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Pratyahara

A summary of my notes taken from a lecture given by Prashant Iyengar in June 2020

Our senses cannot be understood mechanically.  We cannot have a mechanical view of our senses.  How our eyes, ears, tongue, nose, skin function depend not just on the external object but on our subjective understanding.

A camera will pick up everything in the frame.  An audio device will pick up everything with no reservations or discriminations. But how do we have a visual act?  If we look at something beautiful or not, our eyes will function differently, unlike a camera.  Our ears as well; we listen and hear differently depending on the sound.

So don’t think the senses are very technical.  There is no formal understanding of the sensely acts like your asana or pranayama practice.

Therefore we have to have observation.  Patanjali dedicated 1 limb of 8 to deal with the senses.  This is pratyahara,

The word is so fascinating, so apt, that we have to investigate it: Prati – opposite, – ahara – food.

Vision and form(rupa) is the food for the eyes

Sound (sabha) is the food for the ears

Taste (rasa) is the food for the tongue

Touch (sparsa) is the food for the skin

Smell (gandha) is the food for the nose

When the five senses are feeding, they gravitate towards external objects and are called visheindriyas.  This is their role in the business plane of daily activity,  But, western understanding sees them as cognitive organs or jnanendriyas – organs of knowledge.  How do the senses go for knowledge? How much do they go for objects?

How are your senses involved with spiritual processes?  Do you send your senses somewhere? Ears somewhere? Eyes somewhere?  Of course – we send them within.  But they do not function in the same way.  

The eyes are not going inwards to feed on sight

The ears are not going inwards to feed on sound

The tongue is not going inwards to feed on taste

The nose is not going inwards to feed on smell

The skin is not going inwards to feed on touch

Instead, you go for wisdom.  It is then that the senses become organs of knowledge (jnanendriyas).  When we are eating mangoes we don’t bother to have any knowledge of the mango.  We just want to relish the taste, not the knowledge of the mango.  The eyes don’t necessarily look at something for knowledge, but for gratification, ears listen to gratify, not to gain knowledge etc.  In this realm, it is not right to call the senses jnanendriyas when they are grazing in the field of sense objects.  They graze to get gratified and that is their food.  

If you take the food away, then what do they become?  

-ahara is food.

Atyahara is overeating

Upahara is grazing or munching

Alpahara is undereating

Anahara is fasting

Then we can understand pratyahara.  Pratyahara is a kind of food.  The senses are not fasting.  The senses are taken inward and there is an experience.  You don’t go for a sensory deprivation condition where you are unconscious.  The senses are merely disengaged from external objects but engaged within, for knowledge.  When this happens, the roles of the 5 senses become one – wisdom alone.  

It is not like the turtle withdrawing it’s limbs.  A tortoise does this out of fear not due to yoga.  It is a defense mechanism for protection.  We do the same – we shut our eyes, block our ears and nose etc. to protect our senses. 

Pratyahara is not drawing the senses inwards.  Pratyahara is pratyahara.  It cannot be translated in technical terms. The senses go inwards for a spiritual purpose, not fasting or starving.  They have an engagement and become spiritual wisdom organs and they become absorbed from five to one.

(these are my notes, therefore any and all misunderstandings of Prashant’s teachings are mine.)

Klesa and Karma

To live  demands that we make decisions on how to act, and what to do. B. K. S. Iyengar asks, “How does a freeman act, and yet remain free?” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 238).  Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras seek to answer this question by exploring the motivations that drive our actions, how we can become aware of our habit patterns, in order to act skillfully and directly, and find freedom in the life of daily routine.

The five kleśas or afflictions appear as psychological “somato-psychic” conditions (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2012 pg. 82).  The primary motivation of the kleśas is the desire to preserve the ego-self. 2.3 Avidyᾱ asmitᾱ-rᾱga-dveṣa abinveśaḥ-kleśᾱḥ lists the kleśas. The second is asmitᾱ – the ego identity. Asmitᾱ is formed to protect the identity we show to the world. To do this, asmitᾱ seeks out more of, and becomes attached to, what gives pleasure and security. This is raga, the third kleśa. Asmitᾱ rejects and avoids what is painful, disturbing, and threatening. This is dveṣa, the fourth kleśa. Asmitᾱ’s preservation techniques have a logic to them as the kleśas offer layers of protection. However, if left unattended asmitᾱ is motivated only to satisfy pleasure and avoid pain. Any challenge to these motivations brings up fear. Prashant writes that we cannot tolerate the “empirical I being tormented or harassed” (P.Iyengar, 2013, p. 33). Fear, and fear of death, is translated as abhiniveśaḥ and is the fifth kleśa. Fear is an instinctive reaction to anything that threatens asmitᾱ, not just in terms of death and dying, but to whatever challenges its continuity. B.K.S. Iyengar writes that abhiniveśaḥ “is instinctive and causes one to become selfish and self-centered” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 105).

Most of us are unaware of our motivations. We even consider our likes, dislikes, and fears to

represent individual freedom of expression. This is avidyᾱ, the first kleśa, meaning ignorance, not knowing, or lack of awareness. Avidyᾱ encompasses all the other kleśas. Avidyᾱ leads to incorrect comprehension of reality. Strangely, avidyᾱ is seldom expressed as avidyᾱ. We rarely find ourselves saying – “I’m so ignorant about this or that”. We are more likely to say, “ I always do it this way” or “I never do it that way”. One of avidyᾱ ’s characteristics is that it is hidden. We notice avidyᾱ “more by its absence than its presence” (Desikachar, 1995, p. 11). Moreover, we may not even have an urge to notice them, let alone lessen their effect, because they are effective at protecting asmitᾱ and, as Desikachar comments, we have little, or no, interest in reducing their effects (Desikachar, 1995).  Prashant Iyengar writes that the kleśas are “utterly delicious to the body, mind, senses, like the dessert in the context of the meals of life” (P. Iyengar, 2013, p. 33). 

