Monday, 26 August 2013

Manju TT Crete pt 4a of 4 : Q and A - Development of the Ashtanga series etc.

One of the delights of Manju's Teacher training course in Crete was the relaxed, informal question and answer sessions at the end of the day. Manju was constantly asking for any more questions, generous in his answers and seemed in no rush to close up the Q and A session.


Manju referred to himself as a messenger rather than a teacher/guru, just sharing what his father had shared with him, here's a little of the message.

Monday : from notes

*If anyone has  a recording of the first talk (some wonderful stuff here) as well as Wednesday's I'd love to have a copy (dropbox?) my notes are pretty sketchy.

  • Janu Sirsasana - the heel gets warm which is why it is important in janu shirsasana
  • Practice uddiyana bandha all the time, uddiyana provokes mula bandha
  • Ujjayi breathing stimulates throat chakra
  • Take as many breaths as you want while in the actual asana ( Pattabhi Jois would leave Manju and Saraswati and go off and do something else)
  • Long slow breathing is best , 5, 10, 15 seconds.... a minute even
  • inhalations and exhalations the same, no kumbhaka in asana
  • Standing is important - all areas of the body activated in standing, you could practice just standing and finishing.
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Here's a clip of Manju conduction Q and A from an earlier workshop, In the Netherlands I think. Will give an idea of Manju's tone, the atmosphere of these sessions as you read the transcriptions from Crete last week..


Tuesday : from recording (loosely transcribed)

I'd intended to put the question and then Manju's response but listening to the recording the questions seem to follow on from what had gone before, much of Tuesdays' talk was more like a discussion than a Q and A  session. Another reason for transcribing rather than paraphrasing, I wanted to convey the relaxed atmosphere. It should be remembered too that Manju is chatting here with a group of students and in a relaxed, informal environment. He might approach his answers more carefully in an interview or if laying them out in a book. I've only transcribed those parts that I felt wouldn't be misinterpreted in the different context of a blog post.

Those questions I as I've used 'Me:' those asked by others 'Q:', for manju I've of course used 'MJ:'.

The questions

1. Best time for the practice, morning?

2. My question: Kumbhaka in asana? Creation of series?

3. What if you are unable to progress beyond the Primary series, how do you achieve the 'energetic' benefits suggested of the other five series


4. the series appear series appear to be fixed?

5. So we are allowed not to follow the series?

6. Isn't there a logic to the series, the order of the postures?

7. So it's not good to be held back in Mari D, kurmasana etc?

8. What is the thread your father wore?

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1. What is the best time for the practice? 

Always nice to do it in the morning, but if you don't have time, most important thing is to bring yoga into your life, always make sure it is added to your lifestyle.
My father used to wake me up at 3:30am, used to bribe me with coffee
That's how you start the day, feel good all day.
But can practice in the evening but not to late as it hypes you up

Me: Can I ask one about Kumbhaka. Back when Krishnamacharya was teaching your father in Mysore in the 30's and in his book Yoga makaranda, Krishnamacharya was exploring Kumbaka in asana, in all kinds of asana and I was wondering 1. What do you think he was exploring and 2. that never made it into Yoga Mala and we don't seem to explore that very much now (why not?).

MJ: Well your not supposed to do Kumbhaka in the postures, kumbhaka comes only in the pranayama, that's how you do it. I don't know what Krishnamacharya...sometimes he has his own thing..

Me: I just wondered because he doesn't seem to have done it later, I just wondered what he might have been exploring there.

MJ: There was a lot of misguidance there, Krishnamacharya really didn't want to share with anybody... he didn't want to give...the Maharaja of Mysore, he wanted him to teach yoga as a job but he didn't want to...

Me: But he produced, .... there was Yoga Makaranda, Yogasanagalu... he was giving a lot of those texts out....

