“... Einstein came in and said pleasantly, 'Hello, I'm coming to your seminar. But first, where is the tea?'”
Richard Feynman

Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman

Dance

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We had just finished final preparations of this space in Barcelona for Shahar’s Tune project during March 2008. Sonia, the owner of the studio who was also a key collaborator in this project, had just brought in for Shahar the CD (the soundtrack of a wonderful movie The Life of Others) and it was playing in the background. We didn’t have a video camera so I used my cellular to capture this movie.

After this I sat down with tears in my eyes. It was a divine experience not many people will get to witness in person. I was also in pain – I remember thinking to myself “I love photography, where my heart expands and I experience joy & fulfillment”. Even though I was in Barcelona, completely immersed in creation, I was experiencing friction and difficulty – my freedom to pursue this work felt (and still feels) threatened. Over the past year I have done very little creative work. When this video was taken I wished I had a decent video camera to work with, now I am simply hoping to find a way, a space and a capacity to get back to the studio.

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Mimamsa – Right Action

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“man” = to think, consider, examine or investigate = “desire to think”. Mimamsa is divided into two systems:

  1. Purvamimamsa  (“purva” = earlier ~ the earlier part of the Vedas)  – an interpretation of the actions leading to freedom of the soul. Also called Karma Mimamsa.
  2. Uttarmimamsa (“uttara” = later ~ the later part of the Vedas)  – an interpretation of the knowledge leading to freedom of the soul. Also called Jnana Mimamsa.

The basic premise of Mimamsa is that action is the very essence of human existence. Without action knowledge is fruitless, happiness is impossible and human destiny cannot be fulfilled. The purpose of Mimamsa is to inquire into the nature of Right Action (Dharma).

All actions are said to have two effects – external and internal. The external is gross, manifest and transitory. The internal is subtle and eternal. Actions are the vehicles for planting the seeds of life to come (aside: the word seed caused me to wonder if this relates to the idea of Vasana). In this light Mimamsa examines all the actions mentioned in the Vedas and offers a general summary of rules for the interpretation of Vedic texts.

Mimamsa accepts the philosophical concept of the other systems and does not enter any philosophical analysis of the nature of Reality, Soul & Matter or their relationships to one another. The sole concern of Mimamsa is salvation, not liberation. It argues that salvation cannot be achieved by knowledge alone, for the soul must first exhaust its potentialities through action (no amount of contemplation will enable man to arrive at the ultimate goal of human destiny). All arguments are based on the premises that the soul by definition must survive this earthly manifestation.

Mimamsa has a strong effect on the daily life of Hindu’s. All rituals and ceremonies depend on it, all moral conduct is guided by it; all Hindu law is founded upon it.

Mimamsa defined Dharma  as “an object distinguished by a command”. “dhar” = to hold, maintain, preserve. When used in the metaphysical sense, it means those universal laws of Nature that sustain the operation of the universe and the manifestation of all things, that without which nothing could be. When applied to the individual, it has reference to that code of conduct that sustains the soul and enables man to fulfill his divine destiny.

All rituals and ceremonies in the Vedas are said to lead to the enlightenment of the mind and the spiritual evolution of the soul.  On the surface they appear to be fruitless injunctions; therefore Mimamsa endeavors to show how they are all based on dharma and lead to the spiritual welfare of man.

Mimamsa claims that knowledge of dharma can only be attained by Verbal Testimony (Sabda) – every word has in an inherent power to convey its eternal meaning and teaching. There are a few refutes offered to the challenges made against this claim for example:

  • Claim: the word is a product of utterance therefore not eternal. Refute: the word must have  existed previously otherwise it could not have been pronounced.
  • Claim: the word vanished after its pronounced. Refute: only the sound disappears, the word remains.
  • Claim: the word can be modified. Refute: changes of letters are not modifications, they are new words.

Mimamsa classifies the Vedas under five categories:

  1. Vidhi – Injunctions (do’s)
  2. Mantras –  Hymns – texts which help to remember the procedures of rituals.
  3. Namadheya – Names – which define matter.
  4. Nisedha – Prohibitions (dont’s) that protect a man from doing things which may be injurious or disadvantageous to him.
  5. Arthavada – Explanations – which praise Vidhi’s and blame Nisedha’s.

Mimamsa can be understood from the way it defends objections that are raised against Vedic mantras. For example:

  1. Objection: Vedic mantras do not convey meanings because they stand in need of other passages to explain and support them. Defense: All Vedic words have significance just as they do in ordinary language.
  2. Objection: Vedic mantras are held useless because they describe what does not exist. For example “It has four horns, it has three feet, two heads, it has seven hands; the bull being tied threefold, cries: the great god entered amongst the mortals”. Defense: this is figurative speech that use symbols.
  3. Objection: Vedic mantras are held to be useless because they are learned without understanding their meaning. Defense: this is no fault of the Veda which deals only with the performance of sacrifices. It is assumed that meaning will be learned.
  4. Objection: Vedic mantras are held to be useless because there are many mantras the meaning of which cannot be known. Defense: every mantra has a meaning. Our ignorance is due to careless and indolence.

(Further details are provided on the Mimamsa approach to the Vedas – I chose to stop at this point).

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Sense of Space

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A special TED talk. I felt Olafur hooked into and transmitting wonder, so wonderful that my mind couldn’t quite follow it. Enjoy 🙂

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Yoga for Depression – Taking a 1st Step

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In a Yoga-perspective depression can be viewed as a manifestation of Tamas Guna. Tamas is an inhibiting and tricky force, it is hidden, you can’t experience it directly. It’s kind of like a black hole that swallows everything – you know it’s there because of the absence of other things. Depression is also it’s own “survival” mechanism – by preventing you from doing anything at all it also guarantees that you won’t do anything to alleviate it’s affects on you. It is very effective in keeping you down. So what can you do to work with depression? Apparently very little – which is a great place to start.

