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)
The newest game in Leadership and management seems to be ‘Mindfulness’. There is a lot of research that is getting published, and most of it focuses on CEO’s and how they benefit from 20 minutes of mindfulness practice. I am sure every member of the organization will gain immensely from its practice.
One of the most delightful taxi rides I have ever had was one in which the taxi driver was calmness personified as he drove through particularly unruly traffic. It turned out that he was a regular meditator. I remember commenting about his attitude, “You have to handle this every day for long hours” I said. A very interesting discussion ensued on how important it is for a person to go back home after a difficult days work in a state of mind where he can smile at his wife and play with his children. “Yoga and dhyAna are indispensible for me” was his final statement. He practiced prANAyAma to prepare himself for the rigours of the day and also as soon as he finished his workday, he kept repeating a japa whenever we stopped at traffic lights!
I am delighted that an ancient Indian practice is getting the attention it deserves. I have no doubt at all that all the research done by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others on the Buddhist meditators from Dalai Lama’s senior monks is excellent work. However, a few tendencies worry me.
Firstly, there is a presentation of ‘mindfulness’ as if it is ‘the active ingredient’. This is reminiscent of the way Pharmaceutical companies study many traditional healing practices and preparations and analyze the herbs used to extract the one chemical that is the essential curative element. This chemical is then patented, synthesized in a factory, and the future then belongs to that company’s top line! When we look at ‘dhyAna’ or ‘anapAnasati’ the original practices that were studied, we find that they are part of a holistic set of practices and worldview. ‘Mindfulness’ is starting to sound like a pill that has been distilled out of the original messy mix.
Let me illustrate: dhyAna is one of the ‘eight limbs’ of Yogic discipline. These limbs are accepted by all Indian Spiritual teachings. The worldview that characterises both Yogic and Buddhist thought for example, make attentiveness, contemplation and meditation a central practice of a life that is directed towards spiritual attainment. Householders, Kings, Monks and people from all walks of life who valued the spiritual path practiced a form of meditation that was meaningful to them. DhyAna is not a ‘detachable fragment’! It has been recognised that when the ‘active agents’ are separated from the holistic herbal preparations there are ‘side effects’ that the whole herb does not create. Often the herb is part of a dietary regimen and is itself an integral part of a holistic treatment. One wonders what the side effects would be of practicing ‘mindfulness the pill’.
Secondly, the idea that a human being is part of Nature is central to the worldview out of which the contemplative practices have grown. What happens when this idea is plucked out of its nutrient medium and placed, often sold, as a tool for effectiveness? IMHO, dhyAna is a practice that ought to lead to the development of ecologically sensitive and sustainable ways of deploying science and technology. Mindfulness as it is promoted will make many executives who do not wish to ask the difficult questions regarding their motivations, the impact of their business on the environment, on equity and the like more ‘effective’. This is because these practices that definitely make ones mind more sharp and retentive are placed in a context that values ‘utilitarianism’ as its defining characteristic.
Thirdly, ‘Mindfulness’ is presented almost as if it is a modern discovery. If one reads Wikipedia (popularly seen as the arbiter of truth!) one comes across this line: “a famous exercise, introduced by Kabat-Zinn in his MBSR-program, is the mindful tasting of a raisin, in which a raisin is being tasted and eaten mindfully”, now this was something that Thich Nhat Hanh has often written about. Mindful eating and the psychological correlates of the ‘six rasa’ is part of Ayurvedic lore. Many such simple practices set in the everyday mundane routines of living are recommended dhaarana (contemplative) practices that my teacher Yogacharya Krishnamacharya would mention casually. I am sure the serious researchers are not part of this ‘cultural appropriation’. But like most of Yoga has been plucked out of its context and innovated out of recognition in the name of making it accessible (more commercially viable?), we run the risk of a practice that has profound possibilities becoming a pill for an ill.
DhyAna taken seriously will definitely lead to the discovery of the higher purpose of ones life. This is purpose cannot be the answer to questions like “how do I make more profits?” nor “how do I get the next promotion?” The Paris events of 2015, namely, Charlie Hebdo, the recent terrorist killings and the Climate Talks point to an urgent, perhaps long overdue need to do a fundamental reorienting of the use of science and technology in the service of world peace, sustainability and equity. Dhyaana and anapAnasati are set in a philosophy that places great emphasis on compassion. I am not sure ‘mindfulness’ cares about this philosophy; it is most commonly presented in a context of personal success.
I was delighted to be invited by my dear friend Norman Bodek (popularly known as the 'Father of Lean' in the US) to be with him when he was teaching the Harada method (the best in class method for personal development that has come out of Japan) to one of his clients in India. Norman uses a lot of personal anecdotes to illustrate the steps recommended by Harada. Since Norman has been a long termsaadhaka many of these anecdotes were about his Yoga practice and what he learnt from his guru. Paul Ackers, who calls himself a ‘Lean Fanatic’, was also there, the day was an eye opener in many ways.
On the commute to the program site Norman and back talked about how the Bhagavad Gita was central to him. We found a lot of convergence between his insights and Yogacharya Krishnamacharya's teachings. One of the central ideas in the Gita is ‘kartavvyam’. This word is often translated as ‘duty’, but Krishnamacharya's explanation is very close to Harada's central idea: 1. Can you be your best and bring it to bear on the situation? 2. Can you take full responsibility for yourself?
There are four levels of choice that people make according to Krishnamacharya, if we apply them to the way one brings oneself to ones job performance it will make sense in an organizational context. This choice of how much of oneself one invests in the situation/ system is the 'role' one plays not the designated job position. To illustrate, Krishna's job position is a charioteer, but the roles he plays are of a friend and a powerful influencer.
The four levels of investment of the self in the situation are:
When a person acts from this inner choice, the person creates a 'dharma bhoomi'. If one contrasts the way the Kaurava army was put together, the idea of duty and how this idea can be used to manipulate and oppress a person will become clear. All the people who joined the Kaurava army were compelled to do so because of quid-pro-quo, familial compulsions or the promise of personal gain. The Paandava army comprised of people who acted from a commitment todharma. This is ‘kartavvyam’, and this type of choice making creates a 'karma bhoomi, and a dharma bhoomi'.
Heroic role play reflects a commitment to be ones best and ensure that this 'best that one can be' serves society. This is the central piece of the Harada method too.
Yogacharya Krishnamacharya’s expositions of the Yoga Shastras was always simple, profound and pragmatic. When giving a gist of the Shrimad Bhagavad Geeta he said that it comprised of four parts that form the essential stages for the management of personal crisis. These are: Acceptance, Breathing, Curiosity and Distance.
A for Awareness
When Arjuna turns to Shri Krishna and asks for help he states his condition with honesty and acuity. He states the bodily reactions, the emotional agitation and mental confusion accurately; He simply states his lack of conviction and feelings of inadequacy, he stands vulnerable and open. This according to Yogacharya is the starting point. Recognizing that one is duhka, and being able to look at it is difficult. We stand on prestige, on compulsions or are afraid to look at our selves. Without a simple and clear observation of one self as one is the way to become the best that one can be is blocked.
This is perfectly in line with modern research into “stress”. When one is stressed, the usual response is one of the three: fight, flight or freeze. Fight means one tries to over come the reality through compulsions- I must/ I should/ I must not/ I should not. This inner friction not only makes one loose energy, it increases the feelings of stress and inadequacy. Flight is simply a denial of what one is feeling. One therefore becomes blind to the reality, the danger that one is facing. Pretense takes over and often one escapes from facing reality and just lets the problem fester. Freeze is to become inarticulate and indecisive to the extent that one is just over whelmed by the situation. Flow is the way to end the dysfunctional response and flow starts with honest self-appraisal. The more one is in touch and self-observant, the more one will be able to sense the body and emotions as they respond to the signals of danger and opportunity.
To illustrate, negotiations are often very stressful. There is a situation of opportunity and threat; one has to deploy resources in ways that are optimal. If one is not self aware, one can get caught with Fight/ Flight or Freeze and the other person is given the advantage:
Now we come to B for Breath.
When one senses danger/ stress many bodily changes take place, chemicals like Cortisol are produced, one is ‘bracing up’ for fight or flight. The first indicator of this internal change is the change in breath. If one is sensitive to the signals without succumbing to them, one is not only capable of acute observation of ones state, one can do some thing to prepare to face the situation. The first thing to do is to quite ones breath. We find this constant recommendation in Buddhist texts too.
Excessive stress chemicals makes ones focus narrow, ones memory is impaired, ones ability to access learning is reduced and one is on “auto pilot”, ones body becomes taught and ready for action and ones emotions are locked into sensing threat. If we were in the primitive days when immediate explosive action was called for in situations of danger, the fight/ flight response may have worked. Even there, the warrior who is calm and observant has a much better chance of acting rightly. Getting in touch with ones Breath immediately kicks off the process of balancing the inner chemical state. One can think appropriately, and remember lessons and preparation, one can feel and sense one self and the others persons reactions, ones body comes to a neutral state of readiness. Auto pilot means thought, feeling and action are locked into old habits that are completely out of touch with the here and now challenge.
What happens at the negotiation? The person whose breath is balanced and therefore whose pulse rate is lower, has the advantage; It as simple as that. Theatre personalities, athletes and public speakers know the importance of breath and how to be optimally ready.
That brings us to C for Curiosity
When we are honestly in touch with ourselves and have regained calm, we are ready to understand, to enquire into what is happening to me, what is the reality of the situation and therefore decide what is the right action. Yogacharya was clear that it is only after helping Arjuna do some Praanaayaama that the rest of the teaching started. One cannot listen, think and absorb anything in a state of tension. Arjuna is helped to reexamine the context, the larger consequences, his assumptions about man and the world.
To illustrate, our protagonist is encountering his/her first interview, and with every question his/her stress is mounting. Unless the A and the B of self management (described above) are internalized, the chances are that a vicious cycle will get established, soon all the symptoms that Arjuna recounted like the throat becoming dry, the muscles becoming tense, memory deserting our very bright student will start. The interviewers will become enemies, and odd conections will be made of innocuous signals. Let us say our protagonist is self aware, and regains calm, she can now look at the interview that was becoming a do or die situation as a learning situation, view the interviewers as people listen carefully, have a conversation that helps her assess herself and gain a first hand understanding of how interviews are conducted, and probably have a sense of the kind of organization it is. Chances are she will come though as friendly, open to learning and cooperative, and land the job. In any case she now has the choice of saying yes or no!!
One is now ready for D for Distance
Sankhya emphasizes the idea that unless one is at the right distance from an object of enquiry, one cannot understand it. A mind that is not stressed, and senses that are sharp among other conditions like having an unobstructed view and being able to distinguish the object clearly are also important.
The more one is able to be self-observant, balanced and calm the more one can be at this optimal distance, listen and learn. The alternative is to get consumed by the situation just get buffeted about and be none the wiser for the experience. The position one takes when one is curious, inquisitive and exploratory is already one of middle-distance from what is happening. One is not too close, nor too far away.
It is now possible to say “my identity is not defined by the situation, I am not my feelings or thoughts.” This detachment sets off a very positive cycle. Not only is learning possible, the simple open and vulnerable listening makes it possible for ones hidden potential and deeper insights to bubble up. The voice of ones meditative core, Shri Krishna’s voice can come through.
Modern research has not only confirmed the symptoms and consequences of stress that Arjun articulated, but also the immense opening up of capability and hidden power that comes from Dhyaana- mindfulness. Awareness, Breath, Curiosity and Distance create the ground for action that is mindful.
The word abyaasa is a compound word that means ‘to stay with’. Interestingly, one of early Sutras that Patanjali enunciated clearly states that the path of yoga is walked alone. The words of the wise teacher are helpful to the extent that it shows the person what the wrong paths are and what the right practices ought to be. It is for the aspirant to test, discover and practice. The only proof of the validity of any statement is direct perception. Yoga does not entertain the idea of belief. It asks the person to listen only to the statements of people who live by what they say (And that too only provisionally.)
The path of a Yogi is the path of constant observation and self-discovery. The truths that one discovers form the basis of ones life. One of Upanishads defines knowledge as the movement from one level of ignorance to the next level that is less heavy with ignorance! Sounds a bit like science that holds that all discovery as the stepping-stone to the next more insightful understanding of our universe. Yoga asks one to apply the same rigor inwardly. It also says that each step of Yoga when taken fully reveals the next step to be taken.
So what does one practice with such persistence? One practices a way of life that is respectful of oneself and all forms of manifestation of the divinesimultaneously. That means every aspect of ones life and every element and person one engages with. Failure is not to be judged or condemned or feared, failure is an inevitable outcome when one treads the path of discovery. One treats such failure with compassion. One learns, gets up and dusts one self up and continues the journey.
What is different about the Yogic idea of seeking from the usual goal orientation that is recommended everywhere? Yoga recommends a direction for the search and not the end point. It clearly states that the subtle truths about oneself and ones world that each of us will discover cannot be put into words. Therefore to hold on to a definite form and shape of the end point is misleading. The Yogic seeking is entirely in the connotative world, and therefore it cannot be put into words. We all know that when we discover love, it is fresh and new, it is nothing like our imagination, and certainly not like the stuff projected in the movies. As we journey into the world of love, the experience of the last moment is transient and one can only retain a sense of vulnerability and openness as we engage with the loved one in the emerging moment.
The ‘staying with’ is therefore the persistence with the process of uncovering oneself to oneself; the process of discarding old ideas and conclusions and being curious about what is unfolding within and without, from moment to moment. When one remains open in this way one discovers the ability to look at ones limitations with humility and receive gifts with gratitude. One encounters the immensity of life, its unpredictability and its beauty. This experience is the essence of bhakti: reverence to the sacredness within and without.
Abhyaasa: Listening to the Divine Orchestration though the Sahasraara Chakra Persistent striving
Yoga is the gathering of all ones energies into a convergent movement. Yoga is the practice that leads one to discover ones integral self. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras offers many methods and also says one must choose wisely the method that is best suited to ones temperament. Dhyaana i.e., attentive and insightful observation of oneself and ones world is the goal of all these practices.
The popular idea of Yoga is confined to the practice of Aasana and Praanaayaama. This is just the visible tip of the profound practice. The central idea of all the practices described in the Sutras is that the world can be an object of consumption (when the world in-turn consumes you) or it can be a mirror that helps you learn about your self. The person who gets caught in consumption is called a Bhogi, and the one who walks the path of insight and learning is called aYogi.
What are the ‘mirrors’ that Yoga offers? Firstly it offers the mirror of relationships. It asks the person to be cognisant of ones boundaries and to maintain a quality of kindness and honesty in all ones interfaces. Observing the nature of our actions is a very important mirror. The inner practice that ensures outer order is: purity of intent and contentment born out of a sense of gratitude for what one has. It is the inner quietude that creates the space for graceful action.
Secondly Yoga directs ones attention to ones body. Aasana is a way of doingDhyaana on ones body. This practice paves the way for one to be attentive to the stresses one accumulates in ones body. Sensitising oneself to the signals that are constantly being generated by ones body is essential to being vitally alive to ones context. A warrior who is insensitive to his/ her context is in grave danger of getting killed.
Thirdly, Praanaayaama sensitises us to our emotional self. The smallest change in our feeling tone is accompanied by changes in breath. By sensing these changes and contemplating upon its causes, one gets in touch with the subconscious baggage of conditioning that one carries.
A mind that has ‘cleansed itself’ through the observation of ones’ behavior, ones’ body and ones’ emotion is ready to be directed to understanding the subtle and profound mysteries of life. The sutras also say that any enquiry one takes up when persisted with will lead one to the ultimate truth. Pursuing excellence in ones chosen profession is definitely “a path with a heart”.
The benefits of this practice are obvious. Proficiency in ones actions, health and vitality and an inner sense of peace are some of the outcomes that have been reiterated in the Upanishads over and over again while recommending the practice of Yoga. One of the comments that I get constantly from people who take up the practice is that they get back twice the time they put in and end the day feeling energetic.
What comes in the way? Except for the absence of good teachers who understand the depth and width of Yoga I am at a loss to find a reason why one would not take up this practice! Having said that, finding the right teacher is not a trivial problem, and there is always the initial inertia to be negotiated. Yoga does ask one to take ones life seriously and to want to lead a life that is spiritually meaningful.
Yoga: Songs of healing and love come from the Agnya Chakra
Photograph of the mount Kailash downloaded from the net
I was walking on the road one day, preoccupied and deeply immersed in figuring out the world (“‘so what’s new with that?” my wife would ask) when I was struck by the utter beauty of a small plant growing out of the cracks in the pavement. It was a small bright yellow flower, so vulnerable and yet the tar and concrete had not succeeded in dampening its will to live and smile! I was jolted out of my preoccupations and lifted into a world of beauty and delight. This is the ineffable quality of ramyam.
Design discussions usually confine themselves to focusing on functionality and aesthetics, and often functionality is given greater weightage. Indian design has emphasised three aspects as essential for good design: functionality, aesthetics and ramyam. Even every day objects like the knives one uses for cutting vegetables or the pot in which water is kept are crafted with care and beauty. This aspect of every day life where space and time are devoted to ones creative self is very rare today. Having a space for an artistic exhibition or performance is not the same thing because it fragments an important ingredient of integral growth.
Stop reading, and take a short walk in the garden (if one is accessible to you) or just gaze outside the window for a few minutes. If you kept your heart and mind open you would have experienced a ‘mini-miracle’. Perhaps you noticed a bird in flight, or a blade of grass shaking in the wind. If you were touched by this small miracle, you will understand the idea of the Divine that is at the heart of the beautiful temples and the many dances and music that abound in India:
“The divine expresses itself through order and beauty; whenever man experiences order and beauty, he touches the Divine; In words through poetry; in sound through music; in form through sculpture; in space through architecture; in ones’ body through dance and in ones’ mind through mathematics”
These modes of self-expression are called the six paths to reaching the Divine within.
Ramyam is not difficult to put into practice; it only takes a shift of intent. The moment one stops valuing the utilitarian above the human, one has taken the first step towards appreciating the aesthetic and the inspirational. Yogacharya Krishnamcharya had a simple suggestion “whenever you find yourself really busy with activity, take a moment to get in touch with your breath and notice the world around you, you will feel a burst of energy” Often small miracles have hit me when I took a moment off, did some thing for the pure fun of it, or just watched the world go by. Ramyam is also the sense of fun.
The only thing that comes in the way of allowing the beauty that nature is offering to us all the time is our need to take ourselves too seriously. J Krishnamurti has said that one can’t walk the spiritual path if one does not have a sense of humor and one is not able to laugh at oneself. If we give ourselves space to fail and goof off and learn, we will discover play. Play is fun, play is innovation and play is love for life.
Ramyam: the exuberance of creative interpretations arises from the Vishuddhi Chakra
Yoga values direct perception and discovery above all other forms of gaining knowledge. In fact it holds mere intellectual knowledge (paandityam) in relatively low esteem. Examining the world one lives in and oneself to uncover more and more subtle and fundamental aspects of the experienced reality, is central to walking the path of the Yogi.
Yogacharya Krishnamacharya has said that the practice of aasana, praanaayaama and the behavioural precepts are the building blocks that enable a person to acquire a mind capable of insight. The practice of Dhyaana is then a process of directing such a mind towards sustained enquiry. In fact about a quarter of the Yoga Sutras define the various areas in which one focuses ones mind in order to gain extraordinary understanding and capability. These areas cover a broad range with astronomy at one end of the spectrum to physical prowess on the other end.
The objects of enquiry that one engages with impact and shape ones mind, therefore, Yoga advises the practitioner to choose carefully. Choose a something that touches your heart. Unless one loves the object of the enquiry and the process, one cannot sustain it. Once you make a choice persist with the enquiry. The enquiry is not meant to make one acquire skills, but to discover the more subtle and fundamental aspects that underlie the visible and gross aspects of the knowledge. An artist is not just a person with artistic talents. The person’s identity is defined by the word ‘artist’. A Gnyaani is one whose identity is defined by the depth and subtlety of the knowledge the person has internalized.
Now let us return to the mind map that you drew while we were examining the idea of Dharma. Ask your self how interested and inquisitive are you about the critical elements of your world? Which are the areas you pursue with passion? Are you satisfied with merely ‘selling your skills’?
When you invest in such enquiry, the benefits that will accrue to you and to the systems you are part of are obvious. A Gyaani provides the most important inputs to any groups’ functioning. A great cook who understands the relationship between food and the body is an invaluable asset to the family. All business is built upon scientific and technological excellence.
What comes in the way of valuing ones curiosity? Children are extremely curious, so one has to ask oneself “where have I lost my curiosity and child like sense of wonderment?” Perhaps the single most critical factor is schooling. Most teachers do not display a passion for their subject, getting grades and becoming employable seems to be the unstated intent. The other factor that is much debated these days is the part played by the Internet. Information is available at the tips of ones fingers, but it arrives there not through ones heart and mind but through the ‘cloud’. However, I think the Internet could also be a great facilitator for one who really seeks good information. Dr. Terry Wahls (TEDx Iowa City) in her talk says that she cured herself of a life threatening disease by using the web to research the composition of food.
Gnyaana : Songs of discovery and love arise from the anaahata chakra
The Kathopanishad starts with a conversation between Nachiketas and his father Vajashravan. Vajashravan is performing a yagnya, a sacrifice where one gives away a major portion of ones wealth. Nachiketas watches his father give away old and useless cows. He starts to wonder “a yagnya is meant to be an act that enlivens the world, and gives benefits to the giver and the receiver. None of my fathers’ acts fulfill these three requirements. The receiver of these cows cannot benefit, the world is hardly helped to grow and my father who is acting more for gaining a name rather than any real inner awakening can hardly benefit. As a son it is my responsibility to point out to my father that this is an act that lacks Dharma. Nachiketas then speaks to his father and points out the lacunae in the yagnya. The father gets enraged and sends the son to Yamas’ abode. The rest of the Upanishad is about the conversation regarding death and the nature of ones’ atman.
This story captures many of the important aspects of Dharma. The word dharma means: “regenerating that which has fallen, reinstating that which is falling and reinforcing that which is standing”. It is contextual and subjective on the one hand and has universal and timeless implications on the other.
Let me invite you to do a small exercise. Take a chart paper and some clour pencils. Take up some activity you do every day. Lets say having breakfast. Put down this activity at the centre of the page. Now start drawing a mind map of the other activities that your breakfast depends upon. If you are having a sandwich, where did the bread come from? A local grocer provided you the vegetables and the butter came from a dairy. How did the grocer get his vegetables? And so on. As one goes on through this process the quality of the earth on which the vegetable grows and the climate that sustains cultivation and so on integrate into the mind map. We did not get into the utensils used for cooking ingredients, or the gas used to heat the stove etc., etc. This map defines your world. Unless all the elements and people and systems in your map are healthy your life will not be enjoyable.
Now ask your self how often are you aware of the web of interconnectedness that underlies our every activity? Do we ask ourselves how our attitudes and actions affect all the people in our world? Let me illustrate the profound impact this introspection can have on the way one looks at work. I was helping an organization (in agri-business) that was considered ‘sick’, to turn around. One of the main production units was not doing well. The General Manager in charge of it had the reputation for being a tough ‘task –master’, and who believed in ‘command and control’. I asked the top management team of this group to do the exercise I just recommended to you. The starting point was “what does it mean for this factory to do well? Who benefits from it?” As each one drew the picture, they initially saw only a limited set of interdependencies. As I questioned and probed, the pictures became more inclusive. I got the group to share the pictures. It soon became obvious that the lives of almost a hundred thousand households were directly impacted by the health of the factory, and the economic prosperity of the whole district was heavily impacted by the business activities of hundreds of small shops and so on. The team was very shaken up, especially the General Manager. We ended the day on a sober note. The next morning, the GM came to the workshop with a beautiful poem he had written. He read it out and there were many who were moved to tears. He promised to reevaluate all his activities from the new perspective and ensure that every one in the factory committed to the larger purpose of the community health. True to his word, he changed his antagonist stance with the labor, he was able to resolve old festering issues and invite a meaningful partnership with them. We create our world and with every thoughtless purchase, we keep industries that are destructive of our environment alive, we keep exploitative practices going and so on.
The practice is not very difficult. It starts with an understanding of how deeply we are interconnected to each other and to the earth. It means being mindful of what we ‘vote for’ with our wallets. How do we deal with people in our teams? What questions are we willing to ask? What are we willing to give up so that there may be shared prosperity? The Sanskrit word ‘samudaaya’ means sama- shared or equitable udayam- arising or growth. A society where there is inequity is not a community.
What comes in the way? The idea of an individual that is reinforced day in and day out is one of ‘great forces that oppose dharma’. The range of ‘manufactured needs’, the pursuit of ‘planned obsolescence’ and so on that fuel much of the business practices today oppose dharma. Many of us know that the present ways in which we live is not sustainable, yet we seem to be locked into it in a inexorable inertia. If we can love our world as much as we love ourselves, we will find a more dharmic way of acting.
Dharma: The grounded notes of the taanpoora resonate from the Manipooraka.
Doing the right thing
Yogacharya Krishnamacharya describes a healthy person as one who can experience fully and act from all the nine rasaa.
Indian dance and theatre is built on the idea that a human being experiences nine inner states (words like feeling and emotion do not capture the meaning of the word rasaa; rasaa also means ‘juice’; the implication is that each feeling/ emotion is accompanied by a whole range of inner secretions and bodily changes). These states are:
We don’t usually pay attention to our inner states in the course of our daily activities. However, the ease or otherwise of our spontaneous action states has a profound effect both on the immediate outcome of a situation as well as our long-term health. To illustrate; the situation one is in demands an act of courage, but, one gets caught with fear or overreacts and becomes angry. Since we understand cognitively that certain types of responses are inappropriate, we force ourselves to act in ways we should or must. This puts enormous stress within, robs us of power and energy in the moment of action. We come through as inauthentic.
If we observe ourselves we will find that most of us have a propensity towards some of these rasaa and feel blocked with respect to others. A subtler observation will reveal tendency to feel comfortable in certain ways of holding ones body, on further introspection we will discover an inner form of the ‘self’ that we hold. Let me illustrate with a personal example: my height is almost six feet, but when I became sensitive to the inner form of myself that I hold I was very surprised to find that it was of a person considerably shorter and thinner. It was the picture of myself as I was in my teens! On further reflection I discovered that this was related to my yearning for affirmation from people who were significant to me. A persistence of these postural tendencies and inner form impacts the flow of praanaa and ultimately manifests as illness, chronic pain and psychosomatic disease.
What is the implication of this? Firstly appropriate, authentic and powerful action is possible only when one has a sense of ease with all the nine rasaa. Secondly, in a context of collective action, ones own blocks manifest themselves as lack of appreciation of other peoples’ talents and tendencies. One also remains blind to contextual triggers that signal an invitation to display the blocked behaviors. Thirdly, insensitivity to ones body is the basis of bad health. Often these slowly developing distortions of praanic flow results in illness that shows up in mid life, just at the time when ones career is taking off and higher responsibilities are being offered!
What is the difficulty with practicing this? We deploy ourselves in situations spontaneously, whether at work or play or socially. We never stop to think that our only instrument of action is our body. Even when we exercise, it is to build strength and not to increase our ability to observe our bodies and ourselves in action. Equanimity seems like a passive state, neutrality has no drama associated with it. So it is difficult to understand that Shaantam is a powerful and potent state to be in. Practice will start only when one is convinced of its power.
Karma : The clear drum beat of wholesome self assertion arises from the svaadhitaana chakra
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”