MJ: So actually it was my father who was the one who put all the series together, you see my father was... when he started getting interested in yoga then he followed Krishnamacharya, he was the only one teaching at the time. And, he didn't make it easy for him to learn and my father really wanted to learn it, he put all his energy into it. And then he had to go to the city to learn more about the science of yoga, the philosophy and the science behind it. Then he mastered it. then he started going through all these sequences, there were no sequences, one posture here, one posture there. There was no order...and then my father did the research, brought it all together... it took him for a while.
He wrote a book, Yoga Mala but he didn't have money to publish it. It was sitting in the house for a long time. then somebody helped him publish it.

Me:  One more point on that. Each series it's said work on different energies within the body

MJ: Yes

Me: If you aren't capable of going beyond first series, say, or second series... how does that....

MJ: Well actually there is no such thing as you have to perfect the one thing to go on to the next one because they are therapeutic... probably these is sometime when you cannot go forward with the back, you have a stiff back so we use the other way around, the shalabasana from 2nd series or bekasana, ustrasana just to undo the knot you have in the back. They are supposed to be used as therapy...then once you start working everyday, slowly that how you teach the body to open up.
people always say this made up thing where you have to master one thing to get to this thing but it's not true because it's never been this way, not in the old times.

Me: But it seems to have become quite fixed, we practice it as if it's fixed. Is it like primary is a multivitamin......?

MJ: That's how we all learn it. We all have problems, I had a lot of problems going up because I was short i had no muscles and there was a lot of postures that (i couldn't do), so my father was 'why don't you try this or try this", so he did therapy he didn't do the whole thing. Slowly it becomes easy. Badha konasana was my bad one, I hated it when i was a kid. then my father used to give me personal training to me and my sister and another person, an indian guy who knew my father. So every time it comes to baddha konasana I excuse myself to the bathroom, then i stay in the bathroom for a few minutes, then i come out and everyone is still sitting in it. then I would say,
"No no, you shouldn't have waited for me"...
" We are ALL waiting for you".
There's no escape and i have to surrender and go ahead...actually he helped me with that...
So, everybody has problems, everybody always has to experiment with different postures to make it happen.

Somebody else asks : So we are allowed not to follow the series you mean? And take postures from the other...

MJ: Only if you have a problem

ALL: Laughter

Q: We all do

MJ: the series is good, naturally but if you have a problem then you can change a little bit... so it should not be like a military...

Q: But there is a logic to the... Guruji put the asanas in a certain order, no?

MJ: Yes...So he he studied, he researched the book, see before he wrote the book he had to research it, see these postures do what? So then he has to put altogether because there was the yoga Korunta, hathayogapradipika...there are so many yoga books each one has a few different postures in it. Some have eight postures, some have ten postures, there's not more than that and then you take everything together, then find out what is the best... they all talk about the circulation in the body, the respiratory system... ow it works through the pranayama... then you come to the curing of the diseases and all these postures we do, mayurasana, paschimottanasana, purvottanasana.... so it's how you fix your body
So actually this is what we were talking about, it's all about geometry, so when you start practicing that way your body will start cooperating. So we never say, if you have a problem with some posture, we never say.. " oh you can not do that posture, you'll never do that posture because that's bad psychology. We say, you can do that (posture) but it takes a little time, keep working on it, it will open up. See. if you want to be a yoga teacher you have to be a psychologst at the same time.

Q: So you think it is not good that you should wait at a posture, Kurmasana, Marichiyasana D before moving on.

MJ: You have to keep it in your practice though, keep working on it.

Q: But not to wait there until you can bind Marichiyasana D or Kurmasana ...

MJ: No, you can go forward yeah.

Q: Because I find to my body that it helps me to move into the 2nd series, to open better, to practice better the first.

MJ: Yes, whatever works for you, whatever works, whatever (your) body accepts you practice that one but you don't force yourself into something you cannot..., that's how people get hurt, see, don't force, there is not forcing here....

Q: So we should move people, when they're ready they should move further to the second series.