With that in mind here is a very simple practice you can do lying down in bed, on a carpet or if you’d like  – on a yoga mat. Yes, this means that you don’t even need to get out of bed to do  this practice.

A recurring pattern in the practice will be your breath – and for that I would suggest focusing on two things: try lengthening your breath and try introducing a short break (1 or 2 seconds) after every inhale (holding the air in). Using this pattern of breathing – count 6 breaths in every step of the following practice. The practice is incremental – so each step is a slight modification of the previous step – so it should be very easy to follow.

  1. Place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest – feel your breath moving your body. Count 6 breaths.
  2. Bend your knees and place both feet on the bed (or floor) – leave the hands as before. Count 6 breaths. supine_feetstand_hands
  3. Place both hands on your abdomen and focus on the word “That”. Count 6 breaths.
  4. Place both hands on your heart space and focus on the word “That”. Count 6 breaths.
  5. Place both hands on your eyes (covering your eyes with your palms) and focus on the word “That”. Count 6 breaths.
  6. Place both hands on your heart again and focus on your breathing. Count 6 breaths.

That is all for now – 6 easy steps – 6 breaths each – it only takes a few minutes (you can do it whenever you feel like it).

If you wish to take another step forward – you can this same practice using Ujjayi breathing – Ujjayi is a simple technique that will enable you to lengthen your breath even more.

Practice this for a while, then we will explore a few more things you can add to this.

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Yoga – Gunas, Mind & Body

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Gunas

In the universal condition of nature, the Cosmic Substance (Prakrti) is postulated to account for the objective side of existence; it is the potential phase of nature without which all things come. It consists of three constituents called Gunas: Sattva, Rajas & Tamas. In the individual manifestation of nature they are the psychological basis of all things:

  • Sattva – illuminates and accounts for qualities such as joy, enlightenment, faith, forgiveness, courage, concentration, modesty, indifference, detachment and compassion.
  • Rajas –  activates (moves Sattva to suppress Tamas, and Tamas to suppress Sattva) and account for qualities such as argumentation, opinion, attachment, jealousy, selfishness, desire to afflict, suspicion and all cravings of the senses.
  • Tamas – obscures and restrains, veils consciousness and obstructs action. It accounts for qualities such as carelessness, delusion, ignorance, laziness, pride and deluded conviction.

The individual proceeds from the universal condition of Spirit and Matter – therefor man consists of a subtle aspect and a gross aspect. the subtle body is the invisible vehicle of the soul, it is constant and does not change through the cycles of life and death; however it is not eternal, for it is eventually reabsorbed into the elements of which it is composed. The gross aspect is the material and perishable body – destroyed at death and another formed at birth. It consists of the 5 gross elements (ether, air, fire, water & earth). All this is the sum and substance of mind.

Mind

(watch for “Mind” and “mind” – they are different entities in Sanskrit but share the same English spelling)

Patanjali uses the term Citta (“cit” = to perceive, comprehend, know) to describe what may be called Mind – and refers to the entire knowing faculty. It is the first manifestation in the world of name and form. It si defined as the organized totality of conscious experience; it consists of all the activities of an organism by means of which it responds as an integrated, dynamic system to external forces, usually in some relation to its own past and future. It’s distinguishing feature is awareness. It has the capacity to know and influence its environment (consciously and unconsciously). For the purpose of understanding Mind is divided into three: intelligence (buddhi), ego (ahamkara) and mind (manas) – each with its respective functions. However they are a single functioning unit and not separate parts.

  • Buddhi (“budh” = to wake up, recover consciousness, observe)  accounts for the capacity of illumination, abstraction, determination, certainty. It is the seat of virtue, non-attachment and wisdom. When the mind (Manas, see below)  is registering the objects of thought, it is the intelligence (Buddhi) that discriminates, determines and recognizes. In contemplation, the mind (Manas) raises objects of thought, and the intelligence (Buddhi) dwells upon them.
  • Ahamkara is ego – it is the vast reservoir of instinctive impulses dominated by pleasure and pain. It is the individuating and arrogating principle, the storehouse of all experiences. It is the first manifestation of individual consciousness, personal position, individual identity. It rationalized nothing, but is satisfied with things as they are. It’s function is the testing of reality, accepting or rejecting the demands of wishes made by impulses emanating from the individual organism.
  • Manas is mind – the group of cognitive processes that have the capacity of discovering relationships and performing mental processes. It is the seat of responsible conscious activity. It accounts for the process of rationalization. It is the seat of desire and functions in association with the knowing senses and working senses. It can perceive but cannot conceive and is continually vacillating between objects.

In relation to the external world, the mind (manas) perceives and presents, the ego (ahamkara) arrogates; and the intelligence (buddhi) discriminates, decides and resolves, after which action arises. These three aspects constitute the Mind (Citta) as a whole.

Abstract Sense Powers (Indriyas )

The knowing senses (Jnanendriyas) are the powers to hear, feel, see, taste & smell. They function respectively through the organs of ears, skin, eyes, tongue & nose.

The working senses are the powers to express (working of ideas, not just production of sound) , procreate (recreation and passive enjoyment, not just the physical act), excrete (general processes of rejection, not just elimination) , grasp (permeating thing, not just handling objects) and move (mentally not just physically). Their physical organs are respectively voice, sex organs, anus, hands and feet.

Existence is tying experiences together into an endless chain; life is the force that holds them.

Tanmatras (5 Subtle Elements)

These are the manifestations of sounds, touch, form, flavor & odor. They are the subtle body – not yet massive.

