Wednesday, 1 June 2016

June 2016 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami--Dream (स्वप्न svapna)

I returned from Saskatoon in Canada on May 3, 2016after teaching  a fortnight long 100 hr TT program in Vinyasakrama Yoga . The stay was very pleasant and the participation really great. Thank you Ryan, Caitlin and everyone who participated in the program.

I have taught this 100 hour program in three places now, one in Chennai, one in New Delhi and this one at One Yoga in Canada. I am scheduled to do the same program in Los Angeles at LMU in July/August, where the registration is still sluggish and then in Madrid Spain at Dhara Yoga where there is a much much better response. So far about 100 yogis have completed this 100 hour program. There are a few shorter programs-- one at Yogashala in Connecticut in July (Yoga Sutras) two programs in Germany and one in Chicago. For details please visit my website
www.vinyasakrama.com/Events

I may probably do the 100 hr program again @ Yoga Vahini in Chennai, India in Dec 2016 and perhaps @ Yoga Institute, Sydney Australia in April 2017

Dream (स्वप्न svapna)

Physiologists and psychologists have been studying why and how of dreams for a long time and have produced impressive amount of information about dreams. Some study the electro-chemical changes and patterns that take place in the brain while others try to find out if there is a connection between the dream manifestation and the underlying sub conscious cause for such dreams. Why do some people seem to have pleasant and happy dreams while others dread going to sleep because of the recurrent nightmares? Why does a pauper has a dream of plenty while a billionaire nightmares that he is penniless. Why does the professor of physics, a Nobel Laureate has a bad dream of flunking his high school physics test? Why someone with a huge walk- in closet full of fancy expensive clothes dreams of cringing unclad  in the open?

Vedic philosophers also have studied dreams with a view to understand-get some clues about-  how we experience the  world around us when awake. It is common knowledge that the dreams take place inside the head inside the brain. Sometime while  one is sleeping the brain picks up some memories and creates a dream world out of it. The common understanding is that the dreamer experiences the dream within the brain. However the dream is not merely neurons floating around and the brain cells undergoing chemical changes. The dream is seen in space, three dimensional space. The old philosophers were not satisfied with the commonly held bland belief that the dream is experienced by the dreamer in the head. It is not a complete narration of what is happening. One has to explain how the dream is visualized, seen in three dimensions. The dream world occupies vast space much more than what the head could accommodate. The brain not only picks up some data from the memory, creates a dream space, creates dream objects and creates dream creatures, a la the world we see in our waking state, it also writes the script and produces a video called dream--sometimes pleasant ones and often times horror movies. Additionally the brain identifies one of the creatures it has created as the dreamer self to complete the dream operation. The brain is a creator, it plays god. It is capable of creating space, objects and creatures and a dream self to boot and make one believe that it is all true and really happening.

The Yogis and vedantins say that all that we experience  in dream takes place not in physical space which is obvious but in mental or mind's space called citta akasa. In this virtual space the brain projects the dream and it is experienced. Who experiences that? It is identical to waking experience of the physical world. There is space, there are objects, there are creatures, there are experiences and the individual dream self who acts just like the waking state physical self. It, the dream self, appears to have a body, limbs and senses and a brain too. Who is the experiencer here? Is it the dream self or the fellow who is fast asleep? Neither of them. While having a dream, according to physiologists there is partial paralysis of several motor functions and one becomes completely oblivious to one's own  physical self and only the prana  keeps vital functions like heart beat, respiration digestion etc going. There is no awareness of the physical self but there is awareness of the dream world and the dream self. The brain shuts off  its awareness of the dreamer and identifies with the dream self it has created. The  voluntary movements are inhibited during periods of the dream process. All brain signals to the voluntary muscles are stopped. In both the cases-waking and dreaming-, the common denominator is that awareness, that unwavering awareness of both the waking state world during waking state and the dream world and dream self during the dream state. That unvarying awareness is the experiencer  that the yogis and vedantins call as the real self as distinct from the physical self and the dream self. They call it drashta (seer), bhokta (experiencer) purusha (the indewelling principle), jnaH (the knower) etc.

