Yoga Day Countdown: Day #8

Asana #3: Trikonasana (Triange pose)

After the Tadasana (Mountain pose) and Katichakrasana (Standing Spinal Twist), this is the third asana in our selected progression.

Trikonasana

 

How it’s done

Stand straight with your feet 30 – 40 cms apart. Then place your right hand on the side of the right knee and raise the left arm upward. Slowly exhale, bending the body towards your right side and try to touch your right foot with you right hand. Your left hand should be parallel to the ground (you can bend your knee if uncomfortable). Repeat the sequence on the left side.

The video below provides a good demonstration.

Interesting asana facts

  • Very helpful for sciatica patients
  • Stimulates the nervous system and alleviates depression
  • Improves digestion
  • Purifies the blood
  • Strengthens the pelvic area and tones the reproductive organs
  • Reduces waistline fat
  • Pregnant women can do it until the sixth month of pregnancy, but slowly

Read also: Yoga Day Countdown Day #9: KatIchakrasana

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Yoga Day Countdown: Day #9

Asana #2: Katichakrasana (Standing Spinal Twist)

After the Tadasana (Mountain pose), this is the second asana in our selected progression.

How it’s done

Stand with feet about one foot apart and lift both arms up to shoulder height. Then while slowly exhaling, twist your whole body to the right, so that your right arm is straight and left arm half-folded. Repeat on the left side. The video below by the Art of Living provides a good demonstration.

Interesting asana facts

  • Tones the neck, shoulders, back, waist and hips
  • Massages the intestines which helps relieve constipation (Note: the asana can be done after drinking a glass of warm water to stimulate bowel movement)
  • Improves body posture and relieves stiffness of the back
  • Induces a feeling of lightness and can be done anytime during the day to relieve physical or mental tension
Read also: Yoga Day Countdown Day #10: Tadasana

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Yoga Day Countdown! Day #10

Asana #1: Tadasana (Mountain pose)

Tadasana

Tadasana derives its name from the ‘Tad’ or Indian palm tree. As the tree is tall, similarly this asana is about stretching to one’s full height.

This asana is the foundation for all standing asanas. It involves standing straight with one’s feet slightly apart and arms raised upwards, and then stretching and lengthening the body as far as possible.

(Note: this is only a short description – asanas should never be learned just by reading about them)

Interesting asana facts

  • If performed straight after waking up, it helps restore freshness and flexibility of the body
  • Improves the circulation of blood to all the nerves
  • Helpful for backache
  • Helps reduce labour pains *In fact this is the only asana which can be practiced by a pregnant woman for the entire duration of her pregnancy*
  • Brings restfulness after a hectic day of standing and walking
Read also: yoga day countdown day #9: katichakrasana
Read also: How to begin yoga

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A Song for the Neuroscientists (Avadhuta Gita)


Weekend Thoughts: A Gita for the Neuroscientists

First it was physics, now it’s neuroscience. The scientific community has always delighted in casting its sceptical eye on the spiritual and mystic dimensions of life. And our ‘rational’, modern age, has readily granted them the position of ‘experts’ with few stopping to consider that title for the other side instead.

Modern neuroscientists have been able to make careers expounding theories that play with the mystical. There’s the science of ‘consciousness hacking’ which purports to use technology to enhance human experience. There’s also the ‘Integrated information theory’ which purports to measure the extent/depth of consciousness in each living thing. Most recently, efforts are starting to be made to achieve immortality through AI. In short, the list is long.

In his latest book, Two Saints, Indian journalist and author Arun Shourie has gone so far as to suggest (based again on the testimony of neuroscience) that the sadhana of the saints Ramakrishna Parmahansa and Sri Ramana Maharshi was marked by sleep disorder and unhealthy effects on the mind and brain. I must declare upfront that I have not read the entire book but the excerpts and book reviews that I have read have confirmed that deeper association with the book would be a colossal waste of time and money. Such comments about sleep deprivation showcase a poetic irony in that saints who are ‘awake’ are accused of not sleeping enough!

To our scrupulous neuroscientists, I propose a certain song (gita) of timeless origin in India – the Song of the Avadhuta or the Avadhuta Gita. Credited to the sage Dattatreya, the Avadhuta Gita is the song of every enlightened soul, including the avadhuts Sri Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna Parmahansa whose perception of life transcended the senses. Indeed, the basic fallacy in the scientific approach in assessing spiritual matters is its insistence on objective and measurable experience whereas spirituality belongs to the realm of the subjective.

