Vipul Rikhi — Jul 21, 2021
Simple, spontaneous, easy, natural.
The word sahaja is made up of two components. »Saha« means »with« or »together.« And »ja« refers to birth. So the literal meaning would translate as born, or arising, together.
In common parlance or usage, sahaja points to when something is or has become easy, in the best sense: natural, unforced, spontaneous, and without effort. How does the idea of arising together correlate with the idea and practice of the simple, the effortless, easy, and natural?
In Indian philosophy, sahaja indicates a state of mind and being and a practice beyond striving for something – in which there is no gap between the word and the deed, the conception and the execution, the vision and the reality, the object and the self. In other words, it indicates a state of no alienation.
In many schools of Indian thought, reality is understood to arise afresh in each individual moment, ever renewing itself in each alive moment of perception. No one moment or circumstance is exactly the same as any previous one. And so, in human terms – in terms of ethics, morality, expression, artistic practice, and everyday behavior – rules, theories, and »replicability« are often unnatural in the sense that they have to be mentally or externally enforced. Sahaja is the opposite of the idea of enforcement.
Bulbul on My Balcony, Goa, India, 2020, photo: Vipul Rikhi. Courtesy of the photographer
This translates directly into action. There is no attempt at force-fitting reality into a preconceived idea. Facts or practices do not need to accommodate themselves to theory. Seeming intellectual contradiction is not a problem, though ethical and/or artistic integrity is always maintained. Each moment, or each artistic or cultural act, calls for its own code of morality or action.
As the nature of fire is to burn, the nature of the tree to grow and give fruit, the nature of water to flow, so is the nature of consciousness to seek expression in various forms. To realize this as part of one’s own nature is to become sahaja, or natural. And there is an endless variety of natures, or therefore, of expressions. Sahaja involves being true to oneself in the moment, as well as responding to the demands of each situation. It does not mean »doing as one likes.«
It is not opposed to the idea of »law« or »rules« – instead, it postulates surrender to the law or truth of the moment, which might be different to anything one might have previously imagined. The idea of »truth« is not considered problematic because it does not signify »One Essential/External/Eternal Truth,« but rather the truth of each individual moment, ethical and creative at the same time. It also does not imply, in a postmodern way, that all truths are equal, or equally valid; rather, it insists that being true is the highest value.
In each moment, there is the possibility and the potential for a new reality to arise. The Buddhist doctrine of »co-dependent origination« says that everything in creation depends on everything else. Each moment calls for a fresh response. To be able to recognize the truth of the moment and to be able to act or be accordingly – without a lag or a gap, using the whole of one’s knowledge but without bringing prejudices or prior beliefs into the picture – is the ideal of sahaja.
It could be like a skill that one takes hours and hours to master and which, finally, becomes so much part of oneself that it is no longer any effort at all. The difficult becomes simple, the seemingly impossible becomes natural. In that state, one seems spontaneously to know what exactly to do in each moment (of creation), even though one may have never done so before. One stands out of one’s own way.
Sahaja is a term of deep resonance in Buddhist philosophy as well as Hindu religious literature as well as traditional Indian art practice. It represents the epitome of the human possibility of being as well as of artistic and cultural expression. It is the place where the ultimate sophistication ends in a startling simplicity. It recognizes and celebrates diversity and yet bases itself on an inner coherence – a necessary formula for fractious times such as ours!
The »no-gap« between idea or inspiration on the one hand, and realization or expression on the other, is to be understood in terms of integrity. This indicates the least amount of loss, or compromise, from the »ideal« to the »real.« And so the artist’s practice is related to the artist’s state of being. They are not separate. The artist has to cultivate himself or herself as well as his/her* art. Similarly, in daily life, how one acts must be deeply aligned with how one is (and thinks and feels).
Sahaja can be a vital tool for the modern mind to come to a sense of its own roots. While deeply embedded in a traditional ethos, it speaks of a timeless human truth, which can translate into daily living and practice even in our most fragmented of times. It finds its place in this vocabulary as an untranslatable yet deeply relatable paradigm. It is a vision that brings transformation.
Current and future societies will need to find the sahaja in themselves and for themselves. For me, personally, it remains an abiding principle, which signifies free space, full hearts, and a complete alignment of body, mind, and spirit – a healing remedy for our ideologically and politically fractured times!
Vipul Rikhi is a writer, singer, poet, storyteller, and translator, immersed in the oral traditions of Kabir and other Bhakti and Sufi poets for more than a decade. He is the author of several books of poetry, fiction, and translation. His most recent book is One Palace, A Thousand Doorways, a book of translations of mystic poetry. His work with the Kabir Project has involved writing, translations, research, curations, and the creation of a vast digital archive called Ajab Shahar. He sings mystic poetry in the folk music traditions and performs internationally. He was a fellow for literature at the Akademie Schloss Solitude.
© 2023 Akademie Schloss Solitude and the author