Tag Archives: nothing special

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1.16

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The ultimate renunciation is when one transcends the qualities of nature and perceives the soul.

Indifference to the subtlest elements, constituent principles, or qualities themselves, achieved through a knowledge of the nature of pure consciousness, is called supreme non-attachment

That highest non-interest occurs when there is
freedom from desire for the features of material nature and thorough awareness of the spiritual person

This sutra is saying that the ultimate detachment comes from indifference to the gunas, or qualities of nature. There are three gunassattvas (creation), rajas (preservation), and  tamas (destruction)I take this to mean that once we are aware of the constant flux of life and nature, and learn to be indifferent towards it, then we achieve detachment and can see things as they really are.

However, this sutra does not give any guidance on how to obtain this detachment, it does not give us any practical help yet on how to do this. Surely the answer is through meditation though?

The creation, preservation and destruction elements are quite powerful, and all-encompassing. This sutra is guiding us to be indifferent to new life, and also to death. This is certainly not easy. If I have a baby, how can I possibly be indifferent towards it? Or if a relative or friend dies? Perhaps using the word ‘indifference’ implies not caring, but I don’t think that this is the case. If I have a good meditation session, I am pleased about that, but as Suzuki said we should retain a ‘nothing special’ attitude – it’s ok to be pleased about it, but don’t expect to be pleased every time, or sit on the cushion in order to be pleased. This is harder to apply when we come to our relationships with other people. Suppose I have a new baby, I feel love towards it, which is a form of attachment. The indifference does not mean not caring for that baby or feeling nothing towards it, but rather not expecting to gain pleasure from the relationship, and not having that pleasure as the goal of spending time with the child.

I must admit, I do struggle with this yogic / Zen concept of indifference. Patanjali does not explicitly state here in this sutra that the gunas refer to our relationships with others, but it seems to me that they must apply to all aspects of life. We must remain indifferent to the impermanence of life in order to see things as they really are. Impermanence is a huge concept in Buddhism, and we must recognise it to avoid the suffering it causes in us. This impermanence applies to human life in the aging process, the cycle of birth and death, and in any experience of loss.

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Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1.15

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Renunciation is the practice of detachment from desires

Being detached from one’s desires is seen as a sort of freedom, rather than some sort of hardship. Iyengar says that the only way to achieve this is through willpower.

The goal is indifference, and i suppose that means also indifference to the practice itself. This reminds me of Suzuki in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind stating that meditation practice should be “nothing special”. It is easy to practice when it goes well, when we achieve that asana or our mind is still during meditation. But it is easy to get discouraged when we are stiff or our mind is noisy. Being indifferent doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy things. It’s Ok to enjoy the practice, notice that enjoyment, but do not expect it every time, or make that enjoyment the goal of practice. Similarly, it’s Ok to enjoy spending time with your children, but the enjoyment should not be the goal of that interaction, nor should we expect it every time. I find this quite a liberating concept.

The sutra does not explore from what things we should detach ourselves. I suspect it is detachment from everything that we should aspire to, even the practice itself. This is not easy, but perhaps the first step is to notice when we feel attachment to something. Try this in the course of your day – next time you want a chocolate or your child to be better behaved or to have a ‘good’ meditation session (whatever that is) just step back and think “attachment is here”. Surely the first step to detachment is awareness of attachment.

Book Club – The Heart of Practice, Understanding Yoga From the Inside

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The Heart of Practice: Understanding Yoga From the Inside by Orit Sen-Gupta

This little book captures my two passions : yoga and Zen Buddhism. The book is divided into chapters on breath, asana, meditating, teaching and dying. The practical chapters resonated with me the most, particuarly the ones on asana, pranayama and sitting. Sen-Gupta’s tone is gentle, her touch light. This is not a manual of instructions, just a book of thoughts by someone who is on The Path, and her views are valuable and considered.

The chapter on death and dying was unexpected and interesting to consider how the ideas in Zen and yoga can apply to end of life situations. Sen-Gupta describes in depth the process of her own father’s death, in an honest and heart-felt way. She also talks about Liat, a new student at one of Sen-Gupta’s yoga classes, who was diagnosed with cancer and how she used yogic practices to pass from life to death. I’d not given much thought to how these Eastern philosophies deal with death and dying, and this was really thought-provoking.

However, there were some things in the book that I stumbled on, such as some slight inconsistencies when Sen-Gupta talks about meditation, such as “practice is the reward”. Zen Master Dogen said that the practice of meditation should be ‘nothing special’, done just for the sake of doing it, rather than for any reward in itself, although I could appreciate the sentiment.

Sen-Gupta does make some sweeping statements, such as “In India most people are religious and express their devotion to God”. I struggled with these, as no citation or supporting evidence is given. There were also some confusing mixing of ideologies which were not clear to me, “When we just sit, everything is kosher”. I appreciate that Sen-Gupta lives in Israel, but no explanation was offered to clarify this.

All in all, this is a helpful book to anyone interested in yoga and zazen, but read with a critical mind.