Saturday, 3 November 2012

Adjustments vs Assists?

UPDATE: Some interesting and reflective comments have come in on this post topic that are well worth reading...more so than the post itself .

This post comes out of a home practitioners thoughts about the benefits of attending a Mysore room ( I do think about it every now and again), some adjustment might be good for me, but do I really want assists? I'd argued to myself that as far as I knew Krishnamacharya didn't tend assist hands on, but then I saw this picture from the Krishnamacharya movie Der Atmende Gott which has made me think again.

Krishnamacharya assisting
I saw this YouTube video from Kino when it came out a couple of weeks ago and planned on including it on a post back then but forgot all about it. Kino posts a lot of videos, demo's and mini tutorials but this struck me as something new, a video focusing on adjustment.


...and here's another one that I saw this morning which reminded me of her earlier video.



Adjustments VS Assists
Now I have to say that being a home practitioner I'm more than a little confused about adjustments and assists, where does one end and the other begin.

I've been to a Mysore self practice room twice, I remember just the two cases, no make that three. One was the teacher helping me get my arm further around than ever before in marichi D allowing me to clasp my wrist rather than just my fingers, something up until then I hadn't thought I was built for. Now was that an adjustment, an assist or a bit of both?

The second was in Urdhva Dhanurasana where the teaching assistant brought my shoulders further over my arms, felt good, again adjustment or assist?

The third was just popping my leg on her shoulder in utthita hasta padangusthasana, going to call that an assist.

In Santorini a few months ago I attended a led class held at Tranquillo's bar and I remember the teacher walking by and running her fingers down my thigh in Ardha baddha padmottanasana without saying a word, a reminder to not let my knee float out to the side but to point it straight down. Asist or adjustment? I'll call that an adjustment.

Pop quiz. in the two video's below would you call them

a. Adjustment
b. Assist
c. bit of both





I like the idea of Adjustments, I know my practice could do with a lot more of them, although from the teaching video's I watch (Richard Freeman, Mark Darby, Kino, David Swenson etc. etc. etc.) there are the constant verbal reminders to focus on different aspects of the postures, rotate in here, rotate out there.... and of course I take videos and pictures of my own and have a look at what's going on. Still, that's no substitute perhaps for having an experienced teacher looking from the outside.

Are Assists necessary?
Adjustments though.....I don't know, there's something about them that makes me ...uncomfortable. I've always managed to work an asana out for myself without any shoving or pushing or levering by anyone else. I'm inside my body I can feel what's going on, how far I'm comfortable working into a posture and we do hear about some damaging assists with knees and ribs popping out etc. Now you might argue that a good teacher will take you further than you think you can go, make the impossible possible. Perhaps, but I'll stay on the safe side and having practiced up to and including most of Advanced B on my own, here alone at home, I kind of feel I've proved my point.

Assists aren't perhaps necessary.

Intimacy?
I posted the video below the talk is intercut with a lot of examples of Pattabhi Jois assisting and/or adjusting. When I posted this somebody commented that it was rather 'intimate'. Indeed, and I have to admit and it made me uncomfortable too, it still does, most of these assists struck me as inappropriate or at the very least unnecessary.




Inappropriate? Unnecessary?

Context is perhaps everything, we can edit together the most questionable looking assists to make a case or take a screenshot at the most damning moment, but what IS inappropriate in the context of this practice. The final video I post below shows Pattabhi Jois clambering all over his long term students (is that Chuck Miller in the bottom video) to get the necessary leverage. This practice, Pattabhi Jois's approach to anyway, was very much hands on. What would be inappropriate perhaps would be to not commit fully when giving an assist, giving a half hearted assist which is possibly more dangerous.

But some of these assists are highly intimate, that's one thing in a small group where the teacher and students are familiar with each other but perhaps something else in a larger workshop environment.

