are not literal.
Welcome, one and all.
Now, I will teach you how to weave yourself into the fabric of the Universe.
There lived a young man, born and raised in a powerful country, where everyone had enough to eat and slept in solid homes that didn’t leak and whose doors were never locked. He loved and respected his parents, who loved and respected him in return.
He studied hard, then got a good job, met a nice girl, and moved into the city. Everything was going according to plan. His parents told all their friends how proud they were and looked forward to grandchildren. The young man was grateful and knew he was lucky and was happy for a while.
But soon a feeling began to arise from within. It was so subtle at first he didn’t even notice. He would shudder without warning, as if someone were standing behind him. Or feel the shadow of a cloud pass overhead on a warm, clear day. He thought nothing of these things and paid them no heed.
Then his body started to ache. His stomach would clench up like a fist, and his head felt like two hands were pressing in on it. His heartbeat became thin and fast, until it was just a flutter. He found it hard to breathe.
These things he could not ignore, and he began to worry. But the more he worried, the worse it got. Strange thoughts entered his mind unbidden. He questioned his interest in his career and doubted the love of his girlfriend and was easily irritated by the constant traffic and noise. He felt a ball press up into his throat and get stuck there. It was choking him.
And then he heard a voice. It was distant at first. He couldn’t make out the words but could sense their urgency, like someone crying out for help. Before he knew it, the voice was in his head. It was still just a whisper, but a whisper in the dark, like an animal scratching behind the wall.
He dreamed he was being chased or drowned or covered in snakes and spiders and woke up screaming. He couldn’t take it any longer and feared he might explode.
“What is it?” he cried out loud. “What are you saying? Speak to me!”
And the ripping sound of a shredding soul wailed back, “I’m not happy!”
His very core erupted and split him open from the inside. And through that crack his awareness flew out and expanded all around him. He looked at it in wonder.
“There’s got to be more,” it said.
There lived an old woman, sick and dying. She’d had many children, many of whom died while still children. They died of accidents, disease, hunger. They were all grown now and long gone, living far, far away. All but one had left behind life in the country to find work in the cities, because that is the way the world had become over her lifetime. Some had families of their own, while others toiled alone in the gutters and slums of the cities of filth and gold. She heard rumors or news of them here or there but didn’t really know; she had never seen any of them again.
The old woman harbored no enmity. There was nothing for them at home, nothing for anyone. She was too old to leave by the time she understood this, but she wouldn’t have gone anyway. This was all she knew. She’d never even left this village where she was born.
She was a pious woman and had been all her life. Every day she visited the temple and prayed to the gods and offered them what precious little she could: a handful of rice, a nut, a leaf. When she became to weak to go out, she slid from her mat and kneeled in the dirt. She touched her head to the Earth one hundred eight times and whispered her gods’ honored names.
When she felt her final days approach, like a harkening, she called her one remaining daughter to her side. By now the old woman’s voice was barely a whisper, and her daughter had to lean in close to hear.
“What is it?” she asked. “What can I do for you?”
“Take me to the mountain.”
There lived a child, who at age six was discovered to be the long-awaited reincarnation of a very holy man. His parents were good and loving people, humble and hard working. They were caught off guard, but not surprised, when the elders finally came to meet him. They had always known it was just a matter of time.
Although in many ways the boy was just a boy, it was clear from the beginning that he was also more. Many times his mother had told him, and others, the story of his birth. Though her first, and only, child, he caused her no pain. He slipped from her body as if floating down a lazy river, and his very first breath was laughter. He rarely cried and nearly always smiled. The boy’s eyes were two peaceful pools of eternity that spilled into you through your own whenever you caught his gaze.
His parents suspected he was a great one, but nevertheless when the elders told them they’d be taking the boy, they struggled to obey. His mother stood behind him, clutching his shoulders, and his father looked straight ahead with jaw clenched. They knew it was an honor, and that he had never belonged to them alone; he was a saint who loved and was loved by all. But their attachment to their son was deep and strong, and they suffered to loosen the strings.
The boy was sad to leave them but knew what he must do. He waved them to their knees so he could see them eye to eye. He put one hand on each of their hearts and leaned in close so only they could hear.
“I will see you again,” he whispered into their ears, “and again and again and again.”
Through vastly different journeys these three find themselves together, in a secret place, a cave, seated at the feet of a man they have heard is the great master, teacher of all that is. Each of them has sacrificed much and worked hard to get there. They have been waiting in silence, patiently, for a long time for him to speak, filled with their own private thoughts and fears. Who are these people and what do they have to do with me? Is this man a true teacher? Am I worthy?
In front of the man stands a loom. He is fully concentrated on the movement of his hands, as he threads the shuttle with the weft through the divided strands of warp: up, over, down, under, up, over, down, under, left to right, right to left.
Finally, with care, he secures the shuttle in the box on one side and turns to face them. The room is dark, but they see him clearly, as if he is emanating his own light. He reaches out to them, one at a time, and places his hand on their heads. With each one, he takes a deep breath in, then blows it out with the force of wind. And in this instant, all their differences and struggles and expectations disappear, like dandelion seeds scattered in the wind. Their separate pasts are erased, and the undivided universe unfolds before them.
“You are here,” he says. “Now we may begin.”