Bhutas (5 Gross Elements)

These are the last stage of manifestation – the appearance of gross elements: ether, air, fire water & earth. They are the result of the aggregation of the subtle elements. Each gross elements evolves out of the one preceding it. They are transformed states of original nature characterized by the three qualities of Sattva, Rajas & Tamas.

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I Shakuhachi – August 13, 2009

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Today, for the first time, I recorded myself playing Shakuhachi (~ 9 minutes).

Play Recording

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Twilight

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Refreshing movie. Straightforward story, great (anonymous, to me anyway) actors, great direction, great photography, great editing. One of the more enjoyable movies I have seen lately. Enjoy 🙂

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Yoga – What is Human?

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The term Yoga comes from the root “yuj” = to yoke or join. The philosophical basis of Yoga is the Samkhya.  The ancient teachers extended Samkhya laws that govern the evolution of the universe to cover the evolution of the individual, showing that the individual is but a microcosm of the macrocosm.

Yoga techniques and teaching have been accumulated through a ceaseless stream of adepts, self-fulfilled personalities, who have handed it down from generation to generation through a group of devoted followers. Patanjali is credited with having given us the present literary form of Yoga in his treatise – the Yogasutra.

The paramount aim of Yoga is to free man forever from three sorts of pain: pain that arises from his own infirmities and wrong conducts; pain that arises from his relations with other leaving things; pain arising from his relations with external nature. This is accomplished by first achieving non-attachment, then by gaining restraint over the mind and its creations and finally attaining positive and absolute union of the individual soul and universal soul – this condition is known as Samadhi and is the true purpose of Yoga.

The Yogi views nature as a single force working in two directions. From the outside, it struggles to separate; from the inside it struggles to reunite. The inner force is called Life; the outer force is called Death. The purpose of Yoga is to unite these two.

Yoga assumes that the individual is part and parcel of the universal substance, but so involved in the matter of Time and Space as to have lost all recognition of his or her true reality. Yogi’s hold that all in the manifest and unmanifest world comes from one source, the divine and primordial intelligence; that man is but a spark of this intelligence and, by the process of Yoga is able to get a glimpse of it.

The best proof of the practical nature of Yoga and the extent of its influence is the fact that every system of religion in India and every school of philosophy has recognized Yoga as the most scientific means of realizing philosophical truths. The systematic study of Yoga has now been stopped for hundreds of years, having gone into a state of decay on account of idleness, ignorance, and the unscrupulous of the generality of its latter-day followers. Yoga was compelled to retire to secret abodes, until in this day only mere remnants of its are available to the average seeker. Even in India, home of Yoga, supreme ignorance prevails about Yoga in general, and especially is this so in educated circles.

Yoga assumes the same cosmological doctrines as set forth in the Samkhya system. Both are based on the fundamental logical premise that something cannot come out of nothing. Therefor Yoga maintains that the gross individual must have a subtle aspect from which it manifests itself and to which it will return. This subtle aspect is but a spark of the divine and is the sole concern of Yoga. He is constituted of both the gross and the subtle. The gross can be known by perception, but the subtle can be known only by the power of spiritual perception. The subtle aspect consists of the abstract energies of his nature, they are always invisible, for they are beyond the mind, beyond the senses, never to be seen, but to be known only through the practice of Yoga.

The Yoga system is based upon the principle that there si but one law that governs a single force which operates in all conditions of nature, manifest and unmanifest. That force is called Life.  Life is not the creation of something new, it is only an expansion of what is. Death takes away the manifest individual, but the continuance of life is not affected. We see only the middle link in the chain of individual existence and call it life; we utterly fail to take notice of the preceding and succeeding invisible stages.

Man is a combination of self-conscious self and five kinds of matter formed into an organic body. The soul is spiritually present as one’s voice is present throughout the room. It has no inside or outside, but is only a mass of intelligence, just as a mass of sweetness has no inside or outside, but is simply a mass of taste.  The manifestation of an individual is the reduction of the universal force to an individual principle caused by a stress raised in the universal consciousness. This stress is caused by the dynamic energy of the individual’s past actions (karma). As the individual consciousness begins to manifest, it takes on forms and becomes a thinking, speaking and experiencing entity. The more compact and condensed this conscious energy becomes, the more power if manifests.

Jiva (“jiv” = to live) is the individual spirit (as distinguished from the universal soul – Purusa). It is the spark of life, the animating principle, the feeling of persistency experienced by every individual. It is that which produces the feeling of being. It can never be seen, no more then the center of gravity can be seen.

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Launchy

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I found this great tool called Launchy (compliments of @SaraJChipps). It’s a really small application for launching other applications. Once its installed it runs in the background, you summon it by pressing alt+space (though you can configure that to other sequences) and then you start typing in the name of the application you want to run, within just a few clicks it’s there. No need to move the mouse around and go hunting in useless menus. Simple application, works great, excellent design and magical (it knows everything without you needing to tell it anything!).  Enjoy 🙂

launchy

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One Life Force

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As I continue to read and summarize an overview of Vedic Philosophy, I have come across the chapter dedicated to Yoga. Tomorrow I will probably publish the summary of the first part of this chapter, but I did want to share a paragraph that shimmered for me. Reading it gave me hope and support.

The Yogi views nature as a single force working in two directions. From the outside, it struggles to separate; from the inside it struggles to reunite. The inner force is called Life; the outer force is called Death. The purpose of Yoga is to unite these two.

The following paragraph is taken from my “about me” page.:

My life in recent years has been a combination of extreme fulfillment and unprecedented difficulties & challenges. Yet whenever I get tired or down and turn inwards I realize I am doing exactly what I want to do and should be doing. When I turn to face the world in action I face doubts and challenges – yoga? art? photography? technology? startup? business? social? value? quality? private? public? isolate? immerse? Outside there are questions inside there is coherency.