Below we have an example of David Swenson appearing to to shake his head as if to indicate a particular adjustment wasn't necessary or required. David of course has been practicing forever and is comfortable and confident enough to say No Thank-You even to Shri K. Pattabhi Jois. Not everyone would perhaps be confident enough to say No to such an assist from their own, let alone a visiting, teacher. In some postures it's not easy to raise hand to indicate No let alone say it aloud in a silent Mysore room. It could be an awkward situation where one might prefer to suffer in silence which is a depressing thought. I'm not just talking about the more intimate assists either, I don't want somebody holding down one knee while the they push down on the other in baddha konasana say, I'll work that out myself thank you very much...or not.



And yet here's Tim Feldman assisting/adjusting yoga nidrassana and it strikes me as very professional and sensitive to the situation, such that I wonder why I felt uncomfortable in the first place. I like the little bit at the beginning where he puts his foot on one side and pulls the leg further behind. I could do with that sometimes and yet I manage well enough and remembered this morning while practicing it to try and lengthen as much as possible without the need for a hand pushing down on my sit bones.



And here's the other video of Pattabhi Jois, crawling all over Chuck Miller (?) to wrestle him into Kasyapasana, intimate yes but inappropriate? Adjustments are full-on involvement, they are going to appear inappropriate at times, how do we decide when one is and one isn't.



That said, though I could do with some extra help in my own Kasyapasana, I'm working at it, getting there slowly on my own, working at getting that trailing leg flatter and so my feeling is that while I can see the benefits of adjustments/assists I just find unnecessary. Besides, aren't they just shortcut?

But then again what else are the teacher's going to do in a Mysore room, a little adjustment here and there but then what. If you see somebody struggling to get their arm around in pashasana ,aren't you going to give the student a little support so they don't fall backwards, perhaps help a little with that rotation of the shoulder. Give a little support and thus confidence to a student dropping back....

As I said I'm confused as to my own thinking here and am prepared to be convinced either way.

More on this topic here, from Yoga Gypsy
http://yogagypsy.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/adjustments-assists-and-whenhow-to-say.html

and here, from Noble
http://yogadragonden.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/deep-forward-bending-deep-backbending.html


22 comments:

  1. I use the terms "assist" and "adjustment" interchangeably.

    The best adjusters/assisters -- in my perspective -- manage to be both intimate and impersonal at the same time. No creepiness factor. There is something incredibly powerful about someone being so close and yet perfectly impersonal. Kind of like chatting with a zen master!

    Most recent example of a cool assist was at a workshop in June. David Garrigues stepped up onto my legs and was totally unwavering. Incredible balance. Even more than a change to my posture, it was a physical demonstration of rock-solidness that was quite instructive. It's interesting how some teachers' adjustments demonstrate more about mind than about body.

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  2. ..to me, an adjustment is when somebody is in a poor alignment position, at the risk of injuring themselves if they push too far, and you help them regaining their alignement. And by alignment I mean what is right for their bodies. Take dwipadapitham for example. Sometime people are so obsessed with keeping the feet parallel that they cannot have them planted well on the floor, the feet open up and lift from the inside. But you want the weigh to be distributed across the whole foot. So if they position the top of the foot wider than the heel, they can achieve that. It's a subtle balance of hips, knees, ankles etc. Or another adjustment is could be bringing somebody's knee back in line with the ankle in vira II, for example.
    Assist to me is when somebody appear to be able to go deeper in an asana, yet they don't for whatever reason (concentration, laziness, a small injury they did not tell you about) and you see if they are happy to actually go deeper with your help.
    So for me the pop quiz answer is that they were both assists, with the first one too heavy.

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  3. BTW, the posture I was in was baddha konasana. :-)

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  4. Ooo, good topic. As another home practitioner, I confess I'm terrified of assists or adjustments or whatever you call them. Maybe it is my old age but I seem to get injured (not seriously, but messed up, pain that lingers for a month) so easily. I have found that it is imperative that I not push too hard.

    In the two David Williams workshops I've been to, he did no hands-on, except to demonstrate what to never let a teacher do (pulling someone farther into a pose) because, "how can they know where your sweet spot it?" He is very against adjustments/assists of any kind except verbal, from what I can tell, and describes injuries he received at the hands of Jois that cemented this view for him.

