Deconstructing Symbolism

Did you read my blog posts about “The Layers of an Onion” and “Changing Your Personal Narrative?”  In those posts I touched on the subjects of symbolism.  I feel I need to explain more about how important symbolism is to Yoga.  In fact, I am going to say it is THE most important concept to understand when trying to bridge the gap between consciousness and objects.
It's so important that you can find reference to symbolism in about half of the sutras.  When I use terms like "subtle impressions" or "attachment to objects" it's a reference to symbolism.  The difficulty surrounding trying to communicate the root power of symbolism is that it goes to the very core of who we are.  When it's wiped away, our minds are clear and return to their naturally peaceful state.  Language is a set of symbols we use to communicate with each other.  Can you see how trying to communicate symbolism through symbolism can be difficult?  I am going to give it a try anyway, so please bear with me and use the comment section to ask any questions.  Let's start with a controversial example.

What do you see when you look at the swastika?  Most people associate it with the Nazis and everything they represented.  It's a powerful symbol that invokes reaction in ourselves.  Do you know where the swastika originated?  It was a Jain holy symbol.  The Jain still use it on their temples and celebrate its meaning.  It has been around for thousands of years before the Nazis existed.

Swastika Outside a Jain Temple in India

Fast forward to the 19th century.  Occultism became popular and we saw the emergence of occultist organizations like the Theosophical Society.  These groups used their own set of symbols to communicate esoteric concepts to members.  The cult of Thule was one such group.  Adolf Hitler had an obsession with the occult and use the symbol of the swastika from the cult of Thule, who took it from the Jains.  He knew the power of symbolism.  The swastika was on every Nazi banner, flag, battle helmet and government building.  People wonder how the Germans could have been bamboozled into such a belief system.  Well, Hitler chose a symbol, rallied a set of concepts around it and then people followed.  It's so powerful that its significance is still felt today.
When a baby is born into this world, it is essentially a blank slate.  We do have our DNA, but we pick up a lot from our environment.  I like the new field of endogenetics, which studies how the environment affects our DNA over time.  A baby begins to develop through the input it receives from the senses.  A baby does not know language, but it knows basic symbolism through instinct.  As we grow older, layers of symbolisms are piled on top of one other forming our identity.  Things like our race, family, opinions... everything that makes up our perspective, we learn through our environment.  Symbolism is the bridge between us and our identity.

Time for a Matrix analogy.  If you have not seen the movie, it is about a man named Neo who is plugged in, with all of humanity, to a computer simulation called the Matrix.  The movie sets up the concept that life is nothing more than a hologram: something created by someone else to keep us in line.  It's right in a way because we look at how symbolism connects us to the external world.  

Our Matrix is the set of symbols embedded in us that compels us to act in ways we are unconsciously aware of.  As I have said before in previous posts, nature has planted this in us in order to make survival easier.  If we could not interact with our environment, then we would spend too much time trying to make sense of it, or we would have been eaten by predators.

Where does Yoga come into play?  Well, there is no way we could understand symbolism unless we are aware of how it affects us in the first place.  Input comes into our awareness through the senses. It triggers symbolism that in turn starts our internal dialogue which then goes to our higher faculties.  The higher faculties then give us the power to make a decisions.
Yoga is a deconstruction process and symbolism is the second strata of layers we have to discern.  It's our perspective that we are changing.  Our perspective is changed by our environment as we age, but Yoga gives us the ability to remove the meaning behind symbolism.  This in turn allows us to see the world as it truly is.  A world without symbolism is a world that exists on its own devices.  There is nothing we need to do in order to change it, it changes itself through natural processes.  Now, we can move free, detached from those processes.