B. K.S. Iyengar emphasizes that the kleśas are not simply obstacles, but “wave patterns of interference that stem from our glorious individuality” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 194) : and yet they are “suffering and the cause of suffering” (Mehta, 1975, p. 108), they are “affliction, pain, distress, sorrow, trouble” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 105). Why? Because they stop us from being present and give us the illusion that we are living in reality, when in fact we are living in a reality built by the kleśas designed to protect asmitᾱ.

Karma means to do, to act, and also the effect, or result of an action. The Bhagavad Gita states, “no-one, even in the twinkling of an eye, ever exists without performing action” (Sargeant, 1984, p. 111).

Sutra 4.7 karma aśukla akṛṣṇam yoginaḥ trividham itareṣᾱm says that “The karma of a yogi is neither good nor bad: in the case of others, karma is of a threefold nature” (Mehta, 1975, p. 405). Edwin Bryant refers to Vyasa’s commentary on Karma (Bryant, 2009) which can be: “Black” consisting of selfish, unkind and destructive acts; “White” actions which are of honesty, austerity, self-study, and non-attachment; and Grey karma, a blend of the two with limitless shades of Black and White. The results from Black karma are negative, White karma are positive or indifferent, and Grey brings about mixed results. Vyasa comments that negative karma, can be from actions that are positive, and negative karma cannot destroy positive karma, but it can merge into grey karma, and therefore “one should aim toward good deeds” (Bryant, 2009, p. 416). 

What determines the type of karma we enact are the kleśas.  Prashant Iyengar writes that, all the kleśas have a boiling-bubbling potential for karma” (P. Iyengar, 2013 pg. 121), and that the “kleśas are the roots and sources of karma” (P. Iyengar, 2013 pg. 41)Sutra 2.12 kleśamūlaḥ karmᾱśayaḥ dṛṣta adṛṣṭa janma vedanῑyaḥ states that our birth is determined by past karma, and driven by the kleśas. Sati mule tadvipᾱkaḥ jᾱti ᾱyuḥ bhogᾱḥ (2.13) adds that the quality and duration of our life is determined by our karmic experiences. Sutra 2.14 te hlᾱda paritᾱpa phalᾱḥ puṇya apuṇya hetutvᾱt infers that our current birth is limited by the pleasurable or painful fruits of past and present karma (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2006).

We act from our fears, our desires, and our dislikes to preserve asmitᾱ. The results of our actions cause us to react from the kleśas, causing more karma driven by the kleśas. The accumulation of karma is known as karmasaya. Prashant writes, “Kleśas are materially responsible for our actions, reactions, unactions, nonactions, and responses” (P. Iyengar, 2013, p. 128). Our entire karmic being is present at every moment in the form of habits and tendencies. The word vᾱsanᾱ means subliminal impression or tendency. Sutra 4.8 tataḥ tadvipᾱka anuguṇᾱnᾱm eva abhivyaktiḥ vᾱsanᾱnᾱm explains that vᾱsanᾱs arise and become active under certain conditions. While we might perceive that our next action emanates from an independent decision-making process, it is, in fact, linked to past karma and motivated by the kleśas. We use the phrase “to be stuck in a rut” to mean that we feel compelled to act in the same way repeatedly as if what we do is beyond our control; that we are helpless in the face of our desires, pleasures, aversions, and fears. 4.9 jᾱti deśa kᾱla  vyavahitᾱnᾱm apy ᾱnataryaṁ smṛti saṁskᾱryoḥ ekarūpatvᾱt tells that, “due to the uninterrupted close relationship between memory and subliminal impressions, the fruits of actions remain intact from one life to the next” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 239). The one exception is Ῑśvara 1.24 kleśa karma vipᾱka ᾱsayaiḥ aparᾱamṛṣṭaḥ puruṣaviśeṣaḥ Ῑśvaraḥ. Puruṣaviśeṣaḥ refers to a special being that is Ῑśvara, who is unaffected by the kleśas, karma, and the reactions that ensue. But we are not Ῑśvara.

How to begin to overcome the kleśa/karma cycle? Prashant writes, we must “trace the merit of karma in our drives, motives, tendencies, and intentions behind our actions, and influencing this analysis are the kleśas” (P. Iyengar, 2013, p. 147).  Vyasa offers the following threefold sequence to eliminate the influence of the kleśas; firstly, to remove the extreme or gross effects is like shaking a cloth, or washing it in water (Bryant, 2009). Sutra 2.2 samᾱdhi bhᾱrvanᾱrthaḥ kleśa tanūkaraṇᾱrthaśca, says that this can be done through the practice of yoga (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2006).  The second cleaning has to be more subtle; Vyasa uses the image of beating a cloth against a stone to remove the finer dirt.  Sutra 2.10 te pratiprasavaheyᾱḥ sūksmah suggests that subtle afflictions can be minimized and eradicated by a “process of involution” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2006, p. 111) noted in sutra 2.11 as dhyᾱna (meditation), as it is the “subtlest discipline of yoga”  (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2001, p. 123).  Sutra 4.6 tatra dhyᾱnajam anᾱśayam – states that “the one born of meditation is without the storehouse of karma” (Bryant, 2009, p. 414).