The other or more significant state is the waking state, and how does one get the waking state experience? Of course there may be some mystery about how dreams are visualized but what is there to discuss about the normal waking state experience?   I have written about it in a few articles earlier but it may be of interest to consider along with the dream state. It is common belief that we see the outside world with our eyes. Likewise we hear sounds of the outside world with the ears, then taste with our tongue and so on. But the scientists say that the eyes do not see nor do the ears hear. They are like gate keepers which have the capacity to let in only the appropriate impulses and not other impulses. The eyes let light particles whereas the ears let in sound waves. According to them when light falls on an object the object absorbs some light and  reflects the light at different angles; the reflected light (light particles as rays) reach the eye which lets them to the retina by focusing the incoming light on to it. Then the retina converts the signals into electrical impulses which are transmitted through optic nerves to the sight center at the back of the brain where it is processed. Simultaneously impulses through the other senses also reach their respective centers in the brain. Then they are coordinated  analyzed, compared and finally a picture of the object is created in the brain with emotions, recognition, understanding added to it. Additionally—it is very, very important to note-- the brain constantly gets impulses within the body and collates them and creates an impression of the physical self in the brain. So the brain has the impression of the physical self and also the impression of the object from the outside world one sees and there is a composite picture of both the outside world and the subject, exactly as we feel when we see an object, simultaneously being aware of our physical selves..

  While a bit clinical, a scientist Antonio Demasio’s definition serves us well: A dynamic collection of integrated neural processes, centered on the representation of the living body, that finds expression in a dynamic collection of mental processes. That is, this thing we call the ‘self’ (the physical self) is the result of our neurochemistry interacting with our physical body and the outside world, resulting in not only what but how we think.

  So what we call the ‘self., 'the physical me' is a re-construction of our brain and the yogis and samkhyas call it 'asmita". First, think about what the term ‘self’ implies: understanding a separation between what you are, both physically and mentally/emotionally, and whatever is outside of you, or non-self. This total experience the yogis call as the cittavritti.  Now this composite picture is in the form of neurons flinging all over the brain. But we see the object in three full dimensions and it cannot take place in the limited brain space. Just as we saw with respect to dream state here also the brain will have to project the impression in three dimensional space. Yogis say that it is done in virtual space the mental space (citta akasa) like the dream space. So both the dream experience and waking state experience take place in similar virtual mental space in the brain. We may say that what we experience takes place within the brain and like the dream objects the brain projects what we experience in the waking state in a virtual space within the confines of the brain. Then who and from where we experience it, we cannot get into the brain and experience what is happening within the virtual space of the brain. The brain projects the whole experience. Since it also projects the physical image of the subject which itself is part of the cittavritti, it cannot be the observer too. The observer is the awareness which is unvarying. Further the brain is just matter made up of proteins and lipids or fat cells like the cells of the other parts of the body and do not have consciousness. While scientists have been able to identify the sense centers and understand the functioning of the brain, they do not appear to have located any awareness or consciousness in the brain. Even so the scientists hold that the brain processes the information, modifies it and also sees it. But the brain is a lump of protein and fat cells. It is a piece of organic matter. There is no capacity in it to observe its own  created images, or to create consciousness. Inert matter cannot create consciousness

 The awareness or the self  experiences  the physical self which itself  is seeing or appears to see the external object at once. Thus  we can not know and explain how the physical self sees the external object. When you start analyzing how we see the external objects we end up understanding that one (the awareness or purusha) is aware of one's cittavritti consisting of both the physical world and physical self. Let us take the example of you and I sitting and talking to each other. Let us take a snap shot of what I experience at this moment. What do I experience? I experience “I am talking to you”. So the totality of the experience consists of both you, the object and me the subject. And the experiencer is the unvarying awareness which the old vedic philosophers call as the real self. It is not some speculative soul which has to be searched. It is immediate.  And it could also be seen that there is no plausible explanation about how I (the physical self) see the objects outside, like you even as it is the first question the discussion started with.

So in the dream, the brain picks some information from memory and converts them into a dream that can be witnessed in the virtual mental space. Likewise the brain receives information through the senses from the outside world and also inputs from one's own body and creates a composite image in the mental space within the brain, Both are witnessed by the same consciousness and that consciousness the yogis vedantins and some religions call as the self or soul. Puruha/soul/self is not just a concept but the real witness of all what we experience all the time, the one that is aware of me writing this article. It is the real awareness of what we consider as the subject and the object in one mental frame. We start with the ordinary question about the relationship between the subject and the object and end up with Patanjali's purusha as the subject and cittavritti as the object. This analysis helps the yogi to focus on the subject which is pure non changing awareness on one hand and the succession of cittavrittis, the objects on the other. Here Patanjali advises the yogi to focus on the cittavrittis which according to him are predominantly painful for most people most of the time (parinama taapa...) His prescription is to reduce and completely stop all cittavritti so that  one remains for the rest of the life in absolute peace

There are some philosophers who while agreeing with the above line of logic, raise a significant objection. The brain is just organic matter with the ability to receive, collate,analyze, modify, add emotions and then project a composite cittavritti of both the objects and the physical self. But the brain is part of the physical self , and how can it project the physical self which contains the brain. It would amount to an anomalous situation, where the brain projects itself.

