At the Anantha Research Foundation • 26 March 2009

Anantha Resarch Foundation

So… some strong resonance coming in with this guy, MA Narasimhan. He opens up his office each day from 10-12, plucks in on bare feet in threadbare white cottons and a Brahmin string, and speaks expansively in response to whatever bumbling questions are offered. It makes no sense to morselize the experience because it’s about becoming immersed in an historical Indian perspective on the evolution of consciousness. But then, Narasimhan himself morselizes—from Freud to John Dewey to Joseph Campbell to his teacher Maharishi Maharesh—so here are a few pieces while I have them.

I will not write about the way that he reads my mind, or the way that he answers the question you meant to ask rather than the one you managed to blurt out, or the fact that my inveterate questions suddenly go to seed in that room because my mind sometimes feels so satisfied when he talks. But I will say that this person is a fine scholar—as learned as any great intellectual—whose feel is all heart. The first day he laughed and looked at me and said that the sociologists and the anthropologists will never really change the world because they are trying too hard, because they preach. But the gurus are the ones whose students really believe them—the ones, ironically, whose credibility goes deepest, who change their students most, and thus who make the most difference in the world. Without trying. Just by offering what is asked of them when it is needed.

Anyway, some stuff he’s mentioned in passing, sitting in lotus without leaning forward, lauging easily, gesturing with long thin fingers to enumerate this classification scheme or gesture toward that clarification.                            ……………………………………………………………………..….

There are four kinds of student, and for them four kinds of teacher. The first kind of student, the artharti, merely wants relief. They are desperate, looking for miracles and proof. Only for this kind of student are so-called miracles (about which he himself remains agnostic) useful. They simply grant relief to doubting, grasping minds. They also facilitate a new belief in the paranormal, which is useful for them later on when they become students of a more advanced type.

There is a constant split and re-split in yoga (and in religions) between the letter and the purport of the law. This is because it’s difficult to retain both the structure and the meaning of practice. In the traditions which hew to the letter of the law, eventually the life is lost. This happened, for example, in Christianity as it excluded mystics.

Siddhis are just a benchmark of your consciousness. They tell you where you are. Keep them a secret because if others learn of them, you will be drained by their need for them. There’s nothing necessarily gratifying in the paranormal—it is immature and often destructive to use the paranormal in this way. All of yoga can take place within the realm of normal consciousness.

Through practice and philosophical study you go from believing that the physical world is what is true and imagination/thought is all false, to believing the exact opposite. So in this way, philosophy is negative—like a photograph’s negative. Eventually in philosophy you never know what is true but it is all good anyway.

Don’t worry about going to a cave to find your meditation. They went to caves because they didn’t have air-conditioner or sound-proofing. It’s much easier now!

Don’t confuse Vedanta and Patanjali yoga. Both are covering the same territory, but from different directions. Vedanta doesn’t care about dharana-dhyana-samadhi because from the top looking down all states are disturbances. Vedanta is view; Patanjali yoga is the path. From the perspective of the latter, dharana-dhyana-samadhi are practical steps. (So nice to hear the notion of ascending and descending spirituality articulated in this way by an Indian philosopher. Patanjali yoga and Vedanta are not contradictory. Rather, they’re just very different perspectives on the same concerns.)

In the past, gurus did not accept students easily because they believed that once they entered into a relationship with a student, they were bound to them for as many lifetimes as it took for the student to progress. So if the student was lazy and fell away from practice, the teacher had to work with them to re-institute the practice again and again in subsequent incarnations. Now teachers do not fear this. Gurus’ work now is to be tour-guides.

A compassionate teacher knows when to tell a student to leave. When a student is not progressing because she is so attached, when she is not realizing her own self-responsibility, then she is stuck. To accept the student’s anger at being released is something that a good teacher can do. A selfish teacher will do the opposite—facilitate students’ neediness and attachment.

Traditionally, one needed a teacher for three services: to create a desire to evolve, to destroy obstactles of fear and doubt, and to sustain the student on the path. If you could find a teacher could be the creator, destroyer and sustainer all in one, it was great, although you could get each of these ingredients from different teachers. Now it’s not on this model. We don’t have a single teacher to fill every need. Instead of gurus there is only the passing state and role of gurudom.

26 Comments

  • Posted 26 March 2009 at 2:59 pm | #

    Brahma Vishnu Shiva

    This is a truly wonderful post. There should be a permanent link to this at the top of the page. This is what I was selfishly hoping for from your trip. Thank you. 🙂

  • Posted 26 March 2009 at 4:51 pm | #

    Cody, I agree…
    WOW. wow wow! This is why we were all dying for you to report about your trip. I love it. What a relief when I read this, “ All of yoga can take place within the realm of normal consciousness.” And so many more passages. (love the cave thing, so hilarious)
    Thanks for all of this, I go to your blog each day with excitement about what I get to read/see next!

