Thursday, 1 November 2012

November 2012 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami—Chittavritti, an Illusion?

As all of us share the sorrow, prayers of all go to the families of
those who lost their lives in this recent tragedy and may the souls of
those who lost their lives rest in peace. Loss in property and
belongings and disruption in daily life is enormous and one hopes that
life will be put back to normal soon. Thanks to the planning of the
authorities and prudence of individual citizens the loss of lives due
to the mammoth hurricane was contained.

*****
In October 2012, I taught a handful of yoga programs at Steve
Brandon's Harmony Yoga in
Wells, UK,-- a 24 hour program on Krishnamacharya's yoga and a
Practicum
of Hatayoga and Rajayoga for an equal length of time. I also taught a
one
day workshop on Vinyasakrama and talks on Mantra yoga and asana
practice. It was a nice group, a very  nice group indeed. Thank you,
Steve, Sally and all the hard working, sincere and well
informed yogis for a very satisfying time.

For 2013, I have three confirmed programs now, the 200 hr Vinyasakrama
Teacher Training program at Loyola Marymount University in Los
Angeles starting July 8th and running for five weeks, a ten day 45
hour program at Ricky Tran's Kramayoga near Dallas Texas in April and
a week long program at Suddha Weixler's Chicago Yoga Center in latter
half of September

      *******
CHITTAVRITTI—AN ILLUSION?

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
How I wonder what you are.

In childhood everything is a wonderment. There are so many things to
know, to experience, to see, to search --like the stars, God.

When I was a child, I had an uncle (my paternal aunt's husband) who
was living in a small town in deep south India. We were living in
Madras about 400 miles away. Many relatives and family friends used to
visit us every now and then and my uncle also used to visit us.
Usually in India the elders do not spend much time with children but
this person used to spend considerable time with us. We used to like
him. One evening my parents suddenly left Madras to his town, leaving
us in the care of my grand aunt. My uncle had suddenly died. When my
grand aunt told us that my uncle died I did not fully comprehend it
and she started explaining following the general belief in India that
he had gone to heaven. I would ask questions like if he had reached
haven
already, she would say that he would be traveling and would
reach there in about 9 days or so and then he would reach God and be
with him. She would assure us that we should not worry about him as
God would take care of him. I remember my grand aunt pointing her
finger up the sky where she said heaven was. I used to run out of the
house and look up to see if I could see heaven. And heaven I learnt is
above
the sky, one has to see beyond the sky--up above the sky I guessed.

Like this when we are young, a lot of questions arise in the mind like
how the world came into existence, why and how we are born, about
reincarnation and many more. Then as we get older, all these questions
remain in the background unanswered. The care about family, career and
the concerns about keeping the head above water consume all the time
and attention. A few however keep these wonderment queries alive. Did
a Super-being create the Universe or did it come about by itself,
evolved
by itself. Can one identify oneself in the purest form and answer the
question “Who  am I, what am I made of?” Is there any principle which
does not undergo any change and hence is eternal or do all things
change
and are subject to time? “Is it always nature's law to change and
constancy alone is strange?”

And there are very powerful, compelling but  competing theories,
premises and
speculations about these questions. So  one finds over time that  it
is
prudent not to spend  time trying to find convincing answers to all
these
questions. These appear to be trivial questions and we turn our
attentions thereafter to trivia.