Meditation can remove the effects of past karma, and its effects become “burnt seeds”, meaning that they cannot propel further action and effect (Bryant, 2009). 4.12 atῑta anᾱgataṁ svarūpataḥ asti adhavadhedᾱt dharmᾱṇyᾱm explains that through meditation “the past and the future is as real as that of the present” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 243). 4.27 tat cchidreṣu pratyayᾱntarᾱṇi-saṁskᾱrebhyaḥ cautions “when there are moments of non-awareness the old tendencies make their appearance once again” (Mehta, 1975, p. 433) and one must be vigilant. The third level of cleaning is for the most subtle dirt and dust, this can only be done by the most accomplished yogi, for the metaphorical cloth is destroyed completely, in other words, when one’s actions are completely free from attachment to results. Mehta’s commentary on sutra 4.29 (prasaṁkhyᾱne api akusῑdasya sarvathᾱ vivekakhyᾱteḥ dharmameghaḥ samᾱdhiḥ) describes this moment as beingwhen a state of meditation is an end in itself, and not the means for the fulfilment of some other end” (Mehta, 1975, p. 441).  This is the moment where complete virtue and wisdom ensue and is termed as dharmameghaḥ samᾱdhi.  Finally, at this point, as sutra 4.30 states (tataḥ kleśa karma nivṛttiḥ) there is freedom from karma and its effects, “as if a kite were released in the sky, without a string, to bring it back to earth” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 238) and one has attained kaivalya.  

References

Bryant, E. (2009). The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary with Insights from the Traditional Commentators. North Point Press.

Desikachar, T. K. V. (1995). The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice. Inner Traditions/Bear.

Iyengar, B. K. S. (2001). Astadala Yogamala (Vol. 2). Allied Publishers Private Limited.

Iyengar, B. K. S. (2005). Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (New edition edition). HarperCollins India.

Iyengar, B. K. S. (2012). Core of the Yoga Sutras: The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga. Harper Thorsons.

Iyengar, B. K. S., Evans, J. J., & Abrams, D. (2006). Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom (Reprint edition). Rodale Books.

Iyengar, P. (2013). Fundamentals of Patanjali’s Philosophy: Theory of Klesha and Karma. Ramāmaṇi Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute & YOG.

Mehta, R. (1975). Yoga, the Art of Integration: A Commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Theosophical Publishing House.

Sargeant, W. (1984). The Bhagavad Gita: Revised Edition. SUNY Press.

Note: All transliterations of the sutra text is taken from (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005), spelling of Sanskrit is consistent with that text.

The theory of re-birth according to Patanjali.

Prashant Iyengar writes that “life commences with karma” (P. Iyengar, 2013, p. 12). The process of re-birth stems from actions, their effects (karma), and natural causes stemming from the interplay of the three gunas.(Sargeant, 1994).  Patanjali examines this subject throughout the yoga sutras and, in the kaivalya pada, details what determines the nature of re-birth, and how it can be overcome.

2.12 explains that past karma affects re-birth due to the kleśas. (Kleśamūlaḥ karmᾱśayaḥ dṛṣṭᾱ adṛṣṭa janma vedanῑyah.)  The kleśas are the mental and emotional afflictions that motivate our actions. They are “the root and material cause for fruition of karma” (P. Iyengar, 2013, pg. 41). If we are not cognisent of the effect of the kleśas, karma falls into habit patterns and tendencies that we are unaware of either at a mild, moderate, or intense degree.  This is due to avidyᾱ (not knowing). Past actions can, unknowingly, affect this birth – dṛṣṭᾱ janma, and future births – adṛṣṭa janma. 2.13 (Sati mule tadvipᾱkaḥ jᾱti ᾱyuḥ bhogᾱḥ) adds that the quality and duration of our life is determined by karmic “assets and liabilities”, or good and bad deeds (P. Iyengar, 2013, p. 167). 2.14 (te hlᾱda paritᾱpa phalᾱḥ puṇya apuṇya hetutvᾱt) explains that our current birth is limited by the pleasurable or painful effects of past and present karma.  It would seem from these sutras that there is predestined quality to re-birth, and that there is little we can do to determine its nature.

However, according to B. K. S. Iyengar, sutra 2.34 explains the “root causes of re-birth” and adds that we have a responsibility in the process, suggesting that re-birth is not entirely  predestined (Iyengar, 2012 pg. 22). Vitarkaḥ hiṁsᾱdayaḥ kṛta kᾱrita anumoditᾱḥ lobha krodha moha pūrvakaḥ mṛdu Madhya adhimᾱtraḥ duḥkha ajñᾱna anantaphalᾱḥ iti pratipakṣabhᾱvanam; The negative thoughts and actions, based in violence (hiṁsa), greed (lobha), anger (krodha), or delusion (moha), that either we perform (kṛta), or have others perform on our behalf (kᾱrita), that cause us to become stuck in a never-ending cycle (ananta) of suffering (duḥkha), due to ignorance (ajñᾱna) and incorrect knowledge (vitarkaḥ).   This can only be stopped when one cultivates the opposite, counteracting thoughts (pratipakṣabhᾱvanam).  This sutra is significant in that it infers, not only that re-birth is a repeated cycle, but also suggests that we do, through pratipakṣabhᾱvanam, have a degree of influence, and responsibility, in altering its course.  The kaivalya pada offers more detail on the causes and what determines the nature of our influence.  

The causes of re-birth are described in sutra 4.2 jᾱyantara pariṇᾱmaḥ prakṛtyᾱpūrᾱt, meaning that being born into a new form occurs when natural forces overflow. Jᾱyantara pariṇᾱmaḥ means a complete transformation, or mutation of being. This transformation, whether it is biological, or psychological, is due to the process of prakṛtyᾱpūrᾱtprakriti means nature, and ᾱpῑrᾱt means the filling in, or pouring in of. Prakṛtyᾱpūrᾱt is an overflow, suggesting that existing banks or barriers of a previous flow are broken down, rather like a river overflowing its banks. Due to the fact that these forces are natural, it is clear that re-birth, into a new form of being, is caused by spontaneous change. The biologist Julian Huxley is quoted by Mehta (1975,p. 396) as saying, “spontaneous change, or mutation, of single factors has been, and is still probably the most important source of new departures, without which evolution could not take place”. Iyengar supports this concept and adds that nature itself is “the powerhouse for spiritual evolution” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2006, pg. 232) suggesting that the creative cause of re-birth is unpremeditated, and due to the overflow of nature. 