  • Posted 26 March 2009 at 10:54 pm | #

    I was going to put this in a previous post but something told me to wait.

    I dreamt of you, you had a huge presence, life was glowing in you. It looks like it is! Wonderful stuff!

  • Posted 26 March 2009 at 11:01 pm | #

    Good stuff. The Oracle tells you what you already know, eh?

  • Posted 27 March 2009 at 10:16 am | #

    And then some.

    He said a funny thing about physical practice. To paraphrase:

    The whole point of asana is savasana—which is where you change your nervous system after you excite and stretch it during asana. The only reason to do more than 40 min or so of asana is if you are training to be a teacher yourself. Otherwise, about 40 min is all it takes to work the nervous system so you can process that stimulation during savasana. It would be nice if you could just to savasana to work out the nervous system but that tends to lead to just falling asleep.

    And if you are falling asleep in savasana, there is a serious problem. You’re pushing yourself far too hard and not understanding that this is a nervous-system-targetting practice.

    Westerners sometimes make themselves age much more quickly by doing yoga—you see this in practitioners who are overly tired. Get enough sleep, eat enough ghee or other dietary fat. AND LEARN TO RELAX.

    The only point of asana is to cleanse the nervous system. Otherwise it’s just sport—you can do sport by exciting the vrittis. But yoga, this is to relax the vrittis and cleanse the nervous system in order to evolve your consciousness. But it won’t work if you don’t take care of your body with the right foods and sleep. If you are practicing actual yoga, you are going through the body to the nervous system with asana practice. Taking the nervous system to progressively higher threshholds of purity.

  • Posted 27 March 2009 at 10:20 am | #

    Wow, re-reading that, it’s shocking to feel how much Westerners have reinterpreted the practice in a way that takes away from the basic keys of

    RELAXATION

    and

    CLEANSING THE NERVOUS SYSTEM

    We really do (1) eat like shit, and (2) refuse to learn to relax the whole organism. And then use asana to get a temporary feeling of cancelling out those behaviors. Which has nothing to do with working the nervous system and connecting that with progressive refinement of the intellect.

  • Posted 27 March 2009 at 11:03 am | #

    ONE

    TWO

    Great big India documentary, linked by a delightful meditation teacher in Croatia. I won’t have time to watch this for a few weeks, but thought a lot of readers here would love to see it.

  • joy
    Posted 27 March 2009 at 1:11 pm | #

    Re: shit-eating, non-relaxing (or meditating)), extreme-sport yogis… Woah. Yes. It does smack one in the face, rather.

    This is such a great post. I’ve been back to read it a few times already.

  • Posted 27 March 2009 at 3:24 pm | #

    Loved the follow up comments! I had chocolate chip cookies with my coffee this morning… I fit into category 1, but relaxation? getting enough sleep? I’m a pro. You will never catch me refusing to relax! I’m more about refusing to take action. (can I substitute chocolate chips for ghee? just wondering)
    But I know what you’re talking about- SO interesting, the thought that Westerners make themselves age faster with yoga! yikes!

  • Posted 27 March 2009 at 5:12 pm | #

    Chocolate can definitely be substituted for ghee! ha ha. Mmm, dietary fat. 😉

  • rebecca
    Posted 27 March 2009 at 7:24 pm | #

    meant to comment after your photos to say thanks for posting one of Narasimhan but felt silly (!) but after this post, really, thanks – he’s the guy. it’s a joy to be experiencing gokulam/mysore through your eyes. have fun.

  • Posted 27 March 2009 at 8:48 pm | #

    Yes R, he’s an inspiration and a resource.

    It’s pouring rain here—woke me up. (We’re still months from monsoon season here.)

    Wonderful… will take down the dust and cool everything off. Though all the mandalas people chalked in the street for yesterday’s Hindu New Year will be washed away. Oh well. It is the new year.

    L emailed to ask what were the other kinds of students. I don’t recall the sanskrit names for the categories, or much detail about the second category. The third category is a kind of methodologist-scientist, very focused on what works and on technological and verifiable aspects of practice that lead to a better life. The fourth category is someone full-on focused on liberation and gathering all the intelligence and energy possible to do that.

    BTW, there are a ton of confections and even chocolate cookies here made with ghee. Clearly very important they be “taken”!

    (Giant thunder rolls. So amazing. I’m up here on the second floor and it’s coming in from all sides.)

    Oh and I should clarify about the comment that all yoga can be practiced in normal consciousness. That doesn’t mean everyday discursive mind at all. Everyday discursive mind is a way of avoiding yoga, as I guess we all know. Rather, the comment just means that going in to the realm of the paranormal is not necessary for practice or for the evolution of consciousness…. I am sort of beguiled by the paranormal, despite so many warnings (inc. in the Sutras) that it is usually distracting. So that was good to hear from him.

