Opening Note at the 3rd Annual Meeting (Joya Chakravarty and Mohan Polamarasetty)
10 Dec, 2016
Happy to be back at the Purva Carnation Community Centre.
Many of you may not know this, but after barely a year of starting to teach in Bangalore, we were left without a teaching space. For a few months of that year, we had to suspend classes. The remaining months of that year, we taught from this very hall. And some of our oldest students joined us during those months.
This is our fourth annual day. With happiness and gratitude, I want to let you all know that for the fourth straight year, our student base has doubled – from 15 to 30 to 60 to 120. While heartening, this is mere statistic, and has no significance; just as this date has no special significance. It is not astrologically ordained. It is not an exact anniversary. Yes, it is fairly close to the date that we taught our first class in this city, but to be honest, we do not remember what that date was. The date does not matter as much as does the fact that, since the last three years, we have been able to end the year with a gathering like this. Where we can speak freely with each other. For most of the year, we train our bodies to be an efficient tool – we learn to communicate with the body and through the body.
On a day like this, communication happens primarily through the agency of SPEECH.
Communication, speech, language – is an important part of the subject we are studying. As teachers, we are trained to pay a lot of attention to the language we use in class - you might already have realised that we have specific ways of talking when we conduct our classes.
Today, we present some thoughts on how speech - language, is relevant not just for teachers of the subject, or even all practitioners, but for all humans.
Every speech requires a partner, called ‘attention’. Requesting your attentive partnership for 20 mins,
“Why speak up; what to say?”
Lets walk into a conversation in this hypothetical party.
You are a guest at a friend’s party. You do not know a lot of people. So you are standing, cocktail in hand, at the periphery of a group, engaged in the desultory conversation that strangers usually engage in. Someone brings up yoga. Your ears perk up. Maybe one of the strangers asked the others in the group about the relative merits of doing yoga vs. crossfit.
You want to speak up, but what to say?
You have been studying yoga for maybe 6 months, 1 year, 2 years. Maybe you have experienced some benefits. You hear another person ask, “Does anyone recommend a particular style of yoga”
other people start sharing their experiences and their recommendations, 2 thoughts occurs you: 1) Why speak up? 2) What to say?
Meanwhile a yoga tourist has beaten you to it – someone who has been everywhere, and is at home nowhere – and you hear “Iyengar yoga –good to learn about alignment but not a lot of fun.”
2 thoughts occurs you: 1) Why speak up? 2) What to say?
And then speaks up a disillusioned ex-student of the practice room – “the teachers are not so friendly. In fact, they can be quite curt.”
2 thoughts occurs you, 1) Why speak up? 2) What to say?
The moment is lost. You didn't say anything.
The desultory conversation moves on. It shifts to a stranger asking for advice on what Art to buy. You hear the name of your best friend crop up. Your friend is a talented, original, passionate artist. You personally love your friend’s work. It has given you many hours of joy . But it seems that not everyone in the group of strangers shares your opinion. Someone says the art looks cheap, the style contrived. Another person says the art is ok but the artist is arrogant.
There is always that one person who will say that they couldn't tell when the paintings are right side up.
2 thoughts occurs you: 1) Why speak up? 2) What to say?
If you have been through such situations, and if you think that is a modern-day problem, you are in for a surprise. Patanjali addressed this in the yoga sutras.
śraddhā-vīrya-smr̥ti samādhi-prajñā-pūrvaka itareṣām ॥20॥
Sutra 1.20 is a straightforward list of five principles, and a direct advice to follow them in the path of practice.
Śraddhā. Vīrya. Smr̥ti. Samādhi. Prajña
These are just five words. But to discuss their meaning, their relevance, and their application in our lives will take a long time. Today, we will focus on only two of the qualities, and just take a quick look at the meanings of the other three.
Memory, intent-ful remembrance, mindfulness – is something that we invoke often in the classes. Memory can be beneficial or it can be counter-productive.
To elucidate this with an example, in the process of learning a difficult asana – say sirsasana or even ardha chandrasana – our first many attempts are a miserable failure. We felt embarrassed when we lost your balance in front of a group of people. Maybe we even stubbed our toe on the floor as we landed down clumsily.
