Monday, 21 December 2015

Yoga, Ashtanga -The Source, Parampara, lineage

One of those posts that just popped out, perhaps I'd write it in a different way tomorrow, in a less provocative way or edit the life out of it but this is the way it emerged and hey, it's a blog.

Ideas of Lineage, Parampara, Source can be useful, serve a purpose, support our practice but they can of course also be questioned.

Four million year old Lake Biwa, two minutes from our place, this ancient Tori (gate) cycling distance

I struggle with terminology

The Source

Parampara

Lineage

It's Mysore season, and friends and digitally nodding acquaintances' fb posts are filled with "...off to visit the source".

The 'source' referred to here being the KPJAYI Ashtanga shala in Mysore India, where Sharath, Pattabhi Jois' grandson is oft referred to as the 'Lineage holder'.

Feel free to skip this digression- Does it matter that we like to use terms like Source, Lineage, parampara, probably not but of course all these terms relate to authority and I clearly have issues with authority, I struggle with 'hereditary' too, the Queen.... I didn't vote for her, nor will I have the opportunity to vote for her son Charles when he takes over the throne. He gets secret cabinet papers you know ( a lot of discussion about this currently) as does his son....forgot his name, who will be King in turn. None of these have been elected or will they be and yet they get to see cabinet papers. Charles of course seems a nice enough man, he's no Donald Trump... luckily and I really do mean luckily because we would have been stuck with him come what may. The monarchy doesn't have any powers, not really, or at least they do but effectively can't employ them and seeing that the current Prime Minister is about to remove the veto powers of the House of Lords we essentially have an emasculated separation of powers. Of course friends in the US might like the idea of a congress without any powers, or a Senate perhaps if your batting for the blue team..... or is it red

But I digress.

What is 'The source'.

I guess it's intended to represent where Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga began.

Except it's not, not really. It's not the original shala/studio/school, that was a smaller room elsewhere in Mysore. Big deal, so Pattabhi Jois needed a bigger room, we can still visit the old school...., perhaps it has a blue plaque like all those places in London, Isaak Newton, drank a pint here, or here in Japan in some temples where we find something along the lines of  Lady Murasaki wrote a few pages of the Tale of Genji HERE

Pattabhi Jois is no longer with us, the Ashtanga hereditary system we have, the idea of lineage, where the sceptre is passed down the line... has ended up in Sharath's perhaps reluctant hand. It skipped Manju, Pattabhi Jois' son, who was there in the room demonstrating asana as his father wrote Yoga Mala, outlining the current  Ashtanga vinyasa system (give or take the odd tweak). Manju decided to stay in the west after his father's first visit but has, he says, continued to teach just as his father taught him back in the 1950s, I suspect less roughly. However, he teaches outside India so instead, the perceived official lineage has passed to Sharath. Not to Sharath's mother Saraswati, who practiced as a child alongside Manju with their father and who continues to be a much loved and respected teacher with her own shala in Mysore, but to her son who travelled with his grandfather in later years and was trained in asana by him.

The source then is a place, Mysore where the current 'official' holder of the lineage resides. Did Sharath himself take on that title I wonder, is it mentioned anywhere, on KPJAYI website, I should check, perhaps it's just a way people have of referring to him, authorised teachers perhaps to give more legitimacy to the certification, more authority, credibility.

It's not necessary for credibility of course, anyone who has practiced this approach to asana six mornings a week for  ten years or so already has credibility as an asana teacher or should have and authority or rather respect springs from that. This is assuming that this approach to asana we practice allows us to understand our asana, not just it's construction but what it is, how it may be employed, the possibility of asana... perhaps thats why we look to senior teachers, those who have practiced for decades and have moved past the outward manifestation of posture. Dropping series.... asana, may be a relief a revelation, perhaps one asana IS all we require.

We need a lineage holder/wielder it seems to maintain the official practice of Pattabhi Jois' Ashtanga vinyasa. Sharath does remind us that nobody owns yoga but there seems to be the perception that how he defines or outlines the practice is somehow official, how he tweaks it, what aspects he may stress is how it should be practiced and passed along through authorised and certified teacher's Mysore rooms. No Authorised or certified teacher is allowed to present teacher trainings, punishable by excommunication or at least being taken off the official list of recognised teachers. Personally it's those on the edges of 'official' Ashtanga, who have often ( but not always) practiced for decades, authorised/certified or not, that I find most exciting, who bring the practice and it's possibilities alive for me.

Authority, authority, authority.

Author-ity?

Sharath travelled, assisted  and trained with Pattabhi Jois in his grandfather's later years, the relationship with his granfather was clearly one of love and reverence and no doubt why he stresses paramppara, it is a concept important to him. Sharath, along with so many others has practiced and taught for years, his tweaks to the system/method have been few, minor perhaps. Pattabhi Jois himself changed the presentation of the system in a few minor ways, his shala used to have word research in the title after all, but mostly it appears to be how he was taught by his own teacher T. Krishnamacharya.

Krishnamacharya seems to have taught a dynamic style of practice to the young boys of the Mysore palace, it was perhaps a little like the Modern Shaolin school of Kung Fu, turning out demonstrators to promote yoga throughout India.

