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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sage Patanjali's Recommendations for Practice of Yoga


SUMMARY:  yoga offers both philosophy and methods of practice. Though some schools may argue that how can  the ultimate state of peace and tranquillity the state of Purusha, be the outcome of any doing and if it is so when we are not doing we may lose it. Therefore it should not be product of any doing. What is really required is to realise.  Sage Patanjali rightly says that we are into habit formation of identifying with non self and we need to reverse it so that what habits are not us and we are wrongly identified with, we need to consciously come out of it.
Broadly speaking, there are two methods. One is the method of discipline called ‘Abhyasa’ and the other is the method of non-attachment, ‘vairagya’. 
Human beings can be divided into two categories according to their psychology and they are extrovert and those who are introvert. Broadly speaking Abhyasa is the type of practices which will be cherished by extravert personalities and Vairagya techniques go well with introvert personalities. But another interesting observation is that no one is purely introvert or extrovert but there can be a dominance of one over the other. Therefore both the types of practices have to go hand in hand. According to one’s own nature one of them will take the priority. In addition we also do not stay at all times in one type of personality. Therefore what type works for us at one time may not work at other time period. Therefore the practice of yoga cannot be regimented for all and also cannot be rigid for one all the times. 

            Mind itself is only an instrument like our hands legs, or eyes and ears. There is nothing good or bad in itself. Like the functioning of eyes is in the form of seeing, same way the functioning of the mind is in the form of thinking. Since it is a very useful tool for us to interact with the material outside in general, the tendency is to get lost in mind itself. In this process we forget that our being is beyond this mind and its activity. Patanjali gives this process of going beyond mind as yoga. Vruttis are the modifications of the mind and to stop and go beyond is the process which will take us to our real nature [swaroopa].
Yogah chitta vrutti nirodhah            Tatha drastuh Swaroope avastanam
....
Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah
            This can be done according to Patanjali in two ways one is Abhyasa and the other Vairagya, roughly translated it is method of discipline and the other method of non- attachment or ‘let-go’. Let us see how these terms are having mistaken notion and how useful they are when we rightly understand these concepts for the benefit of the spiritual sadhaka.
DISCIPLINE: the moment we think of discipline there are two positions available. One is the position that one is ‘under discipline’ and the other one who is ‘disciplining’. Psychologically one comes to a hasty conclusion of identifying with the one who is under discipline. This may be because while the child is growing up he or she only keeps hearing others saying constantly do this and don’t do this,  like receiving orders all the time. Same way when yoga gives dos and don’ts this is taken as imposing. When one takes the position of being under discipline it is immediately translated as curtailing your freedom and as a result of it, however useful it may be one would like to come out of discipline at the earliest ,
            In our residential therapy facility Prashanti, on the last day of their stay participants come to me to express their gratitude and say, ‘this is a wonderful place and we never knew that yoga has so many components, the practices are wonderful, the therapists are like angels and food is good the discipline of getting up early morning and working for the whole day is so helpful and Dr Nagarathna is like god and I would like to recommend all our family members who need a good therapy to come for treatment here.  Finally they ask “Raghuramji, I have one question for you”. I ask them what it is. The question is, “How long should I continue to do yoga?” I wonder if they found yoga to be so useful then why this question of how long to do yoga arises! It is so because they have taken the program at our centre as discipline imposed from outside and not as a discipline coming from within.
            In reality we don’t need any discipline from outside. As it is, since we are part of the nature, we are disciplined. In the nature everything is in discipline. Ants walk one behind the other in discipline. Birds in the sky fly in discipline in nice formations. Every cocoanut tree has similar leaves in the form of discipline anywhere in the world and we can recognise it to be cocoanut tree from distance!  You can find discipline everywhere in the nature. Birds wakeup in the morning at the same time in a disciplined way that is why we have birds voice for the clocks! The same way you can find natural discipline in the children they are hungry at the same time every day they go to sleep at the same time every day. Their pattern does not depend upon whether it is week day or week-end. We also used to have this discipline when we were children. But as we grew up we have come out of discipline. Therefore lack of discipline is an imposed habit but the discipline is part of our nature! When Patanjali says to discipline, it is not to impose discipline on us but to remove the indiscipline which unconsciously we acquired on us. We don’t have to feel we are slaves under discipline. But we are the masters who are disciplining the unruly forces which work as tendencies to take us away from discipline. Discipline has some other qualities too. Discipline is strength. See the crowd of people in a market place moving around without any discipline in different directions. They appear like crowd. The same crowd put them in rank and file and make them march for a disciplined footsteps in the form of an army that shows immediately the strength of the army. Discipline is also beautiful. When we plant the crops in nice lines stretching for miles you can feel that beauty of such agriculture fields. When the birds are flying in formation on the sky in discipline that beauty has filled Sri Ramakrishna with ecstasy! On the other hand a discipline which is forced from outside however useful may be we feel it as pressure where as the discipline coming from within, can work as tonic and transform a caterpillar into a butter-fly giving a freedom to fly, a bud into a beautiful flower spreading the fragrance.
            Therefore, one final word in this regard is that the discipline has to come from within and not with imposed feeling. It is also researched that in the society where discipline is introduced culturally, such society is stronger psychologically and the people in that society suffer less psychological problems such as anxiety and depressions compared to the society where this discipline is not there.
