“One of my goals in life is to do the slowest Primary Series anywhere… rather than the quickest”. Richard Freeman

Friday, 9 September 2011

Yoga, a Spiritual practice, a Philosophy.... both......neither?

Annoyingly Blogger wouldn't allow me to post my long response to Chris in comments so I decided to turn it into a post. This is basically a heated discussion we've been having concerning 'Surrender', I think you'll get the idea of where we've been going with it from my response.

My response below is to Chris' last comment

'in my experience the rational weighing up of intellectual ideas is not enough.'

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Sorry to say Chris there will no doubt be another couple of thousand (words on this ) before I'm done. Never bought into the 1% theory idea and I'm interested in this area, it's crucial too perhaps.

I just looked back through your comments on the earlier surrender post. I think I found something we agree on. You were telling me to surrender up the fruits of my actions.

'You do seem obsessed with asana. Surrender the fruits of one's actions. IE stop focusing so much on the external form, collecting asanas as if they were ££.'

I think your wrong about my view of asana, I went through to 4th in four years, in the early days they did that in four months or a year or so. But again and again I've said on this blog it's just asana, so not so important ( however the nature of this blog, especially in the beginning, was about working out asana, that's how I saw this blog, sharing tips and hints, it's the only view of my practice you got). Pranayama is more important to me than asana and I started yoga in the first place as a support for my meditation practice.

But I agree we shouldn't be concerned about the fruits of our actions.

We disagree on the word surrender. We both seem to think this is a big deal.

It's a different view of yoga, for you it's a spiritual practice, for me it's a philosophy.

You wrote
'hahaha! Isvara pranidhana is there in every spiritual tradition. 
"The word islam is a verbal noun originating from the triliteral root s-l-m, and is derived from the Arabic verb ’áslama, which means "to give up, to desert, to surrender (to God)".
I don't feel that this is a disagreement as such. More a choice as to whether one practices yoga as a spiritual discipline or not.
Asana as aparigraha?'

What I'm reading at the moment is that the spiritual aspect we find in the Gita and and just a little in the Yoga sutras was interpolated as a direct response to Christianity and Islam, to replace a rational philosophy with spiritualism, monotheism. That's what my posts on the 'Original' Gita and 'Original' Yoga sutras are concerned with. How far that is the case is something I'm still researching.

For you it's a spiritual practice for me it's a philosophy. We both have grounds for our views yours, the last twelve hundred years, mine, the previous thousand or two.

The problem of course is that it's always been difficult if not impossible to hold a discussion from these too perspectives, different language games.

You no doubt feel I am missing something through failing to see a spiritual element in the practice, I appreciate the concern.  I of course, from my perspective, feel that yoga is being misrepresented and that questioning is disparaged, that's been a theme running though this blog since I started.

We're probably going to have to agree to disagree and hopefully respectfully.

21 comments:

  1. In one podcast, Richard Freeman translated isvara pranidhana as "surrender to all that is." I find that quite useful.

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  2. Surely it doesn't matter what either of you think Yoga is. As a layman I thought it was all about chitta vritti nirodhah...therefore isn't debating what Yoga is a tad ridiculous....

    On another note...Advanced Series in a year? Maybe if you're 16!! Must have been hella injuries going on....

    I thought the Asanas were simply there to keep us on the edge.....challenge us in to realising how futile our striving to be someone is....

    Surrender? Surely it's just about 'abiding' in now...surrendering to this....

    I have very little experience but this is my interpretation so far....

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  3. I can see why you find the 'all that is useful' Karen but why hold on to Surrender at all? Why does that word/concept keep coming up, when did it come into play and for what reason. Just as much as I question why you might hold on to it I'm questioning my own resistance to it.

