Tag Archives: philosophy

Letting your plants go seed

When I was a teenager, I can remember waiting in the doctors office and perusing a hunting magazine. I had no interesting in hunting, but it was the only thing to read in the days well before iPhones. Between the articles of using store bought fox urine versus to the real deal for God only knows what, I came across an article that has apparently stayed with me for years. It was a first hand account of a man who successfully tracked down a prized deer, but couldn’t bring himself to shoot it because he was in awe of the beauty and strength of this animal.

As my plants in my garden are maturing, I haven’t been able to pick some of them for very much the same reasons as the hunter above. Watching something grow from seed since nascency, then becoming ripe and the flowering, then seeding, then dying is a beautiful process to watch. It is hauntingly a fast forward preview of our own cycle of existence in this embodiment, and in mankind itself.

I knew I was too late picking my freckled lettuce when I snapped off a leaf and chewed it, only to have an extremely bitter taste in my mouth. I have developed great respect for lettuce plants a they are some of the most disease resistant, insect resistant, drought resistant, and delicious plants that can be grown. When they are mature, they go right into seed making mode and grow a crown on top reminiscent of something truly Royal.

It is odd growing plants in Hawai’i, a place where you can plant any time of year and produce. As this past week was the first day of Spring, many of my plants are behaving like its Fall and either harvesting or going to seed. Rather than greedily picking them all, I am letting some continue their short life cycle on this earth with hope that they will produce more offspring with their withering.

On a bright note, I did harvest my first pumpkin. It was small and beautiful and made my mother in law very happy. I plan to take it on “tour” to show all my students, coworkers, friends, and clients with whom I was showing weekly pictures of progress like some deranged parent. Who knows, I might just eat it one day 🙂

Book Review: I Am That, by Nisargadatta Maharaj

I just finished all 531 pages of I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj, translated by Maurice Frydman. I started reading it in late May and just finished now in mid-September. Why did it take me so long? It certainly wasn’t that he used complicated words. Any high school student could understand it if they have the patience to decipher some the Sanskrit terminology that can be found in the book’s appendix. It certainly wasn’t long drawn out chapters. The book contains 101 chapters which are two to four pages long. It took me so long because the concepts in the book, when thought about and considered, are among the deepest one may experience.

The book is in the the typical question and answer format one reads in most of the non-dualist genre. Nisargadatta Maharaj gave satsang, or spiritual teachings, based out his Bombay (Mumbai) apartment until his death in 1981. He wasn’t a typical yoga practitioner. He made a living making and selling cigarettes on the street and chain smoked them as he gave his teachings. He liked to argue with his disciples, and would kick them out if he felt they have overstayed their welcome after receiving the essence of his teachings. He only spoke in Marathi, and would employ translators for Westerners.

In all of his eccentricities, his teachings get to the heart of the matter: we are not what we take ourselves to be, we are the very universe itself. He foremost rejects that he is his body which is repeated ad nauseum in this text. He rejects that he is his mind, which he says belongs to the body. “As long as one is burdened with a personality, one is exposed to its idiosyncrasies and habits.” He says he is that which does not change: the purusha. Purusha can be translated as “soul” but Maharaj gives it a much more nuanced and textured meaning throughout his book.

His basic teaching is summed up in this dialogue:

Maharaj: How can an unsteady mind make itself steady? Of course it cannot. It is the nature of the mind to roam about. All you can do is to shift the focus of consciousness beyond the mind.

Questioner: How is it done?

Maharaj: Refuse all thoughts except one: the thought ‘I am’. The mind will rebel in the beginning, but with patience and perseverance it will yield and keep quiet. Once you are quiet, things will begin to happen spontaneously and quite naturally without any interference on your part. (page 17)

This may sound a lot like the teachings of Ramana Maharshi. Maharaj’s teachings are very similar with the exception that Maharaj was not silent the way Ramana Maharshi was (Maharshi said very few words to his devotees). But by using his preferred format of argument, the teachings of Nisargadatta yield more concrete “instructions” that are well suited for the Western mind.

I would recommend this book after one is familiarized with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s, as many of the concepts draw from that classic text. In fact if you struggle with the Sutra-s in terms of how prakriti and purusha interplay, I Am That offers elegant explanations and possible solutions. To read this book properly, I wouldn’t advise taking on more than a chapter a day (3-4 pages), and really think about the words. You won’t be the same after reading it.