While the puranas of ancient times describe in great detail
how the Supreme Being created the Universe, there are also theories
which find it unnecessary to bring in a Supreme Intelligent Being to
create the Universe, like the Samkhyas and the Yogis piggybacking on
the Sankhya framework. The Sankhyas say that the entire universe
evolved out of a primordial atomic entity called mulaprakriti  made of
three essential characteristics,  called satwa
(order), Rajas (energy) and tamas (disorder/chaos) in perfect
equilibrium. Firstly with the
equilibrium disturbed by the dominance of Satwa, the first stage of
evolution called Mahat or Universal Intelligence emerges. In it then
Rajas raises its head to evolve the next tatwa called Ahamkara or what
may be termed as Universal Ego. Then the Samkhyas thoughtfully say
that from Ahamkhara emanate  two streams of evolution, one the
microcosmic the other macro cosmic. The satwic aspect of Ahamkara
starts the microcosmic stream, leads to eleven  indriyas, the five
sense
and five motor organs along with the coordinating agency called manas.
On the other side, the tamasic aspect of ahamkara leads to five
sensations or tanmatras (touch, form etc) which in turn produce
the five bhutas or the gross elements like earth, water, etc. The
intellect (buddhi), the ahamkara, the 11 senses (13 in all) form the
subtle
body. The three principles buddhi(mahat), ahamkara and manas are also
called antahkarana or the internal organ. And life force made up of
the five pranas is considered just an incessant function (samanya
vritti) of this antahkarana. The five bhutas or gross elements combine
in various
combinations and different permutations and become the variegated
universe we experience.  The spirit or purusha, the non-changing
eternal consciousness tatwa,  joins the subtle body and remains with
it,
a mute spectator, until the yogi 'liberates' it with yoga. Until then
with the subtle accumulated karma bundle and old vasanas attached to
it, the subtle body transmigrates and takes a new birth and acquires a
new physical body by taking the
help of the bhutas of the macrocosm. There is no room for a creator
principle in this rather ingenious philosophy. They are able to
recognize that for the kind of experience we have, one has to explain
how the subject evolves and how the objects evolve so that one can
explain the kind of subject object experience we have all our life and
life thereafter. They also recognize that in addition there has to be
a
consciousness principle that experiences all life without undergoing
any change.

This theory of evolution is accepted by Yogis in toto. But they also
subscribe to a superior Being, an Iswara, which could be of
considerable
use in achieving the ultimate yogic goal. They also accept worship of
different personal gods (so do samkhyas) which could be venerated for
various ends including peace of mind but these gods are not considered
as creator.

But added to these various theories we also have modern theories of
evolution, how the universe came out of one entity called a
'singularity' very similar in concept to Samkhya's mula prakriti which
evolved into this universe by a phenomenon called 'Big Bang'. Over a
period of time matter particles combined variously and then the first
single cell bacterium was formed, then various beings. The difference
with Samkhya conceptually is that the distinct two stream evolution of
Samkhyas is missing, as is  the recognition of consciousness as
distinct
from inert matter.

The evolution of different species as per Darwin finds an echo in the
Puranic stories of evolution. According to the Puranas the Creator
took several avatars or incarnation like the fish, representing the
aquatic 'animal', then the turtle the amphibious creature. Then the
boar, then the half man/half animal, the man-lion incarnation. Then
the
dwarf (vamana), the wild man (parasurama) then  the perfect man
(Rama) and the divine man (Krishna). Several puranas are named after
these stages of evolution-- some like Matsya (Fish), Kurma (turtle),
Varaha (Boar), etc. The others are found in other puranas and itihasas
like Ramayana and Mahabharata such as  Narasimha (man-lion), Vamana
(dwarf), Parasurama (wild man), Rama (the perfect man) Krishna (the
divine man) etc.

Then the Upanishads or the vedanta philosophy talks about evolution
from one non changing principle that alone exists, viz., Brahman the
pure consciousness which has expanded into this mammoth universe.
Again there are different views like, if the created universe is
really real.

All these varying theories about the evolution of the universe,
ancient and modern and all the cares of worldly life blunt the
childhood wonderment as one keeps muddling through life.

The three vedic philosophies viz., Samkhya, Yoga and Vedanta form a
group of philosophies that subscribe to the authority of the vedas.
They are considered as essentially adhyatma vidyas or body of
knowledge about one's own self. It is the view of these darsanas that
all the
suffering one experiences birth after birth is due to the wrong
understanding about one's own self and by implication the universe
itself. And perhaps the most important contribution in this respect is
by the Samkhyas who explained the evolution not as one stream but as
indicated earlier along two streams, the microcosmic and the
macrocosmic—the subject and the object as we experience. So all these
philosophies start from our present experience of each of us as the
subject and the entire universe as the objects. From this standpoint
they start the discussions. Samkhyas talk about the need to know the
manifest universe(vyakta) along  with the origin of it (avyakta) and
also the subject that experiences (jna). Similarly Patanjali in his
Yoga talks of the subject, the experiencer (drashta)  and the object
or that which is experienced, here  the chitta vritti. Adi sankara
while writing the commentary on Brahma Sutra, the text for Vedanta
philosophy, uses a similar approach. Here is how he starts his
commentary, the preamble