We all tend to pick out “facts” that corroborate our perception of reality. I am happy to find mine in Vedic philosophy, especially since they don’t appear in many other places.

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First Steps in Yoga

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The idea for this post started with a specific question: “How to find a good Yoga teacher?”. I almost fell into the trap of trying to answer it. It’s an impossible and irrelevant question. It carried a false sense of importance, it is almost an impossible task and has the potential to completely turn you off from approaching Yoga. Instead I would like to offer some ideas that may support you as you take your first steps.

Freedom

Remember that you are always free to make a choice. It is your imperative moral responsibility to make choices. A great place to start is when you attend Yoga classes. Walk away from people who trample that freedom – especially people who claim to be Yoga teachers. Your choices will fuel your progress, good choices will lead you on, mistakes will lead you on too, as you strive for making better choices.

I once attended a class with Mark Whitwell who said one thing that really stuck with me “Don’t look for teachers, look for friends”. You may be challenged to re-frame what friendship is, but when you do, that is a great piece of advice.

Move More, Think Less

The best way to explore Yoga is to practice Yoga. Talking, thinking and reading about it are more likely to lead you into illusion then to teach you anything substantial. Yoga is about knowledge that is awakened in your body, and how that knowledge affects your mind. The only way of tapping into that knowledge is by moving your body.

You have too many options – so many studios, so many styles, so many teachers? Pick one and go. You have only one teacher in your neighborhood, but not sure if her teaching is relevant for you? Go and try.

Give it a chance

You can have all kinds of initial experiences. As a rule of thumb I would suggest that you give a new teacher a chance –  2 – 4 lessons should be enough to give you what you need to make a choice. First impressions are tricky, especially when you are just getting started.

Having said that, I again call upon your obligation to choose. If you feel a teacher is just not right for you, your body is upset, your mind is upset, your energy is disturbed… walk away. This can and is very likely to happen to you.

Listen to Your Body

Please, please, please be attentive to your body. There are too many stories of unjustified and unwarranted Yoga injuries. Stop when your body demands it, try again when you are rested. If you encounter your limitations (and your teacher hasn’t offered you a variation that is more accessible for you) check to see if there is something else you can try, a different approach, a bent knee, a softer shoulder … play around. You are responsible for your own body.

Breathing & Ego

Breathing should be integrated into the practice, without it you are blind in tight corners (which you are very likely to encounter). Ujjayi breathing is, to the best of my knowledge, the most intimate and reliable reference for your state of practice.

If your breath is steady and controlled you are doing fine. If your breath is unsteady, noisy and out of control you have overstepped your boundaries (even if you think you can do more) – stop and rest. If you hear a voice (inside) that is insisting and pushing you to keep going – take a good look at it – there’s a good chance it’s your ego – if it is be thankful. This is a great Yoga moment, stop and observe your ego, eventually it will settle. When it does you can resume your practice.

Beginnings & Endings

To appreciate endings you need to pay attention to beginnings, to have a point of reference. Try to arrive to class a few minutes before the class begins. Take time to arrive, to make yourself comfortable, choose a place in the space, organize your stuff (switch off your mobile phone). It can be a great idea to find a resting posture (lying down or seated) and to let your body settle. If your mind is occupied try engaging it softly and patiently, you may discover  this will enable it to settle a bit. You can observe your body (is anything hurting today, a place in your body you should care for when moving?), your natural breathing, your feelings, your thoughts, your overall energy, anything that comes to you.

When the lesson ends, hopefully your teacher will give you some time to let everything you’ve done sink in and settle (if not, take a few minutes to yourself). Try to recall how you felt when the lesson began, and see how you feel now. Revisit the things you noticed in the beginning, see what has changed. Hopefully you will find that the lesson had a positive affect on your system. Let that information assimilate and inform your choices.

Logistics

Wear comfortable loose-fitting (but not too loose) clothes in which you can move freely. If you are sensitive to head and cold try to dress in layers, keep the clothes you may need close to you.

Try to come on an empty stomach, refrain from eating at least an hour & half before the practice (if you’ve had a heavy meal – then 2-3 hours!).

Make time for your practice so that you are not counting the minutes (counting the minutes tends to veil your experience of presence). Account for the length of the lesson, 10 or 15 minutes for arriving and leaving, driving to and from the lesson and then add a few minutes more.

Make Mistakes

Make marvelous  mistakes. Leave teachers you ought to have stayed with, stay with teachers you are better off leaving. Stay attentive and vigilant, watch what drives your choices, try new approaches, remain free to choose, stay happy with your choices. Be serious, be playful… Yoga is your search. A teacher is a powerful symbol and, as the saying goes, your teacher will appear when you are ready. Practice, practice, practice.

You may also want to read Flavors in Yoga to get some background on qualities of different forms of Yoga.

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Samkhya – Evolvents & Evolutes

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evolvent = that which is produced and produces.
evolute = that which is produced and does not produce.

Cosmic Intelligence (Mahat)

Cosmic Intelligence (The “Great Principle”) is the capacity to expand, reveal and ascertain (here there is no ideation, relationship or identity). It is the first appearance of the universe, the order that fulfills the ultimate destiny of nature. It is cosmic evolution, will,or urge to satisfy a want that has been created by a disturbance of the perfect balance of nature.  It is classified as an evolvent.

Individuating Principle (Ahamkara)

“aham” = I, “kr” = to do/make/perform. It is responsible for the limitations, separation and variety that come out of harmony. It is the state of active consciousness in which the illuminating aspect “I” identifies itself with the total “this” – it forms the dualistic state of as yet un-manifest universe. It is a state of self-realization in the presence of the universal will that precedes any action. It too is classified as an evolvent.