MJ: Yes, so you've got Sthiria, Indria, Dharana(?). See you have to keep going once you get into it you don't go back.You keep on preceeding for that. Sthira means to steady, when you do that then Indria means your body completely becomes relaxed, that's how you precede ...., very important.

....because we are doing all these things, next couple of days we will talk about the pranayama and breathing exercises so you know how to do that, so these are all very important, Yoga becomes part of your daily routine, we have to make that happen. Some people say they have no time to do yoga that means you will never have time to do yoga because you will be gone.

Q: May I ask why Guruji had the ash on his forehead and the string.

MJ: It's like a bahmitza, it means you've become a man now. It's a sacred ceremony. So they put the ash. Ash is considered pure, so that's why they put the ash on the forehead.

***********

Later I met Manju outside the shala as we were going to have dinner at Kristina's (Manju was going to cook - it was excellent).
Two other of Manju's dishes to come, the rice was just incredible - M. pointed out that I didn't bring any of the rice i raved about home ( she'd been invited too of course)  but that it was OK because she had supermarket aubergine dip, stale bread and a couple of olives : )
I had the chance to say that I hoped I hadn't seemed rude in asking so many questions..We then discussed Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois and the development of the Ashtanga series for a few minutes. I had my iPad so showed him the asana table from Yogasanagalu as it concerned me that what Manju had said in the talk about Krishnamacharya's asana teaching not having any structure and that it was pattabhi Jois who had first brough order to the asana, seemed more related to or more on the basis of Krishnamacharya's first book Yoga Makaranda (1934) with it's seeming lack of order to the postures. I wanted to show Manju how the table in Krishnamacharya's other book, Yogasanagalu (1941) was clearly an ordering of asana and very similar to the order we have now in Ashtanga. Manju looked at the list, pointed out a couple of asana that were in a different order. I showed him the original kanada  language version and he did the same. It made me wonder if Manju had seen a copy of Yogasanagalu before, how well the book had been originally distributed. Surely his father would have had a copy of a book like this written by his teacher.


Translation of the first coupld of pages of the asana list in Krishnamacharya's 1941 Yogasanagalu, see the ongoing translation project at the top of the blog.




But here's thought, what if it WAS Pattabhi Jois who really did put the asana in any order and that it was Pattabhi Jois' first list, shared with his teacher, that made it's way into Krishnamacharya Yogasanagalu a list that Pattabhi Jois later developed into the Ashtanga series. Or perhaps Krishnamacharya sketched out a basic outline of a Primary, Middle and Proficient list for his student when Pattabhi Jois first went to teach at the Sanskrit college and it was this that was later developed into the course syllabus and what we have now. Either way the suggestion was that the tradition didn't revolve around a fixed series, that this is something new. 

The practice, it seems,  has always been flexible, to be adapted and approached in accordance with the students needs. Use it as a framework for your daily practice but don't become dogmatic about it or progressing from one series to the next or staying at one challenging posture before progressing. That's what I took form Tuesday but you have the transcription and might interpret it differently.

That flexible non dogmatic approach discussed on Tuesday, the focus on long slow breathing discussed on Monday and  the stress on the importance of Pranayama and Chanting discussed later in the week, an integrated daily yoga practice (notes to come) all made Manju's approach to Ashtanga practice very appealing to me and very much in keeping with Vinyasa Krama. The similarities outweigh the differences, I find the approaches complementary, informing each other.

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Manju Jois TT Pt 1 0f 4 : Photo preview: Manju's Workshop in Rethymno, Crete

Manju Jois TT pt 2 of 4 : Ashtanga Adjustments ?

Manju Jois TT pt 3 of 4 : Practice

Next post

Manju Jois TT pt 4b of 4 Q and A. Wednesday (notes), Thursday and Friday (transcriptions)

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Link to Kristina Karitinou website 

Links to the extended Ashtanga yoga Greece family 

Manju's website



17 comments:

  1. Very interesting and informative; I'm looking forward for the next post. Good to know that he also says that long slow breathing is best.


    when Krishnamacharya was teaching your father in Mysore in the 30's and in his book Yoga makaranda, Krishnamacharya was exploring Kumbaka in asana, in all kinds of asana [...] I just wondered because he doesn't seem to have done it later

    Did you ask Ramaswami about this? What did he say?