Sutra 4.3 nimittaṁ aprayojakaṁ prakṛtῑnᾱṁ varaṇabhedaḥ tu tataḥ kṣetrikvat separates the natural causes of re-birth as described above, and infers thought processes, and thus karma, as an additional cause of re-birth. Patanjali uses the word nimitta to mean instrument or tool. Karma, propelled by thoughts and deeds, act as a tool that is, in part, what determines re-birth. Patanjali uses the image of a farmer, who, of course, cannot control the natural flow of water into his fields, but he can use instruments to remove the obstacles that prevent the natural flow. Thus, Patanjali defines that the instrumental causes of re-birth, are not the creative causes of re-birth. Re-birth is caused by both our conscious awareness, that we can control, and by prakṛti that are beyond our scope of control. This infers that re-birth is not entirely predestined. We do have control over our thoughts, even if consciousness can only perform a negative roll by removing obstacles of negative karma, our present karma can be improved, and affect re-birth.

 The forces that determine the nature of re-birth are memory (smṛti), subliminal tendencies (saṁskᾱras).  Saṁskᾱras are the threads that connects the process and causes of rebirth and are the obstacles to nature’s flow, as referred to in sutra 4.3. Sutra 4.9 jᾱti deśa kᾱla vyavahitᾱnᾱm api ᾱnantaryaṁ smṛti saṁskᾱrayoḥ ekarūpatvᾱt, states that even though there is a separation of time and place between re-births, there is continuity between each life due to saṁskᾱras and smṛti. Saṁskᾱras pass from life to new life, as “ᾱnantaryaṁ” or uninterrupted sequences because they are stored in memory (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 239). Saṁskᾱras remain” like seeds irrespective of whether they are of one’s last birth or of a birth aeons ago” (Bryant, 2009, p. 420). If the right conditions present themselves, the seeds will grow, and the same tendencies will recur because the drive to maintain the continuity of the ego-self and the will to exist is the most powerful motivator of all. Here, Patanjali cycles back to the kleśas, particularly abhiniveśaḥ.  Prashant Iyengar observes that “ memory is based on experience. But (abhiniveśaḥ) has no memory of experience because death is only experienced once in a lifetime” (P. Iyengar, 2013, pg. 89) thus this saṁskᾱra is created in the deaths of one’s previous lives. This motivation is ceaseless and thus our saṁskᾱras are “beginningless” (Narasimhan, 2018, p. 133).

 4.11 hetu phala aśray ᾱlambanaiḥ saṅgṛhῑtatvᾱt eṣᾱm abhᾱve tad abhᾱvaḥ.  Patanjali reinforces the impact of the karma/kleśa relationship and the preservation of asmitᾱ. According to Vyasa, this sutra lists the four ingredients that feed the saṁskᾱras. These are: dharma (virtuous acts) and adharma (impious acts), Phala, the motive that supports the production of more dharma and adharma, ᾱśrayᾱ, the mind that protects the ego-self through memory, and “ᾱlambana” meaning an object or event that causes the saṁskᾱras to be triggered and propels more dharma or adharma. (Bryant, 2009). Memory cannot be eliminated, but it can be cleansed and interrogated to give a precise, accurate picture that is unattached to past saṁskᾱras. Iyengar writes that memory “is not a platform with which to review the world…. but memory is absolutely necessary for the development of intelligence. Without memory, intelligence cannot prosper and we cannot reach our soul” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 143). Sutra 4.11 goes onto say that, with intelligence and discriminative awareness, we start to notice the nature of our motivations, and can reduce saṁskᾱras (abhᾱve).  As such, their effects become less (abhᾱvaḥ), and the appetite to generate more is abated, and the cycle of re-birth can be stopped. Iyengar writes that, at this point, the mind “avoids desires and thoughts of reward, and direct its attention towards the exploration of the seer” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 242).

 Although it is impossible to trace the origins of our sense of I-ness, and thus the origins of any action that we do, Patanjali makes it clear that the nature of re-birth is determined by the very issue of our I-ness. He also makes it clear that although the process of re-birth is not entirely within our control as suggested in sutra 4.2, the causes of re-birth are far from being predestined. It is the indulgent and resistant acts of karma that fuels the processes and causes of re-birth. Conscious awareness, or lack of it, determines the nature of our re-birth. Consciousness it is the very tool that created the saṁskᾱras, and it is the only tool that can be used to overcome them. Sutra 4.32 tataḥ kṛtᾱrthᾱnᾱṁ pariṇᾱmakrama samᾱptiḥ guṇᾱnᾱm is to have cultivated conscious awareness to the point where we have “unveiled perception” of the “real nature of things” (Mehta, 1975, p. 447) and a perception of ourselves simply as being and “living is its own destination” (Mehta, 1975, p. 452). Pariṇᾱmakrama samᾱptiḥ means the processes and causes of “successive mutations” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 263) of re-birth have come to an end. Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita (5.19) “Even on the moral plane, those who have conquered and established impartial minds become established in the existence of the soul in all creatures, conquering the cycle of birth and death”. (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2012, p. 26). At Geeta’s passing, it was reported to me that her last words to her sister were – “my work here is done”. This is, perhaps a very tangible illustration of how the completeness of her karma, and her detachment from its effects, enabled her to choose the time of her own passing. Such closure shows us that when we know how to live, we know how to die, and this, surely, is the deepest teaching of yoga.