Cosmic Mind (Manas)

“man” = to think. The principle of cognition. It is an evolute – it does not produce new forms of being (as opposed to Cosmic Intelligence which does).

Cosmic Intelligence, Individuating Principle & Cosmic Mind are not separated in time – they arise simultaneously. They are together the outcome of the unbalance of the 3 Gunas. They are discussed separately only for the purpose of understanding.

Abstract Sense Powers (Indriyas)

These are ten principles :

  • 5 Abstract Knowing Senses (Jnanendriyas – powers of cognition):  Hear, Feel, See, Taste, Smell.
  • 5 Working Senses (Karmendriyas – capacities for action): Express, Procreate, excrete, grasp, move.

All 10 arise simultaneously with Mind (Manas) and are classified as evolutes (do no produce new modes of being). They have no real existence without objects – eg. the power to hear could have no meaning without sound.  The moment these abstract sense powers manifest themselves, their correlated subtle elements come into being.

(Comment: there seems to be a correlation between the Indriyas and primary Nadi).

Subtle Elements ( Tanmatras)

“tad” = that, “matra” = an element/elementary matter. Translated as “That-ness”. These are the subtle elements of the sense powers: sound, touch, form, flavor and odor. They are the first conceivable division of matter, the subtlest form of actual matter, without magnitude and perceived only through particular mediating objects. They are evolvents – from them the universe comes forth, continues and finally disappears.

When there is a further restraining aspect of the Tamas Guna, the subtle elements produce an accretion of mass which forms the Sense-Particulars.

Sense-Particulars (Mahabhutas)

“bhu” = tu be, to come into being, to exist. These are the five differentiable forms of Cosmic Substance:

  • Ether – Akasa (“kas” = to appear) is the principle of vacuity. It has the special property of sound.
  • Air – Vayu (“va” = blow) is the principle of motion – it’s function is pressure or impact. It has the special property of touch and general quality of sound.
  • Fire – Tejas (“tij” = to be sharp) is the principle of luminosity – it’s function is expansion. It has the special property of form and general quality of touch and sound.
  • Water – Apas (“ap” = water) is the principle of liquidity – it’s function is contraction. It has the special property of flavor and general quality of form, touch and sound.
  • Earth – Prthivi is the principle of solidarity – it’s function is cohesion. It has the special property of odor and general quality of flavor, for, touch and sound.

Each Sense-Particular is conditioned and evolved from the one proceeding it. It has a distinguishing special property in addition to the general qualities it inherits from the others from which it is evolved:

  • Ether – sound
  • Air – sound & touch
  • Fire – sound & touch & form
  • Water – sound & touch & form & flavor
  • Earth – sound & touch & form & flavor & odor

With the manifestation of the Sense-Particulars the process of cosmic evolution comes to rest – therefore these are classified as evolutes (they are produced but do not produce). All manifestation in the phenomenal world are said to be modifications of these principles and not the creation of anything new.

samkhyaoverview

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Samkhya – Spirit & Matter (3 Gunas)

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Cosmic Spirit (Purusa)

This is the animating principle of nature, that which breathes life into matter; the source of consciousness. It is the ultimate principle of intelligence that regulates, guides and directs the process of cosmic evolution. It accounts for the intelligent order of things – why there is a cosmos and not chaos. It is a background that gives us the feeling of persistence. It is the silent witness of nature.

Cosmic Matter (Prakrti)

Prakrti:  “pra” = before/first, “kr” = make/produce. Cosmic Matter is that which existed before anything was produced.  The primary source of all things, the original substance out of which all things have come and into which all things will eventually return.

The central argument used by the Samkhya system is that something cannot come out of nothing. Therefore the  material universe is traced back to a first cause – this is Cosmic Matter – it is merely a logical assumption for the sake of analysis. It is beyond the mind and can never be perceived by the mind (no more then a surgeon can see the soul). It can be understood through reason but can only be known through the practice of Yoga. Cosmic Matter evolves in a chain of cause & effect.

Cause & effect are only different states of the same thing separated by time (there is only a change of form, never of substance). The cause is un-evolved and the effect is evolved. Both are real. Nothing is new is created, all is a manifestation of what has already existed. According to Samkhya the eternal process of nature is without beginning or end.

The Gunas

Cosmic Substance consists of 3 constituents/powers called Gunas which explain the diversified objects of existence (the term means a single thread/strand of a chord): Sattva, Rajas & Tamas.

  • Sattva Guna is derived from “sat” = that which is real or existent. It is that power of nature that illuminates and reveals all manifestations. It is devoid of excitement and is the cause of equilibrium. It has no motion of its own and therefore incapable of action or reactions. It manifests itself as light.
  • Rajas Guna is derived from “ranj” – to be colored/affected/moved. It is the activating and exciting potency without which the other two constituents (Sattva, Tamas) could not manifest their inherent qualities. It’s function is to move things, overcome resistance, do work. I is responsible for all motion and change that goes on throughout nature.
  • Tamas Guna means darkness. Is it the power of nature that restrains, obstructs and envelops the other two constituents by counteracting the tendency of Rajas to do work and Sattva to reveal.  It is the restraining and binding potency of nature, the downward pull of the earth, the cause of mass, weight and inertia. It makes it possible for us to feel invisible air.

The Gunas are the roof of all change, the foundation of reality, the essence of all things. They were in a state of perfect balance before the manifestation of the objective world. When this equilibrium is disturbed the phenomenal world begins to make its appearance. The initial stress (that disturbed the equilibrium) in nature is the result of past action (karma).  In the process of nature they co-exist in everything, but one may predominate. They remain potentially ready to emerge as distinct aspects when the conditions for the next manifestations arise. Never are they non-existent nor is their power diminished or altered in any way.

