Sunday, December 29, 2013

Paths of Yoga

There are four main paths of classical Yoga:

1. Karma Yoga   'the path of action'
2. Bakhti Yoga    'the path of devotion'
2. Hatha Yoga     union through determination
4. Gyan Yoga      'the path of knowledge'

1.Karma Yoga

The essence of Karma Yoga is focussing on the quality of the action for its own sake and with enjoyment until ''the actor and the action become one''. Whatever actions we undertake leave an impression on our minds, and even our souls, so we can consciously make ourselves the way we want to be through deliberate action. Strong impressions leave a trace on the soul, so repeated actions will make an even stronger impression for good or bad. Our selves are the sum total of all our actions.

How can we make a stronger impression? We can follow a path of selfless action without thinking about the results. Repeated actions, done with great attention and commitment, will achieve far greater results than actions taken with one eye on the future outcome. If we focus 100 % of our attention on performing an action to the best of our ability and with enjoyment, the results will be optimum. If 70 % of our attention is consumed by worries or fears about the results, doubts about the action taken, weighing up of pros and cons, looking over our shoulder to see what others are doing or resenting the action as a 'means to an end', then only 30 % of our attention is on the action itself and the outcomes will reflect this. Halfhearted preparations or motivation will lead to halfhearted results.

The art of Karma Yoga is to focus on the action, not the outcome. We obtain union with the object of our attention through single-minded focus. When we become one with our goal, it is because we focus on the quality of what we do. For example, if, as students, we constantly focused on Ayurveda, we could begin to assimilate its knowledge and way of life to the point where we became Ayurveda itself. At that point there would be no need to check books, worry about practice, or doubt our abilities, as we would become pure conduits of Ayurvedic knowledge and practice. If we were to focus on any object of meditation we could come close to enlightenment.

2. Bakhti Yoga

Bakhti Yoga is the art of devotion or union through love. All great works have been achieved through human enjoyment, ie for their own sake. For example, Mother Teresa said that there are no great deeds, only small deeds performed with great love. 'Par' refers to personal love (lower) and 'Apar' to a loving attitude which does not discriminate as to its object (higher). In this case when the lover 'becomes' love (and only love), the force of love becomes incredibly powerful.

It is difficult to define love, surrounded as we are by many misconceptions about its nature. We may confuse desire with love, attachment with love, jealousy with love, fear of loneliness with love, possession with love, sex with love and romance with love. In the name of love we strike implicit bargains, not even knowing what our expectations are until they are breached. We may keep score of what we give, demanding that others reciprocate in every way. We may try to take away the freedom of partners or children or use emotional blackmail to make others prove their love for us. Even a mother's love can be contaminated with issues of possessiveness or clinging. The other side of the mass-media's promotion of glamour, passion and sex in relationships between men and women, is abuse, control, humiliation, obsession, stalking and even murder of women in the name of romantic love. In fact the very Hollywood/Bollywood stars who exemplify the former on the big screen often turn out to be struggling with far from loving relationships in their private lives.

Real love can be defined by the following qualities:

1. Fearlessness
2. Peace
3. Forgetting yourself/selflessness
4. A lack of suffering

When we experience the state of pure love, we are completely peaceful. There is no room for other emotions, such as resentment, jealousy, suffering or pride. ''When love, the lover, and the beloved become one'', that is Bakhti Yoga. Once we become love, we may extend love to everyone and everything without restriction. The personal becomes universal.

3. Hatha Yoga  

This is union through stubbornness and determination and refers to the seven stage path which ultimately  leads to Raj Yoga (King's Yoga) It focusses on physical and mental purification (satkarmas), strength-building exercises and postures (asanas) , 'locks' of breathing (bandhas) hand and other gestures (mudras) and breath expansion (pranayama) as well as the concentration and meditation of Astanga yoga.

It is outlined primarily in three texts, although there is little description of exactly how to achieve the physical postures:

Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Yogi Swatmarama (15th century)
Shiva Samhita, author unknown (before 1500 CE[4] or late 17th century)
Gheranda Samhita by Yogi Gheranda (late 17th century)

However the Goraksha Samhita authored by Yogi Gorakshanath in the 11th century is considered to have been responsible for popularizing Hatha yoga as it is known today. In Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swatmarama introduces his system as preparatory stage for the physical purification needed for higher meditation or Yoga.

It must be remembered that Hatha Yoga (asanas included) was a life-time spiritual journey and commitment for the disciple who was accompanied by the guru every step of the way.

4. Gyana Yoga

This is union through knowledge. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that Gyana Yoga consists of understanding the body and the soul and the difference between these two and it is assumed throughout the Vedas that Gyana Yoga is the best path to take if possible. In knowing the self the supreme can also be known through a fourfold discipline.

1. Samanyasa, cultivating oneself the following qualities:

        Viveka, the capacity to discern between the real and the unreal.
        Vairagya, dispassion, indifference to pleasure and pain;
        Shad-sampat, the six virtues:
                   Sama, tranquility or control of mind, calmness;
                   Dama, control of the senses;
                   Uparati, renunciation of worldly activities;
                   Titiksha, endurance of changing and opposite circumstances;
                   Shradda, faith in the guru, the atman and the scriptures;
                   Samadhana, concentration of the mind.
        Mumukshutva, intense longing for liberation.

2. Sravana, listening to the teachings of the sages on the Upanishads and Advaita Vedanta, and studying the Vedas and Vedantic texts;
3. Manana, the stage of reflection on the teachings;
4. Dhyana, the stage of meditation on the truth "that art Thou".

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

4. Yoga 'Union'

Yoga philosophy was given by Patanjali and comes from the root 'yug' meaning 'union' or 'to unite'. It deals with the expansion of individual consciousness until it merges with  universal consciousness. Yoga can be understood as the practical aspect of Sankhya philosophy, which was the first to say that we can become part of the supreme soul/universal superconsciousness if we want to. Our individual self or soul is already made of a spark of Purusha, and has exactly the same invisible and eternal qualities, but we can only expand our consciousness to merge with it completely if we are aware of this fact.

This has some resemblance to the idea of a relationship between individual and universal truth, in that the more we align ourselves with the universal, the less suffering we experience.

These ideas come from Sankhya philosophy, so the study of the mind is vital to Yoga. Patanjali said ''Yog chitta vritti nirodha'' ('Yoga blocks the modifications of the mind.') The mind is modified (disturbed) from its natural state, in two ways, through Dishta 'sorrow' and Adishta 'pleasure'. The true nature of the mind is calm, yet it is easily distracted by sensory perceptions of the world. When we see a flower, for example, we become affected by beauty and the pleasure it gives us. When we see a dying animal, we become disturbed by sadness at the sight of suffering and death.

The mind is like a vast lake or ocean: although rippled by waves at the surface level, there is calm at a deeper level. Superficial waves (thoughts and feelings) arise in the mind and the more these can be calmed, the more the true nature of mind is unveiled. Superficial thoughts may be the easiest to 'control' or let go of, However, repetitive thought patterns or memories which emerge from a deeper level may be time bombs waiting to go off, shaking our composure more profoundly.

There are two sources of 'waves', sensory perception and memory. When these are absent, the lake or ocean is very clear and the deep innermost potential of the mind is laid bare. In that state of mind - clarity - one can achieve anything.

The mind is made up of Prakriti and is composed of three qualities, Sattva (purity) Rajas (activity) and Tamas (inertia, dullness) in varying proportions. Both Sattva and Tamas are empty, (though Sattva is clear and Tamas is cloudy or dull) whereas Rajas is full of content, that is the disturbances to tranquility caused by pleasure or pain.

