Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Loving Kindness and Brahmavihāras, the four immeasurables in the Yoga Sutras YS1:33 - Inc. introducing Loving Kindness into our asana practice. Also Krishnamacharya and Buddhism.

I've had this post sitting in my draft box for a year or more perhaps longer, occasionally tweaking it, always intending to develop it further....., this will have to do for now.


Question: What does the bhakti mean to a person who has no belief in Isvara?

Krishnamacharya: Love is bhakti for them



Loving Kindness is one of the four Immeasurable in Buddhism and it's there in the Yoga Sutras, 1:33. This sutra is the first of seven contemplation techniques or approaches to meditation.

The final meditation option of the seven is the 'fast track' option of contemplating Ishvara ( the Lord... God, which may mean 'merely' the boundless cradle of awareness in which we reside).

The most seemingly straightforward perhaps (but challenging) of the seven, and no doubt the most familiar, is following the breath.

However, concentration on the four immeasurable, including loving kindness is the first listed. Not the first as in we begin with it or that there is an order or that we have to practice all of them, they are surely options, anyone should be able to find an approach to meditation (Yoga) that works for them (and Patanajali goes into more depth and detail later), but I find it interesting that Patanjali placed it here, right at the beginning.


Brahmavihāras, the four immeasurables in the Yoga Sutras

Yoga Sutras 1-33

maitrî-karuñâ-muditopekæâñâä sukha-duïkha-puñyâpuñya-viæayâñâä bhâvanâtaå citta-prasâdanam

maitrî = friendliness
karuñâ = compassion
mudita = delight
upekæâñâä = equanimity
sukha = happiness
duïkha = distress, pain, suffering puñya = good, virtuous

apuñya = bad, evil
viæayâñâä = object (of experience)
bhâvanâtaï = radiating, projecting
citta = consciousness
prasâdanam = calming, tranquilizing, clarification

Consciousness settles as one radiates friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity toward all things, whether pleasant or painful, good or bad.
Chip Hartranft translation

*

Consciousness settles....

Ronald Steiner has the full Yoga Sutras along with his commentary on his excellent Ashtangainfo.com

Here's the link to 1:33, I've quoted a couple of sections from his treatment of this sutra below.

MAITRI KARUNA MUDITO PEKSHANAM SUKHA DUHKHA PUNYA APUNYA VISHAYANAM BHAVANATAH CHITTA PRASADANAM ||33||

मैत्री करुणा मुदितोपेक्षाणांसुखदुःख पुण्यापुण्यविषयाणां भावनातः चित्तप्रसादनम् ॥३३॥
maitrī karuṇā mudito-pekṣāṇāṁ-sukha-duḥkha puṇya-apuṇya-viṣayāṇāṁ bhāvanātaḥ citta-prasādanam ||33||

All that is mutable in human beings (chitta) is harmonized through the cultivation of love (maitri), helpfulness (karuna), conviviality (mudita) and imperturbability (upeksha) in situations that are happy, painful, successful or unfortunate. ||33||


"These four basic traits nurture each other, which means that developing one helps to develop all the others.

I always try to accept other people in a loving fashion (maitrī), and particularly when time is at a premium.

If someone needs my help, I try to be there for them (karuṇā). This is part of my job as a yoga teacher and physician. In some cases, this help takes a very concrete form, e.g. when I prescribe a drug or therapy. However, when it comes to personal problems I rarely provide specific answers, but instead try to help the student find their own solution.

mudita means conviviality, which is an important trait for me as a yoga teacher and physician. When I have to give a patient bad news, I nonetheless try to be as upbeat as possible – because after all, how can he be expected to believe in his own recovery if I rob him of all hope from a medical standpoint?
Of the four key traits, I have the most difficulty cultivating imperturbability (upekṣa) – for example being accepting when a close friend lights up a cigarette. I need to exhibit this same kind of acceptance in cases where a patient refuses to undergo therapy that I feel he needs. This ability to accept a person as they are is a sign of a good relationship".
Ashtangainfo.com

*

For me this seems to be treating 1:33 kind of like yama/niyama, a general approach to daily life and while I agree completely, cultivate loving kindness, the four immeasurable in all your interactions, I want to go further and remind myself that Patanjali has placed this sutra here among the approaches to contemplation, the meditation techniques and he places it first.

Here's Aranya but notice Vyasa's commentary, "...the mind becomes pure. A purified mind becomes one-pointed, eventually attains serenity"

....and the last line of Aranya's commentary

"These fours practices are called Brahmavihāras by the buddhists and these, they say, lead to the brahmaloka" (Theravāda Buddhists hold that rebirth in the brahma-loka is the reward enjoyed by an individual who has accompanied great virtue with meditation)".