    On the other hand, in the David Garrigues workshop I attended last spring, I received the only hands-on help I've gotten thus far in my practice and on the whole it was fascinating and worthwhile. Sometimes it felt good/intimate/scary, for example, I remember nearly losing my balance when he was adjusting something and he said with total confidence, "I will not let you fall" which impacted me more than the adjustment did. He didn't let me fall, and I was able to relax into what he was doing. On the other other hand, another time I was doing supta padanguthasana and he pushed on the leg which fired up my old hamstring attachment pain OUCH and my eyes popped open, I said "injury!" and his hands came off me like I was on fire. I was okay, but I got the feeling if it wasn't a workshop, if I was his student, he would have known not to do that, and that he regretted moving in too quickly. On the other other other hand, he pulled me into many poses much further than I thought I could go--psychological tightness?--such as wrist grab in Mari B, that I could then do without him. After the workshop I simultaneously felt that 1)I would go so much further if I was studying with him regularly AND 2) that I wouldn't be able to stay with it because the intensity was too much and I would get hurt (I had several lingering tweaks afterwards).

    I guess, for this home practitioner, the David Williams approach of finding the pleasure in the pose, doing it like tai chi with the focus on bandhas and breath rather than asana, seems to work best at this time (and, possibly, at my age, 41).

    It's a complicated and interesting issue!

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  5. I forgot to give my personal feeling... I prefer verbal adjustment and do not particularly like assists UNLESS they come from a teacher I know well. A matter of trust I guess. I do not honestly care how far I go, and like Maya I prefer to linger in my bandhas and breath.
    One thing which I find is that any physical adjustment or assist is disruptive to the concentration and meditative state you reach in the practice. I tend to give verbal cues and I lightly touch people where I think they could 'improve. And I find that most time they know exactly what to do and if they do not it is because they are not ready. Amazing like a light touch can bring awareness. This is how I like stuff done on me, perhaps this is why I do it too.... And already I feel that when giving cues I talk too much, so I tend to give them all when explaining the sequence and then keep as quiet as possible

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  6. interesting post. i feel like what i receive in mysore practice is assists, (rather than adjustments) , and also verbal coaching. The word adjustments sort of implies that you are doing something wrong..maybe it is just point of view? I took a friend who studied iyengar style only to a vinyasa class a few years back. We ended up as the only 2 students in the class with a very well trained teacher. She gave great assists, and spent a lot of time with my friend, but after class, my friend felt like she was getting -corrections- not assists. Her experience in yoga classes and maybe her own mindset, encouraged that point of view.

    The assists themselves have generally been pretty gentle, and while they can feel intimate, definitely not in a weird way. A number of the postures place you into vulnerable positions -kurmasana and supta K are that way for me, and the first "assists" i received on them were a bit scary (the teacher acknowledged this beforehand) because i did not know what these poses could feel like (you dont just wake up one days and say..let me put my legs almost behind my head :)). For the record, that yogi nidrasana assist is one i would never ever want to receive, that does look a little..hmm.

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  7. Anthony, thanks for these interesting videos. Important point you're making.
    My personal feeling about it is related to several key points:
    - Adjusts/assists are one of the great features of Ashtanga; in years of Hatha yoga practice I never experienced it and I feel it's extremely valuable, but...
    - Ideally the teacher should know you, your progress, your history, how your body reacts, what mental blocks you have. No one does the same asana exactly in the same way, but your teacher ought to know where he can lead you and how far.
    - Some asanas should never be adjusted, you know your sweet spot and injury can just be half an inch away (Lino forbids his assistants to adjust in specific asanas)
    - Some asanas always require assisting until your body and your mind are both ready. Sometimes the mind blocks progress because of archaic and subconscious fears, assisting unable
    you to experience what the asana should feel like and open up the mind to let go (it works)
    -Self Mysore practice is good but we often repeat the same mistakes until they become our limits, with adjustments we can discover that a correct asana was less than an inch away, a small tweak...
    - Assists create a bond teacher-student which allows you to go beyond the limits you have set for yourself, thus the teacher helps you trust what you can do, but you need first to trust him

