Friday, 13 July 2012

Adi Shankara on Pranayama in Aparokshanubhuti

"Collegiate Assessor Kovalev also awoke early that morning. And when he had done so he made the ?B-r-rh!? with his lips which he always did when he had been asleep ? he himself could not have said why. Then he stretched, reached for a small mirror on the table near by, and set himself to inspect a pimple which had broken out on his nose the night before. But, to his unbounded astonishment, there was only a flat patch on his face where the nose should have been! Greatly alarmed, he got some water, washed, and rubbed his eyes hard with the towel. Yes, the nose indeed was gone! He prodded the spot with a hand ? pinched himself to make sure that he was not still asleep. But no; he was not still sleeping. Then he leapt from the bed, and shook himself. No nose! Finally, he got his clothes on, and hurried to the office of the Police Commissioner"
The Nose, Gogol. 

Anon. added this excellent comment below on an earlier post that I just have to share...

"Anonymous said...
...Regarding Pranayama, and my practice thereof, as was taught by Ramaswami, I have been reading and contemplating Adi Shankara's observations in "Aparokshanubhuti" translated by Swami Vimuktananda.

E.g. From Sutra 114, Shankara writes:

114. That (Brahman) which is the root of all existence and on which the restraint of the mind is based is called the restraining root (Mulabandha) which should always be adopted since it is fit for Raja-yogins.

115. Absorption in the uniform Brahman should be known as the equipose of the limbs (Dehasamya). Otherwise ere straightening of the body like that of a dried-up tree is no equipose.

116. Converting the ordinary vision into one of knowledge one should view the world as Brahman Itself. That is the noblest vision, and not that which is directed to the tip of the nose.

117. Or, one should direct one's vision to That alone where all distinction of the seer, sight and the seen ceases and not to the tip of the nose.

118. The restraint of all modifications of the mind by regarding all mental states like the Chitta as Brahman alone, is called Pranayama.

119. The negation of the phenomenal world is known as Rechaka (breathing out), the thought, "I am verily Brahman," is called Puraka (breathing in), and the steadiness of that thought thereafter is called Kumbhaka (restraining the breath). This is the real course of Pranayama for the enlightened, whereas the ignorant only torture the nose.

He then goes on to explain the remaining steps to the attainment of knowledge..."

The text can be found online in pdf HERE

However Anon recommends the print edition with the commentary see the comment to this post.


  1. cheers for spreading the word of Shankara! However, I would strongly encourage all to reference the print edition of the text, which has incredibly insightful commentary. Moreover, the PDF version referenced in the page above seems to be of a different translation than the one I have.

    You can purchase copies (and very cheaply) via Amazon or via the Vedanta Society of San Francisco's Bookstore.


    Vedanta Society:

  2. p.s. love that nose picture! lol

  3. Thanks again Anon, have added a link to Amazon and a pic of the print edition as well as a quote from Gogol, all this talk of tip of noses reminded me of it.

  4. Hey there!

    Looks like you had a great holiday. Haven't visited for a while, and was quite surprised to see such a similar trend. I just changed the image of my Japanese blog and am starting up with the sutra and other texts in class again. Coincidence or not...? ha ha! I too pondered on using this water background, but decided on the bamboo leaves instead. Nice new fresh look for summer. Like. And thanks as always for the constant sharing. Wonderful!

  5. Anthony, the following is Swami Vimuktananda's commentary to sutra 119, which I think you'll appreciate:

    "Pranayama--Patanjali describes it as "controlling the motion of the exhalation and the inhalation: (II:49). There are three steps in it. The first step is to draw in the breath (Puraka), the next is to hold it for some time in the lungs (Kumbhaka), and the last is to throw it out (Rechaka). Patanjali holds that the mind will be naturally controlled if its communications with the external world are cut off by restraining the breath. But Sankara here maintains that the breath is entirely dependent on the mind and not vice versa; so that instead of frittering away one's energy in the attempt of restraining the breath one should always try to control the mind. When this is accomplished, the restraint of the breath will follow as a matter of course."

  6. Anonymous comment the one above this is 100% true, pranayama is good in moderation I seen people do it crazily and have to go through some nose surgeries. Heart is below the nose and nose is below the intellect, if you want to control heart use your nose if you want to control breath use your mind. Pranayama is good for controlling heart not mind, gaining control on mind is the highest achievement and it has certain steps pranayama is definitely one important step but not the ultimate.

  7. Hi. エスタ, yeah the new, look, missed jumping in the pool after practice and the ocean. The picture at the top is to give me some help, back home in wet and grey England, with effulgence. Will check out your own new look.

  8. Thank you anon 1&2 for your comments, Particularly like the nose between the heart and mind image 2. "Pranayama is good for controlling the heart not the mind" interesting.