Krishnamacharya, Mysore palace school (Krishnamacharya standing on the boy in Kapotasana over on the right - Pattabhi Jois has said that he is the boy his teacher is standing on although he may be mistaken).

We also have Krishnamacharya's books on yoga written at the same time, outlining as they do a slower practice that included long stays and kumbhaka ( breath retention), a flexible approach to asana based on groups of asana, primary, middle and proficient ability asana. The follow up book was intended to include pranayama.This slower approach was less suitable for demonstrations of course although Krishnamacharya would supposedly keep one of his young demonstrators like Pattabhi Jois in kapotasana while he would stand on him and deliver a lecture/presentation and manju says his father would practice long stays in his personal practice.

Pattabhi Jois seems to have taken the approach to asana his teacher Krishnamacharya presented in his boys school for asana demonstrators, taken his teachers list (with permission I should add, even perhaps encouragement) and presented it as fixed series with minimal rearrangement to the first two of Krishnamacharya's groups of asana, the Advanced list took more rearrangement.

The source then perhaps refers to Krishnamacharya himself... what about his old shala/school in Mysore? I believe BNS Iyengar teachers there now or used to. BNS Iyengar according to an interview with him came to Mysore just after Krishnamacharya's school closed. Krishnamacharya had moved to Chennai but his family remained in Mysore and he would come back to visit, and no doubt give the occasional lecture in Mysore as well as the odd class. BNS Iyenger seems to have attended some of these lectures and classes but mostly he seems to have been a student of Pattabhi Jois.

The Source then is perhaps Krishnamacharya's own texts, Yoga Makaranda and Yogasananagalu, rather than how he was allowed to teach in the palace school  other than to private students, they are good source texts but The Source?

There is talk of Yoga Korunta, the mythical text allegedly eaten by ants that Krishnamacharya's work is said to be based upon, Krishnamacharya is the only person we know who may have seen it. Would we consider the yoga Korunta as 'The Source', a text rather than a person or place? Few bother to actually read Krishnamacharya's own texts that may have been based upon it, I suspect the Korunta and other of Krishnamacharya's source texts would only be referred to as The Source if they fitted exactly how Ashtanga is being taught now in the official shala...

too often we want our discoveries to justify our practice rather than question it.

What then of Krishnamacharya's own teacher, this shifts the Source from Mysore to either Tibet or the university library and /or the forests around Benares, old Varanasi  .... perhaps a little of each, or a little of all the teachers and texts that Krishnamacharya consulted in his years of wandering from library to library, Pandit to pandit, living authority to living authority.

M. and I once sought the source of the Thames, this great river that Conrad saw as stretching to Rome and the Tiber, to the Congo, joining all rivers, oceans.... at some point it becomes a stream and then a an insignificant trickle, like the source of the Ganges perhaps. Here, in Shiga, next to Lake Biwa we are constantly coming across small streams, water coming down from the mountains filling this four million year old lake. Which of these rivulets is the source of this great lake?

one of the many little streams near us, look, first snow

But India right, the source of Ashtanga, of yoga is Indian......surely.

Purusha doesn't have brown skin or any other colour skin for that matter, nor dialect, language, a culture, a sex, a history.....

Whatever your Philosophy the source of Ashtanga, of yoga, seems to come with the relization that I am, followed on some dark lonely night by the questions what then is this am, thisand am I it.

If not and perhaps my conception of what I am is ignorance how may I overcome it.

....and perhaps later what is this language, this grammar, that allows me to form the question in such a way.

These questions are our birthright, we find them in most any culture we encounter in one form or another and the response in all seems to be some form of moral code or behaviour, embodied practice, reflection, meditation.

There is often a physical embodied element, at it's simplest a prostration perhaps but some form of physical discipline,  breath control whether a form of what we refer to as pranayama or as chanting, prayer and always a turning inwards, introspection or outwards to conception of God, all questioning our sense of self of am'ness, being.

There are always those who go off alone to sit with these questions and/or their response to them, seek to understand them better, question them, question their teacher, question what they most believe to be so,

to know or to know that they don't know.... radical enquiry.

We find yogi's everywhere

The source of Yoga, of Ashtanga is right here, we carry it everywhere.

*
NB: I began my practice of yoga with Pattabhi Jois' presentation of Ashtanga Vinyasa eight years ago and still believe it provides an excellent foundation for discipline and focus that we can return to if and when our discipline wanes. For the last few years I've tended to maintain much of the structure of Ashtanga vinyasa but am more strongly influenced by Krishnamacharya's early Mysore writing as well as the strongly integrated practice of his long term student Srivatsa Ramaswami.

2 comments:

  1. The source seems to be found way back in the tantric tradition
    http://samudraglobalyoga.com/origins-of-surya-namaskara.html

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Roselil, yes, I added a quote by Christopher a short whil back to my Surynamaskara as Ashtanga key post
    http://grimmly2007.blogspot.co.uk/p/the-ashtanga-key-surya-namaskar-pdf.html
    I look forward to him posting his conclusions in a peer review journal, I have several questions about his work that I imagine his peers can question far better than I especially with regards his translation.

    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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