Linked below is a pdf of the book, and also a video which can be viewed as a primer to the teachings.

http://advaita.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/1-I-Am-That-Nisargadatta-Maharaj-Resumo.pdf

 

The concept of “absorption” in Yoga

oḿ ity ekākṣaraḿ brahma
vyāharan mām anusmaran
yaḥ prayāti tyajan dehaḿ
sa yāti paramāḿ gatim (Bhagavad Gita 8.13)

I have a student who is a retired chemistry professor. He also knows a great deal about science in general. One day after class he told me that when you look at the night sky, the stars you see are the light emitted tens of thousands of years ago, and the nanosecond the light hits your eye, it “absorbs” into you. The light becomes you.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I do a great deal of counseling in my profession. I talk to people who have severe depression, anxiety, and substance abuse problems. Often times, I am the last person they want to talk to and treat me accordingly. I often hear angry words directed at me. I absorb their angry words.

In recorded talks from Prashant Iyengar, he outlines the basic foundations of Laya and Nada yogas, or the yoga of absorption and the yoga of sound. He relays a major tenet in Vedantic thought, that the universe began with OM, and that the universe will dissolve in OM.

In the talks he says that feelings and emotions can be absorbed in mind, then the mind can be absorbed in Prana, and Prana can be absorbed in Laya. In Nada Yoga, mantras are used to create a vibrational field around the seer which will eventually dissolve in OM.

He talks about the chakras, or energy centers of the body. He says the animalistic tendencies can be absorbed in the Muladhara (root chakra). The ego can be absorbed in the Svadisthana (sacral chakra). The passions and fires of lust, anger, greed, attachment and pride can be absorbed in the Manipuraka (gastric chakra). The sorrows can be absorbed in the Anahata (heart chakra). The bad thoughts and speech and be absorbed in the Vishudda (Throat chakra). And finally, the Ajna (third eye) absorbs OM and dissolves the mind.

As I am maturing in my practice, I am starting to see the value in this concept of absorption. Yoga gives us an opportunity to filter out all the unpleasantries of daily life through our practice. We absorb them, and then dissolve them.

How does this apply to the lay practitioner who only does asanas? My feeling lately is that Yoga is sneaky. While you think you are only doing Asanas, all the other systems are getting worked as well outside of your consciousness.

For example, Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) has a large influence around the Vishudda chakra. The throat region. How are we to know that in addition to the physical benefits of the pose, all of our bad thoughts are getting filtered out through this chakra? The same thing can be said about animalistic tendencies being filtered through standing poses.

Think about how you feel after back bends. You feel charged and sorrowless. Ustrasana, or camel pose expands and lifts your Anahata, or heart region…the region which filters out the sorrows.

And lastly, Savasana, which is said to correspond with akasha or space, makes one feel restored and fresh. It comes at the end our asana practice and absorbs all the practice.

As BKS Iyengar taught, all of the yogic philosophy can be transmitted through asana practice. It is our job as practitioners to be aware of it.

Translation of the above verse:

After being situated in this yoga practice and vibrating the sacred syllable om, the supreme combination of letters, if one thinks of the Supreme Personality and quits his body, he will certainly reach the highest spiritual plane.

 

The Yamas and Niyamas of Śāṇḍilya Upanishad

upanishad

If you give any depth of study to Patanjali, you will find he is often quoted as a “codifier” of Yoga. He was a journalist of the highest order writing down all the practices at his time and also referencing practices of the past. He was quite diplomatic in the Yoga Sutra-s giving a nod to all the different practices. And he put all the practices in terse format, so it would be easier to memorize for generations through the millennia.

One of the references that Patanjali may have drawn from come from the Śāṇḍilya Upanishad, an Atharvavedaic text dating back between 1000-1500 BCE (Patanjali existed around the second century BCE). This is a short treatise that mentions eight limbs of Yoga. It begins with a teaching between Arthavan and Śāṇḍilya:

Śāṇḍilya: “Please tell me about the eight angas of Yoga which is the means of attaining Atman.”

Artharvan: “The eight Agnas are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Of these, Yama is of ten kinds and so is Niyama. There are eight Asanas. Pranayama is of three kinds. Pratyahara is of five kinds; so also is Dharana. Dhyana is of two kind and Samadhi is of one kind only.”

The ten Yamas of this Upanishad are:

Ahimsa (not causing pain of anyone both physically and mentally)

Satya (Truthfulness)

Asteya (Not coveting)

Bhramacharya (Celebacy)

Daya (Kindliness)

Arjava (equanimity of mind in actions)

Kshama (Patience)

Dhriti (Preserving firmness of mind in periods of gain or loss)

Mitahara (Taking of only oily or sweet food leaving one fourth of the stomach empty)

Saucha (Both internal and external cleanliness)

There are also ten Niyamas:

Tapas (Empanciation from the body through penance)

Santosha (Contentment)

Astika (Belief in merits or demerits of actions set forth in the Vedas)

Dana (Charity)

Isvarapujana (Worship of God with a pure heart)

Siddhanta-Srivara (Inquiry of the significance of Vedanta)

Hrih (Shame when straying from actions set forth in the Vedas)

Mati (Faith in the paths laid out in the Vedas)

Japa (practicing the Mantras)

Vrata (Regular observance of Vedic actions, and non observance of actions that are not in the Vedas).