Spirit (Purusa) and Cosmic Substance (Prakrti) are two aspects of a single thing. They are separated only for the purpose of analysis and because they do not have any separate existence. The formless Spirit cannot act by itself because it has no vehicle.  The Cosmic Substance can have no urge to action because it is inanimate. Through their union existence can manifest. Both are eternal realities, un-manifest, without beginning or end, all pervading and omnipotent.

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-08-09

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Eternal & Present

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The Shakuhachi is quickly becoming an integrated part of my yoga & meditation practice. Sometimes I play it before practicing, usually when I a feel unfocused. Other times I play it after I practice to get a sense of where I am. It is both a bridge from present to eternal and from eternal to present.

This morning I sat for a short meditation and then played the Shakuhachi. I have adopted the idea of Time as a focus of meditation – so when I am not floating around in it I am observing it. Today this idea also crossed over into my Shakuhachi playing. But, because Shakuhachi is an instrument of sound, and sound is a manifestation of Ether my focus changed accordingly.

As I played I first imagined a movement of sound-waves in space – so in a way my playing became a physical object. Then gradually that faded and I visited with longer tones, feeling their resonance in my lips, fingers and an overall bodily sensation. I recognized subtle variances in sound and in my ability to affect it (and it affect me).

I then had a notion that sound has two aspects – one is eternal and the other is present. One resonates of a continuous element and the other resonates of qualities that are always changing coming and going. When I finished playing I wondered if this could be related to ideas of harmony and melody. Harmony as an eternal truth that manifests through melody. All melodies have harmony, yet harmony continues to exist in silence.

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Samkhya – Introduction

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Samkhya is the oldest school of Hindu philosophy (placed around 6th century B.C.) and the first attempt to harmonize the philosophy of the Veda’s through reason. It it based on scientific principles of conservation, transformation and dissipation of energy.

It’s purpose is to provide knowledge which will forever remove the cause of misery and thereby release the soul from its bondage. It indicates three kinds of misery:  from intrinsic causes (such as disorders of the body & mind), extrinsic causes (such as other men or inanimate objects) and supernatural causes (such as the atmosphere or planets). The misery of the soul is said to be caused by its intimate association with the body. Bondage (of the soul to the body) is claimed to be purely an illusion caused by incorrect knowledge of the true nature of things. Therefore it is believed that discriminate knowledge will forever release the soul from all misery.

Samkhya deals exclusively with the empirical world which is governed by the rules of reason and can be known. It leaves the more transcendental speculations to other systems, maintaining that questions pertaining to the beginning of things are not conductive to enlightenment.

The phenomenal order of the universe is considered as a dynamic order, an eternal process of unfolding, without beginning or end. All has evolved from an Uncaused Cause – a postulated  absolute beginning which cannot be conceived by the intellect.

Samkhya postulates two ultimate realities (logical principles) – Spirit (Purusa) and Matter (Prakrti) to account for all experience.  A fundamental tenet of Samkhya is that creation is impossible, for something cannot come out of nothing. Change implies something to change; whatever is, always is, and whatever is not, never is.

Samkhya divides cosmic evolution into 25 categories grouped into four:

  1. Cosmic Spirit (Purusa) – that which is neither produced nor produces.
  2. Cosmic Substance (Prakrti) – that which is not produced but produces.
  3. 7 Evolvents – those which are produced and do produce.
  4. 16 Evolutes – those which are produced and do not produce.
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Face to Face

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Fred Wilson recently wrote about Face to Face Board Meetings. This prompted me to write about something I experienced about two years ago. It was a meeting in which I learned a lot about meetings – and after it I remember thinking, I wish I could share this experience with business people.

The meeting was a preparation for a performance – an improvised performance. you may be asking yourself why there is a preparation for an improvised performance? An improvised performance is built around an idea of an “agreement”. This agreement reflects the wishes of the performers and provides a containing energy. It can contain ideas like props to be used, metaphors, sequencing, timing… anything that supports that performers. It can be “tight” – everyone agrees to stick to the agreement (no matter what!), it can be loose – everyone agrees that the ideas of the agreement are there, but anything goes. An agreement can be as creative as the performance itself. But there has to be an agreement that everyone embraces – passionately.

This particular meeting went on for 4 or 5 hours. At the end of it we were pretty exhausted and the only thing that was nailed down was that everyone wanted to partake in this upcoming performance. By business standards this would have been a complete waste of time. 4 or 5 hours with nothing to show for it? Let me tell you what did happen during this meeting

  • We had not seen each other for some time and this meeting gave us a chance to spend time together, get a sense of where everyone was in their life, see each other and touch each other.
  • We ate and drank together.
  • We all had different ideas about what we wanted to do in this performance, we all got ample opportunity to share our ideas and let other connect with them (or not).
  • The performance was part of a larger event which already had a theme. We talked about this and let it connect with and affect our own thoughts, ideas and wishes.
  • We had an opportunity to feel excitement when other people connected to something we wanted to do, and we had an opportunity to feel disappointment when an idea did not resonate.
  • We ate and drank together.
  • We had time to let ideas (our own and others) penetrate us and then later resurface and make new connections.
  • We had time to let personal conversations mingle with the group conversation.
  • We made a list of props and tools we needed to execute some of our ideas so that we each had some followup work to do.
  • We grew tired and lapsed out of the conversation, rested, collected our energy and then moved back in.
  • We grew impatient and enjoyed being in the presence of people who can contain that impatience.
  • We ate and drank together.
  • We walked away feeling more together then when we started.

