Trinities • 14 August 2009

I am discovering the most beautiful coincidence.

Breath-Bandha-Drste = Talk-Feel-Image

Two systems, Vipassana and Ashtanga, mapping each other one to one. I didn’t plan this—my own designs are not so elegant.

When the pairs integrate, what I have is three streams of being—Talk, Feel, Image—and three perfectly-fit drainpipes for diverting or even shutting down those streams at will.

Breath covers talk… as bandha covers feel… as driste covers image.

Breath-Bandha-Drste is the holy trinity of the ashtanga practice—the places you lodge the attention so it doesn’t spin off in to something stupid. Breath is what is is; bandha is the deepest movements of the inner body–pelvic floor lightly and diaphragm subtly lifting; and drste (or, if you like, driste) is the gazing point, whatever it may be for the posture.

Eureka! SKPJ's triple esoterica corresponds to Shinzen’s somewhat arbitrary triad—the three major vectors he uses to deconstruct subjectivity. I’ve talked about his model at length in the comments the past month, but here is an outline. Like any map, it is imperfect. But I’ve been rolling with it because, well, because it works and I especially love the number three.

So, say there are three kinds of experience-of-self: emotion in the body, talk around the ears, imagery projected around the head. The shorthand for it is: Feel-Image-Talk.

A sense of "me" arises when the the streams of feelings, mental talk and images come together as an apparently solid thing. For those who have not asked, like William James, “What are the elements of me?” this clog of inner experience appears to be solid much of the time.

Go through life experiencing your self like this—as a pulsing undifferentiated goop of 1) emotions and 2) visualizations and 3) mind chatter—and thus be enslaved as their multiplicative product. For example, mind chatter ramps up emotion, which is in turn exploded by visual fantasy. And so on. But! Part the streams—perceive how the three move together and apart and only flash alive in the briefest moments—and find some home in the chilled-out space between them. Emotion minus image is just body sensation. Talk minus emotion is just words passing. Image minus talk is an artful silent film. Living with space—living spaciously—is still a life. It’s just a life easier to understand, control (no joke), love and enjoy. This is Shinzen's model.

So anyway, I roll out of bed every morning with little use for all this epistemology-ontology Vipassana stuff. Breath-bandha-driste, that’s it. It’s habituated and it’s all I need. And now I’m realizing that all along I’ve been using this system to stem the triple tide of subjectivity. It is a fairly elaborate little tool for keeping quiet: like a Swiss army knife with not only a blade, but a corkscrew and a pick.

In the mornings, what fires up first is the talk-stream. I wake at 4:30 ready to write a thousand words; and the practice is to put that on pause for another four hours. The key for me always is to listen in to the breath and follow it like a passionate devotee. But of course It covers my otherwise dominant auditory thought-stream. If the object in “talk space” is the sound of my breath, the sound of my thoughts fades to the background and increasingly—with time—goes blank.

Image and Feel spaces work the same way. If something triggers a fantasy of any kind, taking the driste from peripheral to harder focus usually makes its imagery fade if not give up and die. It’s so obvious, but I am only now learning to watch that happen. Just try to conduct a good fantasy while you’re devoting your attention to the tip of the nose.

Same for being caught up in emotion. My emotions travel around my chest, belly and jaw. But in the midst of some drama, if I just place the best of my loving attention, I stop being so convinced that those feelings are “me.” If experience is what matters, well, the pelvic floor is equally me; and so is the gazing point; and so is the breath.

The key is this. Breath-bandha-driste are relatively neutral, objective streams of experience. I can hear, physically feel, and actually see them. They are, in a sense, manifestly “not me.” But mental chatter, emotions and imaginings—they are made of unalloyed mindstuff. They feel like my special little creations and are easier to mistake for “me.” As such, they are far more highly charged. Much more likely to high-jack the attention and take it for a ride.

Just compare the energetic charges. Which one of each pair is more radioactive? Breath/Talk, Bandha/Emotion, Driste/Imaginings.

The so-called “tristana” is chill, while its rambunctious twin the subjective triad is anything but.

This ashtanga practice is complex, as humans are complex. This practice doesn’t just throw you a blank wall and ask you to focus on the void, or give you a single mantra and let you dissolve everything in to that. Rather, it provides its bizarre breath-bandha-driste trinity.

It is built for flexibility and the flow of several single points. It is prone to insight. It has the power to create space.

For a long time I thought that this bewildering instruction to focus on many things was too much to ask. But suddenly, knowing myself better, I find that it is and always has been so much to offer.

God it’s a beautiful system. 


  • Posted 14 August 2009 at 2:29 pm | #

    This is super juicy. Thanks for the ride!