He does not attain a “many” or a “One” that is separate from himself;
It is not something other, like an object with length and breadth.
It cannot be objectively proven, or compared with anything;
It’s the Lord, the Self, the Eternal, he attains.
(Avadhuta Gita, II: 36*)

The basic problem is that scientists keep turning up to scrutinise the mystical with their measuring sticks, trying to employ their senses and mind to figure out what is beyond the senses and mind. And we watch as they churn out theories and data about Consciousness, which attempts can be likened to someone bumping into furniture in a dark room. “No, it’s not this”, “not that”, “wrong again” sigh the enlightened sages. Neti, neti.

You are the ultimate Reality; have no doubt.
The Self is not something known by the mind;
The Self is the very one who knows!
How, then, could you think to know the Self?
(Avadhuta Gita, I: 42*)

In my view, the neuroscientists would be better off trying to understand the meaning of the following lines to better satisfy their curiosity about the physical and mental “condition” that a mystic experiences. This is the state of the avadhuta who has transcended space and time:

I’ve put an end to both wavering and unwavering;
I don’t even imagine thought.
I’ve put an end to both dreaming and waking;
I neither sleep nor wake.
I’ve put an end to animate and inanimate;
I’m neither moving nor still.
I’m nectarean knowledge, unchanging bliss; I’m everywhere, like space.
(Avadhuta Gita, III: 16*)

The two saints Ramana and Ramakrishna are not physically here anymore but their message is always timelessly here and quite apt for our mind-obsessed friends:

O mind, my friend, what’s the good of so much speaking?
O mind, my friend, all of this has been made quite clear.
I’ve told you what I know to be true;
You’re the ultimate Reality. You’re unbounded, like space.
(Avadhuta Gita, I: 68*)

The Avadhuta Gita has to be felt and experienced, not simply heard. Indeed it is a song without a tune. A song that each one must set to the tune of their own life.

*Dattatreya: Song of The Avadhut translated by Swami Abhayananda
Also see an
earlier article I wrote on similar themes and a recently published post on LWP where the spiritual teacher Mooji (in the lineage of Sri Ramana) explains what the path of self-enquiry is about.

See also: The Face of Grace, Ramana Maharshi 

 

Important Updates

We will be counting down to Yoga Day on 21 June with an article a day on yoga – some old, some new, ranging from articles on how to begin yoga, to more philosophical aspects. We’ll also feature a selection of 10 yoga-asanas – one a day staring tomorrow to get you in the mood!

Weekly Digest

Finishing up with a weekly round-up from LWP in case you missed it (scroll down to see more details):

Monday Recipe: Red Pesto, a vitamin powerhouse
Tuesday: Researcher Kiran Varanasi’s thoughts on how the computational nature of Sanskrit is directly relevant to science and ecology and can show us the way forward
Wednesday: Nimisha Bowry’s thoughts on the ‘As You Like It Generation’ in the LivLite section
Thursday: Beloo Mehra’s walk through the beauty and divinity of an Indian temple
Friday: Ranjan Bakshi’s review of Nithin Sridhar’s book, Musings on Hinduism
Saturday: An introduction to self-inquiry with a short clip by spiritual master Mooji discussing The Most Important Question
Last Sunday’s Newsletter: “We Won’t Always Have Paris”

Details of the Infinite

by Beloo Mehra

 

The intricately carved pillars lead you into the chamber of Beauty and Divinity. Beauty in Divinity; Divinity in Beauty.

 

 

Your eyes want to linger on the details of the pillars, take in every piece of carving and beauty. At the same time the inner quietude pulls you in.

 

 

Your footsteps slowly take you in, quietly, with a sense of awe and quiet anticipation. No rush, no hurrying through, you just walk through the space slowly, purposefully or with no purpose at all but just to experience the majesty and glory that is all around you.

 

 

Or you don’t walk at all. You just stand still. Quietly, in silence, you just stay there. For as long as you must. For as long as you hear the poetry of those stones, the music in that silent space.

The experience is not merely an aesthetic one, for that would last only as long as you are in the physical presence of the art. This is also not only your mind’s or heart’s journey back into the glorious past of India of thousands of years ago when thousands of Sun-worshippers would have gathered in this temple dedicated to Lord Surya, the Sun God.

This is more than that.

This is a journey within. A journey into the chambers of the inner you where you want the Light of the Sun God to shine, into all those corners from where you want those pesky little darknesses to be gone. A journey that gradually leads you to a bright and vast openness, that makes you, the inner you, more receptive to the new Light that must fill those spaces within.