We were sitting in a coffee -shop, because we didn’t have a studio available to us. Had we been in a studio there would have been much more physical movement, we all think better when we have freedom to move our bodies. Mind has an amazing capacity to move quickly – sometimes so quick that it becomes erratic and disengaged from the present. Body tempers the mind. Body takes time to settle, to find it’s place in a chair. Body is a seat for mind, senses are instruments available to it. Body has a different rhythm then mind, it moves slower and stays longer. Most business meetings are not long enough to let the body arrive.

Board meetings are a unique and (purposefully) infrequent opportunity for a unique group of people who are not involved and caught up in the day-to-day realities of the business to provide a wider, perspective and hopefully useful guidance to people who navigate the business on a daily basis. Fred gave an example in his post of a board-meeting that began with a dinner – I believe this is the kind of space required for people to come together. I love the idea of Board Retreats. Fred also wrote a while back a nice post about building successful long term relationships – I believe that building the long term takes time in the short term, there are no shortcuts.

Improvisation is the closest form of art & expression I know to real-life. When you come as an audience to an improvised performance, you are actually walking in on the last part, for the performers the performance begins way before you got there. Almost everything we do in life is improvised – board meetings included.

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Dryed Tea Leaves

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The sun and air did their part in drying the tea-leaves I collected and hung 2 weeks ago. This morning I took them down and collected the leaves into jars. I had a hard time believing it when Andreea told me that it would be this way – but the aroma of the dried leaves is way more intense then the freshly picked leaves. She explained that when they have dried the leaves are made up of almost only their essential elements – those that give them fragrance. The leaves we have are sage, lemon verbena, spearmint, lemon grass & thyme-leaved savory. They are all very “airy” fragrances.

tealeaves

This was a very satisfying project 🙂 I should do more of this quality of work … makes me feel good.

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Vaisesika – Soul & Mind

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Soul (Atman)

Soul is a reality postulated from the universal experience of consciousness – the property of awareness attributed to all animate things.

As a general rule, consciousness is thought of in connection with the body – but the body cannot be it’s substance – it has already been shown that it is composed of the four Bhutas. Some thinkers maintain that when that these basic elements of nature combine and form a new thing – this new thing has special properties of its own – this may be true but does not apply to the body.

Think of it like this. Alcohol does not exist in the grain from which it is produced. But, once alcohol is produced intoxication is a property of every drop of alcohol as it is of the entire bottle. With the body this is not the case. Soul does not reside in all parts of the body (you can lose an arm but you won’t lose soul with it).

The body is a created thing and so must be made for a purpose of something other then itself (like an auto is made for the use of man, an automobile cannot drive itself). The mere existence of body, therefor implies the existence of something else – something to use it.

Soul is a permanent quality – without it memory would not be possible and neither could the feeling of self identity that we carry with us through life. From infancy to old age we pass through many physical (physiologists tell us that the cellular structure of the body is completely renewed every few years) and mental transitions yet we maintain a consistent sense of identity.

Consciousness inheres in Soul (Atman) as sound inheres in Ether (Akasa) – it is not essential to it – Soul can exist without the manifestation of consciousness. Consciousness only appears when Atman is in a special relationship with something.

Mind (Manas)

Manas is derived from “man” – to thing, believe, imagine, suppose or conjecture. It translates as Mind and is used in a wide sense – it applied to all mental powers – intellect, understanding, perception, sense, conscience and will.

This reality is postulated from the fact that we observe occasions that the all-pervading Soul does not perceive an object, even though the sense (which are the souls instrument of perception) are in contact with it. This indicates that something else is in play – something is mediating between the soul and the senses. This is Mind.

The existence of mind is evident from the fact that we can perceive only one thing at a time. If indeed the Soul is all-pervading it should be able to receive impressions from all the sense at once.

Soul can only perceive objects by the means of some instrument of perception  – such as the senses which reveal to it objects of the external world. What then accounts for perceptions of the internal world – ideas, thoughts and feelings?  Mind is this instrument.

Forgetting and remembering are also experiences that are beyond Soul. An object that has left the field of senses and perception can pass in and out of the realm of consciousness. This is another quality and evidence of the existence of Mind.

Soul (Atman) is the basis of all experience, while Mind (Manas) is only an instrument for experience.

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Flavors of Yoga

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I intend this post to be a first in a series which hopefully deals with the question “How to find a yoga teacher?”. To do this I believe some background is required. I believe a good place to start is with the different flavors of Yoga that are “on the market” – in this case when I say Yoga I am referring to the physical aspects of Yoga (since this is where you are most likely to start).

Yoga was resurrected during the early twentieth century by Krishnamacharya – and some mystery veils how he came to acquire his extensive knowledge. He had 3 prominent students each of which became associated with a “system of yoga”. Pattahbi Jois is the father of Ashtanga Yoga (a popular form in the west), Iyengar is the father of Iyengar Yoga (another popular form) and Desikachar (who is Krishnamacharya’s son) who taught/teaches a less popular “brand” that was known as Viniyoga. Of the three, Desikachar spent the most time studying with Krishnamacharya (Jois & Iyengar spent a relatively limited period of time under the tuition of Krishnamacharya) and is therefore closest to his teachings and considered his successor (being his son helped too!). A key quality of Krishnamacharya’s teaching was adapting a practice to the practitioner. I will expand on this point later, but one implication of this is that each of these three prominent teachers was introduced to Yoga in a way that was relevant to them. Inevitably, that selective process resonates through their own practice and systems of teaching.

My teachers and I are a part of the Viniyoga heritage.

yogapeople

Physicality

Ashtanga yoga is well known for it’s intense physicality. It is composed of fixed sequences that are graded by difficulty.  The sequences are like a “dance” taught and practiced rather uniformly with an emphasis on the overall flow of the practice. It requires stamina, strength and flexibility. It is a very dynamic practice.

