Intuitive Cognition. Yoga and The Third Eye
Updated: Sep 7, 2020
We've all heard speak of the third eye or the Eye of Shiva, that point normally placed somewhere in the forehead that is the reason why all Indian people in western TV are generally depicted wearing a red dot between their eyes.
Even those of us who've never set foot in a Yoga studio are well acquainted with a term so greatly popularised by so many forms of art and traditions as a way to casually speak of 'having a clear mind' and 'using our intuition.' Ironically, when we randomly ask someone to define 'intuition' or explain how it feels to have a 'clear mind' a most strange thing happens: the person blanks out, at a loss for words to describe an experience all of us enjoy at times, yet rarely notice, let alone speak about.
Some people prefer to speak of their 'gut feelings' ––something we've already written about in the blog and that seems to be more socially accepted. But intuition goes beyond the gut; and, aside from New Age-derived esoteric 'talk' on the chakras and the third eye, which isn't always everybody's cup of tea anyways, there is an entire body of mundane language for intuitive cognition already in place that most of us ignore and that has much to reveal about the different modes of knowing and different modes of experiencing life.
We thought that this being one of Yoga's most (in)famous concepts, an entry on everything the Eye of Shiva is meant to represent and stand for was in order. For the third eye is as important to Yoga as psychoanalysis has been for the field of Psychology throughout the twentieth century.
The Eye / I of Intuition
Indeed, it all revolves around the question of 'who is having this experience here, right now?' In the world of Yoga, the third eye is also know as Ajna Chakra or 'the command centre': that point, at once physical and extra-corporeal, where our individual dualist consciousness ––that consciousness that separates between a subject or an 'I' and other objects–– is said to unify, to become whole, to become One. Yoga, of course, is a lot more practical than that; and so, it resorts to the symbols of the three main rivers of India ––Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati–– to stand for the three main nadis or energetic pathways within our subtle body ––the 'energetic rivers' of ida, pingala and sushumna–– to make this abstract idea take form. This is the reason why the chakra of Ajna is said to have only two petals in its pictorial representation: one for each of the halves that it takes to go from living in duality to experiencing undivided union.
When we go to a Hatha or Restorative Yoga class and practice some basic pranayama, for example, and are instructed by our teacher to begin inhaling through the left nostril to activate our ida nadi and then exhale through the right one (pingala nadi), we're essentially being told to allow all the 'softer' energies and qualities normally associated with the 'river of Ganga' and to the moon, the yin, and 'the feminine' to be mobilised so they can calm us down and appease the stronger and more activating energies attributed to pingala nadi (Yamuna). The idea is to make us feel tranquil and at ease in our own being, and also a bit like walking on cotton candy all at once. That's the logics behind some of Yoga's symbols in a nutshell.
Hence, in the world of Yoga, when a student has been working constantly and with dedication for (usually) a long period of time, has managed to let go of most of her attachments, and has reached a stage of spiritual evolution nearing the point of confluence of these three main 'rivers' ––aka, her Ajna chakra or third eye–– a new way of seeing the world is supposed to dawn upon her, one that complements (and eventually supersedes) any dual-based form of knowing with a more intuitive and, therefore, direct form of experiencing-as-knowing. This is the reason why we in Yoga speak of different superimposed planes of consciousness or different ways of subsuming older and narrower forms of understanding ourselves, the world, and others by adopting more subtle, more refined, more inclusive, holistic, and unified ones.
This type of experiencing-as-knowing is the kind of 'knowing' that finds answering the question posed at the beginning of this subsection quite redundant. 'Who is having this experience here, right now?' The answer would go somewhere along the lines of 'there's no who to have any sort of experience at any point in time.
Three Is Always More than One
Granted, there are lots of attributes and qualities that can be mapped onto Ajna Chakra, and any of the main manuals of reference for Tantric Hatha Yoga will deal partly on them. But we want to explore its symbolic standing in this entry. Hence, the reason why the third eye is supposed to be such a momentous milestone in someone's spiritual journey has to do with the Eye/Seeing metaphor inherent in it ––as well as with a few of the more esoteric 'powers' or siddhis normally associated with this of course.