 

 

It is in this aspiration and appeal to the Infinite that all details find their rightful place and purpose. You begin to know intuitively why and how the detailed abundance of the majestically carved pillars and the intricately elaborate gateway are steps to experiencing the sublime beauty of the divinity within, and also the divinity of beauty within.

A certain type of critical mind, which often fails to see the inner significance of what the outer eye meets, looks at the profusion of artistic detail on the ancient Indian temple walls, gateways and pillars, on the hallways of old palaces and other buildings and asks – why is everything so crowded, why is every little space filled up, where is the blank space, how can one take it all in?

But to an Indian heart and mind,

 

And long after you come back, the beauty of that experience still lingers within, quietly and often without your awareness. It is not really a memory, maybe something more, something subtler. It is a vibration, perhaps. And you know what you need to do to re-experience that vibration.

You just need to go back, no not to the physical space, but that space within where you first felt that touch of delight. You sit quietly and go to that space and recall it.

And the words begin to resonate –

As the Infinite fills every inch of space…

…with the stirring of life and energy…

…because it is the Infinite…

These words reverberate inside, quietly. You let them. You stay in gratitude for that experience, for that vibration.

 

 

Images are of the Sun Temple at Modhera, Gujarat, India.
All photographs by Suhas Mehra. Please do not reproduce or copy without permission.
The article first appeared on Beloo Mehra’s blog.

Sanskrit, Science and Ecology

“Understanding the anatomy of language through grammar enables us to reach a higher plane of creativity in art, as well as in science…The immense heritage of scientific works in Sanskrit bear proof to this creative capacity. Unfortunately, modern methods of academic instruction in mathematics and science have been disconnected from this heritage. Instead of a delightful marriage between scientific investigation and artistic beauty, we have the divergent worlds of sciences and humanities, where people fight to establish their egos in their theories. This disconnect has produced so much pollution in this world that people have forgotten that all of human endeavour is a shared enterprise, and that its objective is to elevate the consciousness to a higher Rasa.”

Diversity in Indian civilisation

For about ten thousand years, the Indian subcontinent was not only the most populous area but also the most technologically and economically advanced civilization in the world. But despite this, the region preserved its biological diversity. The forests of India housed vast numbers of tigers and other wild animals, whose numbers started to decline only during the colonial era. The same is true of linguistic and cultural diversity in human societies.

One can contrast how Irish and other Celtic languages were exterminated from the British isles with how Dravidian and South-East Asian languages thrived despite the dominance of Sanskrit. India is the only civilization in the world where tribal languages and customs are preserved, despite being in close contact with literate societies. Apart from protecting economic and lifestyle niches, religious beliefs and practices were also protected. Many external religions such as Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Syriac Christianity, Bahai’ism have sought and found refuge in India. This case of India is all the more surprising when we note that the aggressive European civilizations were but cousins to India, sharing a common linguistic and mythological ancestry. So what did its cousins lack that made India so tolerant?

Sanskrit – tool for elevating consciousness

The answer may be in the computational nature of the Sanskrit language and the sciences nourished by it. Taken together, they are a means of amplifying the consciousness of a person, making him aware of every single aspect of life and his conduct to it. This reinforcement of consciousness is the key to avoiding environmental catastrophe in any age. Often, humans destroy living ecosystems through sheer ignorance and lack of attention. Greed is a big factor, but stupidity results in greater violence in the long term.

The languages and belief systems that we think in are Prakrits – applicable to a specific place and context. A certain type of fish might survive in certain type of waters, but other fish may die. Such is the case with Prakrits – they cannot claim to be universal. Further, if they become polluted (become Apabhramsas), they cause suffering to the very creatures that thrived on them.

The greatest cause of suffering is the ego nurtured by the polluted mind. For example, after they conquered Bengal, the British systematically scorched the region with famine to break the morale of the people.  The early Americans exterminated the bison so that they could starve the native Indian tribes that depended on it. It is hard to fathom the depravities of such egotism, which continues to cause ecological destruction today. There is an important lesson to be learned from human civilizations that survived for a long time without ecological collapse like in India (at least until today’s age). The lesson is the open computational grammar of Sanskrit, which makes it modifiable to be suited to specific local contexts in space and time, such that the human mind pays attention to the changing constraints of nature.

Sanskrit is unique, because unlike any other human language, there is no dictionary needed for Sanskrit. Instead, it possesses a generative grammar of computational rules. The number of Sanskrit words is potentially infinite. Even if we restrict to words less than 5 syllables in length, there are more than hundreds of thousands of words. Each word in Sanskrit is akin to a self-explanatory computer program that can be parsed into individual syllables (phonemes) by which its meaning can be derived. Thus, an infinite number of new words can be generated whose meaning will be unambiguous to a Sanskrit speaker.  The magic of Sanskrit grammar is that you can have multiple ways of breaking a word and putting it together again, that leads to multiple angles of meaning, all of which converge on the denoted object.