The text then expounds on Asanas and Pranayamas. Perhaps that will be another blog post. The scholar/historian in me is fascinated by this text. I find it comforting and reaffirming that these practices have been around for thousand and thousands of years. The fact that we can still access this text in 2015 shows that it is true enough to stand the test of time.

 

Today is an auspicioius day: Patanjali Jayanti

Patanjali

Today is Patanjali Jayanti where the teachings of sage Patanjali are celebrated. Patanjali codified yoga into 196 terse aphorisms. He took the vast teachings of yoga and condensed them so they can be recited as an oral tradition and passed on from teacher to student generation to generation. To study and live the Sutras will allow your practice to have a sense of direction and give you guidance on dealing with all life circumstances.

I saw that there will be a special class at RIMYI where the entire Yoga Sutras will be recited along with 108 names of Patanjali. It sounds like it will be a very special event.

This is one of my favorite versions of the invocations by Neel Kulkarni. His chanting is comforting and emotional. Just beautiful. See the words below to follow along. Happy Patanjali Jayanti!

Invocation to Patanjali

Yogena cittasya padena vacam

malam  sarirasya ca vaidyakena

yopakarottam  pravaram muninam

patanjalim  pranajaliranato’smi

abahu purusakaram  

sankha cakrasi dharinam

sahasra sirasam  svetam pranamami patanjalim.

 

Yama and Niyama and the Ten Commandments

10 commandments

When I was getting my masters in psychology years ago, I wrote a great deal of my papers about yoga. I took a class called “Spiritual Dimensions of Counseling” and remember writing a paper comparing and contrasting the Yama and Niyama to the Ten Commandments of Judeo Christianity. I can remember the power of seeing the two side by side and seeing how both are more alike than different. So you can see for yourself:

yoga sutras

Yama (Restraints)

  • Ahimsa (non-harming)
  • Satya (truthfulness)
  • Asteya (non-stealing)
  • Brahmacharya (chastity)
  • Aparigraha (non-greediness)

Niyama (Observances)

  • Saucha (Cleanliness)
  • Santosha (Contentment)
  • Tapas (Intensive spiritual effort)
  • Svadhyaya (Study of the self and scriptures)
  • Ishvara Pranidhana (Complete surrender to God)

The Ten Commandments

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make idols.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

As you can see, there are striking similarities particularly in basic ethical conduct of not stealing and not harming. It is also an interesting choice of wording of “You shall have no other gods before Me” opposed to “Complete surrender to God.” I am not here to make any assumptions or commentary aside from just presenting the two side by side.

On a historical note, Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras in 400 CE, but used what had been practiced for centuries and simply condensed and refined it. Yama and Niyama are in the second book of the Yoga Sutras. The Ten Commandments were written around 1500 BCE which makes them older than the yoga sutras. The Bhagavad Gita, which had many concepts that were adapted to the yoga sutras was written at the same time as the Ten Commandments around 1500 BCE. Again, this is not a contest of which is older. Without judgement or preconceived notions, it is just interesting to see the timeline of these two very similar psycho/spiritual/ethical codes.

 

30 day Yama/Niyama challenge

 

adisesa

Every day I come across some type of 30 day “yoga” challenge. Either they are a challenge to practice asana each day, or accomplish a pose in that time frame. One lady even wanted to try to do the splits (Hanumanasana) in 30 days. After about day 15 she stopped posting altogether. I wonder if her hamstrings gave out. People even have asana competitions where they are judged on their postures. I felt I wanted to propose a harder challenge–a yama/niyama competition!

Here are the rules:

1) Can you go 30 days without causing physical or mental harm to anyone?

2) Can you go 30 days by telling the complete truth no matter what?

3) Can you go 30 days without stealing anything?

4) Can you go 30 days of regarding others as human beings instead of male/female bodies?

5) Can you go 30 days free from greed?

6) Can you go 30 days being clean, not only physically but mentally?

7) Can you go 30 days being content with what you have, and not buying anything new outside of what you need?

8) Can you go 30 days of fervid adherence to these principles?

9) Can you go 30 days studying ancient yoga texts and then seeing how your practice fits into these texts?

10) Can you go 30 days of completely surrendering yourself to this practice no matter what the outcomes?

Which ones are easy and which ones bring up issues for you? In classical yoga, the above is what is asked of you for your whole lifespan. It is very challenging even for a day. I am not saying I am anywhere near close to achieving these on any given day. But to aspire to do these for 30 days will bring about profound positive change in your life much more than trying to do Eka Pada Rajakapotasana. It will be much more difficult than Eka Pada Rajakapotasna too.

ICP

 

Have fun!