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Religiousness in Yoga Part 3: Avidyā, Dhyāna, Svatantra, Pratikpaksa, Duḥkha, Guṇa, Prajñā, Kaivalya

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Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

1: Avidyā

” … We never know when a particular form of avidyā might arise. It is like planting seeds. The moment they get water, fertilizer and air, they sprout … We should never relax when we appear to have no avidyā … Therefore, we emphasize that this movement towards understanding, this practice, which we call Yoga, must go on and on until avidyā is reduced to a minimum. A few days of āsana practice and self-inquiry might help for a short period of time, but it will never help forever. Practice is cumulative and gradual … We can be better than yesterday, but we can be worse tomorrow …

Avidyā relates to action … depending on the power or potency of avidyā, our actions will have positive or negative effects … Action is understood to be of two types. One type is action that reduces avidyā and brings understanding from the puruṣa, and therefore true understanding. The other type is action that increases avidyā … Everything we do in Yoga … aims at reducing avidyā.

2: Dhyāna

… One way we could prevent negative actions, actions we might regret, is called dhyāna. In this context the word dhyāna means to reflect. This reflection may occur when we plan a course of action, and then imagine its exact opposite … and its ramifications. Then we come back to our original plan to see how certain we are … It affords us the occasion to examine our actions from a distance.

3: Svatantra

… Yoga makes us svatantra. Sva means “self.” Tantra means “technique.” We use our own system, our own methods … While consultation and guidance is a help, there is no doubt that finally we are the best of our own actions.

4: Pratikpaksa

Pratipakṣa is removing ourselves from the situation by doing something completely different … Take the problem of my coming to Hamilton, New York. It was a big decision … At such a moment and after much thought it is better not to discuss Hamilton versus Madras. I went to a concert instead. Here there was no conflict. In this environment I made a decision to go to Hamilton … subconsciously my mind is working without external pressure … the time we get in dhyāna is extremely important in that we can reflect and through this reflection gain quality of action.

5: Duḥkha

Duḥkha is a disturbance of the mind. While sometimes the words sorrow, misery and disease are used to define duḥkha, it is best identified as a feeling of restriction … When we feel we have a lot of space, have a sense of comfort and openness, that is the opposite, sukha

What is the relationship between duḥkha and avidyā? Any action resulting from avidyā always leads us to one or another form of duḥkhaDuḥkha can express itself in different forms. We never know how it might express itself. Sometimes we feel choked, sometimes it is mental.

Duḥkha comes about in a vicious circle. When we see something that we want and are able to get it, there is no duḥkha. If we are unable to get it, this is the beginning of duḥkha. Very often people have this type of duḥkha even when they are trying to improve their lives. They become so thirsty for understanding that they are unable to get understanding as quickly as they desire … This form of duḥkha in which we see something we want but are unable to have it is called pariṇāmaduḥkha … There is also tāpaduḥkha … I am used to Indian dishes at they are cooked in Madras. Though the same dishes can be prepared by wonderful cooks here, they are not as good as those prepared by my mother. So I am sitting here thinking … how I wish I had some of her Iddli … tāpa is like thirst. Another form … is saṃskāraduḥkha … We are conditioned to certain habits and when these habits are disturbed, we feel uneasy. This form of duḥkha comes from our own actions. Our actions have put us into grooves that make us happy and comfortable. Some of our grooves we know are not right, yet the process of coming out of these grooves is also duḥkha. That is why it is sometimes difficult to stop a particular action we recognize as bad.

6: Guṇa

The mind has three qualities or guṇas. They are tamas, rajas, and sattva. Tamas is heaviness. We feel dull. We want to do something but we put it off … this will produce conflict and duḥkha … It is time to go to bed and rest, and yet the mind says let us go out … This quality of the mind wants to move, wants to dance. It is called rajas and also produces duḥkha. The third quality of the mind is really the absence of these two. The mind is truly clear. This is called sattva and obviously it does not produce duḥkha.

7: Prajñā

In Yoga one of the first levels of prajñā, wisdom, is the awareness and understanding that we are disturbed … The first clarity in life is to see that we have duḥkha and then to do something about it …

Duḥkha does not mean pain … There might be no physical pain and still be great duḥkha … there are often small things buried within us that constantly bother us … That is duḥkha. It is a disturbance deep within us … While duḥkha might have physical results, it is primarily mental … we don’t need to bring it out because it will show itself naturally.

8: Kaivalya

… If we thought something was not changing and we established our lives on that basis and then gradually recognized that things were changing, we might have duḥkha. The opposite might also be the case. If we felt that everything was constantly changing, and therefore, we did nothing to establish anything in our lives, this might produce duḥkha … Nothing is constant, but all things are reality … There is a human state called kaivalya. That is, a person is free. When a person is free, it mans that things outside of himself are not as disturbing as they were in the past … A little flexibility always reduces duḥkha.

… The differing interpretations of Yoga found in so many recent books, and the great exposure we have to so many ideas, makes it even more important for us to know how to investigate ourselves in everything we do … This is why we must investigate where we are – whether it is for āsana, breathing or the study of the whole concept of Yoga. Otherwise there will be more duḥkha.

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