Our two physical eyes are a great tool to have in our physical world. They enable us to situate ourselves in our environments and this is how we manage to operate in space and time. But the third eye is not just physical, even if some sources do say that our pineal/pituitary glands are the physical seat or equivalent of the third eye. Hence, it can allegedly 'see' beyond the dimensions characteristic of the plane of consciousness we normally experience with our physical eyes. This is the reason why, in different esoteric traditions around the world, from times as old as one can name, the symbology of the third eye relates it to experiences that take place 'beyond space and time'; that is, to the ability of 'seeing' what's invisible and 'knowing' what's unknown. As the popular saying goes, the great Seers of old have one physical eye to see, one 'eye of reason' to reflect upon what they see, and a third one to know the difference between seeing something, knowing something, and actually understanding that something.
Still, in order to see what cannot normally be seen, or know what cannot normally be known, one must radically transform the instrument used to see and know with: the mind. Thus that the third eye be also known as the 'mind's eye,' for it is about the mind that the third eye speaks about, even when the language used isn't always all that clear about it.
And so, when we refer to Ajna Chakra as the 'command centre' or the 'guru chakra' we are essentially speaking of the ability to control our thoughts and emotions but in a way where the word 'control' does not imply something purely militaristic. Instead, we are speaking of controlling something with some measure of poetic affinity: with the type of subtle craft necessary to foresee the entire cause-and-effect chain reaction of an event and remain calm and 'clear headed' in the midst of the storm so as to act (or not act) upon it. This is also partly the reason why the third eye has also been frequently associated with the extra-sensorial ability of clairvoyance: the ability to see events and entities beyond normal time and space (aka, future and past events or entities from other dimensions). But you only need to bother with this bit if you can accept that something like this is even possible to begin with!
The whole idea is, then, something akin to having a new type of 'vision'; one that, instead of being outwardly oriented to perceive the world of things as is the case with our two physical eyes, is inwardly oriented, and therefore, suited for the exploration of the world of 'ideas' and how our ideas are actually mere illusions, mirages, even confusions. They're nothing but conceptual noise that, from the point of view of Yoga, prevents us from seeing reality as it truly is. That's what the third eye is actually for: to see REALITY proper, without filters, not even our so beloved conceptual ones.
A Most Eye-Catching Experience
In Tantra, there are many different practices we resort to in order to access, balance, and harness the energies most clearly associated with this spiritual centre. Beyond the use of specific sequences and asanas during the physical portion of a practice, we yogis like to use things like Trataka or intense eye gazing, where we focus our eyesight upon an object (a flame in a candle, a blank wall, a picture relevant to us) without blinking in order to increase concentration and access that object's 'true essence.' We do this prior to meditation, to enhance our ability to concentrate and connect with the source of everything.
Alternatively, we practice Bhramari Pranayama, or bee-humming-breathing, where we inhale and exhale to a rhythm and hum internally a tone, while our fingers are placed along different points on our scalp in order to give an internal skull massage of sorts. If you haven't tried Bhramari yet, we highly recommend it. It's cool! We also practice Shambhavi Mudra, for example, where we fix our eyesight internally (or externally) on the point between our eyebrows during meditation or pranayama, to increase our powers of concentration and become more sensitized to the way energy feels like when that esoteric centre is activated.
The idea is to enhance concentration, which is one way of 'controlling the mind' and harnessing its raw power, as well as to promote a sense of connection between the physical side of our practice and our bodies and all their extra-physical and extra-sensorial qualities too. We want to do so to progressively reach deeper states of meditation and, subsequently, peel off all the layers of enculturation and subliminal indoctrination into specific identities (sexual, political, social) to self-realize. Because only a liberated soul is able to see everything around her for what it really is at last.