    From Manju's answers, it's clear that the series don't come from the Yoga Korunta, but that they were created by KP Jois and/or Krishnamacharya. Did you ask Manju what he knew about the actual contents of the Yoga Kuranta?

    What about those transcriptions that supposedly would sit in vaults in Mysore Palace/Oriental libraries only accessible to Bhramins?


    Oh, and did you ask him about his omission of tolasana at the end of the finishing sequence?

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    1. I think he's just flexible on the breath Enrique, longer, slower breath the ideal perhaps and to be worked towards but whatever's comfortable. I found my breath was shorter in the Rethymno shala than at home because there were more people and it was hotter, wouldn't have been comfortable breathing as slow as I prefer at home.

      I might have asked Ramaswami when we were working through the Yoga makaranda on the course but I don;t have anything in my notes. However Ramaswami would occasionally suggeste breath retentinons in paschimottanasana for example so perhaps Krishnamacharya still did teach them later. Notice in the yogasanagalu table though that he doesn't tend to have kumbhaka in the primary postures and in yoga makaranda II they are very short when we come across them in headstand say.

      No, didn't ask about yoga korunta, he mentioned it in passing when he was talking about the different books his father consulted in developing the sequences.

      To be honest I'm long passed interested in the ruddy book : )

      I didn't ask him about the omission of tolasana but I came across him talking about this in an interview once. the idea is that moving from yoga mudra and then padmasana to pranayama and chanting. Your nicely relaxed after the padmasana and I guess in a satvic state so why do something strenuous like tolasana before your pranayama and meditative chanting. He kind of mentioned that on the course too although in a less explicit way.


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  2. Thanks for all this work and sharing this insights!

    I personally love Manju, his teaching is so much more flexible than most modern teachers and that's what makes a difference. For me personally it make a huge difference to start second series up to Ustrasana, even though I wasn't able to do all Primary. It improved my practice so much and I'm totally against holding students back.

    What I also love about Manju is that he also encourages chanting and pranayama. Seriously, where do get new teachers the "oh don't do pranayama before third series, it will kill you"-idea. So ridiculous. I think everyone should at least practice the basic pranayamas and probably learn the Shanti mantras... it's eight limbs after all, not just asana.

    Looking forward to the next part!

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    1. Yes I love his flexibility too, his whole non dogmatic common sense approach. I've just been teaching M. primary, going through the adjustments, practicing on her. She can bind in Mari D but her hamstrings are tight. It makes sense to me to not so much hold her back for a while at kurmasana but just move on to finishing from there, at least until her hamstrings loosen up and she can get a deeper forward bend plus she needs to build up some strength, 2/3 of a series seems more than enough for now. Is that holding back or just common sense. When does a common sense approach turn into dogmatic approach i wonder.

      Loved the chanting and pranayama too, very much in keeping with my Vinyasa krama background, an integrated balanced yoag practice, more on this in the next post.

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  3. Hey there, thank you, this is what I imagined he would say, so it's nice to hear from the horses mouth as such. As for M, don't think giving someone time to lengthen hamstrings and build strength is holding them back at all. Need to sit down and read all your posts! Enjyed this post very much. But what I really want to know is, what did he cook?

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  4. Bit clumsy but managed to get it in : )
    re hamstrings, no it's not holding back , just common sense but I can feel my perspective shifting somewhat already just from this example. I can see now too fascinating teaching can/could be, here's M. with her tiny frame able to bind in Mari D and yet has no forward bend to speak of.
    Going to start transcribing Thursday now, day off.

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  5. Have been following each of your updates from the TT and loving every one of them. It is beautiful to see (read?) your renewed enthusiasm for Ashtanga and how it's taken on a different dimension with your reflections on teaching.