There are five states of mind, according to Yoga philosophy, ranging from the least to the most clear:

1. Kshipta     ´disturbed´                          no clarity            rajas with some tamas
2. Muda        ´stupid´, ´stupified´              obstacles            tamas
3. Vikshiptav  ´restless´                           obstacles           rajas with a litle tamas
4. Ekagra      'one-pointed' (focussed)       clear thinking      more sattvic
5. Nirodha     ´well-controlled´                  beyond thinking   pure and sattvic

The last two states are the lighter and purer aspect of Prakriti (matter), and the ultimate, Nirodha, is a pure manifestation of sattvic energy, where all modifications cease and a state of stillness is acquired or resumed. This is the subtlest form of unmanifested Prakriti, (the spark of divinity) Prakriti in its purest form. Only at this stage can Purusha see its real nature reflected in the clear screen of the mind. When Purusha sees and recognises itself, that is liberation.

It is the mind which leads the person into or out of bondage, in its function as the link between the physical body, the senses and consciousness. The mind can modify itself, or be modified, in the following ways:

1. Valid cognition, perception, true knowledge
2. Invalid cognition, false perceptions
3. Verbal cognition, indirect inference/guesswork, self talk
4. Sleep, dreams
5. Memories

Whether they provoke feelings of pleasure or pain, whether the basis for the thoughts or feelings has any validity or not, all of these modifications stop us from seeing the real nature of Purusha. However, when one focuses on looking for and seeing Purusha, one forgets these other perceptions and the true nature of consciousness is revealed.

Patanjali states that there are seven stages which must be passed through to reach the eighth, 'samadhi', (liberation). They are not really 'limbs' as they are often translated in English, as it is necessary to master each stage before advancing to the next.

1. Yama              'self-restraint' 'moral conduct' 'truthfulness'
2. Niyama           'discipline'
3. Asana             'postures'
4. Pranayama      'breathing control'
5. Pratyahara      'withdrawal of the senses from the object of the senses'
6. Dharna           ´concentration´
7. Dhyana           'meditation'
8. Samadhi          'oneness'

1. Yama involves:

Ahimsa                 'non violence'
Satya                    'truth'
Asteya                  'non-stealing' 'non-cheating'
Brahmacharya       'pure behaviour' 'celibacy' 'sensory control' 'remembering Brahma'
Aparigraha            'non-possessiveness' 'non-materialistic'

When we consider that Mahatma (great soul) Ghandi mastered the first two branches of Yama, non violence and truth and is considered a great person, we realise how long and hard the path of Yoga really is.

2. Niyama 'discipline' comes out of truth and involves:

Shaucha                 'purity' 'cleanliness'
Santosha                'contentment' 'satisfaction'
Tapas                     'zeal' 'sacrifice'
Sua-advayaya         'self-study'
Ishwar Pranidhan    'surrender to God' 'Karma' 'divine force'

3. Asana 'postures'

These are the physical postures most associated with Yoga in the Western mind, involving strength, flexibility, attention to breathing and resilience. Asana is believed to reduce stress and related complaints, such as high blood pressure, but its true function is to act as another discipline which will lead towards union. Asana makes the body stable and flexible enough to remain still and pain-free so that the aspirant is not distracted by aches and pains while spending hours in meditative postures at a later stage ''The purpose of Yoga is Yoga.'', so other physical and mental benefits are considered to be side-effects which come out of the striving for union.

4. Pranayama 'breathing control'

Firstly, when we control the breath, the mind is also under control. We tend to breathe more rapidly when we are afraid or angry and we are advised to take deep breaths to calm ourselves when we are nervous or upset. Secondly, the control of the breath increases health and life-expectancy. We can see by comparing the life-span of animals with their breathing rates how the two are related. The dog takes 50 breaths a minute and lives for 15 years, the elephant takes 24 breaths a minute and lives for about 70 years, the human being takes around 22 breaths a minute and lives for between 70 and 100 years, the turtle takes 5 breaths a minute and lives for 150 years.

Fast breathing involves more use of the sympathetic nervous system, more metabolic activity, more exhaustion, more free radical production and faster aging. (This is why Ayurveda advises gentle exercise to 50% of one's capacity and considers pushing the body to its limits in heavy labour or exercise to be counterproductive.) Slow breathing entails fewer functions and less stress on the body. When we are calm, our breathing rate goes down naturally. So we can use conscious and controlled breathing techniques to calm both mind and body.

5. Pratyahara

This is the withdrawal of the senses from the object of attention, involving concentration and self-control. This means resisting our natural inclination to follow our senses outwards, being distracted by a beautiful or terrible sight, for example, with the range of emotions such as curiosity, desire, dislike, fear etc altering our mental calm. Likewise, we should learn to resist the enticements of things we like (music, sensual pleasures, perfumes, tasty food) as well as focussing on things we don't like (barking dogs, other people's music, car alarms, states of feeling hot or cold, bad smells or food.)

The last three levels are called internal aids to Yoga (antaranga sadhana).

6. Dharna 'concentration´

This entails the ability to focus singlemindedly on one physical object, such as the flame of a candle, between the eyebrows or the picture of a deity to the exclusion of all else, entailing a disciplined practice of focus and control. For example, the aspirant can close the eyes and see the internal image of Krishna or Jesus or any symbol of purity and focus on it. This should be done without thinking about the image, without making a story out of it and allowing the mind to wander or the emotions to come into play.

7. Dhyana 'meditation'

This will only take place on a regular basis through Dharna and is a more general stillness of mind. Here the mind does not close down the sense organs by focussing on one object but rests calmly around the object. It is a very advanced state which has nothing to do with dullness or mindlessness but with an alert calmness.

8. Samadhi 'oneness'

This involves becoming one with the object of meditation, whatever the goal may be. Since Yoga means 'union' it could be argued that samadhi and yoga are one and the same thing,

Samadhi is of two kinds:

1. Samprajnata Samadhi (conscious Samadhi)

The mind remains focussed on the object of meditation, therefore consciousness of the object of meditation persists. Mental modifications arise only in respect of this object of meditation.This state is of four kinds:
          Savitarka: concentrated upon a physical object of meditation.
          Savichara: concentrated upon a subtle object of meditation, such as the tanmatras
          Sananda Samadhi: concentrated upon a subtler object of meditation, like the senses.
          Sasmita: concentrated on the ego which the self generally identifies with..
2. Asamprajnata Samadhi (superconsciousness)

The consciousness of the object of meditation is transcended. All mental modifications are checked (niruddha), although latent impressions may continue.

Patanjali's concept of the existence of God is of perfect Purusha, eternal, all-pervading, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and unaffected by ignorance, egotism, aversion, fear or attachment, free from all actions (Karmas) and results of actions (Phal karmas) and all latent impressions (Sanskaras). When the self becomes liberated, it becomes one with and merges with God. In fact the individual soul is made of the same essence, but because of the afflictions of Karma, a separate self-concept arises and the self becomes victim to the illusions of the material world and suffering.

