If we apply an Ayurvedic framework to understanding dhyAna, what would it look like?
To explore this question, we first examine a basic idea from Ayurveda: shamanam, shOdhanam, and ArOgyam.
The next step would involve the practice of Asana that strengthens the muscles. While this is some thing unique to each person, stretching the hamstrings and working the abdominals is a must. The person also has to practice prANAyAmato experience deep relaxation. This will also orient the person to self-reflection.
The total rooting out of the causes for back pain can happen only through a careful observation by the person of his/her psychological and emotional propensities. This leads to insights into how one relates to others, discovering how anxiety gets triggered, and so on. Lifestyle changes as well as deep inner transformation are called for.
Now, let us look at japa (chanting) through the same lens. At the shamanamlevel, Herbert Bensons observations that we find in the book “Relaxation Response” are valid. One does not have to chant “OM”, one can chant “Cocoa Cola” regularly and the indicators of stress like pulse rate, blood pressure etc., will get lowered. However, when one chooses to chant “Cocoa Cola” there is no scope for any deeper practice, like the person who walked away after learning the initialAsana practice, one is satisfied with shamanam.
The Yoga Sutra recommends the chanting of OM as a practice arising from a mind that is anchored in the Self. To start with, ones chanting will probably be mechanical. At the next stage, as ones body relaxes and the mind becomes quiet, it becomes easy to visualise a Transcendent Being. One is entering a stage ofbhAvana- ‘holding a mental form’. Chanting shloka is recommended at this stage. These shloka are often names of the Divine put in a poetic form. Understanding the meaning of the words and ‘visualising’ the form/ qualities helps one turn inward, ones subtle potentials are awakened. This then opens up the possibility of experiencing a transcendent state for brief moments. These flashes can be recalled and one can then direct ones attention to this state of mind and make it a stable anchorage. This is called dhAraNA. This is the last volitional step. DhyAnahappens when one stays with dhAraNa, it is a natural flow of the mind that is anchored in deep attentiveness, this mind then becomes even more subtle and profound through the chanting of OM. Chanting from this state of mind is obviously very different from the “relaxation response” state of mind. It can now resonate with and truly reflect the Transcendent Being. This state is calledsamAdhi.
Mindfulness as it is often taught is similar to step one and probably approaches step two. This induces parasympathetic dominance in ones autonomic nervous system and all it’s attendant benefits accrue to the practitioner. A person who walks the Yogic path probably starts from the same place, but comes to the practice with the intention of completing the journey. The Yoga Sutra starts by saying “Yoga is the attainment of a mind capable of comprehending the Transcendent Being” (YS 1.2). The motivation for the practice is to be able to perceive the ‘Being’ directly, therefore, one can expect that the person will walk the path with renewed faith when the initial benefits are experienced and explore further. He/she will be prepared to take on the disciplines of the path more seriously.
We see this process illustrated in the bhruguvalli chapter of chAndOgyaUpanishad:
The son bhrugu asks the father a simple question “what enables life on earth? What is bhrahman?” the father vAruNi says; “brahman is discovered through intense inner search (tapas)”.
bhrugu returns when through his tapas he discovers an answer to his question and says; “matter is brahman”, the father says “yes”. The son is not satisfied, he senses a lacuna in his discovery and approaches the father again, and is asked to enquire some more.
bhrugu stops questioning when he touches an ecstatic level of being (Anandam) within himself. The father then reiterates the importance of matter!
Let us contrast this with a person whose motivation is personal success. For such a person the Mindfulness practice is sufficient. In fact, trying to attract the person to a more inward search will be counterproductive! The initial benefits that are experienced will reinforce the belief in the practice within the utilitarian mind-set the rigours of the discipline called for will seem oppressive. Asking fundamental questions about the meaning of life, the impact one has on the earth and so on will seem totally unnecessary.
What are these disciplines (tapas) that aid the enquiry that bhrugu took up? They have to do with the way one relates to the world. To illustrate, one of the disciplines is to be measured against what one takes from the world. The exchange has to be fair, one is encouraged to err on the side of generosity, but be frugal in taking. The practitioner (may we now call this person a sAdhaka, a person on a quest?) demonstrates care and concern for the well being of the world. He/she acts with an attitude of seva. A related discipline is to cultivate a sense of gratitude for what one receives/ possesses. This inner practice enables the spontaneous expression of generosity. It is important to realise that attentiveness to the inner pulls and pushes that one will experience when practicing the discipline, namely, indulging in the self on the one hand or starving the self on the other hand are themselves objects for dhAraNa and dhyAna. Such enquiry leads to understanding the nature and structures of ones mind, a necessary step on the inner path.
The conversation with the cab driver that I quoted in my earlier blog was peppered with statements from tirukkural (aphorisms on life in Tamil), traditional folk songs and statements from his guru. He followed a simple food regimen, nothing spicy before starting work, no coffee in working time. “Coffee makes me very tense sir!” he said. He ate home cooked food as far as possible. “I am content with my work and what I earn, I always give free service to people going to hospital, especially for child birth. My guru told me to give dAnam.” He also told me that running a taxi is doing seva for people, he never over charges even in emergency situations. His world-view was simple but wise; he was trusting and generous and took me by surprise when he told me that he practiced Asana and prANAyAma every day.
The Yoga Sutra has described many possible practices to choose from, and says; “choose a path with a heart”. I have described 7 of them in a series of blogs that I shared some time back. Our friend the cab driver practices a few of them likemaitri! I have also related these practices to the chakra and to the pragmatics of living and to working in an organization. (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/seven-practices-manager-yogi-introduction-raghu-ananthanarayanan?trk=pulse_spock-articles)
IMHO, dhyAna is essential for reversing the wounds mother earth has sustained from the relentless assault human beings have mounted on her.
(photograph by the author)
My work revolves around helping individuals, groups and organizations discover their Dhamma, and become “the best they can be”. This aligns with my own personal saadhana. I have restated this question for my self as follows: “how can I be in touch with the well spring of my love for the world and my love for my self simultaneously”