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.


  • Posted 3 February 2010 at 12:48 pm | #

    “No wonder Yoga Mala is so thin.”


  • Posted 3 February 2010 at 3:42 pm | #


  • rick
    Posted 3 February 2010 at 5:43 pm | #

    Such visceral prose. Narsimhan and Jayashri seem so alive.

  • Posted 3 February 2010 at 8:10 pm | #

    Portside, I like your style. 🙂

  • e&sj
    Posted 3 February 2010 at 8:17 pm | #

    I would submit that the students of prior eras had a lot less printed logos to deal with, unlike today where we are inundated with words almost everywhere we look. I love trying to memorize vocalizations but I humbly admit I am not there yet – I really suck at it! I can’t seem to do it without print. Perhaps an adaptation to our printed world. That being said I love reading the ancient texts and commentaries. I hope that it is tantamount to counter-programming and that it pushes out a lot of those consumerist words that I am constantly bombarded with.

  • susananda
    Posted 4 February 2010 at 12:09 am | #

    Indeed, no wonder YM is so thin!

    How lovely that your first teacher is there with you. And how lovely that your first sentence was ‘do it self’! I love that!!

    Daniel Ingram has been rocking my world these last few weeks. THANK YOU Karen. I had trouble printing it at first and lost the thread, but a couple of weeks ago I tried again and now I’m on the second reading, and more importantly, HE HAS INSPIRED ME TO ACTUALLY PRACTISE! He’s made me believe it’s actually possible, and given wonderfully practical methods.

    The thing about that book, well one thing about it, is the distinction he makes between concentration and insight practices, which I really needed someone to make for me. It seems like they should be concurrent practices, and not the linear path dharana-dhyana-samadhi. It makes more sense to me, since cultivating the perception of continuity and the perception of endless discrete moments seem to be opposites and both necessary?? I remember reading the book Science of Yoga by I.K.Taimni ages ago – WAY too soon – and being completely baffled… what, there is not just samadhi, but all these levels… WTF… as if I’d ever get there… Well, I’ve just dug it out again, to see how it compares to the Ingram stuff. But DI makes me laugh and draws me right in. I think it’s the best (as in, most useful to me now) book on meditation I’ve ever read. We can actually do this?? I don’t need to stop at being a compassionate contortionist? I just need to break it down a bit more? Inspiring!

  • Karen
    Posted 4 February 2010 at 1:17 am | #

    I think it’s fair to say DI values insight over concentration. “The Zen Teaching of Huang Po” (Grove Press) is a strong antidote to any hierarchy or linearity or logorrhea.

  • boodiba
    Posted 4 February 2010 at 6:36 am | #

    Maybe yoga mala had a stomach virus? No cipro in those days!

    I’m all for the spending time with one’s teacher!

    I got a book to learn devanagari, but that’s as far as I went. If I could just hold it up to my 3rd eye & ABSORB, I’d be all set….

  • Posted 4 February 2010 at 2:41 pm | #

    Hmmm… I was just going to respond here but the lights went out a moment ago (it’s a 10 minutes past dusk) and Regina just just started chanting the Gayatri mantra in the cavernous sitting room downstairs. So it’s time to go.

    Briefly, “compassionate contortionist.” Nice. Narasimhan talks about how just wanting to be a certain way is not enough to change your consciousness. Changing your consciousness takes sustained action. Takes practice.

    And… they are full of life, yes. The sit there together, all chortle and glow. Yesterday, they caught themselves bickering over some minor point, and laughed at what seems to be their old joke… “Yes, it is intellect that divides us, but our emotion is what brings us together.”

    What a pair. Now that I’ve broken down and gone in for the philology piece, it feels like the most wonderful balance. And they’re both really interested in pedagogy and love having students… and show us much more respect as practitioners and (they always point out) yoga teachers than we seem to accord ourselves. They really love having students, even if what we can do with what they give us is—it feels, in comparison to their mastery and, well, insight—so limited.

  • susananda
    Posted 4 February 2010 at 11:01 pm | #

    Owl, I must go to Mysore, and I must see these people whilst there. This year Thailand and Kino; next year preliminary Mysore trip, 3 weeks.

    Karen, agreed. The insight practice is what leads to freedom… but the morality and concentration practices are important as foundation, at least that’s what I get from him. There’s just something about how he presents them as separate but complementary practices that rang a bell for me. I’d dabbled in vipassana before, and understood the eight limbs as a progression, but not put dharana and insight side by side in this way before. And thanks for the new recommendation, I’ll definitely get to it in time.

  • Posted 5 February 2010 at 6:49 am | #

    Right on.

  • Jason
    Posted 5 February 2010 at 10:49 pm | #

    Just passing through … thought I’d add something … you familiar with Douglas Brooks?

    “The tendency to treat great souls and great works in the yoga traditions, especially works regarded as “heard” (shruti), the Veda and even Tantra, as revelatory in the sense of being immaculate containers of Truth is common, even prescribed. But as soon as we endow them with such impeccability we can no longer consider ourselves their peers but rather only their subordinate interpreters. Our project is to replicate, to re-achieve their achievements. We are not then being called upon to contribute but only to get it: you know, Harry met Sally meets enlightenment, I’ll have what she’s having …

    I am not suggesting that these are not works of genius much less that I am fully capable of comprehending their depth and power. But for Appa it was always a conversation with greatness that he sought, not some submission to those scriptures or enlightened ones who possessed or achieved what was not yet ours.”