Map reconstructing the now-dry ancient Saraswati river mentioned in Vedic texts. The river flowed through North-West India (Source: Wikipedia)

From the Indian perspective, the physical analogy for an algorithm is not a mechanical clock, but a constantly flowing river that nourishes people. This river is Saraswati on the banks of which the Indian civilization flourished, and who was later glorified as the goddess of speech. In the Indian tradition, this river is supposed to flow through all the other rivers, blending at sacred spots of confluence. When Indians make pilgrimages, they carry small pots of water from the rivers of their places of origin to the sacred Ganges and mix them in. This is a way of acknowledging the commonality of all the rivers.

Saraswati, Goddess of Speech, Knowledge  and the Arts

Interpreting this tradition with computers and algorithms, we should encourage interoperability of all computing systems, by periodically blending in the waters of computation with each other. Like the waters of a river, they can be enjoyed by all living beings. In a more general sense, we can say the same for open-source software if it achieves political and economic awareness amongst people. Thinking of algorithms and computer programs as rivers also requires us to maintain them free of pollution. Various types of pollution in terms of data-structures, security, network infrastructure etc. need to be addressed in a similar manner to how we address pollution in ecology.

Reviving the Sanskrit tradition

Throughout the cultural history of India, all great poets and writers in regional languages studied Sanskrit and were equally proficient in it. The power of Sanskrit in word formation and grammar has penetrated all Indian languages. In fact, the first writers of any regional language (Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam etc.) wrote a technical Paninian*-style grammar for their language before composing any literary work. This is because they understood the importance of grammar in imparting consciousness to the literary tradition. Understanding the anatomy of language through grammar enables us to reach a higher plane of creativity in art, as well as in science.

The immense heritage of scientific works in Sanskrit bear proof to this creative capacity. Unfortunately, modern methods of academic instruction in mathematics and science have been disconnected from this heritage. Instead of a delightful marriage between scientific investigation and artistic beauty, we have the divergent worlds of sciences and humanities, where people fight to establish their egos in their theories. This disconnect has produced so much pollution in this world that people have forgotten that all of human endeavour is a shared enterprise, and that its objective is to elevate the consciousness to a higher Rasa (essence). In Sanskrit tradition, the contrast could not be stronger. Great Indian mathematicians of the past like Bhaskara were also highly skilled poets. All the great Sanskrit poets and musicians used computational thinking that would pride a scientist. These bridges have to be rebuilt today, not only for the sake of lovers of Sanskrit, but for the whole world.

The mainstream narrative from western media is okay with letting Indians have their naked mystics, but not as open about acknowledging the full extent of scientific contributions. But anybody who tries to confine the applicability of Sanskrit to these narrow realms is an enemy, not of Sanskrit, but of science.

*Sankskrit grammarian in the ~6th -4th BCE, considered the father of Indian linguistics

Yoga and the Environment

by David Frawley

“True Yoga works with nature and is able to awaken the higher powers of nature within us. This is not something that can be measured or reflected in a commercial way or by marketing. Yet it is something that we can bring into Yoga classes and Yoga teachings. Bringing out the ecological and planetary importance of Yoga and Ayurveda is the real mission to be taken up…”

Yoga and Nature

Both Yoga and Ayurveda are all about working with the forces of nature, which are not just as material energies but powers of consciousness. This work with nature occurs at both internal and external levels. Internally, we need to balance the forces of our own nature as body, mind, breath and spirit. Externally, we need to harmonize ourselves with the world of nature and with the Cosmic Spirit behind it. Each one of us is a manifestation of the entire universe and only when we discover the universe within ourselves can we really understand our purpose in life.

Yoga and Ayurveda define this working with the forces of nature according to various factors like the five elements, the three doshas, the seven chakras and different Gods and Goddesses that themselves reflect the powers of nature from sexuality to the power of consciousness itself. Our own higher nature, the Atman or Purusha, the true Self that is one with the Cosmic Being or Brahman, is the goal and focus of this process.

Yoga traditionally was practiced in retreat in nature, in the mountains and forests or by the river banks and sea shores. Yoga students cultivated gardens, took care of cattle, and learned how to live in the wild. This was an integral part of their training and allowed the natural power of Yoga to grow within them as part of their daily lives.

