Behind the Facade

by Sharon Gannon |
October, 2016
Behind the Facade: The Jivamukti Focus of the Month

The long-haired ones, the sky-clad sages, wear only the yellow robes of dust. Along the wind’s course they glide when the Lord of life has penetrated them.

Rig Veda (10:136)

For a brief time in ancient history there lived a great Egyptian pharaoh who was known as Akhenaten. He was married to Nefertiti, the most beautiful woman in the world. He had daughters and one son, Tutankhamen—who was destined to become very famous, but that’s a different story.

Pharaoh Akhenaten was a religious reformer. He was satyagraha (satya = “truth” + graha = “to be grabbed by”). Akhenaten was so possessed by the truth, he might have challenged even Mahatma Gandhi in how far he took his commitment to satyagraha. His one burning desire was to be truthful—to allow Truth to exist and outshine all deceit. Akhenaten had radical ideas for his time. He believed in one God and worshiped that God as the Sun (Aten), who shines equally upon all and from whose light life is created and sustained. He felt that all of God’s creation should stand before God without artifice, naked, devoid of pretense. To this aim he had an aversion to wearing clothes. Clothes, he felt, were deceptive, as they covered one’s body, hiding it from God. Clothes caused riffs between people, creating a hierarchy between rich and poor, as seen in the clothes they wore. Akhenaten even extended his practice of satyagraha to his home. He removed all the roofs from the palace so as to be exposed, to insure that he was not hiding from the divine sun inside his man-made house. In order to spread what he felt was a practical message of truth to his people, he and his family would appear on the balcony of the palace naked.

When visitors from other countries came to the palace they were given the option of removing their clothing. One visiting diplomat from Mesopotamia wrote in his journal that the only negative thing he had to report from his visit to the city of Amarna, where the pharaoh and his family lived, was that he got the worst sunburn ever. Akhenaten’s philosophy and religious and political views were not popular among his people, and he was assassinated in his seventeenth year of rule.

Lord Krishna, an incarnation of the primal God Narayana from the Indian mythology, who appeared in human form on this planet more than 5,000 years ago, also revealed the importance of Satya and baring the soul. The story of how he stole the gopis’ (dairy maids of Vrindavan) clothes while they were bathing illustrates this. The gopis removed their clothes and entered the Yamuna River to bathe. While they were in the water, Krishna, picked up their saris and climbed a nearby tree. From there, he teased them, demanding that they come out of the water to greet him. The young gopis were embarrassed and sunk deeper into the water to hide their nakedness. However Krishna played the flute and transmitted the universal knowledge of our relationship to God which does not need any sort of artifical covering or hiding from truth.  We can bare everything in front of God and get in touch with our own reality. The gopis heard the divine teaching, climbed out of the water, and were liberated from their false modesty, pretentiousness, and shyness.

Clothes are coverings. We are clothed in our gender, ethnicity, religion, prejudices, and mainly self-obsessed interests. The stories we tell about ourselves are forms of clothing. The unenlightened identify with their story—the story of their personality. They mistake who they really are for the layers of karmas they have accumulated—the outer clothes they wear. You know the popular saying, “Clothes make the man (or woman).” This does not have to be the case—each of us has the choice to write our own story. As we tell our story, we become our story. We can tell a true story or we can make up a lie—how truthful of a story will you tell?

The innermost soul of our being is made of ananda, “bliss.” This bliss body is covered over by many layers, all formed by karmas—actions we have performed. To purify our karmas, to cleanse our bodies, is the aim of the Yoga practices. Only through love and devotion to God can those karmas be purified. Once they are purified, we are no longer bound by those karmas. And we are no longer bound by our bodies, by the coverings over our soul, and we can stand naked, without any attachment to false identity, which arises out of ignorance, out of our past karmas. We drop the clothes, and the truth of our true self—happiness—is revealed.

Because of all the heavy cultural conditioning regarding nakedness, it may not be practical or safe to walk around naked on the streets of the world’s cities these days, although many sky-clad sadhus (religious ascetics) and Jain monks in India do. Underneath our clothes we are all naked. We can practice satya by shedding our attachments to our limited stories and become more at ease with our karmas. Yoga can help us to be comfortable, naked in the bodies that cover our souls.

Teaching Tips

  • Teach how practicing each asana helps us to address a karmic relationship and how by resolving that relationship we can feel more at ease with our body and more peaceful in our hearts.
  • Teach how the accumulation of material things, including clothes, can bury us deeper into avidya (ignorance) and asmita (identity with the ego/personality). How clothes can make us feel insecure and always wanting more by making us feel that we are not dressed well enough unless we have the latest fashion. The practice of Yoga can help us strip away artifice. Yoga can allow us to feel good about ourselves from deep inside. When we gain that kind of confidence from the inner self, the type of clothes we wear on the outside becomes way less important to our self-esteem.
  • Focus on storytelling as a way to move past the confines of the personality. The fact is, when you continue to talk to others about yourself in a negative way—painting yourself as the victim—this will keep you from developing spiritually. Remember: An enlightened being and a victim cannot exist simultaneously. You must choose one or the other—and the choice is yours. How do you want others to see you? Be careful of how you tell your story, because it will come to be taken as truth.
  • Explore the meaning of truth. There is absolute Truth and there is relative truth. Remember, a yogi wants to focus on absolute Truth. Whenever we talk we lie, because we can say only what we know is true, and what we know is true is really only our personal view of what is true, and that is limited. There is a yogic practice of satya in which the practitioner refrains from speaking and doesn’t say anything other then the name of God. In this way one is assured of telling the Truth—as God is the only real truth.
  • The yogic teachings stress telling the stories of gods and of saints instead of “your own” story. The bhakti tradition especially focuses on telling the pastimes of Shri Krishna as a practice to increase bhav and decrease asmita, egoism, and pride. There are many stories in the Bhagavatam about Krishna—including the one of Krishna stealing the gopis saris. May I recommend reading the Bhagavatam this month for your own enrichment as well as stories of the great pushtimarg bhaktas, devotees of Shri Vallabhacharya and his son Shri Gusainji, found in these books by Shyamdas: 84 Vaishnavas, Krishna’s Inner Circle: The Ashta Chaap Poets, and 252 Vaishnavas(Part 1, 2, and 3).
  • Through the practice of aparigraha (greedlessness) one can find truth. Patanjali says that when we become established in aparigraha we realize the truth of who we really are—and why we were born. May I recommend rereading Chapter 6 from Yoga and Vegetarianism. The concept of apocalypse is explored in that chapter as it relates to nakedness, revealment, veganism, environmentalism, and letting go of material possessions.
  • FYI: Akhenaten was the pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. He reigned for seventeen years and died in perhaps 1336 BCE. The exact time that Lord Krishna actually lived on Earth is not known, but most scholars agree that it was approximately sometime between 3200 and 3000 BCE, as Krishna’s disappearance marks the end of the Dvapara Yuga and the start of the Kali Yuga, which is dated 3102 BCE.