References

Bryant, E. (2009). The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary with Insights from the Traditional Commentators. North Point Press.

Iyengar, B. K. S. (2005). Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (New edition edition). HarperCollins India.

Iyengar, B. K. S. (2012). Core of the Yoga Sutras: The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga. Harper Thorsons.

Iyengar, B. K. S., Evans, J. J., & Abrams, D. (2006). Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom (Reprint edition). Rodale Books.

Iyengar, P. (2013). Fundamentals of Patanjali’s Philosophy: Theory of Klesha and Karma. Ramāmaṇi Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute & YOG.

Mehta, R. (1975). Yoga, the Art of Integration: A Commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Theosophical Publishing House.

Narasimhan, P. (2018). The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali: A Collection of Translations.

Note: All transliterations of the sutra text is taken from (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005), spelling of Sanskrit is consistent with that text.

on opposites…

In gratitude for Tiffany Hambley’s post on Prashantji’s teachings. Prashant says, “Imagine a scenario where two mirrors reflect one another. The potential for refraction and reflection is endless. This is quite a different situation, he pointed out, than a wooden yoga brick and a mirror facing one another: in that instance, it can clearly be seen that one is reflected and one is reflecting. But with two mirrors, you cannot label one as the reflector and one as the reflected. They assume both roles, and the reflections produced are infinite”.

How amazing is that? Patanjali explains “pratipaksa bhavanam” – to cultivate more of the opposite. B. K. S. Iyengar writes that this is why yoga actually works (Light on Yoga sutras 2.33). It is our “internal checks and balance” process. In observing the balance poses it is clear that balance isn’t just moving away from falling, but also moving into the falling, and then away again and observing that too much of one direction is as destabilizing as too much of the opposite direction; that balance is a constant re-appraisal from the reflector and reflected. This duality plays itself out in our bodies all the time – we have instant philosophers in our legs, knees, hips, sides of the spine, shoulders, arms, neck. eyes etc. I recall Mary Dunn saying in class one day – “My two legs are like my two daughters; I love them both the same, but they are very different”. I have quoted this often, but at its essence, she is talking about the interaction of opposites, rather than the duality of opposition. That the bad hip/knee/shoulder etc, is like looking in a mirror and passing judgment from a subject (me) to an object (my bad hip). What about the reflected? and how can I know which is right or wrong, or good or bad? Pratipaksa bhavanam does not instruct us to do the opposite in the sense of either one or the other, but, as Prashant says, both sides “assume both roles” even though they may have different parts to play toward being balanced. Again, from Mary – “evenness doesn’t mean the same as”. I love this one. I might have to work differently on my right leg or left leg in order to balance. Additionally, my right and left side can only understand what to do in relation with each other, not in opposition to each other. The richness of interaction is “infinite” (Prashant again). Guruji writes that we often live in the “insanity of individualism” instead of the “joy of singularity” (Light on Life). Standing on your head, hands, shoulders, and feet requires a interaction of many single parts rather than being boxed into only one part, way, one belief, one opinion, one emotional response, or the other. Lastly from Mary…” yoga is not an either/or subject”.

“Pratipaksha bhavana works because it reflects back to us what is true, deep, and abiding. It provides opportunities to transcend an ego hampered by desires for limits, boundaries, the need to always be in control, and right (rather than in right, i.e., productive, relationship with truth)” Reverend Jaganath Carrera.

The Klesas and the feet

This is from a class taught at the Summer Intensive with Jess at Clear Yoga.

Who would have thought that “Who am I?” would be the theme for a weekend Yoga Intensive!! It makes sense when we realize that within each asana are tools to allow us to investigate the different parts of our body. They let us begin to uncover pieces of the picture that lead to a greater understanding of “Who I am”. We started on Friday night with the separation and lift of the side chest and the release of the neck and shoulders.  On Saturday we moved on to the discovery of the second and third metatarsals in the feet and the ramifications that they can have in our body… But to get a clear picture of the parts that contribute to the whole we need to be able to separate those parts and bring our attention and focus to them. Patanjali tells us that between us and understanding lie the klesas- the afflictions that cloud and limit our perception. The first two Avidya and Asmita are particularly relevant to our investigations.

 The first – Avidya means not knowing, an absence of knowledge regarding something that we have not noticed.  Through practice, we cultivate vidya – knowledge. By separating pieces, we start to notice parts we didn’t notice before, or how we habitually do, or avoid doing something. Without noticing, we cannot come to know. Prashant Iyengar speaks of yoga as being an “open minded investigation”. We start to notice what we are doing, and begin to cultivate knowledge of the different parts of the body and within that, approach the question “who am I?”

 The second klesa is Asmita – the ego self.  In the age of google it is easy to forget that a piece of information out of context can lead to misunderstood or wrong conclusions.  We live in the age of high level Asmita. Our ego, can be deluded very easily into thinking that acquiring more information means that we have all or most of the answers. In Istvan Banyai book “Zoom” – the first page shows a picture – you wonder what it is and say – yup – I got this, I know exactly what this is.  Then you turn the page, and the lens has been drawn back a bit and you see what this image belongs to – perhaps it was what you thought it was, perhaps not, but now you say – yup – I got it correct this time – I know for sure it’s this. Then you turn the page again, and it’s not what you think because it changes your perspective and makes you look at the picture differently.  Every page pulls the lens up a little higher and every page, the image turns out to be not what you thought. Life is like this, and certainly our practice is like this. Asmita can be what keeps us from turning the page and being open to a different perspective.