The view of Samkhyas, yogis, scientists and the common perception  is that the world is real,, made up of infinite space, many trillions of tons of matter and trillions of BTU of energy. There are a few ancient philosophies and faiths that address this objection raised above. One line is that since what anyone experiences is only cittavrittis it is not possible to assume that the waking state cittavrittis are caused necessarily by actual objects. There is no way one can ascertain if the cittavrittis created during waking state are actually caused by objects and if they are similar to dream vrittis. This indetermination is known as anirvacaneya. There are a few others who aver that there is no substance to the forms that we see outside. One popular far eastern religion/philosophy would say that the world is an illusion and the division of the  thought or cittavritti into the subject and object is unreal and is the cause of suffering. It would advise working towards eradication of the subject object barrier by meditation and view one continuum of cittvritti—a continuum of what is inside and what is outside.

Some religions imply that the creation is a grand illusion. One well known religion would say God created individual souls( the ones that experiences) and continuously creates the universe—like a succession of impulses. He also through scripture advises the individual souls not to be attracted by His creation but turn towards Him. In the puranas, even though one gets the impression that the creation is real, there are instances where it is indicated that the world is not made of brick and mortar. In the Bhagavat Gita the Lord says that He created the universe with the power of His Maya, and Maya is  the power of creating an illusion. According to the advaitins, the universe is an illusion that appears to be created within the one and only universal consciousness or awareness called Brahman which is identical with oneSelf, and the universe appears to exist without.

Even science agrees that what we deal with is taking place of the mind. Yoga says that what we deal with is the projection of the mind observed by the individual consciousness or purusha. Vedanta would say that there is only one consciousness the Brahman and the entire creation is an illusion just like the dream projected within the absolute consciousness.  If one can completely understand it by regular contemplation one will be less and less disturbed by the tumultuous happenings of the outside world. They would encourage to meditate upon the Self the Brahman because engaging with the outside world through the senses creates not only considerable unending pain as Patanjali would say  but also because the the whole experience is an illusion like dream. Once we wake up after a dream in the night we dismiss the dream experience as frivolous . So would the yogi/vedantin dismiss the waking experience as an illusion without substance.. It is because he knows that both waking and dream experiences are on par,-- both are essentially painful on one hand and are also  just illusions on the other. Just as one dismisses the dream experience as 'just a dream' the yogi/vedantin dismisses the waking worldy experiences as “Just a painful Illusion. '“Why perpetuate the painful nightmares, lifetime after lifetime?” I should tell myself.

The Universe  is within Brahman but appears outside of it like the dream that takes place within but  appears to be without and like the city (space and objects) which is within a mirror but appears to be without. On waking up one realizes that all the dream which appeared to take place outside is actually within one's own person. That is the power of Maya or the power to project  an illusion but not actual substantive creation. The above analogies are from a beautiful verse of Sankara in his Dakshinamurti stotram

विश्वं दर्पणदृश्यमाननगरीतुल्यं निजान्तर्गतं
पश्यन्नात्मनि मायया बहिरिवोद्भूतं यथा निद्रया ।
यः साक्षात्कुरुते प्रबोधसमये स्वात्मानमेवाद्वयं
तस्मै श्रीगुरुमूर्तये नम इदं श्रीदक्षिणामूर्तये ॥१॥
Vishvam Darpanna-Drshyamaana-Nagarii-Tulyam Nija-Antargatam
Pashyann-Aatmani Maayayaa Bahir-Ivo[a-U]dbhuutam Yathaa Nidrayaa |
Yah Saakssaat-Kurute Prabodha-Samaye Sva-[A]atmaanam-Eva-Advayam
Tasmai Shrii-Guru-Muurtaye Nama Idam Shrii-Dakssinnaamuurtaye

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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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