 SELF and NOT-SELF “It is obvious that the subject and the object —
that is, the Self
(Atman) and the Not-Self, which are as different as darkness and light
are — cannot be identified with each other. It is a mistake to
superimpose upon the subject or Self (that is, the "I," whose nature
is consciousness) the characteristics of the object or Not-"I" (which
is non-conscious), and to superimpose the subject and its attributes
on the object. Nonetheless, man has a natural tendency, rooted in
ignorance (avidya), not to distinguish clearly between subject and
object, although they are in fact absolutely distinct, but rather to
superimpose upon each the characteristic nature and attributes of the
other. This leads to a confusion of the Real (the Self) and the Unreal
(the Not-Self) and causes us to say such incorrect  things as "I am
that," "That is mine," and so on. “

Ultimately in the vedanta philosophy of Sankara's advaita, because it
admits of only consciousness as satya or real and existent, the
objects of the universe that are experienced are considered only an
illusion. They explain it in so many different ways and using
different examples. They explain our waking state experience of the
world as no different from the dreams which while taking place inside
the head appear to take place outside of us. Another example that is
common among them is that of the image you see in a mirror. Even
though there is no space or objects inside the mirror—it is flat
surface-- it appears to have three
dimensions and objects too.  Now let us try to see if consideration of
 Yoga's subject
and object viz., purusha and chittavritti could lead to a similar
conclusion of the advaita vedantins.

Let us take one of the chittavrittis, the pramana vritti  of which
the pratyaksha vritti or the vritti of direct perception—direct
perception through the senses—is one kind. When I see an object—I have
talked
about it in an earlier newsletter but we may go  beyond by a further
step—light particles, rupatanmatras or rupaparamanus,, are
selectively  reflected by the object and
reach my eyes.  The eyes channelize the reflected particles by
focusing on the object. The light particles reach the retina, and the
retina stimulated by the sensation, sends electrical impulses through
the optic nerves to the brain. Simultaneously, the objects may send
sound waves or other sensations which are collected by the appropriate
sense organs and transmitted to the brain. In the brain or chitta,
there is a center called manas which coordinates all the information
and makes a consolidated picture, which may be called  mano vritti
of the chitta. Another aspect of chitta known as buddhi (mahat)
analyzes the
information, refers to memory, etc. and understands the object and
then
another aspect of the brain called ahamkara or ego adds its own color.
It introduces feelings and emotions to the whole picture, like I love
it or I do
not like it or I'm totally indifferent to it. But this information in
the
brain  is within the brain space. This modified/interpreted picture
must by seen by me, must be experienced by me in three dimensions. So
the chitta projects the information not in the outside physical space
but within the brain by creating a virtual mental space. So what I see
or experience is not on the physical plane but in the mental plane
called chitta akasa. To complicate matters the chitta also includes me
as the experiencer of this chittavritti by positing me or my image as
the one that is having  the experience. So it can be seen that my
chittavritti is the totality of my experience including me Ramaswami
as the experiencer of this experience. The chittavritti I experience
may have three parts, one the object/s I observe, the act of observing
and the observer or me. This three part experience is called Triputi,
like grahitru. grahana. grahya in Yoga sutras.

So whatever I experience now is my Chittavritti.. This is all I
experience. Now the next moment the chittavritti changes, The object
may have changed or my attention may have changed to another object,
so next moment I have another chittavritti representing the objects in
the physical space. So moment after moment I have chittavrittis in my
mental plane or chitta akasa which alone I see even as it appears that
I am experiencing the objects directly from outside.

Let us see the chronology of events.

At moment 1, I see an object as a chittavritti.
At moment 2, I see another object as chittvritti.
But the light particles of the object I see the second time
are  from my previous  chittavritti. Why so?
Because I only see chittavrittis, even as I feel I am seeing the
object
from the outside world through my senses as mentioned when we started
the discussion. Going backwards I realize that I see objects from my
previous chittavrittis, and I have no proof that the objects do really
exist, for I only experience a succession of chittavrittis in the
mental space(like an infinite regress) and I have no proof that they
take place in the outer physical space or as the Mayavadins say that
there is no proof of the existence of a world outside. There are three
possibilities. One is that the universe is real which  is the belief
of almost everyone of us. The previous discussion will show that it is
indeterminate (anirvachaniya), one cannot prove  the existence of the
world outside and then thirdly  the vedantins assert that there is no
real creation as we understand (maya).