What memory do we create out of that experience? What memory do we carry forward to our next attempt?
The right memory will be to remember all the steps that have been taught to prepare for that asana – in sirsasana, remembering to keep the shoulders lifted, in ardhachandrasana, remembering to steady the standing leg and not to hunch forward.
The hesitation due to the memory of the embarrassment, the fear due to the memory of the fall – that is the wrong memory, and it needs to be discarded with great alacrity.
Samadhi is deep absorption or contemplation on a subject - to the point where the sense of ego or ‘I’ ness dissolves. That very brief moment, when we strike a near perfect balance in a position – where there is neither ‘I’ nor the ‘doing’, but only the existence of the asana. And then our Ego rushes in, saying ‘Yes! I did it.’ And the asana crumbles. In that very brief moment before the Ego rushed in, we experience something akin to Samadhi.
Prajna is wisdom. The more familiar and common word, ‘gyan’, means knowledge. Pragya is knowledge plus or gyan plus. Pragyais knowledge filtered through intense contemplation of knowledge and experience.
We come back to our original dilemma 1.Why speak up, 2. What to say?”, and the two principles under discussion today – Śraddhāand Vīrya.
Śraddhā is loosely translated as faith/trust or reverence. But Śraddhā is not blind faith. It is belief that has been put through the lens of intelligent analysis, and is borne out by experience.
If doing a series of forward bends with the forehead passively rested engenders a feeling of calmness and peace in us, we will develop faith in the position.
The alternate translation of Śraddhā is conviction. This is the meaning we relate the most.
Conviction is generated only because the system has been tried and tested and found to work.
Conviction gives rise to the faith or trust.
Conviction also gives rise to reverence
Vīrya is most commonly translated as vigour and valour; physical, nervine and moral strength. It also means energy and enthusiasm. This energy or eenthusiasm is founded on conviction. When we confidently act on something we are convinced about, that is Vīrya. When we are doubtful, Vīrya cannot play out. Doubt stops us from Action. Even if we act, our actions will be uncertain. Vīrya is that conviction that says, "Of course I have to do it – and I will!"
If there is no conviction (Śraddhā), there is no there is no enthusiasm (Vīrya).
No Śraddhā, no Vīrya
No conviction, no enthusiasm.
Conviction takes surrender. Conviction takes courage. For some of us, ‘Doubt’ becomes the great barrier. Conviction is a little bit like getting into a long-term relationship. It pre-supposes that we are willing to give up on short-term flirtations. It presupposes that we have the courage to leap into the unknown, to speak up, to stand up. This is sometimes not easy.
In our modern times, it presents another peculiar problem. There is almost a sense of embarrassment attached to being ‘convinced’. A sense of gullibility/ un-sophistication, of admitting that we have surrendered that most precious commodity - our free will, our ego, to someone or something. Many of us are almost embarrassed to speak up about the very things that we are most convinced about. Doubt, detachment, cynicism are the tools we use to protect ourselves – our egos – from hurt and insult; not realizing that this lack of conviction keeps us away from the ultimate fruition of our efforts. Conviction is the force of our that has the potential to transform our ordinary acts to yield extra-ordinary results.
As we say often, the bounty of yoga is that one can come in with any level of abilities, or no abilities, the practice will generate the abilities. If one is seeking admission in an IIT or an IIM, one has to go in as person with high IQ. There are stringent rejection criteria. In yoga, there is no rejection criterion. One can come in as a stupid person, a lazy person, a cowardly person, and can practice to become an intelligent person, an energetic person, a courageous person. One only needs the awareness, the intent, and the tools.
Similarly, one can come in as a doubtful person, and can learn to practice the virtue of conviction.
Speaking up is just a natural outcome of our conviction.
We go back to that moment at the party: If we did not speak up, maybe we are not convinced – about our yoga, about our friend.
Either we have not tried the system enough. Or we are afraid of admitting to a conviction.