    Enjoy the conversation you are chance enough to be having!

    What’s more, just for fun: anyone familiar with Gudo Nishijima’s take on dhyana/zazen and vipassana:

    Paraphrasing: “Samatha is the autonomic nervous-system-balancing action of Zazen, and Vipassana is the practitioner’s experience of this balance of the ANS in Zazen.”

    Fascinating stuff. Or torturous. Same thing?

    do your practice,

  • Posted 6 February 2010 at 12:39 am | #

    You can find a neti pot at the ayurvedic pharmacy behind the Kaveri Lodge, for about Rs 20. On the same trip you could check in on Boodiba – and/or lunch at Three Sisters.

  • Posted 6 February 2010 at 7:20 am | #

    Thanks for being an actual yogi, C. When you hear someone cry or even ask for help, you respond by making yourself useful. It sometimes sucks to get mixed up with someone’s self-concept around food, but if I imitate you and am kind of objective about it, I can go on a bit of a healing foods mission without it being about me. Thanks for the openness and generosity and the example.

  • Posted 6 February 2010 at 7:38 am | #

    Thanks for the references, Jason. The Brooks is a good kick; and the GN is interesting though I don’t agree with the second part of it. In my experience, vipassana isn’t always calm… and gets more chaotic, destabilizing and even harsh in the worlds of practice that Shinzen puts under the umbrella of “flow.”

    I’ve been going through some weird meditation practices the past days. I feel raw and vulnerable, though just in an existential way. Stuff that I have not encountered before and that if I didn’t have a teacher I’d interpret in what Shinzen calls the realm of magic and use to get off. Vipassana for me is: I try take whatever experience I have and instead of treating it as a thing as I do in concentration practice( on any mantra, yantra, breath, diety, most asana), I deconstruct it as just another species of mindstuff. It’s hard. A lot of times I just fall back in to shamatha. But if it is working, the more conentrated I get (usu. on retreat), the better the shit I get to pulverize. The other tendency would be to take whatever siddhi that arose and get possessive and precious about it, the same way that it’s natural to get about asana practices. But even Patanjali warns against getting caught up in supernatural stuff. That’s not vipassana, in the terms I’ve settled on to try to discuss practice; and nor would it be all that helpful for samadhi, I suppose. Haha. xoxoxo, or as they say in the meditation zone, metta.

    About what KW calls shadow-hugging (dispossessing our highest selves, in contrast to the shadow-boxing of dispossessing our worst traits)… it’s funny. After practice I make a little bow to S and S if they are not busy. She responds with a glowing grin and nod, and he places his palms together and bows right back.

  • susananda
    Posted 6 February 2010 at 12:21 pm | #

    Hey Owl, where would you recommend I start with Shinzen?

  • Posted 6 February 2010 at 12:33 pm | #

    Here, the Google Tech Talk I just posted on FB, and/or (for your commute) downloading The Science of Enlightenment on iTunes.

  • Gregor
    Posted 6 February 2010 at 1:58 pm | #

    I’m of the opinion that you will keep on trucking down the path of ‘text’ no matter what anyone says! Eventually though at some unique point in the future all these paths you are on will feel like they combine. The beautiful thing though is that you will have such a richness (not that you don’t already) that is rooted like a great hardwood, dense and yet limber timber (I couldn’t resist that). So far it seems the great task is to take yourself seriously and not to. I think you do a fine job at that.
    On the matter of clarity: maps vs. experience, you can practice that by writing from each quadrant. Integralists tend to talk from LR, and great teachers from all, but the great teachers tell stories: people, action and emotion. The UL is for our imagination, and the LR is the plot (subtext as such). It is THE great practice I am beginning to see.

  • Posted 6 February 2010 at 4:27 pm | #

    Huang Po:

    “Even if you go through all the stages of a Boddhisattva’s progress towards Buddhahood, one by one; when at last, in a single flash, you attain to full realization, you will only be realizing the Buddha-Nature which has been with you all the time; and by all the foregoing stages you will have added to it nothing at all. That is why the Tathagata said: ‘I truly attained nothing from complete, unexcelled Enlightenment.’”

  • susananda
    Posted 8 February 2010 at 7:09 am | #

    Thank you Owl..

  • Posted 8 February 2010 at 2:05 pm | #


    Hahaha, Gregor; you are so right. I will truck on with the text…

    I don’t really understand this bit about storytelling from all four perspectives, though because I’m always trying to open my analytical/perspectival mind further and further, I am intrigued. Maybe you could give an example?

    P.S. Tonight we listened to north Indian devotional music in the shala – Sharath has been all about the extra-curriculars this winter. Tabla with an electric sitar player. They were really good. I was so stoned and my MB so elecrified by the time they finished.

