Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Practice of "And"

“The suspension of these fluctuations is through practice and detachment.”
            ~The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali I.12 (Gregor Maehle, tr.)

With thanks to the purport of this sutra by Gregor Maehle, let’s talk about the most overlooked word in this sutra: “and.”  If we are to reach the goal of yoga, which is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind (I.2), we must practice.  Obviously how we are going about our day to day lives is not ceasing these fluctuations, so we have to apply some other method.  As with all new things, it takes time and continued steadfast effort to change.  A danger comes when we start to see results: better physical condition, increased knowledge, more evenness of temperament, etc.  The results themselves are good, but our mind is so conditioned to attach to things that we begin to become attached to our practice.  We may start to believe that the practice which is successful for me is the best and we may start to judge others’ practices as inferior.  With a focus on practice alone, we are in danger of becoming fanatical and incapable of accepting that others’ methods are valid, even if they are not right for us.

To the other end of the spectrum, if we focus on detachment by letting go of all of our attachments, we can also begin to see benefits.  We may realize that we can reduce our wants thereby reducing our consumption.  We can see the value in all methods of practice without feeling as if our own method is the most correct.  We may become so detached that we cease to practice at all, either for fear of attachment or because we feel our development is in the Divine’s hands.  We may practice many varied methods, seeing all as equal, without the focus or dedication needed to truly evolve.  We loose the ability to discriminate between what is correct for us as an individual, and what is not an ideal way of practice for us as an individual.

“And” creates the balance.  As with many subjects in Hatha Yoga, the practice is a synergy of opposites.  First one dominates, then the other, and eventually they balance out.  The balance comes when we are firmly rooted in our practice, with continued observation, experimentation, and analysis, AND we can see others’ practices are also valid.  We understand and continue to do those things which help us evolve, and discontinue those things which hold us back.  At the same time we are not condemning those who are not on the same path as we are.

An example of this is easily seen with dietary choices.  There are those who take no meat, with the belief that to eat meat is a violation of Yama  of Ahimsa (non-harming).  Among that group, there are those who seek to convert others by any means necessary.  They antagonize meat eaters and  display violent disgusting images of animal slaughter.  Unfortunately, these individuals are perpetuating the same violence in thought, word, and deed that that they claim to be against, and they are focusing more of their life on violence and eating meat (a negative focus is still a focus) than most meat eaters do. This is an imbalance of practice.

On the other side, there are those who practice yoga who give no thought whatsoever to the food they take.  They do not pay attention to the effect their food has on their bodies, they do not give thanks for the efforts and the bounty of the food they eat, and they do not see the relationship their food choices have to the environment and other beings.  This is an imbalance of detachment.

How does one integrate the two?  Let’s look at Krishnamacharya.  According to his son, Desikachar (which means according to Krishnamacharya, for all of Desikachar’s teachings come directly from his father), there is NO point in the scriptures which forbids the eating of meat. 

Before the comments start to come in, we need to dissect this statement a bit. 

Krishnamacharya was a Brahmin, and one could easily surmise that he did not eat meat.  To say he had an extensive knowledge of scripture would be an understatement.  His scriptural authority was well documented.  He could probably identify thousands of places in scriptures which forbid the eating of meat.

So why make this statement?  Krishnamacharya believed that the student should be taught to their own capacity, and that yoga was India’s gift to the world.  How do you make a foreign practice accessible to the masses?  By creating a system which includes, rather than precludes.  Through his actions, Krishnamacharya demonstrated the balance between  practice and detachment by keeping to his own beliefs while accepting and not judging the actions of others.

Our individual practice is valid.  If it works for you, do it.  Others’ practices are valid if they work for them.  Their actions are of no consequence to our practice. 

Two teachings which give us specific direction to ensure a balance between practice and detachments:

“Clarity of mind is produced by meditating of friendliness toward the happy, compassion toward the miserable, joy toward the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked.”
~ Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, I.33 (Gregor Maehle, tr)

“Whatever thou doest, whatever thou eatest, whatever thou offerest in sacrifice, whatever thou givest, whatever thou practice as austerity, do so, O! son of Kunti, as an offering unto Me.”
~Bhagavad Gita, IX.27 (Sivananda, tr.)

“And” creates balance and inclusion.  If we cannot find these things in our daily lives, how can we expect to progress in a practice which leads us to total integration (Samadhi)? 

Practice “And”

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