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  4. Thank you for your comment Annon.
    I think it does matter, yoga is a philosophy as a practice, we often seem to forget that.it's to be studied and questioned and questioned again. I think this is a central and important question.
    Chitta vrittis is about distractions, the mind's fluctuations. The idea is to concentrate, focus during practice but also on the breath say during pranayama, on the mantra during Japan mantra meditation but also on a chant a scripture or sutra. Here the mind is focused on a philosophical question. The practice should allow us to concentrate and be focussed not just in meditation but in all areas of life. That's my understanding.

    Re advanced in a year... If you see the pictures they were skinny twenty year olds, some had already practiced a couple of years of yoga when they began ashtanga. Going by the guruji book, there were some injuries....sorry openings.

    I like abiding but I'm being careful at the moment about just replacing surrender with just another word.

    Personally I tend to lean towards being present but sometime or other I'm going to want to question my own preference for that more closely.

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  5. An Advanced yogi friend went to Sherath's class claiming to be an intermediate Ashtanga yogi having years of experience. After being adjusted once by P Jois, he was told to leave the class and come back a different time for beginners. He looked like he had mastered the pose, but he was not engaging the bandhas nor using the proper breathing technique and his focus was not there, even though he looked to the desired directive. My friend said Jois's touch was something he had never experienced before and said the experience was also mentally and physically healing.

    I practice Ashtanga and have for over 4 years religiously and have taken workshops from David Williams, David Swenson, Danny Paradise, Keno of Miami Life, Paul Gallahan, J Blanchard. In my humble opinion I believe the Jois family could classify me as a beginner, too.

    I have a yoga blog, practice yoga daily except for rest and moon days. No doubt about this, I am overly attached. I believe a daily practice coupled with a blog about it indicates I have a problem of attachment.

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  6. Still think of myself as a beginner too Quentin, being able to do a handful of fancy postures doesn't change that,

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  7. I don't really think about surrender, T. It's like bowing: some peoe are really opposed to it, but it's just a bow. When I do think about the concept of surrendering, I think of it as "absorption." So: absorption in all that is.

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  8. Grimmly, thanks for this excellent series of posts. Like you, I have trouble with loose talk of spirituality and surrender (a legacy of my mis-spent youth doing a Ph.D. on Wittgenstein) and would like to find a less metaphysically laden understanding of yoga. Not a big Gita reader either for the same reason. But now it looks like I'll have to get Gita As It Was....

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  9. That Guruji book was very confusing...every big name in the book talked of his magnificent touch etc....even when limbs were groaning and knees were popping out...sounded very cultish Stockholm Syndrome to me....highly contradictory to all this Ahimsa talk....

    The more I practice the less I seem to actually understand why I'm practising. The various thoughts that arise during practice revolve around...why am I in here doing this when I could be breathing in fresh park air or seeing friends and being more connected to my community etc etc Or every tendon is aching, joint is clicking...what's the point?

    The practise, if it's 2 hours a day is as one friend pointed out recently, quite obsessive, if not extreme.

    The philosophy seems fundamentally riddled with contradiction to me, as any dominant methodology has to be. Vipassana still seems very much like a pure form compared to Hatha Yoga. Less for the ego to hold onto perhaps.

    I'd like to know more about all your experiences of doubt in the practice. When your mind has said 'This is absurd!'....

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  10. Hi Grimmly,

    thanks for writing this great blog. I started practicing Ashtanga two month ago and got really motivated by your older posts in the "developing a home practise"-section.

    @topic
    I'm almost done reading Gregor Maehle's Book "Ashtanga Practice & Philosophy". The Philosophy part is basically a large comment of the various stanzas of Patanjali's Yoga-Sutra. Since he also has some degree in Western Philosophy, I think reading his commentary could clear some things up for you. In short, if I understood correctly, the whole surrender thing is the last step on the way to liberation and not part of Patanjali's yoga system anymore, which is a preaperation that most people need before being able to study Vedanta and ultimatly surrender to God. But I could have gotten it wrong. Difficult text.

    @offtopic
    I was wondering if you have any advise as to how to master the lotus-position... Hope this is not a to dumb question...

    Thanks & Regards
    Raphael

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  11. Remember that story Ramaswami told?

