“You see all of us go through the same doubts. We are afraid of being mad; unfortunately for us, of course, all of us are already mad.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

What is the Essence of Buddhism?

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At the High Seat, a monk asked: “What is the essence of Buddhism?”

The master raised his fly-whisk
The monk gave a Katsu.
The master hit him.

Again, a monk asked: “What is the essence of Buddhism?”

The master raised his fly-whisk again.
The monk gave a Katsu.
The master also gave a Katsu.
The monk hesitated.
The master hit him.

The master then said: “Monks, some do not shirk losing body and life for the Dharma. As for me, I spent twenty years with my late master Obaku. Three times I asked him on the essence of Buddhism, and three times he kindly beat me. It was as if he had caressed me with a branch of fragrant sage. Now I feel like tasting a sound beating again; who can give it to me?”

A monk stepped forward and said, “I can.”
The master took up his stick and handed it to him.
The monk hesitated to take hold of it.
Then the master hit him.

taken from (attention: link leads to a large PDF file)  The Teachings of Rinzai

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Yoga: Gross to Subtle

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My recent visit with Vedic Philosophy continues to resonate with me – leading to ideas meeting and interconnecting. Today I am trying to assimilate some thoughts around the subtle elements of ether, air, fire, water & earth as an overview map for the tools of Yoga.

The subtle elements are presented in Vedic Philosophy as a hierarchy in which each element has one quality that is unique to it (which separates it from the other elements) and additional qualities it inherits from the more subtle elements that come before it.

element_hierarchy01For example – ether is a subtle element that has a unique quality of sound. Air is a subtle quality that inherits the quality of sound from ether & has a unique quality of touch. Earth is a subtle element that inherits the qualities of sound, touch, form and flavor, and has a unique quality of odor.

Though all five elements are referred to as “subtle elements” – there is actually a refined order of gross to subtle within them. Ether being the more subtle “subtle element” and earth being the most gross “subtle element”.

Asana, Pranayama & Meditation

The structure of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (a primary text about Hatha Yoga) delineates an overview structure of practice:

  • The 1st chapter is about generating and stimulating Prana using Asana (physical practices)
  • The 2nd chapter is about containing the Prana that has been stimulated using Pranayama
  • The 4th chapter is about Samadhi – a Meditative state.

element_hierarchy02

When applied to the map of elements we see that the tools are arranged from gross to subtle – fire, air and then ether. Asana is a gross form of practice compared to Pranayama, and Pranayama is a gross form of practice compared to Meditation.

Kriya

Kriyas are cleansing practices and they are described in the 2nd chapter of the HYP (slokas 21 – 38). There are 6 practices introduced in the following order:

  1. Dhauti – swallowing a wet cloth and pulling it out
  2. Vasti – which is basically an enema
  3. Neti – passing a thread through the nasal passages
  4. Trataka – intense gazing
  5. Nauli – revolving the stomach muscles.
  6. Kapalabhati – a forceful breathing practice.

The order in which the Kriyas are introduced is aligned with the overall strategy of practice – from gross to subtle. The first 3 (Dhauti, Vasti & Neti) are water practices, the next 2 are fire (Trataka & Nauli) practices and the last one (Kapalabhati – which some consider a Pranayama) is an air practice. Therefore Kriya’s are practices that cross over from water to fire.

element_hierarchy03

Mudra & Bandhas

The 3rd chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is dedicated to Mudras & Bandhas. These are various techniques that can be thought of as locks – their purpose is to internally direct Prana that has been aroused through Asana and contained through Pranayama.

element_hierarchy04

Chanting

Chanting is a special tool that is often overlooked in Yoga practices and also can be difficult to introduce in the West (people are generally very self-conscious about using their voice). It is said, and I have experienced, chanting to be a “magical shortcut” that leads directly into meditation.

Chanting is an art of it’s own and deserves specialized teaching and practices. It is fairly intuitive to associate Chanting with air, though anyone who has practiced it will recognize that it is also a practice of fire – it requires a steady stamina.

Chanting can be useful in teaching people to breathe – particularly to lengthen the exhale. People can feel lost when they are asked to extend their exhale, but ask them to make a continuous sound – and voila – the exhale lengthens.

Chanting can also be used together with Asana to bring the breath into consciousness. By creating sounds during exhales both the practitioner and teachers can better observe the quality of the breath. If the breath is even slightly unsteady – it will immediately effect the quality of sound. Sound paints the breath, bringing it closer to consciousness and to a refined physical practice.

element_hierarchy05

A Practice Session

A Yoga practice session can be a conscious practice of these qualities. The HYP can be applied to the construct of a single practice session:

  1. Asana
  2. Pranayama
  3. Meditation

A path from gross to subtle can be experienced as a change over years of practice, in a single practice session, in a single asana and in a single breath. We are always on this path and it is useful to recognize and embrace both qualities. Gross is a starting point, pretending otherwise denies the present and weakens the foundations upon which we stand. Subtle is an elusive end, we work towards it and never reach it, it is a reference point for the gross. Hopefully subtle qualities of today’s practice will become tomorrow gross starting point – as we travel onward constantly improving and refining.

Posted in Models & Metaphors, Yoga, Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Sutra, Yoga Texts | You are welcome to read 4 comments and to add yours

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-09-27

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  • all that #yoga and #meditation and I end up kissing her on the cheek: http://twurl.cc/1m9h #
  • Prana (=energy in #Yoga) what is it, where does it come from, what does it do? http://twurl.nl/ar7uwi #
  • when your tears have dried, you will arrive at your heart to find either the love you planted or the hate that consumed you #
  • in case u r following the #pranayama technique series – I've added Pratiloma Ujjayi http://twurl.nl/h31obq , tomorrow Nadi Sodhana #
  • in the C's, ripping Harry Connick Jr. & listening to Phil Collins… #
  • up next Elvis Costello… #
  • @CambridgeYoga hello :) so great to find another student of Paul on here :) #
  • @CambridgeYoga I studied/study with Paul in Israel, different format then UK, completed 3rd year therapy training last year in reply to CambridgeYoga #
  • collected words to describe my experience of Leonard Cohen's concert in Israel: http://twurl.nl/0qsuce #
  • @maiki that scenario is probably too close to what twitter considers a future business model :) when you get sticky it gets tricky! in reply to maiki #
  • I would love to have an RSS reader built into my WordPress Admin: http://twurl.nl/8fbczj #
  • RT @raymondpirouz: http://bit.ly/2V0PtH Twitter Funding Round Is Said to Value Company at $1 Billion,lol, based on..oh, wait..pretty bubble! #
  • just saw Titanic for the first time, respect or what… #

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