When ignorance is dissolved, the duality we create between ourselves and God is also dissolved. The perfect supreme being remains one and unchangeable - just as there is no change in the ocean no matter how many rivers flow into it. Changelessness is the basic quality of perfection and this absolute reality is available to all of us who try for it. Sooner or later we will merge into perfection, depending on how long it takes us to recognise the truth and commit ourselves to it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

3. Sankya ´Numbers´

The philosophy of Sankya was propounded by Kapila, and to some extent all other Indian philosophies are influenced by it. Sankya can be divided into three sections:

1. The evolution of the world
2. The concept of god and liberation
3. The theory of Knowledge

His major finding was the division of reality into two main categories: Purusha  (consciousness and energy) and Prakriti (matter made of atom-like substances). The entire world – including body, mind and senses – is produced by a combination of the above two effects. Even non-Vedic philosophies such as Charwak, Buddhism and Jainism and the Vedic philosophies Nayaya and Vaisesika followed this idea, agreeing that atoms of five different properties are the material cause of this world. (The mind, intellect and ego are made of a substance subtler than atoms.) The ultimate cause of the world must be a latent principle of potential, eternal and all pervading, and must be made of a subtler substance than mind, intellect and ego.

Arguments for prakriti are as follows:

1. All objects are dependent on something else for their existence, so there must be an unlimited or independent cause.
2. All objects in the world are capable of producing certain common effects like pleasure, pain, indifference etc. Like begets like, the common cause being Prakriti. Atoms are indifferent.
3. In the process of evolution, effects arise from a certain cause and then are again dissolved into their origins when creation is dissolved. Prakriti can be seen as the material cause of the universe, (whereas Purusha is the ultimate cause) primordial, unmanifested matter, the unconscious principle. Although Purusha is the ultimate cause, it needs Prakriti to become 'something.' Unmanifested atoms are like primordial soup, always there, indivisible particles, Pramanu (even smaller than atoms). Involution is the reverse process, physical matter being broken down into atoms, gross energies giving way to finer energies, all the way back to unmanifested Prakriti.

Purusha is consciousness and energy. Each human body contains a self or soul, which is different from the body and mind, a conscious spark that is both subject and object of knowledge and knowing. It is not a substance or an attribute of consciousness. It is at the same time self-illuminating, unchanging, not caused, all-pervading and eternal consciousness. (The self or soul is an observer which has no memory, although it may retain exceptionally strong impressions of mind or body and be primed from a former life.) The self is Purusha, a spark plus Karma.

Everything which is subject to time, death, decay, evolution and change is Prakriti. So everything we normally think of as 'I' (body, mind and intellect) and identify with is not our real self at all.

1.Theory of Creation and Evolution

Prakriti is the unconscious principle of matter, and Purusha the spark of life. Matter and energy are always found together. The meeting of Prakriti and Purusha disturbed the equilibrium of the 3 gunas - Sattva (purity) Rajas (activity) and Tamas (dullness/inertia). Without movement nothing happens, so it was the encounter of Prakriti and Purusha that disturbed the balance and started all activity in the universe. Prakriti and Purusha together make up Mahat (universal intelligence/ intelligent design or order) Certain things began finding their centre and boundary, ie the undifferentiated soup of Prakriti, fired up by Purusha, began to organise itself into separate objects, thereby creating individual forms, including an individual sense of 'I', that is,Ahankara (ego)

Five micro-elements, five macro-elements, five sensory organs, five motor organs, and one mind developed, and when added to Prakruti, Purusha, Mahat and Ahankara made up the human being (25 elements) This theory of evolution relates to the unmanifested and the manifested. The ego is separate and related to Prakriti and the idea of individual physical survival.

2. Concept of God and Liberation

There is some controversy about this concept. In the original Sankya texts there was no discussion of God. Instead it was said that the entire universe was purely a system of cause and effect. Later arguments centred around the idea that if Prakruti is the changing principle, there must be a need for a controlling intelligence of the universe, ie an unchanging and eternal God.

Sankya argued that if God were perfect, why was he inspired to create a world full of such misery? To imply that a perfect God would deliberately choose imperfection over perfection doesn't make sense. A perfect God would create a perfect world, ergo God does not exist and the concept of Purusha is sufficient. This concept already existed in Vedic thinking.

However, later Sankhya philosophies argued that this kind of metaphysical universe is difficult to accept without the presence of a supreme being.

3. Theory of Knowledge

Sankhya wanted to make people self-sufficient and courageous and explained that mind has three different states, lower mind, ego and intellect (similar to the concept of conscious, sub-conscious and super-conscious mind). The mind being in one of these three states is the root cause of suffering. It is better to go beyond all of them to the peaceful mind. The idea is not for us to renounce the world however, but to function well within it. This entails being ''in the world, but not of it'', accepting our physical presence here, but remembering that our true selves are timeless. Liberation and peace comes from the understanding that we are Purusha, not Prakriti. We are advised not to run away from the world, but to have perfect mental control through knowledge of the 25 elements and how they function together.

''He attains peace in whom all sensual experiences are just so many waves flowing into the ocean, which, though being ever filled remains unaffected, but he who is desirous of enjoyments never attains peace in this world.''

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

2. Vaisesika ´Distinctiveness´

Vaisesika, a philosophy outlined by Kanada, is similar to Nayayan philosophy in many respects and complements it. Whereas Nayaya is highly theoretical in its approach, Vaisesika (the ´s´s are pronounced  ´sh´) forms a more  practical counterpart.

There are two basic differences between Nayaya and Vaisesika. Firstly, where Nayaya claims there are four sources of valid knowledge (Pratyaksha, Anuman, Upman and Apta - direct observation, intelligent guesswork/inference, comparison and testimony) Vaisesika says only the first two are valid,  Pratyaksha (perception) and Anuman (inference).

Secondly, whereas Nayaya says that all reality can be understood through 16 Padarthas (categories), Vaisesika says it can be understood through the following seven:

1. Dravya 'substance'
2. Guna 'quality' (in the sense of 'characteristic' or 'feature')
3. Karma 'action'
4. Samanya 'generality' 'similarity'
5. Vishesha 'uniqueness' 'difference'
6. Samvaiya 'inherence'
7. Uthava 'non-existence'

1. Dravya ´substance´

Dravya is defined as 'that in which quality or action can exist in inherent form, but which in itself is different from both quality and action'. For example, if a piece of soft, red cloth is used to make a dress, the substance is cloth, the qualities are soft and red and the action is to sew or manufacture. The qualities and action arise from the substance and not vice versa.

The human body is also Dravya. Qualities – for example, ushna 'heat', guru 'heaviness' etc  - and  actions – thoughts and feelings, such as sukha (pleasure) dukha (pain)  - are linked to and arise from the body and cannot exist without it.

There are nine types of substance, or 'raw materials', according to Vaisesika, the varying proportions of which make up the whole universe. The first five - earth, water, fire, air and ether - are perceptible through the senses and subject to change. The other four - time, direction, soul and mind - are imperceptible (through they may be inferred) and both all-pervading and eternal. The first five correspond to Prataksha – direct observation and the rest Upaman – inference.

By definition what is eternal cannot be perceived by the physical senses and what is perceptible must be subject to change. All reality can be comprehended (manifested through substance) even when that substance is invisible to the human eye. The atoms which  make up the Nayayan and Vaisesikan universe are eternal: however the many forms they take are vulnerable to change and decay.

2. Guna 'qualities'

Vaisesika posits the following 24 gunas:

1 Rupa     colour
2 Rasa         taste
3 Ghanda    smell
4 Sparsha    touch
5 Shabda    sound
6 Samkhya    number
7 Parimana    magnitude
8 Prithakatva    distinctiveness
9 Samyog    conjunction
10 Buddhi    cognition/intellect
11 Sukha     pleasure
12 Dukha    pain
13 Iccha     desire
14 Dvisha    aversion
15 Prayatna    effort
16 Guru     heavy
17 Dravatva     fluidity
18 Sneha    viscosity
19 Samskara    tendency
20 Dharma    virtue
21 Adharma    non-virtue
22 Ushna    heat
23 Sheet     cold
24 Mridu    soft

Some qualities can exist both in the substance of the observer and object, as, for example when desire or aversion are provoked by objects we are attracted to or repelled by. In this case the qualities of objects may depend on the perceiver.