    Some of us are like kittens, like to be grabbed by the neck by big protective mama cat, she does all the work, we just are kittens.

    Some of us are like monkeys, constantly clinging to mother, holding on for dear life as she jumps through those branches in acrobatics we doubt we will ever dare try.

    The first one is surrender, the second is.... Hn, what was the second?

    Anyway I thought about this while reading.

    I also want to clarify what surrender means, so far, all I'm getting is that yoga is a big toolbox, different clients (gun a make-up) combinations, different monkey, er, I mean, tools....

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  12. Imeant to say "GUNA make-up" not gun....silly iPad that won't surrender to my tipying

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  13. I consider all of this adversity to surrender and spirituality to be a reaction. There is nothing to surrender and nothing to surrender to, accepting that is a form of surrender. The words are unimportant. Call it what you will. In your last set of comments I suggested that you surrender your dislike of the term "surrender". You suggested that I surrender my attachment to it. If I were to follow your advice then I would still be surrendering. If you followed mine then so would you.

    We are surrendered, it's not a choice. I suppose the skill is not letting go too easily (bandhas, intellectual argument) and equally not neurotically clinging when the time is right to end. It's just a balance. God being a metaphor for skilfull balance.

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  14. Apologies in advance for quick responses want to get on the mat.

    I like 'absorption' too Karen, similar to being present (?) The Sinha book is comparing the original Yoga sutras, Smakhya, Buddhism and Jainism as nonmonotheistic, the original Gita too so perhaps that's why we have some common ground here.

    Good to see you here Rene, big fan of Wittgenstein, one of the reasons I walked out on Academia and got a 'real' job (remember him telling his students to quit Uni and go down the pits). I was a lousy school teacher too. Worked in quite a religious prep school (christian) and got into trouble for adding an s onto Religion and teaching the kids about Buddism. So nothing new with this post.

    Gita as it was is interesting, not sure about the writer but he's not the only one writing on this area. Snap up a copy second hand while they're still around as it's out of print.

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  15. Hi Raph. I thought the Guruji book was excellent, felt a big change in the blogosphere after it came out, all the ashtangi's read it and so much of the dogma fell away (not all of it but a lot). Couldn't say there were no injuries anymore or that there was only one way to teach, only one correct way to do things. What was left was this is how things are done currently in Mysore. It's a good read too.

    the why am I here question we could ask about pretty much any discipline where we have to work at it, footballers on a training ground for instance ( although at least that's outside). the discipline was good for me, I got a lot healthier, fitter more focussed. Sometimes I do ask why am i doing all this asana when i could be spending more time on pranayama and meditation though.

    You can get the practice down to an hour with Sharath's CD/ DVD I usually practice asana for 90 minutes, feels about right for me.

    I think there's a culture of what guru says goes which then becomes what teacher says goes not always but sometimes. People often forget the bit where it says we're supposed to question our teachers and the scriptures so all kinds of things get mixed up together. That's a little unfair perhaps but only a little.

    Will certainly be writing more on areas I had problems with, lots of things I found absurd though some i cam around to.

    Hi Raphael
    thanks, glad your finding some stuff you like on the blog.
    I have Maehle's books but only glanced at his Surta section will have another look.

    Vinyasa Krama has a lotus sequence, the first half is a lot of build up postures, many of which are in Primary series. here's the link to the VK practice sheets for lotus sequence

    focus on your Janu sirsasana's and half lotus poses and particularly UPAVISTHA and badha konasana

    http://vinyasakramayoga.blogspot.com/2011/01/lotus-sequence-poster-and-practice.html
    I saw a great video on this on Youtube years ago
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USAeDzIbM5M

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  16. Is that my choice Claudia the inner kitten or inner Monkey, no Lions, leopards , panther's?

    I don't think I heard that story from Ramaswami. let me know if you remember what the second one is called.

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  17. Thanks for commenting Chris.