Here's the sutra and Vyasa's commentary along with that of Aranya.






If Aranya's is my Yoga Sutra commentary of choice, Edwin F. Bryant's Sutras comes a close second and many may prefer it. What makes Bryant's edition special is he brings together commentary for all the classic commentators including Aranya. Here hi is on 1:33 by way of a preview, link to Amazon for a closer look below.







Ramaswami reminds us that we take the principle that if something is not expanded on, explained in detail in Patanjali's text, then it's taken as a given and we refer outside the text ( a convenient approach). So to understand Purusha for example we turn to Samkhya on which Patanjali's system, his presentation of yoga, is grounded.

To understand and explore the four immeasurable in more depth we might look to Buddhism. There is an area of study that explores how much Patanajali was influenced by Buddhism and/or whether the Yoga Sutras were a response to the Buddhism prevalent in India at the time of writing, It's there in the text and never more so than here in 1-33

Krishnamacharya too it seems was interested in Buddhism in his early life although for how long a period and to what extent is unknown it seems. 

See this post on my Krishnamacharya blog 

Of course you don't have to become a Buddhist to take on board Buddhist Meditation techniques or Buddhist Ethics and Buddhism doesn't hold the patent on Loving kindness, Compassion, equanimity, Joy but they do write about it a lot.

So where can we look for more info on Loving Kindness mediation.... There's Insight meditation of course, Vipassana sites often treat metta, loving Kindness, as a meditation technique, you'll find retreats, workshops, special sessions on Loving Kindnesss...

Check out podcasts from audiodharma, I have a soft spot for those by Gil Frondsal (must have listened to hundreds of dharma talks by him from here and Zencast over the years, always good)

See too this in depth article from the Berzin archives for sources
Introduction

The four immeasurable attitudes (tshad-med bzhi, Skt.apramana, Pali: appamanna) are:

  • immeasurable love (byams-pa, Skt: maitri, Pali: metta),
  • immeasurable compassion (snying-rje, Skt: karuna, Pali:karuna),
  • immeasurable joy (dga'-ba, Skt: mudita, Pali: mudita),
  • immeasurable equanimity (btang-snyoms, Skt: upeksha, Pali:upekkha).


They are also called "the four Brahma abodes" (tshangs-gnas bzhi, Skt. brahmavihara, Pali: brahmavihara) and are found in the various Hinayana and Mahayana traditions of Buddhism, as well as in Bon. Different schools and texts interpret them slightly differently, and certain practices in some traditions change their order. 


During our Practice

In our Ashtanga Vinyasa practice we can just forget about the different Drishti (originally there were only two, one in fact, do we really need nine), focus instead perhaps, throughout the practice, on the region of the heart, where our breath begins and where it ends. 

Place a mantra there

May I be safe from internal and external harm

There are others...

May I be peaceful and happy
May I be healthy and strong
May I take care of myself joyfully.

But it's the first one we want to focus on, if and when we experience happiness there in the heart then we can worry about directing it outwards to others, to all beings, first we need to experience for ourselves what it is we wish to project.

While we're at it we can stop worrying about alignment, as long as we've learned enough not to injure ourselves the breath will take care of alignment. 

And then stop worrying about the breath, or the bandhas and certainly the count, they too will all take care of themselves.

Another place to put the mantra, or notice the growing sense of contentment, joy, bliss, happiness, love, would be in the kumbhaka.

We can focus on the heart in our pranyama too of course.

We can make loving kindness the focus of our more formal Sit or just set up our seated practice by placing the mantra in the region of the heart, perhaps a vague feeling of contentment will arise there and we can drop the mantra and but remain aware of that experience, vague, occasionally tended perhaps throughout our sit. At the end of our Sit we might direct that contentment outwards, to our loved ones, our friends, acquaintances, to all. In this approach it's nor so much the focus of the meditation but more of a background practice, makes a change from merely coming back to the breath.

See also perhaps my post on internal drishti points


Why the heart region? Here's Krishnamacharya's son T. Sribrashim, perhaps I would use 'the divine' in place of 'God' , or Bhakti (love) in line with krishnamacharya's quote. There tends to be very different initial conceptions of God in the East and West, many of us turn off as soon as we see the word 'god', to be honest I turn off at 'divine' too but at least it gives me pause. 

"- Hrudaya: the place of residence of God in us. It is a little outside the physiological heart. In the concentration of Mula Shirsha to it automatically by Hrudaya. This is protected from any human emotion. As a state mental Hrudaya is given automatically when the field is free of mental sensations and emotions."