Iyengar is also considered physically intense. It uses a wide range of asana (postures). Much attention is placed on minute details and specifics of the postures. It’s focus is a more static practice – spending time in each posture.

Viniyoga is considered a soft yoga. This is a result of a core Viniyoga approach to physicality – to make the postures accessible to the practitioner. Viniyoga generally utilizes a smaller set of postures but uses many variations and modifications to adapt postures to the capabilities and needs of a practitioner. Viniyoga is therefore very useful in therapeutic situations in which limitations of the practitioner need to be taken into consideration. The intensity of a Viniyoga practice rests heavily on the combination of breath and asana. Viniyoga utilizes (depending on the practitioner) a combination of dynamic and static postures, generally a Viniyoga practice will take you (over months and years!) from a more dynamic practice to a more static practice (static is generally considered more intense then dynamic).

Accessibility

Unless you are a fit and flexible individual (like dancers or athletes) you will be hard-pressed to start with a classic Ashtanga Yoga practice. Inevitably some teachers have created variations on the system to make it more accessible to more practitioners, though strictly speaking it is not Ashtanga.

Iyengar is a system in which one can be a beginner and gradually evolve towards a more intense, full & classic practice. Yet, Iyengar teachers were taught and practice strictly classical variations of postures – paying attention to many minute details. For many people the classic postures are either inaccessible or irrelevant (not very useful). You can practice a variation that is not relevant for your body for many years with little to no progress.

Viniyoga is a starting place for everyone – because each individual is the starting point of the practice. A Viniyoga teacher will be able to guide you through variations of a posture to find one that is accessible and effective for you. In Viniyoga group practices you will see that different people are using different variations of the same postures – this is inherently built into the system.

Breathing

In Ashtanga breathing is a second priority to movement. The focus on flow and intensity of the movement usually leave little space for breathing. You may get very little or even no guidance on breathing (other then a reminder to do it) – it is usually a natural development of the practice. Because of the intense physicality of the practice – the breath is short and erratic.

In Iyengar Yoga breathing is given more emphasis but it is also secondary to the physicality of the Asana. Ultimately the use of breath depends on the preferences and priorities of the teacher.

In Viniyoga breathing is a dominant aspect of the practice. I was taught and believe that a practice is not Yoga unless there is a systemic use of breath. Breathing generally manifests in two areas of practice:

  1. It is used in ALL the physical practices (exceptions exists, and are usually a result of adapting a practice to an individual who cannot access breath – though this is very rare) – there is a specific and systemic relationship between movement, posture and breath. It takes time, practice and gradual development to master breath and movement.
  2. Pranayama – these are breathing practices that are executed in seated postures, usually applied at the end of a practice . Like postures, breathing practices have many variations and can be adapted to individual needs and capabilities.

The two form a subtle growth and development cycle –  physical practice prepares the body for Pranayama practices which in turn extend the breath and create more space and length for exploring physical postures in more depth.

Precision

Yoga can be practiced artfully with attention to detail. To the best of my knowledge all three systems of Yoga preach and practice precision, but they each have a different focus and as a result different effects on a practitioner.

Ashtanga places focus and attention on the precision of the overall flow of a practice. Precision in each and every posture is secondary to the continuous flow. Each posture is visited briefly, though numerous times (the overall sequence is repeated numerous times). If you are fit and able to contain the practice with ease (!) then you may have an opportunity to pay attention to more minute details of each posture. If not then you will be skimming lightly over the postures which are therefore not likely to develop much. You can get an overall improved sense of the flow, but unless you are really in great shape – specific postures will not be explored in depth – there simply isn’t much time, and in what little time there is you will be out of breath and unavailable for further exploration.

Iyengar places very much attention on details and precision of physical postures. There is relatively more time to spend in each posture in exploring subtle aspects. Generally Iyengar teachers will provide loads of information and tips on how to fine-tune your practice.

Viniyoga places much attention on precision in execution of breath, postures and the relationship between them. Precision is highly adapted to each individual. A Viniyoga teacher selectively brings attention to details that are relevant to and support the practitioner. Precision gradually grows as mind, body & breath adapt to the practice.

I think its useful to remember at this point that Yoga is ultimately a science of the mind and that precision needs to be measured in that context. You can obsessively practice many physical aspects of Yoga – with no or even detrimental effects on the mind. This is one of the key qualities and opportunities that Yoga creates in a physical practice – it can be used and abused.

Demonstration

Generally you will find much demonstration by teachers in Ashtanga and Iyengar classes. Ashtanga relies on you following the flow as demonstrated by the teacher – this means that most of the time at least part of your attention and your body will be involved in observing and following the teacher. In Iyengar, the ambition to do postures precisely in their classic form invites demonstration either by the teacher or by physically capable students (under guidance of the teacher).

You are less likely to see a Viniyoga teacher demonstrate postures. In Viniyoga the teacher will be trying to lead you to your limits not to hers. Learning by example is a powerful and effective tool, so in Viniyoga attention is placed on giving you the right example. A teacher may give examples by demonstrating with the assistance of students – not necessarily the most capable ones – but those whose limitations may best exemplify how to use variations to make a posture accessible.

31 Flavors

There are many more flavors and brands of Yoga. Sivananda comes to mind as a system that places emphasis on ritual. Bikram Yoga invites you to practice in steaming sauna conditions. Kundalini will promise to awaken your primordial energy. You can do Yoga naked. You can stand around with a bunch of people and laugh your head – and they call that Yoga too.

It is up to you to make a conscious choice of what you want to bring into your life, your heart, your body & your mind. More on that soon.

You may also want to read about taking your first steps in Yoga

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