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Religiousness in Yoga Part1: Yoga, Avidyā, Pariṇāma, Puruṣa, Sādhana

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Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

1: Yoga

Yoga is one of the six principle systems of Indian thinking known as darśana. The word darśana is derived from the Sanskrit root drś, meaning “to see.” Fundamentally darśana means “view” or “a particular way of viewing.” It also has a further meaning which suggests … a mirror in which we might see ourselves. Yoga, as one of the six darśana has its source in the Vedas. The word veda comes from the Sanskrit root vid, “to know.” It means “that which tells us everything we would like to know.” … Yoga was formalized by Patañjali, one of the great Indian sages. His classic text is the Yoga Sūtra.

What is Yoga? … The Word “yoga” is also a Sanskrit word derived from the root yuj … “to bring two things together” … “to converge the movement of the mind” …

Another meaning … “to reach a point we have not reached before.” If there is something that is impossible for us to do today and we find a means by which it becomes possible, that movement is Yoga …

Yoga also means “to act in particular way with all of our attention focused upon that action …

The advantage of attention to action is that we act better, and at the same time we are conscious of our actions … If there is attention to our actions, there is always a chance for us to reassess them and especially to avoid mindless repetition.

Yet another classic definition of Yoga is “to be one with the Lord.” No matter what name we use … any movement that makes us understand something higher than ourselves is also Yoga …

… the practice of Yoga calls for direction … to watch cautiously the direction of each step we take in order that we know exactly how and where we are going. These cautious observations will lead to discovery …

How we begin [to practice Yoga] depends upon our individual interests. There are many ways to practice Yoga. Gradually, the practice of one technique will lead to others. We might begin by studying the Yoga Sūtra, or we might begin with prayer. We might begin with āsana … We might begin with breath … We begin where we are, as we are, and what happens, happens.

… When we begin the study of Yoga … we are dealing with but one technique … As we progress, we notice that we are whole beings consisting of body, breath, mind and more … as complete human beings, we must gradually look at all aspects of ourselves.

2: Avidyā

Avidyā means literally “knowledge other than right knowledge.” Avidyā is a false state of understanding. We think we are right and we act accordingly but eventually we find ourselves on the wrong track. Equally troublesome, we may have an understanding that we think is wrong which in fact is not. Therefore, we don’t act when we should …

Avidyā is the accumulation of … many thoughtless actions that we have repeated mechanically, almost blindly, over the years. Our minds become so conditioned that we accept yesterday’s actions at today’s norms. Such conditioning is called saṃskāra. Because of this conditioning our minds become covered, as it were, with a film of avidyā.

Avidyā often does not express itself as avidyā. If we know that we don’t understand and we are sure of that, we will nto act and if we know that we understand, we will act and will be right. This action is based upon a deep level of perception. Quite the opposite, avidyā expresses itself through superficial perception that says, “I think I know then I act, and find out later that I didn’t know.” … Therefore, we have two levels of perception. One is deep within us and is free of the film of avidyā. The other is superficial and is covered with avidyā.

… we will know it through its four children. First is asmitā. It is the “I-thing” which is always pushing us … Second is rāga which is attachment or desire. We want something today because it was pleasurable yesterday, not because we need it … Third is dveṣa [aversion] … If we don’t get what we want we tend to hate it or we have a bad experience and we don’t want it to happen again. Finally there is abhiniveśa, which is the source of fear … we feel insecure when the continuity of our way of life is disturbed … these four children, separately or in combination, make it difficult for us to see clearly.

… What Yoga does is to reduce the action of avidyā, in order that true understanding prevails.

… The reduction of avidyā is seen through the reduction of its effects … We notice avidyā by its absence, not by its presence. When we recognize previous troubles we know that avidyā has been present.

When we know we are right, there is deep within us a feeling of quietness; no tension, no disturbances, no excitement. When I speak slowly, deliberately, I know there is a source of quietness and there is vidyā in me However, when I am not sure of what I am saying, I tend to speak quickly, I use unnecessary words, and I break my sentences.

3: Pariṇāma

… According to Yoga everything we see, experience and feel is not an illusion but true and real. This is called satvāda. Everything, including avidyā, dreams, and even fancy and imagination, is real; however all these things are constantly in a state of flux. This concept of change is called pariṇāmavāda … In Yoga although everything we see and experience is true and real, changed to occur either in character or in content … Whether things get better or worse is to quite an extent in our hands. That is why the practice of Yoga, called sādhana, is suggested. Sādhana is the means by which we reach a previously unattainable point.

4: Puruṣa

However, there is in the concept in Yoga something deep within each of us that is real and not subject to change. We call it draṣṭṛ or puruṣa. It is what sees and can see correctly. The practice of Yoga is to let this happen. As long as the mind is covered by avidyā, our observations are clouded … true understanding which occurs as the result of reduction of avidyā generally does not happen spontaneously. This complex of body and mind has become accustomed to particular patterns that tend to change very gradually. In any case, change from confusion to clarity should be gradual in order to avoid shock.

… the word puruṣa means “the person who resides in the city.” … What is the nature of this town? It consists of the body, the mind, the senses, our culture, customs and even avidyā.

… the purpose of avidyā. We have avidyā and when we recognize that, directly or indirectly, we realize we must do something about it. While our first step, namely “I want to be better” may be rooted in asmitā ,,, it is the right step because it is the first rung on the Yoga ladder …

5: Sādhana

Again, I refer to Patañjali‘s Yoga Sūtra. Three things are suggested by which we can begin to explore the meaning of yoga and therefore feel avidyā. First is tapas. Tapas comes from the root word tap, “to heat, to cleanse.” … what is meant here is the practice of āsana and prāṇāyāma. Apart from other benefits, these practices aid us in the removal of impurities from our system …

The next means by which we can explore Yoga is svādhyāya, the study of ourselves. Where are we? What are we? What is our relationship to the world? …

The third means of exploration as suggested in the Yoga Sūtra is īśvarapraṇidhāna. It is usually defined as “love of god” but it also means “quality of action.” … We must also carry out our jobs, go to college … All of these actions must be done with a high degree of quality. Since we can never be certain of the fruits of our labors, it is better to remain slightly detached from them and pay more attention to the actions themselves.

… These are the three specific practices that are recommended to reduce avidyā. Taken together, these practices are known as kriyāyoga, the yoga of action … While only part of Yoga, kriyāyoga is the practical aspect of Yoga which can initiate a change for the better in the quality of our lives.

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