 The essence of practice is to try new ways of doing, investigate new ways of seeing, be open to new ways of understanding or more useful perspectives. We can let our ego (asmita) get in the way of clear knowing (vidya).  BKS Iyengar writes that avidya and asmita result in – “ the insanity of individualism, when it should be the joy of singularity”. Our culture drives us into individualism “we judge by externals and worthless comparisons. We lose joy in the existence of others. We expect others to perform according to our desires and expectations.  We lose the ability to play the ball where it lies.” (Light on LIfe).

During Saturday’s class, we practiced finding the second and third metatarsals of the feet – in standing poses, back bends, inversions, and seated poses.  Discoveries were made – hips and lower backs were eased, knees felt better, a lightness in body awareness was experienced by everyone. It was a remarkable and profound exploration. One student commented – “my big toe metatarsal won’t stop pressing. The second and third don’t even have a chance.”

BKS Iyengar described the big toe as being in a state of asmita – the ego, the second toe in a state of viparyaya (misunderstanding), the third in vikalpa (imagination), the fourth in smrti (memory – it can only copy what the other toes are doing), and the fifth in a state of nidra (sleep).   It is the nature of the big toe to be in this individualistic state – a little pushy and dominating. But, without the big toe we could not walk properly. We know people in our lives who are like the big toe – this is their nature. We know parts of our personality that are like the big toe. But the big toe cannot go it alone.  When we pay attention to the second and third metatarsals, we can experience the “joy of singularity”. These other parts are important, and have a part to play even though they look and behave differently.

The “joy of singularity’ shows that every piece of us matters, no matter how big, or small, or arrogant, or afraid, even if it feels as if it doesn’t stand a chance against the more individualistic parts of us.  Our yoga is to pay attention to all of it and notice it with compassion, understanding and open-mindedness. The “joy of singularity” teaches us to accept that there are differences in the nature of our toes, our limbs, ourselves, our community, and our world. When we take ourselves out of the “insanity of individualism” and raise the lens of perspective a little higher, we begin to appreciate the “joy of singularity” and move farther along in the quest to understand “who am I?”.

Avidya – ignorance

“We all sense the presence of soul in our origin and our end.  Looking at the world around us, we are torn between feelings that “soul cannot be in this” and yet, “if the soul exists at all, it must be in this also”.   It’s existence is to be unlimited to our notions of space and time. It’s existence is not defined by or confined to the span of our years between cradle and grave.  It is democratic, if in us then equally in others. (The soul) is not personal; if anything, it is we who belong to it.

If we mistake this separate, necessary but temporary “I-awareness” for our true and abiding identity, if we confuse it with soul, we are in a cleft stick.  What we all most desire is to live and to be a part of life. By choosing to identify with a part of ourselves, that MUST die, we condemn ourselves to death.  By embracing a false identity, accepting the confusion at face value, man places himself in a position of almost unbearable tension. Yoga calls this state “ignorance” and sees it as our fundamental affliction…from our ignorant identification with our ego and its mortality arises  man’s creativity and his destructiveness.

…yet in innumerable ways we endeavor to perpetuate a part of ourselves whose days are numbered, or to comfort ourselves in advance for the coming loss.  

Consumerism cannot be the gateway to immortality.  It is an ineffective and temporary balm against mortality.

The endure the fears of impermanence and to struggle against the inevitable is a tiring business, so at the same time we long equally for loss of self, for fusion, for submergence and transcendence, for release from the burden of the ego.  The egoic self is an exhausting traveling companion, forever demanding that his caprices be pandered to, that his whims be obeyed (though they can never be satisfied), and his fears be calmed (though they never can be).

The lovely asmita, single awareness in single body, is thus, transformed into an insatiable, paranoid, vainglorious tyrant, although this is phenomenon we normally notice in other people.

The reason for this sad transformation is ignorance, the misperception whereby a part of us is taken for the whole.  Much of yoga practice is concerned with cutting the ego down to size and removing the veil of unknowing.”

BKS Iyengar.  Light on Life. pg 121-122.

New beginnings, resolutions, and ahimsa.

The yamas and parighasana

Every time I teach parighasana – gate pose.  I get confused, bewildered looks from students as the pose moves from what you think it should be to something that you can’t believe BKS Iyengar described and explained in Light on Yoga.

Life can be like this.  It throws a curveball that you hadn’t planned on.

The 5 yamas in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a moral compass for life.    A quick translation might be: non harming (ahimsa), truth (satya), non stealing (asteya), not wasting energy (brahmacharya), and not being greedy (aparigraha).  Stephanie Quirk writes that “searching for the yamas (and niyamas) is like searching for the lines painted on a road at night driving a car with lights that barely work.”  They cannot be studied. They can only be experienced as guides. What does she mean?

Let’s explore the first yama – ahimsa: non harming. BKS Iyengar says that himsa (harming) comes when we lose ourselves in untruth, stealing, wanton waste of energy, and greed.  They all cause harm to ourselves, others, our community, and our planet. Society states that we should not kill, steal etc. We can all agree on this. It is illegal to kill someone or steal from someone.  Our laws and religions make it clear. But to not cause harm is quite different. I want to pollute the world less, but yet, I need heat in my house when it’s zero degrees; I know I’m stressed and should go to sleep, but I can’t get this done in time otherwise.  These examples cause harm in some way, to oneself and to the environment.

Stephanie say “ The sense of shame and awkwardness we feel at the mention of the yamas is why we find a conflict in grasping the subject”.  As yoga practitioners, we like to think of ourselves “from a place of purity, piety, and innocence…..but the signs point that that not being where we are beginning from”.  (Stephanie Quirk).