2. What do you say?
Today, through various vocational institutes, online courses, we can study anything we want to. There needn’t be any relationship between the subjects. However, when Patanjali studied the sciences of the body, of language and grammar, and of yoga, he was not studying unrelated subjects. If we call Patanjali a gifted polymath, we do him injustice. His genius lay in realizing that these three are related aspects of the same subject.
In Eastern philosophy, speech is recognized as an Action - the the tongue being the Organ of Action. We discussed in the previous section how conviction forms the bedrock of our actions. Knowledge also forms the bedrock of our actions. If we are to speak logically, intelligently and appropriately, we must have enough knowledge about the subject. We must have already though through our subject many times over.
Western thinking only recognizes the vocalized part of speech. But according to Eastern thoughts, there are underlying layers of speech - 3 of them.
The speech of the physical tongue, Vaikhari is heard through the ears. ‘Vaikhari’ literally means flowering. It is the stage when the seeds of our thoughts flower into words.
It is the underlying layer of speech that we are concerned about today. The second level of speech is called Madhyama – ourmental speech or thoughts. It is verbalised but not vocalized, and therefore, not audible.
The third and fourth levels of speech are more subtle, and we are not qualified yet to discuss those.
But speech in the form of Madhyama is something that we are all familiar with, even if the word itself might be unfamiliar. When we are preparing for an important meeting, or a presentation, Madhyama is what we use, as we silently repeat and refine our speech or presentation.
As Prashantji has said in his talks, Madhyama represents that part of our mind that is under our control. The rest of the mind is not really within our control – even though we may like to think that it is. Thoughts arise and thoughts pass. Even with great determination, we cannot control them much. But Madhyama is within our control. It is our chance to sharpen and develop our faculty of logic and analysis.
Usually at this time of the year, we often ask the students to write down your experiences of studying yoga. Sometimes we ask some of the senior students to come for an Open House and share their experiences. It is an opportunity for you to reflect, to take stock of your knowledge, to learn to string your thoughts together, and to communicate them in a way that is appropriate for your audience: to develop the principle of Madhyama. Like all qualities, this also needs practice, and this also improves with practice.
Allow me to spend the final minutes in pre-empting some responses to questions that come up among lay-people.
Q: “Why this insistence on the loyalty to the tradition? If all yoga is one, why isn’t it alright to practice different styles of yoga – go to a different teacher every week?”
A: “Would you ask the same question to a singer of hindustani classical music? All Hindustani classical music is also one, isn’t it? Same ragas, same taals. What is the need for this expressed allegiance to a gharana?
Just as in yoga, the music gharanas are also translated as styles. Just as in yoga, the cornerstone of the practice is the Guru. Thegharanas emerge from the creative style of a genius, who gives existing structures a totally new approach, form and interpretation. Every gharana has its own distinct features.
It is the same with yoga. Not only is there a difference in the physical expression of the asanas, but the principles, the motivation, the attitude, the emotions also differ across different so-called 'styles' of yoga. Mixing up traditions can be like trying to cross a river by straddling across two boats."
The above is just one of the many ways to answer the question. Depending upon who the questioner is, it might or might not be the best way. Sometimes, we might still be caught without an answer. And sometimes it might be best to just be quiet. But picking up and analyzing common questions like this is a way to think through and clarify one’s own understanding of the subject.
We end with a supplementary hypothetical question:
Q: “If BKS Iyengar could figure out a distinct way of practicing yoga, why cant Tom, and Dick and Harry?”
A: “We will go back to the analogy with our system of classical music.
The gharanas emerge from the creative style of a genius, who gives existing structures a totally new approach, form and interpretation
‘Genius’ is one of the rarest, if not the rarest, phenomenon in the human condition. Geniuses are called so because they do something that fundamentally transforms, or has the potential to transform, established ways of doing things.
Our beloved Guruji was such genius. If you educate yourself earnestly about Mr. BKS Iyengar, through the work that he has left behind, you will realise that Mr. Iyengar was no Tom or Dick or Harry.”
Ending with the earnest hope that Śraddhā and Vīrya are established within you.