    I practice at home too and attend regular workshops and I feel more comfortable when adjustments are made by certain teachers so it's a very interpersonal thing, but I feel it's such a fundamental part of the practice without which it's hard to progress.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This article and the questioning of assists from a Guru brings me to a topic that has been on my mind for a while - the difference between an Indian/Hindu perspective towards yoga and westerner’s. (I am only referring to true Gurus here, not some yoga teacher).
    The Guru (teacher) and Shishya (student) relationship is a formal relationship with a religious initiation ceremony. The Guru is not only a physical form, he is energy, he is jnana (knowledge) and he is the medium through which this energy and knowledge flows down to us. The guru takes care of all your needs, guides you. You are the hard stone and he is the water that shapes you, slowly. He is the mirror who will show you your true self and help you learn, and grow, if you submit yourself to him.
    This knowledge that he is giving you is not something that he made up, or something that he believes, this is the sacred knowledge, which was passed on to him by his Guru and which can be traced back to the divine.
    The first sign of a Guru is detachment- Vairagya. I read about Mysore students who are surprised that Sharathji hardly speaks to them when they first meet, that Guruji Pattabhi Jois spoke very few phrases. Do they think that Guruji could not have learnt more English if he wanted? No, he was practicing vairagya. He was giving them something that had no need for words. Perhaps Krishnamachariya didn’t give adjustments because he only had students who followed and believed ultimately in the Guru-shishya relationship whilst Guruji Pattabhi Jois had the challenging of dealing with the questioning Western mind. But either way both practiced vairagya.
    To me that is the underlying question about adjustments. Why is your teacher giving you an adjustment? If he is adjusting you in order to pass on knowledge, an instruction that simple says this is what it should be, then he will not continuously give you that adjustment. He will pull back and might even begin to ignore you so that you have to face this challenge on your own. The teachers who constantly give the same adjustment over and over so the student becomes dependent on them for the pose (eg. I had this with sputa kurmasana and was shocked when I started practicing at home and found I couldn’t do it on my own) …are they practicing vairagya? Or are they lead by the very western desire for achievement, for tangible progress?
    The Rudryamala describes the characteristics of a true Guru - he has no drawbacks, is free of vices, with impeccable character, following dharma and spiritual practices and devoted to his guru. (And Grimmly, this is where I really support your idea of a home practice, because a guru such as this is hard to find, and if you can not find one, then it’s probably better to follow the ancient gurus and their teachings.)
    As you focus on the guru, gradually you start acquiring his qualities and after some time your form starts resembling that of your guru. So you need to be sure of what you follow, because you eventually become what you follow.

    If you can find this Guru, then when he stands beside you or he touches you he is passing on divine knowledge and energy. In India we believe that it takes many lifetimes to experience yoga, your Guru can help you along this path by passing on his jnana and his divine energy to you. And if you, as a traditional Indian would, begin to see an assist as a way of passing on this divinity, it takes on a new meaning.
    The most important part of the guru-shishya relationship is to have faith and divine belief - then you will never question, the adjustments. Your guru is your God.

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  9. An assist or an adjustment in my opinion is essential in forming new grooves - samskaras - in your practice. Over time one can fall into patterns when not practicing under a teacher. A teacher who knows your practice can help to undo negative samskaras in order to teach your body and mind how to do the posture correctly and safely. Samskaras can become so ingrained that it can take a long time to overcome them. I was going to do a post on overcoming negative samskaras actually :)

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  10. yes, to throw this a bit off kilter, I point to the money students pay to the teachers. Some pay upwards of $200 a month to attend Mysore rooms. I myself paid $145 a month to attend and eventually stopped going as I receieved almost no adjustments and was left completely on my own. i enjoyed this, but I felt like I was better off then to just practice on my own at home, which I continue to do to this day. I feel I am better off attending occasional Iyengar courses to get the proper alignment techniques, which can be applied to ashtanga or VK. For the price, one would expect to receive assists and adjustments, otherwise, why pay and go to Mysore rooms? I don't buy into the "energy" quotient that many say is the reason for attending. Anyhoo...

