The good judge: On Svadhyaya
As you are all now aware this 40 days is not exclusively one for abhyasa (practice) but also for self study and reflection (svadhyaya) through passages from the shastras (scriptures/texts). Therefore what it means to be a student of these shastras is likely the first place to begin. As my teacher Ramaswamiji says “when you are a judge you must first listen to everyone! So first please listen to what this bloke has to say.” By bloke Sir is referring to authors of key texts like Patanjali, Iswara Krishna, Svatmarama, Krishnamacharya etc. Those Rishis who have “no axe to grind,” no red pill to sell, just truth to dispel for those who care to explore are reliable sources for the subject at hand (Yoga).
It is very common for us as possessors of these very creative, active and opinionated minds to immediately jump to conclusions. Often in worldly endeavors this serves us decently well. Being reactive, responding in rapid fire helps us to carve our way through an every changing lanscape. However, in terms of yoga the path is different.
Let me first begin by describing the two primary streams of mental activity, or as Sir says the two ways I can spend my lifetime, listed by Patanjali as Bhoga and Apavarga in Sutra 2.18:
“The seen (drsyam/prakriti/nature/matter) consists of the qualities of light (prakasha), action(kriya), inertia (sthiti shilam); of the elements (bhutas) and senses (indriyas). It exists for the purpose of experience (bhoga) and liberation (kaivalya through apavarga).”
Nature/Drsyam (i.e. the sum total of our experience in this body: the elements, the organs of perception, the senses of action and perception, the mind, the organizing principle and our intellect ALL exist according to Patanjali and Sankhya philosophy for the experience of the true Self/Purusha. While the Purusha is not affected by the activities of nature it appears to be bound by it. So the Drsyam (in particular the buddha-intellect more on this later) can function for either the continued bondage (through Bhoga) or the liberation (through Yoga) of the Seer….stay with me 🙂
First Bhoga: Bhoga is concerned with wordly experience. That is -experience in it’s outward sense. Bhoga is concerned primarily with the ever-changing landscape of our environment and day to day living. In the stream of bhoga we move through the world captors of our senses. This world is for the experience of the self according to Patanjali but it is easy to get stuck knee deep in the mud of enjoyment and distraction.
Next is YOGA or apavarga: as this is the subject matter of our 40 day endeavor (atleast) it is important to understand. Yoga is a path towards ultimate peace (more on this tomorrow) and is defined as an introspective practice towards kaivalya or liberation (the state of yoga or apavarga). The root of kaivalya is kevala, which means to stand alone. So yoga therefore is connecting us with the unconditional self…that which is not swayed or affected by the ups and downs of the changing world.
Bhoga we are intimately familiar with. Living according only to bhoga is simply being pulled and swayed, pushing and grasping with and against the tides of pleasure and pain in our day to day life. It is the place most of us exist. Yoga however can feel (at first) both completely alien (as it is antithetical to bhoga or our normal mode of travel) and natural (because it is bringing us towards our true and unconditional self). Yoga is moving towards the interior- the “good stuff”.
Because we live in the land of bhoga, swimming through desire, aversion, pain and elation…we don’t have a consistent and clear experience of this abiding peace known as yoga. So first we must use our infering capability to see that it is a possibility. The texts have much to teach us from these great sages who have sat with Sat (truth) – yes pun intended. Those who have contemplated and experienced the truth. So first we must read their words with fresh eyes, without commentary and without layering our own bhoga filled perceptions on top. Once we understand fully what they have to say then we move forward into our exploration. … Sir says that through this investigatory process I “roll back, roll back, roll back until finally my citta reaches a state of samyamavastha (equilibrium).” Otherwise we are just jumping ahead with faulty information.
For this we should look to what Patanjali says about right perception in the Yoga Sutras verse 7 of the Samadhi pada (first chapter on the state of yoga)
Right perception (pramana- one of 5 categorical activities of the mind important in svadhyaya) is developed through 3 lanes.
- First agamah : gathering information from a reliable source with no agenda. This is either a teacher or text with “no axe to grind” (i.e. no religion to sell, no red pill to swallow)
- 2nd anumana: inference which can be based upon taking this information further…keep on thinking about it, contemplate, discuss, gain confidence in the teachings.
- and finally pratyaksa: direct experience with all senses firing – once we have put our learnings and inference into practice and can directly see. Specifically of interest to the yoga practitioner (abhyasi) is yogica pratyaksa or the direct ability to see and experience directly the nature of the true self! This yogic pratyaksa is only possible when the mind is filled with sattva (light, clarity) and not tamas (inertia, darkness, confusion)
So while it is not enough to simply take ones word for it…it does help to first hear them out in totality without placing the veil of one’s own opinions immediately over the words. Listen first, sit with it, don’t rush to conclusions and don’t give up the endeavor. Really consider what they have to say! Then begin to contemplate these beautiful passages in relation to what you see in your own life and practice. As Ramaswami says, if what you see is true you should EVENTUALLY be able to have a direct experience of that truth or as Richard Rohr says (right Eileen?) “if something is true [unconditionally] it is always true.” Maybe not immediately, maybe over many years or iterations of yourself.
So what is the Moral of the story here?
Well, Patañjali uses the following structure throughout the yoga sutras as a means of scientific exploration. First he presents the subject, then the result of becoming established in that subject and finally the alternative to taking the subject up.
- The subject: Be a good judge. Do your practice, study the texts, gather all the information, don’t rush to conclusions. Let your mind settle into a different way of being-without grasping for immediate gratification.
- The result: Eventually what is true will reveal itself through your enthusiastic efforts and resulting “rolling back”- and your philosophy will be made clear. Remember to make a conclusion of any kind we have to really understand the subject.
- The alternative: keep up with the bhoga. Gather those dopamine hits from smart phone scrolling, netflix binging, sensory overload. Push away anything uncomfortable and try to keep your head above water. If that sounds harsh, maybe there is a reason why?
Ultimately you have come to yoga for a reason. It’s good not to get stuck in one small piece of the pie. asana will give you a healthy system especially when combined with pranayama. However, there is a lot of limitation there if that’s the end of it. We must direct our minds towards the subject matter at hand for yoga to be fully integrated in us.
See you tomorrow 🙂