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    1. Yes, had a big impact. I think it's because I've developed an approach to Ashtanga , informed by my Vinyasa Krama and study of yoga makaranda that I'm comfortable with but didn't feel particularly justified in teaching to anyone else. But with Manju I can see that my approach to practice is very much in keeping with the tradition as it was passed on to him by his father, and because I feel my practice has value, I believe in it, I feel more free to share it. It's not that one approach to practice is better or more correct than the other but that there is an internal logic and consistency and a genuine connection with what has gone before. Going to start work on transcribing the last day of Q and A now.

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  6. hi Grimmly! I took this TT course too and MJ explained that yoga in the old days when he was growing up was more like if the doctor couldn't do anything else he would tell the patient maybe you could try some yoga. so they would go to SKPJ and he would give them some yoga over coffee and socialize. He said it was very relaxed and they would try out some postures, gossip, etc. He also said he created the series when westerners started wanting the challenge.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. yes he was talking about that on our course too, how they could hear the asthma patients coming from down the street coughing away.

      Interesting about the creating the series for the westerners as a challenge, wonder if perhaps he was talking about the changes to the advanced series

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  7. oh yes--he also said that when he was researching the order SKPJ would have Manju perform the postures and then say--no no, this posture should go here and that one should go here and he was researching the order based on literature from the sanskrit college

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    1. Manju touched on this, he doesn't seem to have seen Yoganasanagalu, only Yoga makaranda. Yoga mala's primary is different from the primary series in the Yogasanagalu table perhaps that's what he's talking about, that development from one to the other. I still can't believe that Pattabhi Jois never had a copy of yogasanagalu but then of course it's always possible that that table wasn't in the first edition, there's a thought.

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  8. Hi Grimmly,

    I'm a keen follower of your blog and just needed to say a quick thank you for asking about the flexibility of the series/holding back issue...

    I love Ashtanga but lasted only a month or so with mysore in my shala because, being a totally inflexible git (tight hips, inflexible back), I was stuck (and probably will be for eons) at half primary... I work within my limits but found that all the mysore in the shala did was stress my knees (inaccessible lotuses to blame), esp. cause I tend to try and work really deeply. Have contented myself with other jivamukti/vinyasa based options and the occasional led class.

    My major sticking point is the inflexibility of the mysore system. Props are frowned upon - I can't do a proper paschimotanasana as my hands won't lay flat on the floor, ergo can't work on my vinyasas, or pavritta trikonasana for that matter. I can't do lotus, and thus mari B&D are beyond me, yet at the same time, I'm not allowed to progress to badha konasana which would help! Plus modifications e.g. doing the maris with janu a legs are not allowed. Going into backbends from navasana is horrible for me yet any attempts at prior stretching (supta virasana, modified setu bandha, shalabasana, ustrasana, paryankasana) are frowned upon! Why???

    So thank you for raising and noting the questions. Now regretting not going to see Manju in the flesh. I toyed with attending conference at Manju's workshop this past weekend, but wasn't ready to face the combined wrath/disapproval of ashtangi fundamentalists because I think outside the box.

    Meanwhile, should I ever get serious with my home practice, it'll be seriously adulterated...