However, Yoga’s connection with nature and its concern for the environment is easily obscured, if not lost, in the modern Yoga movement and its urban and commercial orientation. Such a Yoga of nature is hard to fit into our modern hectic life-styles that have little time or space for something sacred to unfold of its own accord, though this is the real movement of Yoga.

But in the context of the current global crisis, Yoga’s concern for nature is more relevant than ever. It is a crucial factor in the future of the planet and of our species. This Yoga of nature is not just a matter of getting everyone to practice asanas but bringing a yogic way of integration into how we live, balancing the outer and the inner, nature and spirit, on a planetary level.

Yoga is a way of harnessing the secret powers of nature within us to manifest our own higher natural potentials for a greater awareness. This requires a very deep connection with the world of nature in body, mind and heart. It cannot be done mechanically or en masse, nor made into a franchise. It requires an individual orientation to the living world, which is not just human society but all that is.

Yoga in a World Out of Balance

Our current civilization is easily the most environmentally unfriendly ever to have arisen on the planet. It promotes various forms of exploitation both socially and environmentally that are undermining the very foundation of life for all creatures. Under its spread, the natural balance continues to fall off in a dramatic way in the world around us. Most of our current culture thinks that it is immune from needing to be concerned about nature, which we can shape according to our desires. For it, short-term profits are much more important than any long-term damage to the planet that might be occurring. Yet nature is already makings its voice heard.

Whether it is global warming, tidal waves, droughts and floods, Mother Nature does seem to be protesting these days and this trend is likely to increase in the years and decades to come. Some of these problems may occur because we now have extensive human populations in areas that are not normally safe for habitation like deserts, flood planes, beach areas or earthquake prone regions. But it more and more appears that our own human actions are disturbing the forces of weather and geology, setting in motion energies that we may not be able to control. Global warming is just an indication of a whole range of imbalances going on in our world today that should cause us to awaken, take action and change the world while it is still possible.

On top of this environmental crisis, our current culture has a growing psychological malaise or problem in our internal psychological environment. This is easy to observe by such factors as the epidemic of depression striking young and old and the hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders rampant among children. We may have escaped the crippling physical disorders of previous generations but only to become psychologically crippled or emotionally disturbed instead. With all the affluence that we have today, few people are really happy and many people are suffering in spite or because of their wealth and longer lives.

Our culture overall is getting more and more dependent upon drugs, whether prescription drugs for physical and psychological problems or recreational drugs taken for fun. It is now estimated that around 25% of children are taking regular medications, extending to nearly 90% for the elderly. Even our blood chemistry is not natural these days. Our food similarly is largely processed and contains little natural prana in it to maintain a natural balance in our own digestive systems.

In our entertainment culture, we spend much more time with the media than with nature, so there is also little that is natural left in our field of impressions as well. Our minds are full of disturbed media images of car wrecks, sex or violence, not with the mountains, sky, water or plants around us. We have little of what Yoga calls Pratyahara or the ability to gather our energies and look within. We are overstimulated and externally driven, which in turn makes us feel empty and unstable, particularly when our entertainment is not available.

Our urban environments are largely denaturalized as well, with few of us living on the ground or in touch with it, leaving us in a situation very different than a natural life on Earth. Many people have never planted a garden and don’t know the names even of the most common plants around them. Our society has isolated itself from nature and left very little sacred space anywhere. Each generation seems to be more progressively infected with these anti-natural tendencies. It seems that nature is irrelevant to most people today, except if it can be used for some personal recreation or speed racing.

So far the United States in its role as the world’s only superpower has not served to create any real global vision or action. It has no real universal or collective concerns beyond its own short-term economic or security interests. We talk about spreading democracy when our own culture has little freedom and a greater corporate control looms everywhere in our lives. The question is whether American Yoga can aid in bringing about such a change in this destructive culture. And if it cannot, what is the alternative?

A Yogic Alternative

Those of us who work in the greater yogic field would be wise to ask: how does Yoga view the current state of affairs in the world and is there a yogic way of action for dealing with it? Clearly our current society is not yogic, nor are most of the political, economic or even religious forces that dominate the world today. Their concern is not with protecting the natural balance or developing any higher awareness. They are mainly concerned with promoting their own vested interests that depend upon the exploitation of both human populations and the world of nature to maintain their own power and hegemony.

A yogic way of action to restore the natural balance is something that is seldom looked into, though yoga is all about balance. As the Bhagavad Gita states, Yoga samatva uchyate, Yoga is the state of balance. We cannot truly think or live yogically without doing so in an ecological way as well.