    I will post some more little bits here later. Again, it really makes no sense to morselize his commentary, but in a way it just illuminates a landscape of practice with which we’re already becoming familiar.

  • boodiba
    Posted 27 March 2009 at 8:56 pm | #

    Oooh thank you. I remembered I have no internet at home and so couldn’t wait to look at this comment!

    One thing Mysore definitely has over Goa is the option for further metaphysical study… I’m envious!

  • Posted 27 March 2009 at 9:05 pm | #

    I think you have the makings here for a new, highly salable yoga doctrine. All you need is a catchy name. Un-power Yoga, maybe. Or Past-tense Yoga. I kinda like this latter name.

  • Posted 27 March 2009 at 9:08 pm | #

    Carl, this is just ashtanga yoga!

    Good point about Mysore. I’ve been wondering about where to go the next time I’m in this country, and the one difficult thing about Mysore is that I don’t feel connected to the land. It’s polluted and not very green. But there is still a lot about Mysore that makes it a retreat.

    One small note about the student typology. It’s not determinist. All this information—and yoga is definitely full of categories and lists, as is Buddhist praxis—is contained within an evolutionary philosophy. So you aren’t essentially one kind of student or another. You just reside in that place for a while… or forever if you choose not to grow.

    Ok, rain is easing up. I’m going to try to sleep!

  • Posted 27 March 2009 at 11:48 pm | #

    oh, that’s how I took “normal consciousness”… even though I’d love to have some paranormal in my life! I read about people (and you’re one of them, my dear) who have these wonderful, deep, mind sensations- don’t know how else to put it- where you’re obviously experiencing something on a different level than I am. I just figured I was doomed to never really get yoga since I don’t see auras or have visions! (cuz I know you’re seeing visions, Owl! hoot!)

  • Posted 28 March 2009 at 2:06 am | #

    Oh, I love this. 40 minute practice, relaxation, dietary fat. It sounds idyllic.

    I need to really think about this.

  • Posted 28 March 2009 at 2:32 am | #

    I have been so humbled and excited this week to realize that I really do not know how to relax my own body on a deep level.

    This is a new practice. I have all the tools, not only thousands of past savasanas, but also vipassana body-sweeping techniques, yoga nidra CDs, and all the little ashtanga tweaks that have made me more intimate with my body and the energy and muscles it contains.

    Time to just lie down for an hour at a time and explore it.

    Also, another reason it’s so nice to be here: you can not only explore metaphysical and mystical realms no end in classes and meetings, but there is so much excellent, terribly inexpensive bodywork.

    It is really easy and inspiring to be here.

  • Posted 28 March 2009 at 3:17 am | #

    Gah! I’m afraid to actually examine how not-relaxed my body is.

    What a great adventure, though. And I have to laugh at all the tools for relaxation.

    Did he offer any suggestions for savasana — specifically, how long to spend in savasana? And any comments on possible relationships between TM and savasana? Same same but different?

  • Posted 28 March 2009 at 11:59 am | #

    Sorry… didn’t get comments on technical aspects of savasana. Guess I’ll have to come back for it as he’s taking the next few weeks away from teaching in preparation for a lengthy teaching tour in Europe.

    For what it’s worth, I’m taking the usual post-led shala dismissal—“Go home take rest” as a technical instruction! Lots of people around here do. Only in Mysore…

  • Posted 28 March 2009 at 2:43 pm | #

    I can’t leave this alone! The first thing I thought as I woke up this morning was “What about strength?” Long practices, as I understand it, are designed to build strength. Then there’s the cleansing of the nervous system.

    Have I misunderstood what this “strength” is supposed to be about? Is it the same or different from exercise-strength?

  • Posted 29 March 2009 at 12:31 pm | #

    hi (0v0)
    good point that HVAC facilitates cave dwelling.
    hugs
    Arturo

  • Posted 29 March 2009 at 1:57 pm | #

    40 minutes of asana, deep conscious relaxation and lots of dietary fat? OMG he’s talking about MY practice! 🙂

  • Posted 29 March 2009 at 2:28 pm | #

    🙂 Nice. True!

    And then again in the big picture, not true.

    He is clear that eating junk prevents nervous system purification (i.e., yoga) from happening.

    In the US, I see many practitioners whose strong (potentially transformative) will is set against using tapas to overcome food addictions. Kind of a mixture of clinging and false entitlement.

    And then there are some (like myself until pretty recently) whose will isn’t strong enough to overcome old “samskaras.” Though with practice the fire becomes strong enough for that.

  • Posted 31 March 2009 at 8:13 am | #

    Owl, do you know where he’s going to be speaking in Europe? Maybe there’s something on his website.

  • Posted 31 March 2009 at 8:17 am | #

    That link’s to a shala in Copenhagen; I’ll try to find his other dates/locations.

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