Yog is a synthesis of all bodily functions. Today Prashant began with a series of interesting analogies to explain how we are to tease apart action and function in yoga, how we are to know when we are doing and when we are becoming. The posture is the means, and asana is the end. The posture gives the ability to stretch, move, and strengthen the physical body, so learn to do the posture correctly and you will gain physical benefits. Postures are worldly knowledge, you can learn them from any decent yoga instructor. When I got my law degree that was worldly knowledge, I studied and learned a set of skills that are useful in the modern world, they impact my way of thinking and even my world view, but they are not in and of themselves wisdom. Asana is not based on worldly knowledge, it must become.
If you get a letter from your beloved, how do you read it? If you open the Yellow Pages, how do you you read it? If you open the Encyclopedia Britannica, how do you read it? If you open the newspaper, how do you read it? In each case we use different intelligence to comprehend what we are reading. Sometimes we read for knowledge, sometimes for emotional meaning, sometimes for an answer and sometimes to just find a good plumber. If I read the Bible, the Torah, The Bhagavad Gita, or any sacred text, I read with a different awareness and with a higher level of thinking. I ponder, contemplate, read, re-read, even read-between-the-lines to explore context or decipher hidden meaning. Let’s examine the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution which states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” If I read the words as John Adams or Thomas Jefferson might have over two hundred years ago, reeling from a costly and painful war that tore the loyalty of family relationships and pitted friend against friend, I might believe that we must arm the individual to suppress a further invasion, or to repel an insurrection, or to protect the common law right of self defense. If I read the same document in 2014 as the victim of police brutality and racial profiling, or as the grieving parent of a child lost to gun violence, my interpretation will likely be different. My world is different, my experience is different, and it teaches me a different lesson.
Wisdom is insight, it is learning from your own experience what is true. In yoga, to see something clearly for oneself is Prajna. While most of us will never achieve the pure mind, thought, and awareness necessary for textbook Prajna, we can still know based on our personal experience, and from the depth of our knowing will come wisdom. This always makes me wonder, if I know some to be true and it becomes part of my wisdom, should I fight for it? If I believe in non-violence should I work for gun control? Buddhist’s define perfect as, “having all of the causes and conditions necessary to allow something to manifest.” This is very different definition than I’ve always had and it makes complete sense in the world. I’ve always thought of perfect as “just the way I want it’. In Buddhism my definition represents The Second Nobel Truth, suffering is caused by craving and aversion. My definition of perfect is temporarily satisfying my craving and reinforcing my need to have things as I want them, creating an endless cycle of suffering. During the last U.S. presidential election I thought, If I want something to happen the way I prefer then I should work to create favorable causes and conditions for that thing to manifest. Thus, I became a campaign volunteer. Wisdom differs from worldly knowledge. Returning to asana, the posture of worldly knowledge becomes the asana of wisdom when you when you use a higher level of thought and awareness to watch and observe, correct and learn, breathe and expand and find yourself in the pose. In asana we must synthesize all the functions of the body, mind, and awareness, and when the experience is no longer physical effort but effortless effort, it has become asana.
Yesterday I had a direct experience with worldly knowledge. Since it was Sunday there were no classes, and we’d planned for an outing to The Marriott to visit a spa where we hoped to steam out some of the carbon monoxide and start to clear the lungs. The leisurely morning began early with meditation, breakfast, and some light reading from a book I’d bought on Saturday when we visited Aba Khan, the Gandhi National Memorial and Museum. The book is Prayer, by Gandhiji and it is chocked full of insight on the power, structure, form, and purpose of prayer. Here is a short excerpt on cowardice and nonviolence which is the first of the yamas, or moral precepts, of yoga. Man’ s destined purpose is to conquer old habits, to overcome the evil in him and to restore good to its rightful place. If religion does not teach us how to achieve this conquest, it teaches us nothing. Cowardice is perhaps the greatest vice from which we suffer and is also possibly the greatest violence, certainly far greater than bloodshed. For it comes from the want of faith in God and ignorance of his attributes…a heartfelt prayer is undoubtedly the most potent instrument that man possesses for overcoming cowardice and other bad habits. Prayer is an impossibility without a living faith in the presence of God within.
The spa was fabulous, well worth the $68 it cost for a 90-minute Asian Massage and an hour in the steam bath. I felt like a new woman when I left. On the way home, I decided to stop by the Hare Krishna Mandir center across the street for the evening chanting. The building was lit by candles and small white lights outside, after removing my shoes I walked into a large modest room with clear shiny floors where an old woman sat on a chair. I could see people behind her in the adjacent room so I quickly and quietly moved by her and promptly stumbled creating a ruckus when the floor suddenly dropped off about 2 inches. Catching and righting myself quickly I moved to the back and settled on the floor. Gently swaying with the rhythmic beat I soon found myself calm and relaxed. The hour went by slowly and gave me time to glance around and take in the beauty of the simple surroundings, where nothing was opulent, and all were humble and peaceful. From my research and conversations with my landlord who worships there, I knew the temple was built in the 1950’s as a sacred space for people to connect to spiritual life on a daily basis, regardless of faith. I found myself at ease as I pondered the notion that love is a common thread across religions. I know almost nothing about Hare Krishna’s but I sensed a belonging, we were all children of God. When the chanting ended, I bowed, crossed myself, and rose to leave, amazed to discover that comfortable old habit, the father, the son, and the holy spirit.
I came home relaxed, refreshed, and full of love. Then I made the fateful decision to look at the news. This is only the second time I’ve seen news since I’ve been in India in a self-imposed hiatus. Karen’s daughter is in Uganda in the Peace Corps and Karen had gotten word that there had been an attempted terrorist attack there, a retaliation for the killing of a Sudanese leader of Al-Shabab in a U.S. bombing raid, so I thought I would check it out. Front Page: British Aid Worker Beheaded, with a video no less which I would never watch and found offensive that it was offered. I know some journalist friends and Constitutional scholars would beg to differ. By the time I’d finished the two stories I had been led down a path into the pure darkness and sadness of hatred, anger, and fear…right to the abyss at the edge of hell. There I remained trying to regain some sense of the ease and joy I had so recently felt. There I remained cursing worldly knowledge and remembering the morning class. Remembering the words of Gandhi, We have to strive against ourselves, we have to believe in spite of ourselves, because months are as our years. We have to cultivate illimitable patience if we will realise the efficacy of prayer. There will be darkness, disappointment and even worse; we must have courage enough to battle against these and not succumb to cowardice. There is no such thing as retreat for a man of prayer.
As I cleaned up today at the Institute I happened to glance down through the window and catch a glimpse of Abhijata’s baby, she looks to be about 18 months old, with creamy brown skin, charcoal eyes and a little bob of jet black hair. She toddles around the grounds under the adoringly watchful gaze of numerous relatives, clearly the apple of everyone’s eye. I feel it coming on again, that urge to pick her up and hold her, whisk her away to explore life at ground level, stoke her hair and sooth her wounds…but of course I don’t, I can’t. So I hobble along the path, not yet capable of relying on own my deep and abiding love for humanity or God, and longing for affection, the kind of love that is around me when I am home. Though not always palpable, it is there and I absorb it like the air I breath, invisible nourishment. When my dog runs out to meet me, slobbering and excited, even if I ignore her in my distracted haste, the love she brings is there for me to take, or to leave. When I hold my husband’s hand before a meal or touch my daughter’s hair, there is love in the air and I absorb it. That is my experience. That is my wisdom. That is my luck.