Unfortunately, Yoga in the West has developed more as a personal practice aimed at health and fitness at a physical level. Sometimes it borders on narcissism with its emphasis on personal health, beauty and happiness almost to the exclusive of anything else. The conscience of Yoga that we find in the great Yogis of old doesn’t seem to be much of a factor in Yoga today. The idea of a yogic world view or a yogic critique of society is rarely addressed these days, even by Yoga teachers. Many great Yogis like Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Yogananda, Tagore or Mahatma Gandhi did address broader cultural and social issues. They saw that as the essence of Yoga, which is about removing the ignorance both in and around us with the sword of knowledge.

When Mahatma Gandhi was once asked what he thought about western civilization, he responded in his humorous way with “It would be a good idea.” Clearly he was aware of the material and technological power and sophistication of the West. His response meant that the West needed a deeper spiritual view to make its material powers truly beneficial in their application. Aurobindo felt that the West could not lead the world to any greater age of peace without a fundamental change of values. This required adding a yogic vision and freedom of awareness to the outer freedom that the West had already developed. The present ecological crisis is also, therefore, an opportunity for the real soul and message of Yoga to come out.

Ayurveda and the Planet

Ayurveda similarly rests upon a foundation of respect for the conscious universe and the wise use of its powers in a way to benefit all beings. Ayurveda teaches that epidemic diseases can arise through damage to the world of nature, specifically to the water, air and soil, with damage to the soil being the worst of these factors. Clearly the quality of our water, air and soil has greatly deteriorated over the last few centuries, however much our superficial standard of living has gone up. Even our medications are turning up in our water, so pervasive is their usage. Our soils have been even more polluted than our bodies with chemicals and toxins of various sorts.

This environmental crisis brings many questions relative to health. Can we as individuals be naturally healthy in a world in which nature itself is severely compromised? Can we have an adequate immune system when the planetary immune system (the biosphere) is severely stressed? There is hardly an ecosystem on the planet that is really healthy today. Can our own ecosystem, our personal and home environment, be healthy if that is the case?

A major cause of disease in Ayurvedic diagnosis is the blocking of the channels, whether of circulation, respiration, digestion or the nervous system. When the natural flow of energy through the channels is disrupted, unnatural flows occur that cause pain and disease. Extending this principle into the world of nature, we can see that there is hardly a river in the world that is not blocked or inhibited in its flow. Some rivers like the once mighty Colorado no longer even reach the sea. We have also suppressed the natural forest fires, which are now returning with vengeance. A suppressed natural environment, like a suppressed body must erupt in some manner of disease.

If we look at the planet with the same considerations as we would look at a patient according to the principles of natural medicine, such as Ayurveda provides, we see all the signs of a severe disease developing. Yet for all the money we spend on health and medicine, what do we spend to heal the planet which is the vessel for all that we do?

What to Do?

The last elections (2011) in the US have seen an increase in political consciousness extending into spiritual and yogic groups. Though it may have failed to change the outcome in a more yogic direction, it is still a good sign that people are ready to bring their yogic teachings into their outer lives. But the greater problem is more ecological than simply political, though it has important political ramifications. It is an issue of our life-styles, our social values and our way of looking for solutions in life. Its answers may not lie on the political left or right in the old sense but in a new vision.

Both the political right and the political left, for example, seem to be endorsing drugs as the best way to deal with our increasing health crisis. Neither has a plan to get seniors to reduce their need for drugs and increase the availability of non-drug related therapies in this regard, such as Yoga and Ayurveda can offer. So political changes, however necessary, may not in themselves be enough without a deeper change of how we look at the world.

A truly yogic life-style does of course minimize our negative impact upon the environment. The yogic emphasis on a vegetarian diet greatly reduces cruelty to animals and exploitation of natural environments. Yogic values of simplicity and self-restraint have their outer ramifications as well, removing us from the consumer world and its excesses.

But yoga is primarily about bringing a higher consciousness into the world. This has a powerful effect even when it is not recognized by others outwardly and, given the current general spiritual blindness, we cannot expect that it will be, even by our friends and families. The prana that we bring in through Yoga has a healing effect upon our environment as well as ourselves. By bringing in these higher energies, Yoga has its benefits, without recourse to external actions, which however do have their place. If we simply meditate but don’t change how we live, our meditation may only be a form of escapism or self-indulgence.

Yoga can contribute a higher consciousness and an integral way of working with the forces of life to aid in this process. It can provide a practical philosophy and spiritual methodology for the ecological movement. Ayurveda can contribute of view of both physical and psychological health based upon honouring the natural balance and showing us how to restore it.