January is a month of new beginnings, and of new resolutions: The  I shall NOT, or I shall do x. Studies show that most people give up on their resolutions before the middle of January.   Why should this be the case? I would argue that it’s not only a matter of willpower, but more of perspective.

Let’s take this example: I shall not drink coffee in 2019.  OK – when it rolls around to 7am when you usually have your coffee, what happens?   Your mind, even your body is craving and crying out for coffee. Clearly there are chemical addictions to coffee as well, but nevertheless, you are stressed,  even without the coffee! This may go one for a week or a month and then it’s too much. Your 7am craving becomes a lonely, empty, stressful, and harmful space in your day.  You dread it. Coffee becomes the only solution to the problem. Stephanie goes on to say: “Herein, lies the difficulty for us. We can’t relate easily to the empty himsa (harm) shaped space”.”  This leads to an internal conflict that you may or may not be able to resolve. Our nature as humans is to harm – we do it all the time, to ourselves, others, our environment. She says “ we cannot skirt around the harm.  We cannot cut out, rub out, paint out the harm in ourselves. If we were able to, we would end up with an empty “harm-shaped space” or the ghost of harm.”

BKS Iyengar writes in his book Light on Life that, if even ONE cell in your body is craving (he talks about chocolate), in this case, coffee, then, you are harming yourself; (the second of the yamas is truth) you are hiding the truth of the situation from yourself, or stealing the truth (the third yama is non stealing), wasting energy not being honest (the forth yama) because you are not able to detach and let go (greedlessness is the fifth yama) of your craving for coffee.  This sounds very heavy stuff.

BKS Iyengar says that the Yamas are the most destructive forces in our lives.    Patanjali must have known this because, instead of finger pointing – Do NOT do this, do that.  We are invited to use a different perspective. It requires us to observe, and learn more about ourselves.  Patanjali offers an approach “ that counters the harm by doing the opposite.” (Stephanie Quirk).

When it’s coffee time, do something else, go for a walk, have tea instead.  You may not be able to eradicate the craving, but you are filling the sad-empty-what-used-to-be- coffeetime vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum.  With practice, coffee time will have been replaced by something else, or you will reach a solution of having coffee twice a week instead of every day, and the craving might not be a craving, but just a once in a while cup of coffee.  

Back to parighasana (gate pose).  Is it a side bend, a forward bend, a twist?  If I decide it’s only one of those things, then I’m stuck with the coffee situation: either all or nothing.  To do the opposite creates confusion initially: When I take my hands all the way to the foot, I can’t keep my chest open; if I keep my chest open I can’t do the pose.  And, yes, there are stages in this pose. But to get to the classic pose it cannot be only one thing or another. The “I shall do this, and only this, or I shall not to this, are not available.  It IS a forward bend, it IS a lateral bend , it IS a twist. You have to the opposite of what you think it is. And the guidelines are rather like the lines on the road at night with bad lighting. The pose is more demanding of our hard core desires and avoidances.  As Geeta Iyengar said – If you think your body is stiff, try looking at your mind. If I twist too much, i have to do the opposite, if I bend forward to much I have to twist, if I bend sideways too much I have to bend forward. Because the net effect of your effort will be to bring you to nothing you ever thought it would be.

Manouso said that the process of practice refers to the constant necessity for us to relinquish the preconception we have of ourselves and our capacities – our I shall do or I shall not do. He says again and again that we must go beyond our preconception in order to be in the the truth of our experience—right here in the NOW.

Mary Dunn once said “Yoga is not an either/or subject. It is a both subject”.  To think of life, yoga and parighasana as and either this or that subject can only cause himsa.

Notes and quotes from various lectures

Geeta on Guruji: December 13th

She is tired from teaching for 5 days and giving talks.  When the speech is tired, everything is tired; body, mind and breath.

My mother and father have guided me throughout.  Guruji was a different child.  He had a way of looking, observing, watching. Everyone thought his life would be short.  He had a limited education.  But education is not as important as we think.  Yet he touched everywhere.  He was hardly with his Guru Krishnamacharya.  Only 2 and a half years and a few asanas.  He couldn’t touch his knees in forward bends. 

If you are stiff you can follow Guruji and your stiffness will be broken.

His knees and elbows were always bent.  He had to start yoga from his body – his first instrument.  It was in a poor state.  Physical exertion and physical weakness was there.  Except for physical exertion, he knew nothing. Everything was exertion.

Guruji was a very angry person.  He will give a short hit exactly on the part that is not working. The touch of his had a close relationship with many.  In front of nourished bodies this un-nourished body was in front of them trying to teach them in college.  Try to picture this.  So many jumpings and backbendings.  Nobody taught him sequencing but he knew.  He never used the wall for sirsasana to balance but when students said they could not balance, he told them to go to the wall.  He invented the wall as a prop.  It had not been done before.  Please understand this.

He was very disciplined.  What had to come after started with his own body so people could start to understand their own body.  He has already discovered what to do because he has practiced it and understood it.  He won’t accept your practice if is not in the box of  the yamas (non violence, truth, non stealing, not wasting energy, not to be greedy), and the niyamas (burning zeal, self study, cleanliness, contentment, devotion).  Dharana (focus) is connected with the body and dharana is connected to dhyana (meditation).  One aspect affects the other.  Be inside yoga.  In the beginning of your practice yama and niyama are big, but eventually they become subtle. Non violence is not only on the outside but also on the inside.

Abhyasa (disciplined practice) and viaragya (detachment, removing the obstacles from practice).  No one can become desireless without practice.

We neglect this.  This concept of yoga is not understood.  Viaragya has to be developed.   It is not giving up.  It is an inner disassociation/desirelessness that comes from an absolutely practiced yogi. 

