Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’

Still the patterning of consciousness! The Yog...
Image via Wikipedia

The yoga sutras are a lot of fun to read – especially the super-natural ones.  I try not to take them too literally, as you never know what might have been warped in translation, or perhaps included merely to inspire yogis to go the extra mile in their practices.

Occasionally, I come across articles in the science literature that reveal how truly weird and wild the human brain can be – and it strikes me – that maybe the ancient yogis were more in tune with the human mind than we “modern science” folks give them credit for.  Here’s a weird and wild sutra:

III.55 –  tarakam sarvavisayam sarvathavisayam akramam ca iti vivekajam jnanam – The essential characteristic of the yogi’s exalted knowledge is that he grasps instantly, clearly and wholly, the aims of all objects without going into the sequence of time of change.

How can we know things instantly?  and without respect to time (ie. never having had prior experience)?

Admittedly, Patanjali may be referring to things that take place in emotional, subconscious or cosmic realms that I’m not familiar with, so I won’t quibble with the text.  Besides, it sounds like an AWESOME state of mind to attain, and well worth the effort – even if we concede it is knowingly unobtainable.  But is it unobtainable?

Might there be states of mind that make it seem obtainable?  Here’s a fascinating science article that appeared in Science Magazine this past week.  Paradoxical False Memory for Objects After Brain Damage [doi: 10.1126/science.1194780] describing the effects of damage in the perirhinal cortex (in rats) that led the animals to demonstrate a peculiar form of false memory – wherein the animals treated never-before seen objects as being familiar. Hmmm.  An altered form of brain activity where unfamiliar and novel things seem very familiar.  Sounds sort of  like “instantaneous knowing without respect to time” to me.

Given the tremendous similarity in brain circuits and memory systems across all mammals, I wonder if humans (perhaps in deep meditative states or with various forms of hallucinogenic or damaged states) could experience this? Sutra III.55 seems strange, but not, perhaps unobtainable.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Read Full Post »

Just a bit of fun with Wordle (the bigger the word in the cloud, the more frequently it occurs in the source text).  Here are clouds for an English translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (English and Sanskrit).  I love that the word “mind” is one of the most prominent words for both of these fundamental yoga teachings … seems to reveal that the practice has always been about the mind.

Read Full Post »

The Buddha as an ascetic. Gandhara, 2-3rd cent...
Image via Wikipedia

One shorthand way I’ve come to think about yoga and other eastern religions is that its practitioners become adept at turning their attention away from stress, conflict, tragedy, etc. of mortal life and towards inner sources of tranquility and peace.  Basically, the meditative training helps one to experience a less conflicted and stressed-out life.

With this in mind,  I started Mircea Eliade‘s tome Yoga: Immortality and Freedom where,  in Chapter 1, Eliade – an academic authority on the topic – gets right to THE main point of Yoga and its historical antecedents found in the writings of ancient mystics, ascetics and Samkhya philosophy that sought to understand mortal and immortal components of man:

For Samkhya and Yoga the problem is clearly defined.  Since suffering has its origins in ignorance of “Spirit”  – that is, confusing “Spirit” with psychomental states – emancipation [from suffering] can be obtained only if the confusion is abolished.

OK, so Yoga will help emancipate me from suffering.  In plain-speak,  I will become (with practice) less stressed by the aches and pains and viscisitudes of life, which, in turn, yields a great many health benefits.  Sounds reasonable from a pure science point of view.  Nevertheless, Eliade emphasizes:

From the time of the Upanishads India rejects the world as it is and devaluates life as it reveals itself to the eyes of the sage – ephemeral, painful, illusory.  Such a conception leads neither to nihilism nor to pessimism.  This world is rejected, this life depreciated, because it is known that something else exists, beyond becoming, beyond temporality, beyond suffering.

Reject this world?  Really?  Is it so horrible?  If this life is so ridden with “universal suffering”, then why do yoga teachers always remind us to, “live in the moment”?  In the past months, I’ve been trying to embrace these passing moments … the rays of sun falling through the branches, the sound of the breeze, a momentary expression on my child’s face … you know … the moment.  I was really digging this aspect of yoga and its emphasis on the here and now and embracing the myriad small pleasures in life.  This effort has made my life more peaceful and full.  Eliade pops my yoga bubble further:

Intrinsically, then, this universal suffering has a positive, stimulating value.  It perpetually reminds the sage and the ascetic that but one way remains for him to attain freedom and bliss – withdrawal from the world, detachment from possessions and ambitions, radical isolation.