    I would gladly pay to study one-on-one with Ramaswami, however. :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. How many circumstances are there today to receive human touch that is not from a mate, or otherwise sexual? We are touch starved. By 6 or 7 kids no longer want to hug their parents and they remain touch deprived until they become sexually active. We have massage therapy, but I can't think of many other examples, other than organized sport or dance. Getting adjustments is quite a unique experience...there is so much trust and surrender involved. A really helpful one I got was Baddha Konasana. It was like waking up and remembering how to do the pose. After that it wasn't long before I could do it myself. At a workshop with Kino she literally dug her fist into my lower abdomen to demonstrate uddiyana bandha...not unpleasant at all..a little alarming like a good wake up call should be :) Mostly I've had positive results from assists and adjustments. You do have to take charge as the onus is on you to accept or decline an offer for an assist.

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  12. I'm with you in terms of the difference between adjustments and assists. I generally think of adjustments as verbal or physical "tips" that help us find the right alignment in a pose or share an insight. Sometimes they might be necessary, in that they help us avoid injuries, sometimes they're just helpful or instructional. For me, these are the true value of an experienced teacher - getting that extra bit of instruction that allows you to take yourself deeper into a pose either mentally or physically.

    I think of assists as helping someone get a bit deeper into a pose. Ashtanga is infamous for its "extreme" assists (like the video of Jois and Chuck Miller!) - and unfortunately many of the Ashtangis I know who have suffered injury have been injured during the course of an overzealous or badly performed assist. I'm with you that these dramatic assists are not and should not be necessary for people to do the practice, although many people - including me - enjoy them a great deal and get a lot out of them. In the end, I guess much of it boils down to personal preference, and the style of the teacher.

    I do think every practitioner has the right to refuse an assist and should never hesitate to say "no thanks". If your teachers aren't creating a space where you feel comfortable to refuse an assist, that would be a red-flag for me! Equally, if you know ahead of time that you don't want any dramatic assists, you should take responsibility for that and tell that to the teacher ahead of time rather than staying silent and feeling off-put about it afterwards.

    ReplyDelete
  13. So interesting to think about "touch starvation." I work in the learning technology field, but my very favorite way of learning is via someone showing me person-to-person -- with their body and with mine. We learn SO much with our minds; it's delightful and nourishing to learn something with our bodies, by touch and by our eyes and our mirror neurons.

    ReplyDelete
  14. A recent video from Miami Life Center http://youtu.be/S6xGzemE8U8 is a discussion between Kino and Will Duprey about what makes a good teacher. Kino emphasises that the teacher needs to truely love their students, and the students need to feel that love and compassion. The students will feel this love powerfully through the teachers touch. Like the touch of a good parent, the touch will be firm and guiding, yet gentle.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Just wanted to say, Grimm, the girl in the very first video clip is me! I will never forget that adjustement!
    Thanks for sharinng.
    KateR

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do you mean the second Kino video Kate, wearing the blue top. Hi (waves). Kino seems to be posting a few of these adjustment video's now, find them fascinating.

      Delete
    2. No, the very first - Garbha Pindasana with Guruji, way back in 2002...just one year in to practice...

      Delete
  16. This prompted a post from me, in which I linked back here. Thought you'd like to know!

    http://yogagypsy.blogspot.com/2012/11/adjustments-assists-and-whenhow-to-say.html

    ReplyDelete
  17. I prefer corrections to be given verbally. I am very uncomfortable with someone else coming up behind me when I'm in a vulnerable position then laying hands on the backs of my legs. This happened a couple of times while I was in the standing forward bend position and downward dog. I didn't say anything at the time but the more I thought about it later, the more creepy it felt (I am male, so was the teacher). No one else in the class complained. I haven't been back.