The point here is that the heart region, Hrudaya is a tradition focal point associated with a feeling of well being.

APPENDIX

Krishnamacharya and Buddhism, below is the first part of my post on Krishnamacharya and Buddhism, click on the link to go to the full post with the extra articles mentioned at the end.

Krishnamacharya and Burmese Buddhist meditation: focal points linked to breath and brought into asana.


"Those who practice yoganga, with the power of vinyasa and pranayama, have the ability to significantly decrease this number (of breaths). While practicing yoga with reverence, one can offer their essence to God during exhalation and during inhalation, imagine/suppose that God is entering your heart.  During kumbhaka, we can practice dharana and dhyana.  Such practices will improve mental concentration and strengthen silence/stillness.  Eliminates agitation and restlessness". 
Krishnamacharya Yogasanagalu (1941)



Now I'm no doubt reading too much into this and making connections where perhaps they aren't any or where none are necessary (these focal points are after all traditional points of mental focus in yoga) Still,  it's been playing on my mind, something about the technique of linking focal points to the breath and bringing them into asana practice. Either way it makes for a good post and a chance to look at this material again.


For a number of years I've been fascinated by the Idea that Krishnamacharya either went to Burma to study 'Burmese Yoga' or , what now seems more likely studied Buddhism, and Buddhist meditation in the Burmese tradition in particular. I was quite excited then to see this account (below) of Krishnamacharya and his son TK Sribhashyam  visiting the Mahabodhi/Bodhigaya temple, in the recent interview over at Harmony Yoga. Krishnamacharya sits down with some of the elderly monks who are supposedly old friends of his from when they studied Buddhism together. Krishnamacharya then went on to teach his son the differences between pranayama in Hinduism and Buddhism. Wouldn't you have like to be a mosquito on the temple wall for that conversation. What differences in particular did Krishnamacharya explain to his son, Samatha perhaps, mindfulness of breathing? Did any of these practices find their way into Krishnamacharya's own practice and teaching. ?

http://www.longdriveholiday.com/bodhgaya/
Now, I was just reading again Ajaan Lee's book, Keeping the Breath in Mind (free download available HERE - Thank you S.) and looking at this use of focal points (or bases of the mind) in the Meditation practice he presents based on the breath.


from Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo Keeping the Breath in Mind
Lessons in Samdhi
by
"5. Become acquainted with the bases or focal points for the mind—the resting
spots of the breath—and center your awareness on whichever one seems most
comfortable. A few of these bases are:

a. the tip of the nose,
b. the middle of the head,
c. the palate,
d. the base of the throat,
e. the breastbone (the tip of the sternum),
f. the navel (or a point just above it)".

Doesn't that remind you of Krishnamacharya's use of focal points to bring Dharana into his asana practice as outlined by his son TK Sribhashyam in Emergence of Yoga.

BUT Ajaan Lee is of course Thai not Burmese (There is a Thai tradition of focal point/bases for the mind breath meditation- see Dhammakya at the end of post). However, I checked Ajaan Lee's autobiography and it turns out he spent time in Burma and, get this, also India and at Maha bodhi in particular. Was the focal point/bases of the mind approach to Samatha in vogue at mahabodhi at the time Krishnamacharya may have studied there if indeed that was where he encountered Burmese and perhaps Thai Buddhism. Was there a cross fertilisation between this encounter with Samatha and Krishnamacharya's reading of Yoga Yajnavalkya ( see No. 4 below).

http://www.longdriveholiday.com/bodhgaya/

Krishnamacharya was always all about the breath, in Yoga Makaranda he only seems to employ two focal points, the tip of the nose and between the eyebrows, he was however well aware of the employment of the vital points in one of his favourite texts YogaYajnavalkya (includes a pranayama technique where the breath -and prana- moved from vital point to vital point). Krishnamacharya would of course have been fascinated had he encountered a meditative tradition based on the breath that focussed on traditional focal points (those from the heart up are considered to be spiritual focal points rather than those for the emotions or those for the body.

Go to this post on my Krishnamacharya Blog for the articles/further information below
http://krishanamcharysaoriginalashtanga.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/krishnamacharya-and-burmese-buddhist.html
  1. First up then the Question and answer from the interview with Sribashyam on Buddhism and Burma.
  2. Next a page outlining the focal points in Emergence of Yoga along with an outline of Krishnamacharya's own practice
  3. A couple of sections from Ajaan Lees book outlining the Meditation technique  with a link to a free download for the full method.
  4. Finally the relevant passages on moving prana from vital point to vital point in pratyahara and pranayama practice found in Yoga Yajnavalkya.

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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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