    Considering that music and chanting are consistently the highlight of my day here, and the lowlight of my week was listening to women obsess about third series arm balances over our shared breakfast today (recognizing that this is my problem— the juicyness/ mindlessness ratio in asana obsession seems to be nonoptimal in most cases), I’m experiencing some questions about my relationship with hatha yoga. I wonder if the really deep aspect of ashtanga for me (the reason I feel it will stick, the reason I know that this is my practice) is actually the devotional side – the love of practice as an end in itself, and the ritual around it, the energy in the community relationships and especially student-teacher relationships (Buddha, dharma, sangha). More than the sort of cleansing and contorting stuff. I wonder if there’s a way to deepen the explicit bhakti while maintaing the dedication to a strong discipline, and to do this in a way that works for westerners. Some of the people here do seem to be picking up that thread and spinning something very good with it.

  • Posted 8 February 2010 at 7:44 pm | #

    Is that a backhanded compliment? I said Great Teachers, I kinda don’t fit that category. I just wanted to play guitar in a rock band like everyone else!

    OK so I’ll try. Just for you.

    Stability > new experience > instability > practice > stability


    So a quadrant experience of these would be to look at the difficulty (new experience) from inner meaning, relationship, behaviours and systems (theories and cultural norms for example).

    Difficulties create personal inner turmoil. To overcome that situation we have to trust another (to talk to or be guided by), or we have to come into relation somehow with another that is a difficult person, we have to see the systems we are playing with and within, and we have new actions and behaviours to learn and become better at. This activity creates new learning, and the meaning changes by practice to breakthrough from turmoil to stability.

    So in integralese, its mostly systems. Its a theory of everything. Ken and Integral develop and follow the text. They live in LR for their grounding, they have to, they are LR, a system. Except that is not how we live when we are in chaos. Integral theory is to systemize the chaos (how unchaotic is a theory of everything. it professes the ultimate stability). So its good as far as it describes. But it never professes to be the experience of meaning, relationship nor action. That’s where the stories come in.

    So as an example of a practice of non-LR execution of integral would be shadow work. Its all shadow work really. The story of St George and the dragon. The symbolism is to face a fear that is greater than you have dealt with, and that doing so enables learning. Except the symbolism is not know to St George when he is facing the dragon, he neither knows the outcome, nor the symbolism of what he is doing. We can imagine what he is feeling, what the meaning of beating the dragon is about, how it will elevate him, how he will be forever changed by his victory. Yet he still faces the fear. He cannot face the dragon until he has developed his strength, his capacity to calm himself under stress. He cannot face the dragon until he figures out how to relate to it, how it moves, what motivates it, what its weakness and strength is. And so the anything can be viewed this way. Its like The Art of War: know the territory.

    For example a person who complains a lot?
    UL: what does this effect, what memories, what feelings?
    LL: how to connect, what motivates, where is there sense of meaning, love, connection
    UR: what behaviours do I not like, is there a good and bad side to the behaviour, can it be depersonalized?
    LR: what is the context, what system is to be followed, what rules are real, and what are personal.

    The more all the quadrants are exposed, the more object the subject gets. We must try not to play favourites. But for teaching a system, find the meaning, the relationship and the actions needed, the system takes time to reveal itself.

    Oh that’s a lot more than I thought! Haha!

  • Posted 9 February 2010 at 1:09 am | #

    Gregor, a compliment of presumption rather than back-handedness.

    Thank you. And the example is exactly apropo, as you know! I think I should practice this sort of holographic thing not because it organizes my thoughts (I have maybe avoided it until now because it seems to organized, a quality you explain recursively), but because it systematically brings me back to whatever I might be leaving out. Usually, probably, the LL.

    Meanwhile, what the fuck was I thinking last night? Westerners don’t want devotion and practice, they want contortion and achievement! How clueless can I get. Maybe I’m spending too much time here. 🙂

    Also, my wrist’s been sensitive and lightly swollen for a week and this morning there is a hard, slightly sore little knot right in the middle of it. The inflammation is getting lower. I’m thinking of whacking the little not really hard against the floor. Anybody tried this?

  • susananda
    Posted 9 February 2010 at 12:41 pm | #

    Er… no.
    (You’re too funny.. and you’ve probably already done it!)
    Acupuncture is the only thing that sorted out my wrists…

  • Gregor
    Posted 10 February 2010 at 10:08 pm | #

    Yup, just map the territory, as best you can. Exactly the same for me. The Integral coaching taught me that after your analysis of the four q’s, you then drop the mind, and sit with it, let it gestate, and allow it to hang around the unconscious space. Sleep on it. Follow what comes up – its more informed, more robust, more dynamic. Also you can try to look at the shadow of each Q if its really not clearing, see what comes up.

  • Posted 12 February 2010 at 11:55 am | #

    I like that, yes.

    Susan, I’m embarrassed to say that I did thwack the cyst, and it made the thing mostly disappear. But for some reason (maybe a second cyst?) a nub of it remained. It is still here, bet someone recommended I apply deep thumb pressure to massage the area three times a day. I’m doing that , and though the little nub is still in there, it’s gotten quiet and there is no pain or swelling.

Post a Comment

Your email is kept private. Required fields are marked *