Both animate and non-animate objects have qualities and action which may be intrinsic or temporary. For example, mobile phones or computers have qualities of Buddhi - cognition- and Dharma or Adharma, depending on the purposes for which they are used. Even medicine could be Adharmic - non virtuous - if given inappropriately or with the wrong intentions. Morphine can be given as a pain reliever or be used to prematurely end someone's life. Dharma is an important quality of the universe and reality. Things can exist or be carried out in a meritorious way or not - according to common sense, happening in the right way at the right time.

Samskara (tendency) is another important Guna and can cover 'function' as well. For example the tendency of air is to move, the tendency of fire is to burn, whereas the tendency of a pen is to write and the tendency of food is to nourish.

Samyog (conjunction) covers things which go or which are found together. For example the dock leaf which cures nettle sting is generally always found very near to the nettle patch. The conjunction of ginger and honey is a complementary one. Conjunction can include bees and butterflies and flowers for example.

Pritakatva (distinctiveness) covers what is separate, alien or unique and is a quality much used in Ayurveda. For example, if a patient suffers from a heat-related complaint they will be given cooling treatments and food. In this case the doctor might prescribe whatever is distinct from  'Ushna' in order to bring the patient into balance. The law of similarity says that 'like increases like' and the law of uniqueness says that 'distinctiveness decreases'

3. Karma

Karma is the action and movement of body and mind, bringing the law of cause and effect into play, as each action has its consequence.

4. Samanya 'generality' 'similarity'

The highest level of similarity is the recently-discovered 'God particle'. At the deepest level we are are all one. At a more superficial level we believe ourselves to be separate from each other according to our gender, colour, religion, nationality and even use our diseases and problems to differentiate ourselves from others.

5. Vishesha 'uniqueness' 'difference'

This category is opposed to Samanya as in that it contains what is different or unique in nature. As mentioned above, this category is highly valued in Ayurveda, which notes that a given quality can decrease the opposing one. 

6. Samvaiya  'that which is inherent' 'inherent cause'

Samvaiya is connected to the idea of cause. Vaiseska says there are two kinds of relationship:  conjunction (connection or nearness) and that which is inherent (indivisible). Conjunction can be temporary, as what has been connected may be disconnected. The inherent implies an inseparable relationship, such as, for example, the threads which make up a cloth. An inherent property is something which is intrinsic to a substance and which cannot be pulled out, pushed out or destroyed.

7. Non-existence

This is a category in which to fit what is not covered by the other six categories. Vaisesika argues that the person after death is non-existent for example. Can we define what doesn't exist? How will you know that a chair doesn't exist by looking inside a room? Ayurveda does not accept the category of non existence.

Vaisesika concepts of God, soul and Karma are very similar to those of Nayaya and propound  dualism in that God and creation are seen as two separate forces.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

1. Nayaya 'Scrutiny'

The value of truth in the relief of suffering
The founder of this Vedic philosophy, Gautham, posited that confusion leads to suffering and that truth should be sought in every area of life through logic, debate, reasoning and dialogue with the self and others. Obtaining valid knowledge of the external world and relating it to mind and self is the only way to liberation. The New Testament phrase '' seek the truth and the truth will set you free'' concurs perfectly with Nayaya philosophy. Everything is either true or false, but whereas the truth offers clarity, its absence offers only doubt, confusion, hesitation, and anxiety. Whereas the truth is simple, there may be many versions of what is false, leading one to lose oneself in blind alleys, fantasies, fears and projections, all of which cause great emotional suffering.

This can be clearly seen in situations even where the truth seems hard to swallow. For example when a patient receives a diagnosis that they are gravely ill or a prognosis of only weeks or months to live, their reaction is sometimes relief rather than panic. The patient may suspect that they are ill and be afraid but when the truth arrives they find they are able to deal with it on its own terms. The 'bad' of an unwelcome truth is still much better than the greater suffering of confusion, and in this sense it is still good. The patient has sudden clarity and strength and may know exactly what to do next. People who know they have little time to live often live their last days and months with unparalleled decisiveness, clarity and love, whereas those who do not know, but fear, the worst, may suffer to the end, caught between hope and dread. Suffering may also be defined as the gap between the truth and our willingness to accept the truth.

There are two kinds of truth,  personal truth and universal truth. The more our personal truth is aligned with universal truth, the less the suffering. Conversely, the greater the divergence between personal truth and universal truth, the greater the suffering. Universal truths are that life is impermanent, desire can never be satisfied, everything is one, and that difference is illusion, as is the idea we can ''help'' others.

Obtaining valid knowledge – manifested and unmanifested knowledge

Obtaining valid knowledge of the external world and its relationship with our minds and selves is the way to end suffering and attain liberation. Reality may be manifested and observable by the senses or unmanifested and intangible. However we should try to gain access to knowledge of both realities, the spiritual and emotional as well as the physical. While Nayaya is the study of logic, it reserves a place for intuition. Intuition could be termed intelligent guesswork as to the nature of unmanifested or manifested reality, as, for instance, in the split-second intuition of a doctor who knows what is wrong with the patient at a glance. This does not mean the doctor neglects to use direct observation, common sense, and textbooks in a logical manner, only that he already 'knows' what they will tell him.

(Malcolm Gladwell explored this phenomenon in his book Blink, coining the phrase 'thin-slicing' of reality in his to explain how experts may make correct inferences based on very little information, with the example of an art expert who spotted a fake sculpture bought by a world renowned museum at huge expense. She described an immediate sense of high alert and gut level certainty that the work was not 'right' - even though it looked perfect.)

According to Nayaya, everything is already present in the human mind, at least in a latent state. For example, on the 'conscious' level we are born knowing how to breathe, how to cry, how to drink mother's milk, how to absorb nutrients, how to defecate, how to sleep and wake and recognise faces and voices. Other knowledge - such as how to chew solid food, crawl, walk and talk and later, how to run, play, build friendships and alliances, defend our territory, become increasingly independent of our caregivers, have sex, etc- all emerges at precisely the right time and seems to be intrinsic.  We are programmed to communicate (learn a language) survive (fight or flight) and reproduce (find a partner, have children and repeat the cycle).

However, subconscious and superconscious knowledge is also within us waiting to emerge and this knowledge includes the ability to go beyond our programming in a highly creative way. In fact Nayaya argues that everything which is present in the world already exists in the child, waiting to be  realised. So that which is received cognitively from outside us as 'information' or 'facts' does not become true 'knowledge' until it correlates with something we already have inside us: if it does not resonate with is in a personal way, it remains abstract and impossible to integrate.  Just as on the most superficial level we always try to make sense of new information by relating it to our past experiences (what we know or think we know), it may be that on a deeper level we are setting the new information against some kind of cosmic 'collective unconsconcious' or 'world treasury' to find a deeper match.  

Another way of putting it is to say that unmanifested knowledge already exists within us but is not manifested until an external stimulus 'triggers' our awareness of it and connects it to us. This sometimes gives rise to the feeling that something instinctively makes sense to us, or is evidently true, even if we have never really noticed or thought about it before. Sometimes it can even seem as if it is something we knew but had forgotten.  It can also happen that we have been exposed to the same information several times without it really coming alive for us, until one day it suddenly clicks for us in a personal way.