What we experience takes place inside the brain or chitta as a
chittavritti but appears to be outside of us. The vedantins say all
that happens takes place within our consciousness but appears to take
place outside of it. Each Chittavritti draws information from previous
chittavritti and my  world, as is your world, is just a succession of
chittavrittis. They further contend that even the chitta like the body
is something observed or experienced by the purusha or pure
consciousness and hence all that purusha/ consciousness experiences,
i.e., the entire universe including me, Ramaswami, is just an
illusion(maya) or rather not really real.

The vedantins especially the advaita proponents quote the chandogya
upanishad to drive home this point. :”Namarupe vyakaravani”. Nama
means name-- here it represents sound and rupa is form, here it
represents light. These are the two that our main senses absorb from
the outside world for the mind to synthesize and present a picture.
Namarupa the representative term, would also include the other
sensations like touch, taste and smell but which are  relatively minor
when compared to the other two. So what we experience are just sound-
bytes and other sensations.

Two sages once ran into each other in a celestial coffee shop. They
decided to sit down and chat over a hot cup of masala chai. One was a
great
scholar of the puranas and started stressing the importance of
recognizing a creator for the universe. The other argued that it is
not necessary to subscribe to this view as nature is capable of
evolving without a superior entity. They argued for a long time, a
billion years I guess going by a vedic episode. At the end of that
period both of them had exhausted their very reasoned arguments.
Without anything else to say and unable to convince the other about
one's own viewpoint the discussion deteriorated into angry words and
was leading to blows, as my guru would say “Sesaham Kopena Purayet
(the rest of the debate was made up of anger)”. Then the
coffee shop owner who was watching the debate and wanting to close the
shop for the long cosmic day, butted in and said, “Did you ever
consider if the universe that we see was really created or just an
illusion even before finding out the origin of the Universe and how it
 was created?'

What is the use of all these discussions? If I am convinced this
really is the truth about the subject and the object, my attitude
towards myself (subject), the world around(objects) could change.
Knowing the truth about
oneself is a great benefit. If I, like the vedantins, come to the
conclusion that the waking state worldly experience is essentially no
different from the dream experience(an illusion, a make belief) I may
attach the same importance
to these worldly experiences as I would to the dream state.
When I wake up, if the dream is sweet, I have a smile and if it is a
nightmare I shrug it
away –as mentioned in Chandogya Upanishad, like a horse which shrugs
off the loose hairs. I do not dwell on it, not even on my dream self.
No greater importance will I then tend to
give for my worldly experiences or even to myself. I may even realize
that I am really the pure unchanging consciousness and hence immortal
leading to the Yogi's Kaivalya or the vedantin's moksha, which I could
savor for the rest of my life.

My mind projects what it sees
I  see what my chitta projects
Now I see only what the mind/consciousness projects
Incessantly all those illusions.

Now I may sing the popular  rhyme as follows

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
How I wonder what WE are.

Sincerely
Srivatsa Ramaswami

Comments or suggestions, please write to info@vinyasakrama.com

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3 comments:

  1. Hi Anthony

    if you were dsappointed there were no comments for this post, don't be, it was a wonderful addition and I loved it. Perhaps other, like me, are taking time to digest all this information.
    I must say I loved the million-year discussion in front of the masala chai. Not only that, but it was nice how it lightened up a fairly intense nino-essay.
    Thanks for posting it, please continue, it is good to also have non-asana references to read!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Not one of those posts that I expect a comment on necessarily Chiara, as you say lots to digest and think about and besides it's Ramaswami who wrote it not me. Thought it would be good to split it up into three smaller posts though, while I know we often mean to come back to longer blog posts we often forget, I know I do.
    Yes liked that million year discussion too, Ramaswami is full of stories like that, can imagine him telling it.

    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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