Our consciousness has everything in it.  The good, the bad, mostly bad things! we are bad but project ourselves as very good.  This is why we behave impurely.  Convert the impure consciousness with practice.

Guruji did this.  He never used the word exercise.  An asana is a cleansing.  His philosophy is not based on academic philosophy.  He was a healer, teacher, philosopher, friend.  He talked in aphorisms.  He showed how the consciousness (citta) can move from vyutthana (rising thoughts), to nirodha (restrained thoughts) to ekagra (one pointed thought) to santa citta (peaceful thought)  Yoga is a consultation process until we reach this sharp end of citta. 

Sirsasana, sarvangasana is a must because the body has to be cleansed.  There have to be forward bends and back bends.  They affect our consciousness in different ways.   There is no question of likes or dislikes.  Somewhere, the asana will help you.  Some people ask me if Iyengar yoga will continue – why worry about such things.

The siddhis (powers): let’s not think of them as accomplishments or not.  Look at them as a step.  At every level of our practice there are siddhis.  Even in the yamas and niyamas.  One muscle has the depth to connect all the levels of our consciousness towards samadhi (total absorption).  Each has it’s own depth.  Cells that have that inner energy.  The chakras connect from the body to the transformation of citta.  But it didn’t happen for him – he left before he could reach that. 

There is a divinity in him.  He will be reincarnated.  What we know is only a quarter of him.  He did his practice and his sadhana and experienced everything. 

Prashant said that Guruji was like an ocean and we are specks.  

Celebration days

On Thursday we arrived in our non yoga clothes and were treated to a talk by Geeta which I will write up tomorrow.  Then we had a talk by the CEO of Deloitte and Touche – a successful businessman and student of Iyengar Yoga.  He talked about how yoga has helped him with his position of managing a huge company.  Here are a few of the highlights:

My least favorite pose is supta virasana but I do it: the long term benefits are worth the short term pains.

I try to balance out the auditing section of the company with the advising section.  After the government instilled new laws restricting our license to perform audits, I had to figure out how to make the company work.  You can’t just cut off a part that isn’t working – you have to look at it and integrate it.  You can’t let you ego get away with you.  For example, when you are balancing in Ardha Chandrasana – if you become smug and your ego takes over, you will lose your balance.  You have to connect and communicate.

Greed is like holding an asana for longer than you should.  Or wanting to do more asana, like wanting more money.  Artha should flow in the waters of moksha – your wealth should allow you to be spiritually free.

Corporate dharma (duty) – to profit, and people and planning.  Courage is not just about doing the right thing, but allowing people to speak out without fear.

in this world there is fear and insufficient empathy.  Truth only comes at the grass roots level.  You have to learn something new every day.

Prashant summed his talk up with this…which I thought was quite brilliant.

The Management of life:

  • Passion management: desires, games, wants and needs
  • Emotional management: relations, people and the world

If you don’t have passion and emotional management, your life will be a mess

  • Intellectual management.

 

The part of ourselves that is the locus of our identity are the shoulders.  They carry the crafty brain. It is not easy to manage the brain. Below is the heart and emotions, and below is passion.  Each of these areas has polarities of likes, dislikes, hates, loves etc.

 

For one’s own management – not MAN – AGE – ment yoga has schemes to create compatibility and union of the head and heart.  It is important for our worldly life. The Business of life has a CEO at the top of our embodiment. Sometimes the CEO is in the heart, or in the belly, but the third locus is the SPINE.  The spine connects all three parts of brain, heart and belly. It relates them to each other.

 

You only consider the things that are in front of you, whereas the things that are behind you are unidentified. The spine is the same.  Everything is in front of the spine. In uttanasana, you are facing forward but the pose identifies what is behind you – your spine. The spine is more circumspect.  Neither the brain, nor heart, nor passion are circumspect.

 

In Yoga, the spine is given a position of CEO.  THe spinal faculties and potentials coordinate and manage.  We call a person spineless as a stigma of someone with not glorious potentials.  The spine gives a pan embodiment sweep. Everything comes into its realm from ego to identity.  We have a greater brain below the brain. Yoga knows this.

 

Prashant’s talk on open mindedness

Guruji said “Iyengar Yoga is for one and all

In my case it is me.  In your case it is you.

But what about the “all”

A restaurant has a menu and on the menu are many dishes, and flavors.  Some people like some of these, and some do not. What someone likes, you may not like.  What someone doesn’t like, you may like. But the restaurant serves it all. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it is removed from the menu.  

What happens when we are asleep? the delimitations fall aside.  The likes and dislikes, the young and old, the loves, the loathes, the polarities fall away.  

We all depend on our likes and dislikes to define us but these are all peripheral conditions.  

“Iyengar Yoga is for one and all” Guruji said.

Guruji studied with Krishnamurti.  He was a very critical man, an intellectual weightlifter.  How did he learn from him? He also taught sportsman who were interested in the corporeal advantages of yoga.  He taught them all.  He understood them all.

We are not able to reconcile our differences.  

You need to be open minded.

Don’t believe that it is JUST THAT that was taught to you.

What he taught was not what we learned,  and what we learned we learned.

When he was asked “Is that what you said sir ”” he would never give a positive nod.  

There is a huge gap in what was learned and what was taught by him.  Different people heard and saw differently. Therefore, we MUST be able to reconcile.

The sun is one and the same but it appears differently in the world.  In places it is scorching, and others it is not.

You have to have an open mind to study Iyengar Yoga.

We must understand this and certainly not misunderstand it.

We should not be so corrupt.

The  attitude of “what I learned is what he taught and what he taught is what I learned” is only our subjectivity and it will interfere with your open mind.

Don’t just love what you love and not let others love what they love.

Yoga is for one and all.