Yoga teachers need to get out of the gym and back in touch with the greater world of nature. A good yoga teacher is not determined by how many people attend their classes or how good a workout the students receive. A good Yoga teacher helps spread the consciousness of Yoga into the lives of people and into what we do on a daily basis from our eating and sleeping to our thoughts, emotions and social activities. Ayurveda provides important guidelines in these areas as well.

True Yoga works with nature and is able to awaken the higher powers of nature within us. This is not something that can be measured or reflected in a commercial way or by marketing. Yet it is something that we can bring into Yoga classes and Yoga teachings. Bringing out the ecological and planetary importance of Yoga and Ayurveda is the real mission to be taken up – and one that has benefits far beyond any boundaries or measurements, not only for ourselves but for future generations.

Read also:
What Yoga is Really About
A Yogi Lifestyle
Commercialisation of Spirituality

This article was first published on vedanet.com and has been republished here with permission.

Baba Ramdev’s Tips for Beating the Heat

With the summer season upon us, it is only ‘natural’ to go looking for ‘natural’ ways to beat the heat. Famous yoga and Ayurveda guru and founder of the popular Ayurvedic food brand Patanjali Ayurved, Baba Ramdev offers some wisdom for keeping your cool while boosting your health.

Follow these tips on food, drink and pranayama for a more pleasant summer, naturally.

Food

What to favour

What to avoid

Note: While ripe mango produces heat, raw mango in cooked form however (as used for making aam panna, a popular drink), is cooling.

Drink

What to favour

Avoid alcohol during the summer as it is extremely dehydrating.

Pranayama

The ancient yogic techniques of pranayama or breath control, enable one to control the flow of life energy (prana) in the body.

The Chandrabhedi, Sheetali and Sheetkari pranayams are especially beneficial in cooling the body. Read more about these here.

Source:  YouTube video of Baba Ramdev’s explanations

Read also: Yoga and Pranayama to Keep You Cool Through Summer

4 Bad Food Habits You Probably Didn’t Know You Had

Dare to challenge your long-cherished food conventions? Then hit play below.

Note: (1) Source for tip about water consumption: Sadhguru blog
(2) Additional reading about sweet consumption: Eat Sweet First to Manage Weight – Banyan Botanicals
(3) Re tip about salads, raw food is best eaten around mid-day when the digestive fire (agni) is considered to be at its highest.

The Spiritual Foundations of Ayurveda

This article by Shruti Bakshi and Subhash Kak uncovers a new perspective on Ayurveda’s spiritual basis. An heretofore unexplored link sheds light on Ayurveda’s profound connection with the process of life and provides a deeper understanding about the ‘science of life’.

 

Introduction

Ayurveda, the science of life that originated in India thousands of years ago, has emerged in recent decades as a very popular system of medicine globally. Too often, however, like yoga, it is practiced as a mere health and wellness regime – where yoga is identified with asanas and pranayama, Ayurveda is identified with herbs and massages. Relatively speaking though, whereas the spiritual understanding of yoga (of union between the individual self and the Divine) still remains fairly firmly established, the only spiritual context that Ayurveda clings onto is as a complement to and a facilitator of yoga (in its function of keeping the body and mind healthy and vibrant so that yoga can happen).

So is Ayurveda then nothing more than a system of eco-friendly treatments for the body and mind that help you along on your spiritual path? And if that’s the case, then why is it called the “science of life”? Why not the science of health, the science of healing, the science of the body or something more specifically biological? Our Vedic rishis who coined the name certainly don’t have the reputation of being prone to inexactness or overstatement.

If Ayurveda deals only with protecting and enhancing life in the body i.e. with materiality, then it would be a lesser cousin of yoga which is a spiritual process and yet we find the two sciences holding equal place in ancient Vedic teachings. Research into Ayurveda’s spiritual bearings reveals that there are references to Ayurveda in Vedic texts and that Vedic deities (namely Agni, Vayu and Soma) are associated with the three doshas (Pitta, Vata and Kapha, respectively). But this still does not explain why Ayurveda is called the science of life.

For that understanding, we must look to an heretofore unexplored link – to an ancient story inextricably linked with creation. The story is none other than that of the samudra manthan (“churning of the ocean”) and it shows that Ayurveda is not only profoundly linked to yoga, but to the process of life-making itself. It elucidates the spiritual underpinning of Ayurveda which in turn helps us better understand the science. It shows how Ayurveda explains the very process of life, the play of life, how life happens and why it happens. It shows why Ayurveda is not the science of herbs or the science of health, but quite aptly, the science of life.