  9. Hey Grimmly, while you're on the subject of Pranayama I'd love to know more about exactly what kinds of effects you get from practicing it. It's something I've been wanting to ask someone for a long time as I find the usual promises that pranayama will help you control your heart or whatever slightly vague and not particularly inspiring because, frankly, I don't really see any reason to want to control my heart. So, for the benefit of us pranayama beginners and wonderers, would you mind expanding a bit on the more concrete benefits of your pranayama practice that you've actually experienced yourself - in your asana practice, in life generally, or in other ways? It would be so great to hear it from someone who clearly has gotten hooked on it for some reason or the other. Cheers :)

  10. Hi Bibi, hmmmmm, interesting. Bit rushed today but will have a think and either answer your question here in in a post of it's own if it gets long.

  11. Grimmly thanks for your continued exploration of the breathe and pranayama . These are such a great anchors for the practice. The more I practice breathing with complete reverence the more the practice has revealed to me.

  12. Hi Wyatt, always good to hear from you. I'm reading Gregor Maehle's book on Pranayama at the moment , highly recommend it, oh and do you have Swami Hariharananda Aranya's Yoga philosophy of Patanjali? Excellent, Ramaswami recommended it, nice commentary on the pranayama sutras II:50 to II:53 should be able to have a look at those pages on Amazon.

  13. Yes I do, and am currently reading it ! Amazing .

  14. Hi Bibi. Sorry, I've struggled a little with answering this, tried to do it in a post but wasn't comfortable with it, not used to writing about my practice in this way. more used to just sharing how i approach something rather than how I feel about it or the effects i experience.
    Effects of pranayama that I experience personally? i should probably be doing experiments to see if I'm more analytic when breathing through the left nostril or more creative when breathing through the right but I probably won't bother.

    No doubt it all stands or falls on the idea of prana and the nadis if you don't buy into either, and the jury is out for me still on both though I'm trying to find a way to grasp then, then I'm not sure where that leaves pranayama.

    However, while I come slowly to terms with the concept of prana, all I can really say is that I find pranayama intensely calming. i feel more centred, more focused than in asana practice (and I always felt I had quite a focussed asana practice), and the word I wanted to use before was 'contained'. After pranayama practice I feel contained and that feeling seems to last for a large part of the day. there's a kind drawing can i put it, after ashtanga practice i tend to feel my shoulders are back, chest out a little ready to face anything the world might throw at me. After Vinyasa krama and more so with pranayama i feel my head slightly tilted down, more focussed inward. no idea if that makes any sense. And of course pranayama prepares me for pratyahara, inward and outward (trataka) gazing and meditation/concentration practice.
    Sitting on a cushion for 90 minutes (my pranayama practice) is a LONG time but I do that with pranayama quite comfortably and then another ten minutes of pratyahara and another thirty of meditation, a two hour sit, wouldn't think of trying that in the Zen or vipassana i practiced before. pranayama seems to make such a long sit comfortably doable.

  15. Hm, that's very interesting. Thank you for taking the time to answer. Sounds like it's quite subtle, so maybe that's why it's so rare to see anybody write about how Pranayama affects them. After I took a workshop with Dena Kingsberg last October I kept up some Pranayama before each yoga practice, and although I started feeling some fascinating improvements in my breathing during asana (mostly somehow managing to hook my in-breath up to mula bandha in a neat way), I found the Pranayama difficult, not getting any easier, being on my own without guidance and all, and so I ended up slipping out of the habit. But I'd love to get back to it and though it might not be quite PC in yoga circles to be inspired by possible results, I find it easier to keep it up if I know there might be something nice coming out of it, even if it's a bit down the line (and who cares anyway, what people think?). Anyway, sounds like you have experienced something nice, something desirable, so maybe I should give it another go. Very impressed by your two-hour sits, by the way - the discipline! :)

    Again, thanks! I've been wanting to ask somebody that for a very long time, good to get it out of the system. :)

  16. Actually, while I was in Savasana this morning I had a lightbulb moment where what you're saying about how pranayama makes you more focused and centered makes it perfect as a balance to the asana practice - which is what everybody keeps saying, but I never really understood why. But the feeling of being rather wrung out and slightly scattered after Primary plus some made me realize - after your description of the effects I could totally imagine how some pranayama and then some meditation can help even me out nicely before starting the day. Eureka!

  17. Love the Eureka moment : )
    The problem I always found with Ashtanga and pranayama was that after Ashtanga I was so hot and sweaty and with a soggy mat towel that pranayama was the last thing I felt in the mood for, So then i started imagining i was in a shala and moving to another room for the finishing section. I'd change my towel and even throw on something different, do the calmer finishing sequence and then sit for my pranayama, that helped. if you want to explore it then Gregor Maehle's Pranayama book is perfect. Very practical. There's a nice little pranayama app for the iPhone etc as well that i used for a while in the beginning. here's a link to a post I did on it



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from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi

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