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you for your comment Nasim I always find it sad when somebody ends up walking away from an approach to practice I love and believe in. As I tentatively move in to teaching Mysore style ashtanga myself I'm forced to ask myself how I would approach a similar situation. Perhaps my Vinyasa krama background gives me a good size tool chest of preparatory postures which might help, the kind of thing Manju talks about his father employing, but it will be a steep learning curve in seeking how to employ them in a mysore room environment, no idea how that will work out. Manju's perspective helps, it seems to encourage adapting the system to the individual but challenging all the same in it's application. Perhaps there was also a clash between you and the Ashtanga teacher, a failure to see where each other was coming from that led to misunderstanding and ultimately resistance that then became entrenched, on another day you might have got on like a house on fire and the story might have been different. Or perhaps another approach to practice just works for you, I dislike this 'My style is better than your style" approach we encounter more and more ( and perhaps something I've been guilty of in the past myself in the tone of some of my own posts), better surely to look at how the different approaches to practice, that seem to work for different individuals, can inform out own practice our own approach to practice, to help us find other aspects of our practice perhaps overlooked, hidden or disregarded. I found that Vinyasa Krama informed my Ashtanga practice and that in return my Ashtanga practice informed my Vinyasa krama practice, somewhere along the way they seemed to blur together and the distinctions dropped away somewhat, they weren't as far apart as the at first seemed.
    Does Ashtanga still attract you I wonder and if so I wonder what aspects, the discipline, the Mysore room itself? If you were close to a shala where Manju was giving a conference then perhaps that might be a shala to visit as the teacher may be on the same wavelength as Manju and excited about adapting the practice for you. But you might find that emailing your 'local' Ashtanga teacher and discussing your issues before turning up to class might grease the wheels somewhat also. The ashtangis I encountered in Crete were wonderful, very open and welcoming.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Grrrrr!!! Just lost a really long and detailed reply to your comment! So not funny. Itty bitty correction, meant Sharath's conference in Londres, hope the ashtangis there would have been as those you met in Crete...

    Anyway, the long and short of it was that I do agree that you seem to have some sort of symbiotic relationship evident with your VK/Ashtanga practice which complements your approach to practice and hopefully teaching when you decide to bite that particular bullet.

    My mysore practice came about at the urging of my teachers from the led classes I mentioned, and simply involved trying it and seeing whether it was for me. Needless to say, I got weary of the constant restrictions and frowns on my attempts at modifications, plus my knees were not happy. I did love some of the deep adjustments I got, particularly in the pasaritas, UHP and my often futile binding attempts at Mari C. However, I decided to stop it primarily because I am not a patient person, tire quickly of repetitiveness and needed an allowance for way more stretching prep as ten suryas are nowhere near enough to get my creaky and half asleep juices flowing. Nevertheless, should I be tempted to go back, I'll definitely have a heart to heart with the teacher as you suggest.

    In answer to your question, I still love ashtanga. Something elemental about it appeals to me i.e. ujayi (deepening the focus in the moment and enhancing that sense of a moving meditation), bandhas (allowing you to deepen an asana and discover that floaty feeling), and drishti (only way I know of to keep from wobbling all over in UHP), all of which, combined, allow me to experience that sthira sukham asanam feeling. I take all these aspects into my yogasana/jivamukti practice, which despite incorporating only a few traditional primary series asanas, nevertheless allow me to deepen them (picture a smile on my face the first time I was able to do my Mari C having worked on twisting binds in pavritta parsva and ardha matsyendrasana). Plus, this way, I get to mess around with riduculously pretzely and/or balancy asanas (or more commonly their modifications) just to spice things up:)

    I will return to a mysore inspired home practice sometime soon (inspired meaning adulterated) as I'm in the process of moving away from civilisation (read shala) to hopefully take up residence in the desert, along with my mat. I find the traditional primary series restrictive as I believe in a balanced practice and as such will adulterate it along the lines of what Kitharo mentioned above in order to avoid overly focusing on forward bends at the expense of opening up my back and shoulders (however deep, updogs make insufficient backbend prep tools); not to mention cathartic twists and lunges (warriors not enough for icky hips) are a necessity.

    Ta,

    Nasim.

    P.s. Forgive any sanskrit spelling issues, its hard enough learning the names:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So frustrating to lose a comment, especially if and when I make the effort to tap it out on the phone. have a look at some of the Ramaswami videos, you get the variations you like but also that deep ujjayi that you also liked from Ashtanga and of course the Ramaswami's sequences breakdown into subroutines so you can mix and mach where appropriate.
      this is an old video from the 80's but he has some others on his Youtube channel
      http://youtu.be/tjMrVq6HuOw

      Delete

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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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