    There is some adversity, I'm not down with the deity. Had too much Church dogma shoved down my throat as a kid. Never teach the Aryan controversy in Sunday school, why is that.

    However, I'm not completely dismissive of spirituality ( though I hate that word). I can see that where I might take a moral, rational or aesthetic position on/ in relation to the world., there might be another position that is neither of those, perhaps where the moral and aesthetic begin to merge. But I don't experience it or recognise it if I do. It's not that I'm adverse to it I just don't experience it.

    I am adverse to others trying to force it on me though, telling me that Yoga is about this or that rather than this is what it is to/for them.

    It turns out my instincts my be correct, that the spiritualism, devotion, surrender aspect in the gita and a little in the sutras may well have been a later addition, corrupting the more rationalistic, philosophical aspect of Samkhya that was the essence of yoga.

    It doesn't mean that one of us is wrong the other right but rather that yoga is broad enough to encompass either or both approaches.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Grimmly, I have been looking at this post and the previous one. I agree with you. The word surrender and spirituality both "scare" me. The process of surrendering does not make sense to me, but I think my problem with this is, also, the subject/object distinction. Only the subject can surrender and if there is no real break between the two, neither can surrender for neither really exists. I guess you could say the ego can surrender but what the hell is the ego? It is the manifest of the subject, right? This subject can never really be. Spirituality (besides of reminding me of Hegel) also superimposes the need of the subject. I guess I am trying to even fight the Samkhya Doctrine right now because, just like Descartes, it is broken into subject(the purusha)and the object (the rest of the tattvas). I like both Samkhya and Yoga but I have serious doubts.

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  19. Or, maybe we late Heideggerians have already surrendered by denying the subject object distinction? This is why it makes no sense, you cannot surrender if there is no real subject to surrender. After all, we are being here in the no-thing. And, maybe we are already the most spiritual for the same reason. We, the subjects, do not matter for we are also somewhat the objects. I guess yoga is good at giving us points of clarity which scare us back to the subject? Ok, I am just speaking gibberish now.

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  20. Hey Chris, been wanting to get back to your Apollonian/Dionysian post.
    It's funny I'm so dismissive of much of Logic the pre eminence it had in analytic and linguistic philosophy but you can't turn off that training sometimes, so much of this is a point of logic. Non philosophers or even those who just took a couple of classes don't get how we struggle with terms, with premises plus twenty years of Heidegger and banging my head against subject/object, damn right I have a problem with surrender. And don't get me started on phil of religion : ) .....and a C of E upbringing
    No doubt somebody will come back with, oh you have to surrender your rationality...... here's a thesis for you Chris, the role of rationality within Spirituality don't people see that in their Patanjali, their Kalinka, Vyasa, Aquinus, Augustine, Ekhart... hell, Dogen.
    99% rationality 1% spirituality ....but that 1%, there's some icing for ya.

    Love your line
    ' And, maybe we are already the most spiritual'

    Loving playing with all this stuff but in the end, it'll be back to Heidegger, now there was a yogi.

    Btw you must let me know your Samkhy reading list.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Grimmly,

    I do think Heidegger was the most yogic of the 20th century Continental Philosophy. I kind of want to play with the eastern influence arising from Schopenhauer to Nietzsche to Heidegger.

    Recently I had a conversation with somebody, in which I said, that I slaughtered the spirituality of these things so that I can get their philosophy. I am pretty sure that wass a lie but again I did not want to deal with that word, spirituality. I do all my little beginning and ending chants but I will never call myself spiritual. Yes, I think the main deal with philosophy is that we are extremely critical about word choice. It reminds me argument that end up in agreements because we simply decided to use different words but they end up meaning the same. I am sure that the Eastern word for spirituality is different than the Western.

    99% practice 1% theory is always strange to me because the theory is the practice.

    For the Samkhya class (I start it in January) we are literally just going to go through the Samkhya Karika in Sanskrit. I will post more about it when the time comes.

    I think Alcibiades was right in the Symposium, philosophy is like a snake bite.

    ReplyDelete

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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