VAIRAGYA NON-ATTACHEMNT:
            The other category of yoga practices according to Sage Patanjali is the non attachment. Whenever we say Vairagya in the name of yoga immediately in many minds and hearts fear and anxiety comes up as if you have to be prepared to give up everything and run away from the material world in to forest. If we closely watch, the idea of Non attachment is also something which is part of the nature. We only need to look at this as the river flowing. River can only be flowing because it continuously letting the water to flow. If this flow is stopped then the water will be stinking and loses its freshness. In the fall trees shed their leaves so that they are prepared to invite and embrace spring with fresh leaves! Life is a flow like a flame of fire. Unless until the old flows, new cannot come and freshness cannot be established. It is our sense of insecurity which makes us not to realise this. It is all due to ignorance that we hold onto no change. We give up something so that we provide room for something new to come in. We have been holding on to vruttis or the modifications in our mind which constantly torment us.  These modifications solidify so much that they don’t appear any more as modifications but as concrete objects. We don’t see them as vruttis any more but we see them as objects. Object itself does not hold on to us. It is the attachment for the object which holds onto us. Like a person who is a non smoker going through a new place does not notice any cigarette shop and one who is a smoker, at once notices every cigarette shop on the way! Once we have attachment for the object then we can notice all our thoughts angers and frustrations are around that object. If only we don’t have attachment for that objects all those fall off. The object itself is not holding on to us but we are holding on to the object. A home will not hold onto you. If you forget to lock the home when you are going to the work the home will not express its insecurity. It is our mind which suddenly remembers that we have forgotten to lock the home becomes panic. If we can develop nonattachment, we can be free from the worry of it. We also need to recognise that non attachment does not make us non functional. We are fully functional, and where ever necessary, we function not like slaves but like masters. One thing that develops with this wisdom is that the number of things we constantly desire will fall off. The reason for us to develop attachment is that we feel without that object we are incomplete and insecure and that object is absolutely necessary for us to be at the least in a normal state. Wisdom is that we are full [Purna].  Our involvement in to this world is not our lacking but we can involve making this world a better place. Without this attitude if we try to give up we are filled with frustration and feeling of loss. In addition we become cynical about others who are involved in the objective world. Every child in the childhood attached to pebbles from the sea shore. But once he becomes an adult he outgrows it very naturally. Same way when yoga says to practice non attachment, it is only suggesting us to grow out of it so that we can be part of the better world or inner world. It is a technique ro give a paradigm shift to out being.
            Both these paths are not new to us we are already doing them. We are learning several things. All this learning if you see is nothing but we are disciplining our body. A child does not have any control over his hands. But we make the child to do continuous practice of writing and the child develops. We have techniques to train hands, legs, voice etc but we have no technique to train our mind towards being calm. This technique of yoga therefore is a unique technique wherein we consciously train our mind to become quite and still, and enable us to transcend our mind in calmness. This way we can go beyond mind to an experience of self.
            On the other hand we are unconsciously disconnecting our mind from the object. This we do every night by disconnecting our mind from the objective world. When we go to bed wanting to go to sleep, several thoughts, important ideas keep coming to us. But we say enough for all that and we go to bed. This is possible because temporarily we have detached from the material world things to attend etc. But we could temporarily say no to all of them and go to sleep! This is Vairagya and if we cannot do this Vairagya we cannot go to sleep.
            Though the techniques are different, and the methodologies are different, the goal of both of them is the same that is the freedom and mastery.
            People with extrovert tendencies by nature have to do something visible a mere clarification is not sufficient. They have to feel the experience of the change. Therefore method of discipline belongs to the people with extravert tendencies. These techniques are visible from outside. A practice of pranayama or meditation, doing some japa or kriya practice, are visible and one can record that he has done so many hours of sadhana. Without such proof he may not feel the confidence that the idea has entered his heart! Therefore an extravert person can enjoy and be benefited by these techniques. On the other hand an introvert person looks at the process of letting go from within. The moment he knows that he should not be holding on to unnecessary mental processes and that is tormenting him he applies that principle repeatedly and be transformed within. He is not so much interested in having to do something outside. Thus the second set is the practices for him.
            An example for an introvert person is a professor who is a researcher and thinker. Once in America they wanted everyone to go through military training which included this professor also. The leader of the group was giving instructions right, left, about turn.... the professor stopped mid way. When the leader asked him, “Professor, why don’t you follow the team”, the professor replied first of all decide finally which way to go then I will go. 
            Mulla Nasruddin is a good example for extrovert! He is illiterate and his wife wrote to him a love letter. When the postman delivered that letter to him, Mulla asked him to read it for him. The postman replied with a smile Miya [friend], this is a love letter from your wife and how can i read it. Mulla gave him a suggestion, “you read it loud for me and I will close your ears so that you don’t hear it”!
            We are all not purely introvert or extrovert. We have both of them and one may be dominating over the other. That is the reason Sage Patanjali suggests that both have to go hand in hand. Techniques of Abhyasa and Vairagya have to be judiciously adapted so that whenever we are having introvert nature dominance we do the Vairagya techniques and when extrovert dominance is there we do abhyasa practices. Ultimately our journey has to be progressing.