Embodied knowledge • 3 February 2010

Narasimhan was a delight today, commenting on Sutras 42 and 43 of the first pada (this Sanskrit business is great for my foot fetish, incidentally). Since reading Daniel Ingram and later picking up on the whole Wilberhead/Integral discussion of states and stages of being, I have become kind of sucker for maps of the refinement of consciousness. It’s really obnoxious, but fascinating. 

I have kind of rolled my eyes at the Sutras’ map of consciousness, because there’s just not much there compared to later and more articulated traditions—traditions which speak to more complex modern beings who possess, I want to believe, a greater capacity for rapid refinement and growth.

But… then Narasimhan brought it to life today. He didn’t do what I, dumbass, would do: create a giant grid comparing vitarka, vikalpa, savitarka and savikalpa to other descriptions within the samatha/vipassana model and whateverthehell else I could root up. No… he talked from informed experience. Like this:

At first, the mind believes itself to be stable. It sees the world outside as chaos, and tries to defend itself against the chaos. The boundary between self and world is strong.

Then, once one begins to practice yoga, there’s a recognition of the inner chaos. The world itself appears to be relatively stable—what varies are the inner reactions to the world.

Then, one learns to hold the mind itself stable. That stability becomes a fulcrum for investigating the fluctuations that continue—taking the mental changes as objects to be investigated.

After that, he got necessarily vague and mystical, talking about the re-dissolution of the boundary of self-against-the-chaos. I appreciated that part less well, given my own lack of refinement.

It’s amazing to learn Patanjali from a mystic. So much for my idea that this version of classical yoga offers a merely mechanical philosophy of mind. And so much for my depending on books to learn a  living philosophy, to be honest. It really helps me to get in the presence of people who travel the dharana-dhyana-samadi street regularly and understand their experience as such.

I guess Narasimhan and Jayashree, and Sharah for that matter, have seen a lot of us logocentric, sort of uptight westerners pass briefly through their spaces. We think we can learn yoga from books; and we are mistaken. This compulsion around book-learning and “Do it self” (my first spoken sentence, as a little one) must be the background agaist which Sharath says, again and again: Spend as much time with your teacher as you can. You have to learn through experience (implicitly, your own and that of your teachers’ teachers’ teacher…).

Monday Jayashree did a miniature head-wobble and gave a huge smile. ("She's just a bucket of love," said J, my first yoga teacher, who taught that Friday night class years ago at UCLA and who's here now, coming along to Sutra class at my urging.)

Jayashree said: You don’t have to always follow along in the book… we have a sense that if there is a text we can be in control. (And Narasimhan, beside her, echoed about the false sense of control in book learning).

Then, together, they said: YOU HAVE TO LET GO OF THE TEXT.

And she, again and again, repeats: Listening is learning. Listening is learning. Listening is learning.

Learn to depend on me for the words. Watch me chanting and imitate me.

Still I cling to the text, and am learning the Devangari script so I can read the Sanskrit rather than the English pages (weren’t you guys supposed to support my in resisting that project??? So ridiculous!) Here’s what Jayashree has written on the back cover of the book:

Srutiparampara dates back to Vedic period and has a tradition of approximately 5000 years. It evolved as the best means of preserving and transferring knowledge acquried by Sages and Scholars. Sruti means listening and Smrti means memorizing. The Guru (Teacher) used to recite and the Sisya (Student) used to listen, repeat twice or thrice and then store it in his memory. Then propagate the so acquired knowledge from Guru to Sisya through generations. Even today the Sastras, Music and the fine arts are taught in a traditional environment in the above system. 

The knowledge is embodied.


No wonder Yoga Mala is so thin.