    Also, the way supta vajrasana is usually taught is not helpful - instead of the teacher straddling the students legs while they are in lotus, why not teach them how to do it unaided? If this is not usually possible, why is it in the series?

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thank you everyone for all the reflective comments on this I missed the chance to respond to the first couple and then it seemed to make more sense to just keep out of the way rather than take a discussion in one direction (my own).

    here are some of my favourite, more quotable parts of your comments that stood out for me

    "The best adjusters/assisters -- in my perspective -- manage to be both intimate and impersonal at the same time…"
    from karen

    "…doing it like tai chi with the focus on bandhas and breath rather than asana."
    from Maya

    "I tend to give verbal cues and I lightly touch people where I think they could 'improve. And I find that most time they know exactly what to do and if they do not it is because they are not ready."
    from Chiara

    "…Self Mysore practice is good but we often repeat the same mistakes until they become our limits, with adjustments we can discover that a correct asana was less than an inch away, a small tweak…"
    from Keni

    "To me that is the underlying question about adjustments. Why is your teacher giving you an adjustment? If he is adjusting you in order to pass on knowledge, an instruction that simple says this is what it should be, then he will not continuously give you that adjustment. He will pull back and might even begin to ignore you so that you have to face this challenge on your own. The teachers who constantly give the same adjustment over and over so the student becomes dependent on them for the pose (eg. I had this with sputa kurmasana and was shocked when I started practicing at home and found I couldn’t do it on my own) …are they practicing vairagya? Or are they lead by the very western desire for achievement, for tangible progress? "
    from Rani

    "An assist or an adjustment in my opinion is essential in forming new grooves - samskaras - in your practice."
    from Micqui

    "For the price, one would expect to receive assists and adjustments, otherwise, why pay and go to Mysore rooms?"
    from Anon

    "How many circumstances are there today to receive human touch that is not from a mate, or otherwise sexual? We are touch starved."
    from desperate yogi

    "I do think every practitioner has the right to refuse an assist and should never hesitate to say "no thanks". If your teachers aren't creating a space where you feel comfortable to refuse an assist, that would be a red-flag for me!"
    from La Gitane

    "We learn SO much with our minds; it's delightful and nourishing to learn something with our bodies, by touch and by our eyes and our mirror neurons."
    from Karen

    "Also, the way supta vajrasana is usually taught is not helpful - instead of the teacher straddling the students legs while they are in lotus, why not teach them how to do it unaided?"
    from Anon

    ReplyDelete

  19. I think I'm still in pretty much the same place. Still think I could benefit from some adjustments, I like what Chiara says about them being a reminder but I still have issues with assists. That said Micqui and Keni make me pause on this, I like the idea of samskaras, mental blocks and how an assist, a tweak might be all it takes to reveal a posture but then there's that danger of getting hooked on them. I agree with Anon, I'd like to see more workshops on helping people practice at home, alone, reducing dependency.

    But then currently I'm with David Williams as quoted by maya, hanging out in the breath and the bandhas rather than the asana.

    I find the teaching by touch idea that desperate yogi mentions and taken up by Karen Interesting, doesn't attract me personally but I find it a beautiful idea.

    Practice is something I still consider private and solitary, the actual time spent engaged in it that is. I'm happy to blog about it and share aspects of my practice but that's removed somehow from my time on the mat. I still don't feel the urge to practice with others ( although I've enjoyed the times when I have) or even in partnership with a teacher however well I might know them and they my practice. I prefer to catch a workshop or a video, a course or TT and then take that back to the mat to work through alone in my own time and own manner, those verbal adjustments and assists filter through and come up in my practice sooner or later and in some form or other.
    Thank you all again.

    ReplyDelete
  20. http://www.ashtanga.at/index.php?lang=en&page=events&event=090103&archiv=ja

    picture sheshadri very cool

    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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