Is this where a yoga practice leads?  Radical isolation?  Avoiding all these precious so-called “painful” moments (children laughing, birds singing, waves splashing, etc. etc.).  Say it aint so Mircea!  I was really enjoying these moments.  The meditative practice of yoga has brought joy and calm to my everyday experience – an experience of a hundred passing, ordinary moments.

Hope to come to a deeper understanding of this central “Doctrine of Yoga” in the chapters to come.  I suspect that the purpose of Yoga is (from the philosophical point of view) somewhat loftier than to simply make its practitioners more joyful and calmer.  The super hard-core yogis of the past were probably seeking something more profound – full freedom, emancipation, immortality, samadhi etc.

Worthwhile to be sure, but, for me, for now, not at the expense of all the ordinary passing moments in life.

Post script: A closer look at the word “suffering” shows that it is translated from the sanskrit “dukha” which really just means discomfort or tension.  From wikipedia:

“It is perhaps amusing to note the etymology of the words sukha (pleasure, comfort, bliss) and duḥkha (misery, unhappiness, pain). The ancient Aryans who brought the Sanskrit language to India were a nomadic, horse- and cattle-breeding people who travelled in horse- or ox-drawn vehicles. Su and dus are prefixes indicating good or bad. The word kha, in later Sanskrit meaning “sky,” “ether,” or “space,” was originally the word for “hole,” particularly an axle hole of one of the Aryan’s vehicles. Thus sukha … meant, originally, “having a good axle hole,” while duhkha meant “having a poor axle hole,” leading to discomfort.”

So I need not remain hung-up on a tradition that tells me to both “live in the moment” and also “that these precious moments are chock full of suffering”.  Even happy experiences come with some underlying tension and uncertainty.  Indeed, the mind can easily wander its way from a happy to a troubled state in a few seconds.  Yes, there is constant tension to varying degrees in life.  How is it that yoga can help a person minimize their experience of this tension?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Read Full Post »

animated Young experiment demonstration, animo...
Image via Wikipedia

A few weeks ago my guru passed along a video entitled, “What the BLEEP Do We Know” / “Down the Rabbit Hole” which explores the so-called Double-slit experiments.  In these experiments, it was found that single photons were able to travel through 2 separate slits simultaneously – thus violating all manner of physical laws (how the heck can an object be in two places at the same time?).  Furthermore, it was found that whenever the experimenters (reviewed here) were able to observe, detect, or deduce, which slit a photon travelled through, the typical “dual slit” interference pattern (shown here) instantly disappeared.

Strangely, it seems that interference patterns seem to appear only when a photon’s path is unknown.  Even weirder is that when 2 photons are sent to separate detectors, they seem to “know” whether one-another will generate a specific interference pattern.  This so-called phenomena of “quantum entanglement” and other such examples of spooky action-at-a-distance where 2 separate “widely separated objects share the same existence”  have spawned all manner of new-agey and spiritual endeavors to link these quantum-level phenomena with human spirituality.  Here’s just one example.

A recently published research article entitled, “How much free will is needed to demonstrate nonlocality?” explores the relationship between quantum entanglement and human thought.  According to Technology Review,

“if an experimenter lacks even a single bit of free will then quantum mechanics can be explained in terms of hidden variables. Conversely, if we accept the veracity of quantum mechanics, then we are able to place a bound on the nature of free will.”

Bounds on free will?  Apparently so – if you follow the quantum physics.  Is this a way to think about, or perhaps scientifically validate, the notion of karma?  Perhaps only in a general way – that our thoughts and actions are somehow bounded by the consequences of our choices and experiences as well as the choices and experiences of others in the present and past.

I’m not  free, but happily inter-connected.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Read Full Post »

Artist's depiction of the separation stage. Th...
Image via Wikipedia

Once in class, while trying to get my arms up during Prasarita Padottanasana C (no hopes for “over” and “down to the floor” for me, just “up” with merely a slight forward bend) my instructor said that the first time she was able to touch her clasped hands to the floor, she felt like she “went out of her body”.   Lucky her! Wouldn’t that be cool! I thought to myself.  Maybe someday.

Could her experience – possibly – be akin to the experiences of early Vedic writers and yogis who practiced strange and difficult postures as part of their spiritual development?