  • catygay
    Posted 14 August 2009 at 4:10 pm | #

    Oh you’ve no idea how often I wrangled this around with KPJ bfore he was down with the S. ‘Ok’, quoth I, ‘Tristana interfaces West and East, will broil ‘em up from De La Salle to De la Soul, and offers the possibilty of some sort of ooh ooh ooh Mr. Beasley! flight from the flared paisley nightmares from which they’ll need to awaken come the 1980’s but, you know, why not give’em the heads up in ‘Yoga Mala II: The Triple Cones of Dhamma Kulfi’? Won’t this be a better three-way split of the S. asian traditions that’ll set ‘em up nicely for the kind of grihasta groundedness that you’re aiming at with this system (Vamana’s shastris notwithstanding)?’

    ‘Oh no, dear boy’ he replied in that lovely Karnatakan Noel Coward kind of way. ‘You’ve actually no idea, my little nascent divinity, how much Nath and neighbourhood nonsense that sort of overtly Krishnamacharyan concilliation will cause. Dear me! You as niave as you are handsome, my boy. It has to be gnomic in nature – that’s what they’ll want. And, if you would, consider the ladling out of Laxmi’s broth to our teachers and proselytisers. Authorise a man and he’ll eat for a month (per workshop), Certify him, and he’ll feed happily for this incarnation at the very least! And think of it as a lozenge to soothe the complex, analytical functionaries who’ve stoked their cognitive fires up on all sorts of other socially integrative nonsense.’

    I have to admit that I was rather awestruck by this rationale. Beautiful, simple, forward thinking and so very generous to our Buddhist bretheren. I could have slurped it down right then and there with my snake-gourd smoothie. Yum.

  • Posted 14 August 2009 at 5:22 pm | #

    Puhlease! My sweet, it’s not as if you Deccan males are any less obsessed with the number three than the rest of us. Siva-Brahma-Visnu; three crosses on the hill; and there you are just wishing there were two of me. ‘S all the same.

    Just last night I was up til 1:30 celebrating Krsna’s birthday at the local temple. No kidding! At the midnight climax they opened the inner doors to reveal three Krsnas inside festooned in flowers and jewels. And attending them, three holy saddhus with three peacock feather fans and three holy water spray bottles and three conch shells to blow while we all sang Hare Hare Hare, Rama Rama Rama. And we tripped back out in to the night with all three eyes open and ate dosas, rice and dal.

    Listen, oh very young, I understand your plight. Breathing you understand; “just looking” you can do. But your forbidden third rail, the one with the real charge to make the train take off: you’re still looking for it. Fascinating! Even with your perfect abs and smooth Indian visage, it doesn’t come naturally. Ramesh Baleskar looks to’ve been born with his mula banda lit right up, but perhaps he was just as mortal as you. Keep at it. I’d offer you a workshop, since MS and RF are so loopy and mystical-schmistical in this regard. But I’m not Certified, so what can I say? Well it’s easy: you just squeeze.

  • Posted 15 August 2009 at 8:58 pm | #
  • Posted 16 August 2009 at 12:58 pm | #

    The “happiness” commentary is not terribly deep but it touches on all of the essentials (as I see them) from “Horatio Algerism” to cultural difference (Danes vs. Americans), etc. Keeps it complicated, while also talking about sellability, publicity, which/whose lingo, science, New Age, etc.

  • Posted 16 August 2009 at 8:14 pm | #

    Much of what I encounter of the “positive psychology” lit is ridiculous Horatio Algerism. Good term. It pains me that, on campus, facile, narcissistic “Psychology of Happiness” classes are all the rage while the old philosophical question—What is a good life?—is rarely asked.

    However, this stuff on flow states which is also part of the Positive Psych lit… this is super interesting. The question its asks is what mental states yield enduring happiness; and the findings sound a lot like esoteric discussions of the jnanas.

  • YogaPickie
    Posted 16 August 2009 at 9:30 pm | #

    We were dumb enough to have the Jnanas out at our Westchester place last year and oh, you’ve no idea how tedious we found their pseudo-intellectual ‘esoteric’ discussions. I mean, just because an argument is awkward and convoluted that doesn’t make interesting, right? Or clever…In fact, if I don’t follow it, then it’s bound to be dumb! To me, it’s clear. Do what feels good: that is ‘the Good’; say what you want: that is ‘the True’; buy nice things at the boutique: that is ‘the beautiful’. That’s the ‘happy psche’ that one can get WITHOUT fancy insurance or a ‘Great Books of the West’ elective (gotta have ‘em on the den shelves, though). Took me many years to work that out but hey, better late than Linda!

    Sorry, yes, trinities. It’s cool the way things come in threes. I like to arrange my towels that way in the guest bathroom: body – hand – face. They set the Carrera surface off so well like that. Sometimes I pile them atop each other, like little Mexican tetrahedrons, but that’s just a little hierarchical for my liberal outlook, so I tend to put them back the way they were.

  • Posted 17 August 2009 at 1:50 am | #

    Yes, those Jnanas are terribly self-absorbed…

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