The place of Karma in the manifestation of knowledge and the release from suffering

The more triggers, the deeper understanding may be. One way of comprehending how it is that some individuals seem to learn even complex subjects like mathematics or music with apparant ease, is that their knowledge of the subject has been triggered in previous lifetimes. How else are we to explain the glorious childhoods of spiritual giants such as Shanka Acharya, a renunciant at the age of 11 or those of prodigies such as Mozart who was composing masterpieces at the age of seven? Whatever knowledge was realised in a previous lifetime may appear in the current one as an otherwise inexplicable natural gift or spiritual genius, and this is particularly evident in the case of those who excel from an early age even when lacking economic, social, cultural or learning opportunities. If we accept that our karma leads us (our true selves) to begin one life where we left the previous one, we can begin to understand how a few young children can quickly supersede even the most brilliant of teachers. Whatever experiences we have had in previous lives prime us for this one: relearning what we have learned many times over is clearly much easier than learning from scratch.

The concept of Karma is postive and forward-looking in this sense. Merit is accumulated and carried over to the next life. One receives a head start on knowledge realised in previous lifetimes (in the context of the overall effects of good and bad Karma being brought forward) and feels secure and encouraged, knowing that whatever is done well in this lifetime will not be lost or wasted but will count towards our future benefit.

Karma is often misunderstood from a Western/Christian perspective as cruel or punitive (the idea that one is being inevitably punished for past misdeeds) and defeatist (the idea that there's nothing one can do about it). This is possibly because Christianity as an organised religion notes that Karma lacks concepts such as contrition, the remission of sins, forgiveness, salvation and grace, without registering that these are meaningless ideas in the absence of prior concepts such as sin, mortal sin, guilt, judgement, the wrath of God, Heaven, purgatory and Hell.  However, when we apply the sources of valid knowledge according to Nayaya – pratyaksha (perception/observation), anuman (inference), upanam (comparison, analogy) and apta ( authoritative references, such as recognised rishis and texts) – to the issue, we find the statement ' you reap as you sow'  that so well defines Kharma to be a universal truth.

Karma is to be understood as a chain of cause and effect, impersonal and neutral. Suffering is not a test or a punishment, but a result of past Adharma (lack of virtue). It can be likened to an arrow being released from the bow, in that, once set in motion, it cannot be recalled or diverted. If the target was virtue that will be the result, if the target was not virtue that will be the result. There is no judgement implied  It has been pointed out that the original meaning of the now 'morally loaded' word 'sin', was 'to miss the mark' in archery, implying the falling short of a target or a mistake. The consequences of cause and effect are neutral.

In this sense, Karma can be comforting. One accepts that current conditions are the result of past actions and must be made the best of. A belief in Kharma may dissolve questions such as 'Why have I got this disease?', 'Why me?', 'What have I done?', 'Am I being punished?' and thoughts such as 'It's not fair' , 'It's all my fault',  'Poor me', 'Why did/didn't I do this or that' ,'It's too late' and negative emotions such as self-pity, hopelessness, helplessness, bitterness and anger. Such thoughts and feelings may lead to wrong conclusions such as 'Life/God is unfair', resulting in a loss of confidence and faith, cutting off the supply of love, connectedness and optimism just as the patient needs them most. These thoughts and feelings may also be felt on behalf of someone else, when we waste energy resisting the illness and mortality of those we love, instead of focusing as calmly as possible on what needs to be done now in the situation that actually exists in the present.

A belief in Karma can lead to a more peaceful acceptance of reality, preventing the person from feeling like a victim and allowing him or her to focus on what can be done now for the future rather than obsessing about what came before. Evidently it is the future, and not the past, which can be improved by actions taken in the present. As no action lacks consequences, Karma gives the individual the chance of helping him or herself. Just as lifestyle improvements take time to take effect, the effects of Kharma may not be seen straight away, yet Karma gives us the impetus to struggle knowing that we will, some day, reap the benefits.

Instead Karma asks the question: 'Have you done enough to help yourself?' It is less concerned with how you feel and behave towards others, than with how you discharge your responsibilities towards yourself. Feeling swayed by emotions of pity or suffering for others will not help you to practice Dharma properly even when you intend to do them good. Feeling swayed by anger will not help you to negotiate or fight effectively on their behalf. When you are in peace with yourself and your mind is calm, you know exactly what to do, whereas when you are fearful,suffering or bitter, you cannot practice Dharma. For instance, while it is good to have a kind heart, it should be a relaxed and calm kind heart, not an anxious and suffering kind heart. The actions of the first will be Dharmic, while those of the second may go astray.

The place of love in Nayaya philosophy

Nyaya is in accord with the saying 'love makes the world go round', in the sense that love is the causal agent for attraction on the chemical, physical and metaphysical plane. The peaceful mind is loving and even a good fighter loves (is drawn to) other good fighters, prefering a worthy opponent. The attitude of an Ayurvedic practitioner should be loving, accepting and empathic, with a commitment to the truth. (In fact the truth is love in that its presence alone relieves suffering to some extent) Becoming a good practitioner attracts patients, just as being an excellent shopkeeper attracts customers. The pull felt by the person is not to the slickest clinic, the best publicity or the best special offers, but to a place where he or she finds peace, love, safety and a good atmosphere. Sticking to your path, doing what is right, taking action on your own behalf for your own benefit, doing your best, without looking over your shoulder or worrying about the outcomes, all these are good for you. Once again we see that practicing Dharma attracts others to you personally and professionally. It is not necessary to seek them out; sooner or later they will come to you.

Logical debate as a method of looking for, testing and identifying valid knowledge/reality

We have established that Nayaya stresses a positive seeking of the truth, the reduction of confusion and the aquirement of valid knowledge as a means of reducing suffering. In this aim he set out 16 major ''padarthas'' - 'divisions' or 'categories' of debate. ''Pad'' means world, subject or concept so the padarthas comprise 16 debating tactics with which to explore reality or 16 categories of reality

1. Prameya -  the object of debate or knowledge, eg a pen, concept of God etc
2. Samsya - doubt or wavering between conflicting views
3. Prayojan – aim or target, what you want to find out or prove
4. Dristanta – example to support your argument or idea
5. Siddhanta – principle/doctrine, making a rule about the terms of debate, deduction
6. Avayaya – constituents, parts. the need to break something down into its parts to know what something is*
7. Tarka – hypothetical argument, even after looking at the parts, property of subconscious mind
8. Nirnaya – a conclusion has been reached , doubt has vanished

Nayaya says it is better to stop here if true knowledge has been obtained  However, discussion may be continued as follows, usually with diminishing returns. The above categories could be likened to a civil code legal system where both sides are expected to sincerely look for the truth in a legal case. The following categories more resemble an adversarial system where both sides may use unfair tactics in their eagerness to prove their point and win their case.

9.  Vada – further discussion, possibly futile/pointless, carried out only assert a point of view
10. Jalpa – both parties try to atttain victory without honest argument, have forgotten Prayojan, no 3, the whole aim of the debate.
11. Vitanda – both parties aim to refute or destroy the other party's arguments
12. Hetvabhasa – totally illusionary and fantastic argument that has no bearing on the debate
13. Chala – unfair reply, cheating, eg deliberately misquoting the other party, using words out of context, twisting the other's words, talking too fast
14. Jati – false analogy, false comparisons
15. Nigraha sthana – grounds of defeat, when one party admits defeat, it is the duty of the other to determine the deciding argument
16. Pramana – sources of valid knowledge

Pramana can be broken down into four parts:

1. Pratyaksha/pretlaksha? Comes from 'ak' 'eye'  - direct observation, perception
2. Anuman – intelligent guesswork, inference, deduction
3. Upanam/man – comparison, analogy
4. Apta – authoritative sources such as books and teachers

The last, apta, is particularly important as we should always return to the source when unable to determine valid knowledge by other means, perhaps when our judgement is clouded by ego or strong emotions. It is said that books are the best apta of all, as books have no motives (their authors may do) and share their knowledge impartially.

* regarding Avayaya, Nayaya says that the truth cannot be seen without breaking things down into their constituent parts, as the overall impression may be illusory. While the human body, for example, looks beautiful when in one piece - ''the hair of the girlfriend looks like clouds, her teeth like pearls'' – it doesn't look so beautiful when broken down into parts. A hair or tooth, when separated from the body is not beautiful. (For example,were we to find either of them in our food, we would be horrified). Nayayan cloncludes that the parts of the body are not beautiful and so its beauty is an illusion.

The Nayayan concept of the soul

Nayaya conceives of the soul as an observer. While the mind thinks and feels, transmitting impressions from the body and its experiences to the soul, the soul acts as a witness to these fleeting impressions. The mind is the tool where we experience consciousness, thoughts, feelings, pain and pleasure and, inevitably, suffering. When the soul is not too attached to mind impressions or too identified with the temporal experiences of the mind and/or body, it remains a calm observer of reality. In a superconscious state of mind it is possible to be aware of the difference between the soul and the mind and body: ''While I have a mind and body, I am a soul.'' Since 'I' and 'soul' are the same thing, this use of 'I' is very different from our usual use of the first person pronoun. This is not the 'I' that suffers, confused, demanding love, pleasure, attention and success, while turning its back on pain, illness, death and the suffering of others, but the 'eye' that observes all of it as if it were no more than a picture show.

While the mind and body inevitably perish in their current forms, disappearing back into nature, the soul is eternal, indestructable, unlimited by time and space, infinite and all pervading. The attribute of the soul is consciousness. While the soul can exist within or beyond the mind and body, the mind and body only work because of the soul. If consciousness leaves the body everything stops working.

The body carries experiences to the mind which, depending on its state – conscious, sub-conscious  or super-conscious -  reacts to, interprets or faithfully reflects them, carrying impressions to the soul. The action of the mind in its usual sub-conscious state splits experiences into different categories, principally good and bad, pleasure and pain. The ego, the mind's limited perception of 'I' (made of up past experiences) may assign 'meaning' to different experiences, depending on its self-concept. When the mind is working properly, it mirrors reality. Then it approximates the soul itself, which reflects the ultimate reality of existence - love.

This love, universal and impersonal, variously called God, divine energy, Higher power, etc is the cause of existence itself. Whether perceived as love, attraction or magnetism, this force drives movement in the universe, pulling everything from simple atoms to complex life forms, such as animals and human beings, towards its object or counterpart. Love is the cause of 'good' and 'bad' in the universe, in that it causes action, Karma. to take place. There could be no life on earth without gravity for example.

Even thieves or murderers may be motivated by love of some kind - of family, honour or money. In the purest state of existence, consciousness is the quality of the soul and pure love is its natural state. It is only when the mind and body interfere that love becomes contaminated by everything that isn't love, other emotions of greed, attachment, fear and jealousy for instance.

In Nayaya's concept of liberation there are three things one can follow in the search for the truth:

1. Sravana 'study' listening to the teacher
2. Manana 'reasoning' (reflecting on Sravana)
3. Nidhyasana 'mediation' 'contemplation'

The latter is the process of contemplating the soul in order to confirm knowledge and be able to practice the truth of it in one's everyday life. This involves questioning and reflection on philosophical questions, such as ''Who am I really?'' and ''What is the soul?'', In a way, this process involves the mind ''behaving like the soul'' (the observer) being stilled enough by meditation to have the necessary calm and clarity to reflect the truth.

Once the true nature of the soul has been recognised as the eternal observer and one ceases to identify with the mind and body, one automatically begins to perform one's duties selflessly without the desire for the fruits of one's actions.

Nayaya even teaches that ''the fire of knowledge burns up all your past actions like seeds, preventing them from germinating'' implying that sufficient dedication to valid knowledge can even change the course of one's Karma by rendering cause incapable of effect

True knowledge leads to a state of freedom from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

The soul, which is the eternal continuum between each lifetime, doesn't know its own perfection, and it has to return over and over again so that karmic debt can be balanced. Meanwhile the body and mind are the supreme Dharma and should be used as much as possible to do good actions.

Indian Philosophies

The philosophies of India can be divided into two kinds, Vedic (believers) and non-Vedic (non believers) or Astiks (believers) and Nastiks (non-believers) Believer here refers to one who believes in the concept of an eternal soul. The Nastiks (Buddists and Jainists) do not believe in the concept of an individual and eternal soul, but rather the concept of 'mind' plus 'karma'.

The sources of Vedic philosophies are;
1. the Vedas, books compiled over hundreds of years which function like cultural encyclopedias for the Indus region;
2. the Upanishads, scholarly and philosophical exeges of the Vedas;
3. the Puranas, which explain spiritual duties through accessible stories about the gods.

The ´Vedas´ are comprised of four books, which were edited and reedited over a period of five centuries between 1200 and 700 BCE. The definitive written version of the Vedas was said to have been dictated by Ganesh the elephant god to the scribe Vedvyasa, for whom they are named. 'Ved' (the 'a' came to be added to the English pronunciation of this and many other Sanscrit words and thus to their spelling. The plural 's' is also an anglicism) means 'knowledge' and/or 'science'. The Vedas can be considered 'revealed' as opposed to 'heard' truths.

The four books are:
1. the Rig Veda, concerning knowledge of rituals and mantras
2. the Sam Veda, concerning classical musical forms
3. the Yajur Veda, concerning the art/science of war, martial arts and weaponry
4. the Atharva Veda, concerning medicinal plants

It is not clear whether Ayurveda ('science/knowledge of life') as a medical system and philosophy is a sub-Veda of the Atharva Veda or derives from a fifth Veda.

The Upanishads are written records, made by students (often many years later) of scholarly commentaries on the Vedas given by a number of different teachers. 'Up' means 'seated' or 'sitting' and 'nishad' means 'near to', reflecting the fact that the Upanishads emerged from the notes made by students who were sat close to (perhaps ´at the feet of´) their teachers, listening to commentaries and 'shlokas' ('sayings' 'verse') which were spoken or chanted aloud. These teaching commentaries were philosophical in nature, focusing on the question 'who am I?' at a deep level and on the very nature of the supreme being (Brahm) and supreme reality.

The Upanishads focus on the discriminating mind - the mind capable of seeing the truth - and remain impenetrable to many people. A shloka states that ''the mind cannot be known through much study, nor through the intellect, nor through much listening, it can be known through the self alone.´´  ´´The self of the seeker reveals its true nature,'' it concludes, emigmatically. The self which finds its true nature will have access to the true nature of all things and reach '' the end of the road'', ie Moksha, 'liberation'.

While urging the reader to ''arise, awake by approaching the illustrious ones'' it warns that the path is ''impassable as a razor's edge which has been sharpened'' and points out that in the midst of ignorance, even those who consider themselves enlightened are not adequate guides. For example,  '' the unintelligent people follow external desires and get entangled in the snares of widespread death. Therefore the discriminating people, having known what true immortality is, in the midst of impermanent things, do not pray in this world.''  Ultimately liberation will take the seeker beyond prayer, as the perception of duality dissolves.

There are no direct commentaries in the Upanishads on Ayurveda, which like forms of medicine generally, is an umbrella science comprising many different aspects of scientific, social, pychological and ethical knowledge. In the case of Ayurveda, as opposed to allopathic medicine, we should include spiritual knowledge too.

The Puranas are stories about the gods and goddesses and are much more accessible and well-known to the general  public. They work as morality tales or parables and clearly explain spiritual duties to be fulfilled.

The Vedic philosophies, ie those philosophies propounded by later thinkers using the Vedas as their primary source materials, are six in number.

1. Nayaya    'scrutiny'
2. Vaisesika    'distinctiveness'

3. Samkhya    'numbers'
4. Yoga    'union'

5. Mimansa    'investigation´
6. Vedanta    'the end' ´last knowledge´

These philosophies are arranged in a sequence that is logical for the human mind to follow in its search for ultimate reality. They form duplets, Nayaya and Vaisesika, Samkhya and Yoga and Mimansa and Vedanta, with the former in each pair leaning towards the theoretical and the latter towards the practical. Vedanta, 'the ending', both completes and transcends the other philosphies.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Step away from the smorgasbord

In the bustling spiritual market-place that makes up McLeodganj and Bagsu - where Israeli backpackers hanging upside down at Indian yogashalas rub shoulders (or knees) with German Chi Gong practitioners learning Tantra at shakti-shiva workshops, where Norwegian kinesiologists get their Vedic charts done, Moroccan Craniosacral therapists treat stressed French economists and Russian businesswomen set up roadside chai (tea) stalls - it's easy to get distracted.

After all, you could be learning how to make string and stone bracelets, to dreadlock hair, to carve wood, to play the sitar or tabla, to paint thangka pictures, to speak Hindi or Tibetan, to set jewels in silver and gold, to dance Rajastan gypsy or Egyptian style – or sampling, improving, perfecting or learning how to teach the ever-present yoga, meditation and reiki. Or all of them at once.

Perhaps an inner child workshop or rebirthing, a consultation with a Vedic astologer, a numerologist or even that guy in specs and kurta reading palms next to the tea shop on Bagsu road would help in the quest to find out why you're here in the first place, what you should be doing with your life and where you're going next? In other words whether you should do the reiki level 1 or the om meditation course.

It's the spiritual equivalent of going to the market without a shopping list and asking a complete stranger what you should make for dinner. Tibetan momos or green Thai curry? Pizza or fish fingers?

(And then you might as well get a panchakarma treatment/homeopathy session/tibetan massage/casting out of demons* while you're at it. After all, you're in India where even the blatantly inauthentic seems more authentic in its inauthenticity than the pretentious watered-down versions available everywhere in the world that isn't India. And it's still a bargain compared to what you'd pay at home. Sometimes. Just.)

And here's where things get overly messy in the spiritual supermarket. When the posters advertise African-Indian-Turkish fusion concerts, Kundalini Siddha meditations and therapies are dynamic, energetic, healing, therapeutic, relaxing and awakening – all at the same time – I can't help thinking about what happens when you mix momos, Thai curry, pizza and fish fingers up together.

Mush, my friends.


And who eats mush?

I'll tell you. Babies. People with no teeth.
In my case I came here to find out more about Ayurveda and so that's what I'll be eating for dinner. In fact that's the diet I'm going to follow from now on. Because when you are already partaking of what is nourishing to you the variety of dishes on offer aren't quite as tempting. Rather than picking and choosing from what we can see already set out on the smorgasbord we should hold out for what we really want - whether it's right in front of us or not. Even if we have to get up and look for it. Dig it up or pluck it from the tree and wash it. Steam or boil or bake it. Wait for it to be properly done.

Because tasting a bit of this and that isn't quite the same as eating a proper meal and, just as your mother always told you, too much snacking from the buffet means you're not hungry at dinnertime.

Real learning, like good nutrition, comes not from putting any old food into our mouths and swallowing but from choosing what to ingest according to sight, smell and taste, chewing properly, digesting and absorbing it until what is separate from us (information) becomes a part of us (knowledge). Half-baked concepts are indigestible and either decay inside us or pass right through us without offering any nutrition at all.

When we find the right food we can't wait to get our teeth into it. After all that's what teeth are for.

*To be fair I'm not absolutely certain that this is available in Bagsu. I may be thinking of Rome.

Internal and external factors which aid or hinder healing

Ayurveda says that high sattva is Dharma for the patient, alongside faith in and surrender to the doctor, the ability to accurately describe symptoms and the economic ability to pay for and follow the treatment prescribed.

The level of a patient's sattva – mental stamina – is a determining factor in their prognosis; strongminded patients sometimes experience remission from what appear to be terminal illnesses, whereas apathetic or depressed patients who give up hope or feel like victims tend not to do so well. High sattva implies taking responsibility for the situation and taking positive action to try to improve it, though not necessarily ''fighting'' the illness or disease with an aggressive attitude. Sattva's mental clarity may derive from genetic inheritance and karmic influence but it can be improved if the patient takes the correct attitude and is able to calmly look at the situation.

Given that what we focus our attention on (in terms of time, money and energy) tends to increase the patient should focus on improving his health rather than obsessing about his illness.
When the patient constantly thinks and talks about what he is not able to do, eat, enjoy or have, suffering is increased. Instead of lamenting the gap between what he wants and what he can have, the patient should try to reduce it by becoming more realistic about his possibilities. Focusing on what is still possible and finding creative alternatives to what is not keeps the patient's spirits up and prevents deterioration.

Patients with little direction in life or those who feel they are lacking affection and attention from others may develop a tendency to cling to, or even exaggerate, their illness. The illness may be perceived unconsciously as a friend and companion, something which has given them a certain status or identity or which becomes an excuse not to engage intensely with life. While the 12 Step Programme (on which Alcoholics Anonymous et al are based) has been a lifesaving support for many people with addictive behaviours it is problematic in that it encourages them to define themselves, reductively as their illness. This tendency should be resisted. Ayurveda recognises that people are much more than just their minds and bodies and so evidently much more than their mental or physical illnesses! In other words it is important for the patient to remember that they have an illness but that they are not their illness, although this is easier when the illness is physical rather than mental.

Patients should not isolate themselves from others to obsess on their illness, symptoms or prognosis but continue with their everyday activities as much as possible. It would be better to view illness as a guest who is passing through rather than giving it a permanent place at the table. By withdrawing from everyday life the patient actually deprives himself of the enjoyment, pleasure and happiness that are still available to him, thereby weakening his optimism and will to recover. If the patient expands himself to contain the illness the illness becomes proportionally less important. If on the other hand, the patient allows his world (and self) to shrink to the confines of the sickbed, the illness may become all consuming and incurable. Giving ''sick notes'' (ie a doctor's note to exempt the patient from work) for depression or anxiety is often counterproductive as without the distraction or responsibility of work the person becomes more depressed and less functional and the problem becomes chronic.

Sometimes the patient's family and friends also become over-involved with the patient's illness, further disabling the patient with their anxiety or fearfulness. In the case of a young woman suffering ulcerative colitis and chronic diarrhoea her husband and whole family so dedicated themselves to fighting her illness that they lost sight of the bigger picture of who she was. Her husband left his job and heroically devoted himself to finding a cure for her illness. However in the process of becoming an expert, he began to behave more like a doctor than a husband, neglecting the gestures of simple affection that might have helped his wife feel loved as a woman rather than cared for as a helpless patient. The Dharma of a husband in these circumstances might have been to help his wife maintain contact with life beyond her sickroom, perhaps by bringing affection, laughter and news from outside into it, supporting her to look beyond her physical illness.

The doctor can also support the patient by paying attention to what improvements are made or on giving positive feedback to the patient. It is important not to criticise the patient or give information in a tactless manner but to help the patient maintain a positive frame of mind. In the above mentioned situation the patient was still able to enjoy spectacular scenery, fresh air and the company and affection of her family, something her loved ones had lost sight of.

Another factor that impacts healing is the patient's ability to trust the doctor's competence and good will (surrender). While it is fine for someone to be careful in choosing the right doctor, once they have begun treatment they should not continue ''shopping''. Following one treatment or philosophy properly is of far more value than stopping and starting with different doctors or cherrypicking the doctor's orders according to whim. The patient should also resist the temptation to ''apply extra mind'' by trying to find out more and more about their illness, and setting this superficial information against their doctor's training. This will only lead to confusion and doubt. The patient should avoid self-diagnosis and trying to know better than the doctor. This lack of trust will be an impediment to healing, whether openly acknowledged or not. Faith and openmindedness are important to recovery.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Ayurvedic Concept of Health

Ayurveda defines health as being complete well-being, physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.Thus health is defined positively and holistically rather than negatively and restrictively as the absence of a particular disease or illness. Charaka, sometimes referred to as the 'father' of Ayurveda defined health as the balance of doshas, dhatus, agni and malas (qualities, tissues, digestive power and wastes respectively)''with that blissful and lucid state of body, mind and soul''

Physical health is determined by constitution, lifestyle choices, environmental factors, food, air, water, sleep and exercise, all of which affect the body, for good or ill. Physical health can be improved by putting good habits into place, rather than focussing on giving up negative habits. Moderation is also the key. For example a very restrictive diet is not healthy, nor is too much exercise.

Mental health is also determined by what we allow into our minds and what we exclude, just as physical health is determined by what we allow into our bodies and what we exclude. It is important to avoid or counter negative thoughts and assumptions which create anxiety, fear or anger in the mind. Ayurveda says that 'anger is the root of sin' and that a peaceful or empty mind is best True mental health would be the ability to perceive the truth, that is the reality of life, rather than our images of it. We should be realistic and objective about our abilities and this ability comes from a calm mind.

Social health is determined by our society and our place in it as well as the people in our lives and our relationships with them, ie everything that surrounds us. While 'sattva' ('mental stamina') is important, 'sanskara' (the ethics and norms of the family and society) are also crucial to our social health or ill-health. For example, in countries where war and/or poverty and oppression are present, the social health of the individual is harmed. On an individual level, self-harming behaviours, such as addictions and eating disorders may be the result of unhappy parent-child or husband-wife relationships. In turn these problems impact the relationships further, sometimes causing complete rupture and further difficulties. Feelings of uselessness and lack of purpose affect the whole society and the next generation.

Spiritual health could be defined as the capacity to see the truth all the time, not intermittently. This includes the willingness to take responsibility for our actions and their consequences, including our thoughts, speech, learning and physical actions. This entails building our characters (our souls) moment by moment, habit by habit, through studying ourselves and committing ourselves to the truth. What we practice and focus on becomes our character. Krishna, for example, focussed on right actions for their own sake. Buddha practiced non-attachment so thoroughly that he lost his fear of death, not only in the abstract but even when his life was actually in danger. Focussing on what life has given us and continues to give us every day, rather than on what we lack, fills us with gratitude. Practising gratitude until it becomes a habit and part of our character will make it easier for us to find the silver lining in even difficult times.

Ayurveda sees all these factors as intrinsic to optimum health, each playing its part in our overall well-being and happiness.

The Ayurvedic Concept of 'mind'.

The word Ayurveda is a compound noun made by linking the word 'ayu' (literally 'life') and the word 'Veda' (literally 'science') Thus Ayurveda is often described in layman's terms as ' the science of life'.

Ayurveda is holistic in concept and practice, seeing the human mind, body and soul as indivisible.'Life' - including simple forms of life such as bacteria and viruses, as well as more complex forms, such as animals - has been defined as 'continuity of consciousness'. This leads us to ask what exactly consciousness is in Ayurvedic terms.

Ayurveda teaches us that there are three types of mind; firstly the merely ' conscious', conscious here corresponding to 'awake' rather than 'aware'. This mind is narrow but accurate in its reactions which are instinctive in nature. The conscious mind is not capable of exceeding its programming for survival and reproduction and does not learn from experience or grow. This mind corresponds to the Ayurvedic concept of 'tamas',which could be understood as 'unthinking' or 'inertia'.

Secondly, Ayurveda conceives of the 'sub-conscious' mind, which goes beyond the survival instinct- food, water, shelter from the elements, etc – and is capable of speculative thinking, learning from experience, and is both more sophisticated and larger in scope. However, the clever subconscious mind (which includes both deliberate reasoning and emotional reactions) is not always accurate or wise. Its ability to perceive the truth may be clouded by selfishness and it sometimes sees threats where none exist, based on assumptions which are incorrect. This mind corresponds to the Ayurvedic concept of 'rajas' ('action')

Thirdly, the 'super-conscious' mind is both huge is scope and completely accurate, capable of perceiving the ultimate truth, which is that we are all one and that love is who we are. Spiritual masters like Jesus, Buddha and Krishna exemplify this mind. They perceived our true nature with such complete clarity that they became love itself. This mind corresponds with the concept of
'sattvic' ('purity' or 'balance').

Ayurveda says the peaceful mind is found in the heart region, while the busy mind is found in the head region...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

emotional luggage allowance

They say that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Or a plane ticket.

So my journey seems to start on the 18th May when I leave Barcelona to study Ayurveda with Dr Arun Sharma BAMS and Dr Vinod Kumar BAMS in Himachal Pradesh.

And yet what looks like a single step is part of an already begun process of decision and indecision, shifting weight from one foot to the other, raising one of them and deciding exactly where to put it down. False steps in the wrong direction also teach us when we need to step backwards into ourselves and stand still for a while before starting again.

And long before that first step in the right direction, we start tracing steps in our heads, under our closed eyes, just before we fall asleep, imagining the step we´re about to take and how the ground will feel under our feet. Part fantasy, part second-hand information, part hope, part fear. We start checking out where we´re going, trying to imagine what to expect and getting a head start on the learning we hope to do there.

While the rules of our airline company determine the limits of what we carry physically, forcing us to prioritise - to consider not only what we want and need to take with us but what we can manage to do without - no-one can help us set our mental, emotional and spiritual luggage allowance. That´s a very personal responsibility.

Do we need to take everything and everyone with us that we have in our lives right now? Exactly how far do our emotional arms stretch?

 And if we do need all of it, how can we ever leave? 

And just as we always pack items we never end up using (the wrong battery charger) and forget something crucial that can´t be found where we are going (a torch), how do we know until later which of our experiences to date will prove essential?

Experienced travellers, returning to a country they know and  love, often  travel with almost empty cases, so that they have room to bring back all the beautiful objects they can find. With this in mind, I´ve decided to empty my suitcase of everything I´ve been studying over the last six months and pack only the following for my trip to McLeod Ganj: innocence, curiosity, excitement, trust and gratitude.

What emotions are you taking with you?

Bye for now


I would like to express my appreciation to everyone whose help and advice brought me to this ´first step´, including Dr Vinod Kumar BAMS of Barcelona; Dr Khan, alternative practitioner specialising in the central nervous system and Padma Thapa, masseuse and beautician, both of S.K.Salud of Barcelona, and Ayurvedic practitioners and bloggers Ivy Irving (USA) and Bhindi Shah (UK)