The yoga sutras III.39 “bandhakarana saithilyat pracara samvedanat ca cittasya parasariravesah” (Through relaxation of the causes of bondage, and the free flow of consciousness, the yogi enters another’s body at will.)  and  III.40 “udanajayat jala panka kantakadisu asangah utkrantih ca” (By mastery of udana vayu, the yogi can walk over water, swamps and thorns without touching them.  He can also levitate.) – seem to tenuously address something like “being out of one’s body”.

What science research studies today – unknown to the ancient sages who may have experienced such states – are the various brain systems that can give rise to such experiences. The fancy scientific terms for hallucinations of separating from one’s body are heautoscopy and autoscopy and go by other more common terms such as doppelganger or just “out of body experiences”.  As reported in, Brain electrodes conjure up ghostly visions (Nature, 2006) and in “Electrodes trigger out-of-body experience” (Nature, 2002):

Simple stimulation of the brain can cause the mind to play complex and creepy tricks on itself, neurologists have discovered. They found that, by inserting electrodes into a specific part of the brain [left temporoparietal junction], they could induce a patient to sense that an illusory ‘shadow person’ was lurking behind her and mimicking her movements.

People describe out-of-body experiences as feeling that their consciousness becomes detached from their body, often floating above it. … Blanke found that electrically stimulating one brain region — the right angular gyrus — repeatedly triggers out-of-body experiences. … The right angular gyrus integrates visual information — the sight of your body — and information that creates the mind’s representation of your body. This is based on balance and feedback from your limbs about their position in space.

So, the whole proposition of “out of body” seems less far-fetched to me,  perhaps there are possibilities to experience such states of mind – more plausible under conditions of neurological pathology – rather than during yoga practice.  But, something to meditate on in the years to come.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Read Full Post »

Gita Chapter 11:32
Image via Wikipedia

Pointer to a neat lecture on humans’ natural predisposition toward empathy which seems to be rooted deeply in our species’ need for social belonging as well as “grounded in the acknowledgment of death” (related post here).   The virtue of compassion is obviously deeply rooted in Bhagavad Gita and certainly a mental and emotional capacity that should grow and flourish with yoga practice.  Nice to see its biological roots under investigation in mainstream science!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Read Full Post »

Yoke
Image via Wikipedia

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a new yoga student – very new – very, very far away from the archetypal, experienced yoga practitioners one often sees in books and videos (ok, maybe not these guys).   I’m inspired, and do realize the journey will be a long one.   However, is the journey a straight path?   Does it have twists and turns?  What IS the endpoint anyway? and how do I know I’m there?

According to Patanjali‘s yoga sutras:

“Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness”  (I.2  yogah cittavritti nirodhah).

This is echoed in David Gordon White’s The Alchemical Body (Chapter 9):

Reduced to its simplest terms, yoga (“yoking”) is concerned with impeding movement, with the immobilization with all that is mobile within the body.

Ultimate stillness.  The kind demonstrated by the elderly yogi who was able to voluntarily slow his heart for 8 days (covered here).   So this is where the practice ends – in physical and mental stillness – awareness with stillness. 

More compassionate?  More patient?  Healthier? Perhaps this comes with the stillness?  My gut and experience so far says yes, this is where I want to go.  Not to withdraw from life, my family and friends like a lone yogi on a mountaintop, but to acquire a more peaceful and patient disposition that helps myself and others to better cope with life’s twists and turns.

However, David Gordon White’s The Alchemical Body suggests that the pathway is anything but a straight downhill ride to samadhi.   There are myriad natural bodily desires and mental tendencies that push against this pathway, making it an arduous journey where the student can be bucked sideways while fighting against the tide.  As DGW interprets the ancient texts in Chapter 9:

One first immobilizes the body through the postures; next one immobilizes the breaths through diaphragmatic retention; one then immobilizes the seed through the “seals” [bhandas]; and finally one immobilizes the mind through concentration on the subtle inner reverberations of the phonemes.

What a difficult, even heroic undertaking the immobilization of the body constitutes, yet what fantastic results it yields!  For immobilization leads to reversal, reversal to transformation, and transformation is tantamount to bodily immortality and, precisely, to the [supposed] supernatural ability to transform, reverse, or immobilize whatever one desires in the physical world (siddhi).

Reversal?  Transformation?  Much to explore here in the years to come.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »