Sunday, March 17, 2013

Misty Woods

I recently had the good fortune to attended a retreat with Dr KLS Jois at Misty Woods, in the mountains of Coorg. Dr Jois - known as "Acharya" has a deep knowledge of yoga, ayurveda, sanskrit, the six systems of philosophy and the epic hindu dramas. As he took us through the Samadhi Pada of the Yoga Sutra, he wove a lucid tapestry, illuminating each sutra with a rich interweaving of these various branches of knowledge.

Acharya studied asana with Guruji in the late 60s and early 70s and became one of his senior yoga students at the sanskrit college. With a phd in yoga, a vidwan (equivalent of phd) in Sanskrit and a diploma in ayurveda, Acharya had ample opportunity to explore many rare and original texts as a student, teacher and researcher. He was also fortunate to become connected with the wisdom of a realized yogi by the name of Sri Ranga Mahaguru whose teachings had a strong influence on him.

Acharya is the head of two foundations in Mysore - Bharati Yoga Dhama - an all Indian school and organization dedicated to preserving the teachings and wisdom of ancient Indian arts, sciences and Sanskrit language and the Sadvidya Foundation, whose mission is to bring the hidden wisdom of ancient Indian arts and sciences to the modern world. In recent years Acharya has been traveling and teaching in the West quite a bit. He is also the author of the wonderful book Yoga Bhumika. You can read an extract here

I have studied the Samadhi Pada with Acharya three or four times over the last twenty years - each new reading has produced gems of insight and this was no exception. One of Acharyas great gifts is his ability to integrate ayurvedic and yogic concepts to give us a fuller picture of the human being functioning as body (dosha) and mind (guna). On the retreat at Misty Woods we were also treated to a study of the Ashtanga Hridayam - an important ayurvedic text.

During one of the talks Acharya mentioned a yoga sutra commentary by a realized 18th C saint -Sadashiva Saraswathi. Commentaries by practioners, especially Self-realized yogis are rare and extremely valuable. Most commentaries are made by academics who are never able to test their conclusions in practice. I searched for and found the text in translation to English. While not perfect or easy to penetrate, the english translation yields some wonderful fruit in the form of a rich and unique commentary (of particular interest to anyone familiar with Vyasa's commentary).

"A Commentary on Patanjala Yogasutra Named the Ambrosia of Yoga : With the Yogasutras of Patanjali Composed by Parivrajaka Sri Sadasivendra Sarasvati Avadhuta." Translated in to English by S. Kothandaraman, B.R. Pub, 2009, xvi, 234 p, ISBN : 8176466476

Here is a taste:

"Now he (Patanjali) defines the general characteristics of the two kinds of spiritual absorption:

yogaś citta-vtti-nirodha

Yoga means restraint of the operations of the active (rajas) and inert (tamas) energies of the mind. 

While, therefore, only illuminative energy (sattva) pervades the mind, it is not excluded from cognitive spiritual absorption (samprajnata samadhi)."

The state of mind in which only sattva predominates is the lower form of samadhi - cognitive or pertaining to mind. Patanjali does not exclude this lower samadhi within his definition. What follows is a description of the higher samadhi (asamprajnata samadhi):

"Now, while restraining (all) mental operations, what is the real standing of Con-Science-Power (chitishakti), which is the very Self of intellectual perception? He, (Patanjali), proceeds to unfold it in the next aphorism -"

tadā draṣṭu svarūpe'vasthānam

"When all the sense objects (vrittis) are restrained, the stance of the perceiver (Self) is in his own (real) self... The Con-Science-Power has only consciousness as its characteristic content but does not have the operation of the energies (gunas - rajas, tamas, sattva) imposed on it."

The energies of the gunas pertain to the mind. Samadhi is two-fold because the first type uses the mind and the second type transcends it. Mind and Self are fundamentally different. Samadhi means experiencing Self, the first stage is through mind in a highly sattvic state, the second stage is independent of mind - mind has dissolved completely only Self is experienced.

The second samadhi arises from complete non-attachment: the revelation of Purusa (Self) results in the highest bliss. From understanding how much greater this happiness is to anything derived from the objective world or from the world of thought, the thirst for anything derived from/through the gunas eventually dries up (this is the highest form of non attachment) and asamprajnata samadhi is experienced.

In the usual mode of consciousness we experience a continual flux known as maya and made up of the three gunas. But when the mind is completely concentrated, arrested or absorbed in this way, the flux stops.  If the flux of vrittis is continuous, the mind following the flux illumines the Purusa (Self) with a confused array of impressions, thoughts feelings, desires etc. In the absence of true Self knowledge which arises from samadhi, we identify with our thoughts and desires which results in ego.

When the mind is merged or arrested we have a simple equation with only three factors: the first factor is the Self, the second is the mind (the means of knowing) and the third is the object or content of the mind. In this simple relationship these three become distinct. When the mind is arrested (fixed) on a single object, both the object and the one who observes, and indeed the medium by which the observer is able to perceive (mind) are revealed. Otherwise, when samadhi is not established, there is identification with mind - ego.

The nature of the Self which is revealed through samadhi is Sat - Chit - Ananda - truth, consciousness and bliss. As this realization increases, the mind naturally wants to dissolve completely and merge into that. In the lower samadhi the quality of sattva predominates in the mind but there is still some minute play of rajas and tamas, though these qualities are reduced to their absolute limit. In the higher samadhi, the gunas no longer play, they have completely dissolved into the mul-prakriti or pradhana - the pimordial and total tranquil state. Here the mind has dissolved into complete tranquility and only pure Self awareness or universal consciousness manifests.

Why do we need samadhi? Just as we benefit from deep and refreshing sleep for the health of the body, we require an immersion in the bliss of samadhi, for the health of the mind. According to the rishis who composed the Upanishads, the fourth state, samadhi is a natural and vital component of being a human being. Humanity has mostly lost the capacity to experience this state, is craving this bliss and attempting to find it through many sensual avenues. But as we know, this way only leads to continued suffering, sickness and blindness.

Samadhi is an identification with the true nature of being, beyond mind and body and hence ego. In the absence of this Self knowledge, mankind binds himself through ego and the senses and identifies with the body and mind, perpetuating the continuous wheel of pleasure and pain. The experience of samadhi is an experience of ourselves in the fullness of being - which becomes a reminder of our true identity when otherwise engaged in worldly activity.

Vyasa notes five types of mind when questioning the possibility of "chitta vritti nirodhah" - distracted, dull, intermittent, one pointed and restrained. He acknowledges that the mind can become temporarily absorbed even though distracted, dull or intermittent, but he only qualifies one-pointedness and restrained mind as worthy of calling samadhi (samprajnata and asamprajnata respectively). So we may all have moments during daily life where total absorption happens and we feel merged temporarily in the moment.

Nature also has a powerful potential for helping us experience yoga. At certain times when, for example, moved by the beauty of a sunset or in the presence of a powerful waterfall we may feel pervaded by a certain type of blissful happiness. The happiness derived from this type of experience is not dependent on the object - the experience causes a shift in our whole system and the happiness we feel comes from within and may continue for hours or even days after. This experience of happiness is not related to the possession of an object, nor does the absence of the cause of happiness cause pain like the gaining or loss of a coveted material object.

During the first few months of life, there is not much mental activity taking place in the child's mind and there are significant periods of "no mind" where the mind is simply merged in its causal state. At this time there is full self identity with the Purusa - or samadhi. We all retain subconscious impressions of these experiences and they serve as the unconscious desire for Self realization and the bliss it entails.

According to Acharya, ayurveda's definition of a healthy human being is that he should be able to experience samadhi with regularity. This fitness to experience samadhi was originally known as dharma. Thus the original meaning of the word dharma was - having the right condition to experience samadhi. Today the word is more often translated as "duty" - since we no longer have the right condition, we need to perform actions (to remove obstacles) in order to be fit (having done one's duties) for the experience of samadhi. But our first dharma is to ourselves - to be healthy in mind and body - then samadhi should naturally be experienced at certains times of day, or in certain sacred or beautiful places, just as refreshing sleep is experienced at night.