Ayurveda and human wellness: a brief overview

Ayurveda is the Vedic system of medicine that is formally associated with the Atharvaveda (1). It views health as harmony between body, mind, and spirit.

Every substance in the universe is considered to be made up of the five elements, the mahabhutas, which are (in order from gross to subtle) earth, water, fire, air and akasha (2). Ayurveda speaks of good health as a balance between three doshas (bodily constitutions/ energies/ humours) namely Vata (praṇa), Pitta (agni), and Kapha (soma) identified respectively with the elements of air, fire and water (3). The predominance of one or the other dosha leads not only to different physiological but also to different psychological types of constitutions. An imbalance of these doshas leads to illness.

It is important however, to understand what we mean by the ‘balance’ that the science of Ayurveda sets out to achieve. When viewed as a static state, a perfectly balanced body and mind could not sustain life, for life needs some tension to find expression (4). So what Ayurveda refers to is a deeper, dynamic balance which we posit can be properly understood within the archetypal frame of samudra manthan (churning of the ocean).

Samudra manthan – the game of life

The story of the samudra manthan is a well-known and important part of Indian culture, appearing in many ancient texts like the Bhagavata Purana, Mahabharata and the Vishnu Purana. The legend goes that the weakened gods (devas) were advised by Lord Vishnu to enter into a peace pact with the demons (asuras) in order to seek the latter’s help in churning the ocean of milk out of which many boons including the nectar of immortality (amrit) would emerge. The asuras were told that the gifts would be shared with them but Vishnu secretly promised the devas that they would receive the amrit which would restore their strength and dominance over the asuras.

Samudra manthan, churning of the ocean with the devas on the right and asuras on the left. Vishnu’s Kurma (turtle) avatar supports Mount Mandhara at the base
Side view of the samudra manthan installation at Bangkok airport

And so began the churning of the ocean. The samudra manthan is widely viewed as symbolising the process of life which is a play between the positive and negative polarities. However, it is often spoken of as a battle between good and evil but that is a misunderstanding. The legend does not depict a battle but a consolidated effort from two complementary sides towards the same end. The asuras are not opponents in a battle, but contributors in a task. The spiritual meaning is that, for life to happen (the ocean to be churned) the duality of good and bad is needed.

In the samudra manthan story, this is validated by the fact that the stick used for churning the ocean (the Mount Mandhara), is supported at the base by Vishnu in the form of the Kurma or turtle avatar. The maintainer of life Himself supports the churning because the churning makes possible the happening of life. Without the play of dualities, life i.e. experiencing is not possible.

Churning for balance

As we’ve stated, Ayurveda stresses dynamic balance. Life as dynamic balance is conveyed directly through the churning of the ocean which thus serves as the natural spiritual underpinning of Ayurveda. To see this more clearly, we need to elucidate a few symbolisms of the story.

First, it is important to note that the properties associated with an element or mahabhuta emerge only in a state of activation. For instance, if a substance produces heaviness in the body, then it is understood that the earth element (prithvi mahabhuta) is present in an activated state in it. Indeed, the activation of the elements in the body takes place as a part of samudra manthan. In other words, if the five elements are what constitute reality, it is samudra manthan that depicts its dynamic nature.

We can recognise the churning in the body taking place between the inner devas and asuras. These two poles are represented by the elements of prithivi (earth) and akasha, where prithivi is materiality or base nature (asuras) and akasha is light or Divine nature (devas).  Indeed the words “divine” and “deva” can be traced to the Sanskrit root “div”, which means “to shine” or “to be lit”. Between these two poles lie the remaining three elements of water, fire and air which are mapped into the doshas of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.

The agitation caused by the churning within the body creates ongoing turbulence amongst the three elements of air, fire, and water. This churning has the potential to cause loss of balance that leads to physical or psychological illness. On the other hand, the potential for healing also resides within the body. Ayurveda is geared towards maintaining the dynamic balance of nature/life and avoiding imbalances that lead to physical and mental disease and disturbance.

Dhanvantari, physician to the Gods and father of Ayurveda

Ayurveda can be thus seen to be directly concerned with the field in which the dynamic play of life happens. Indeed Ayurveda in fact emerges out of this dynamic play. This symbolism is confirmed in the samudra manthan itself with the emergence of Dhanvantari, the first physician and father of Ayurveda, from the ocean at the end of the churning. Dhanvantari carries the pot of amrit signifying Ayurveda’s ultimate role in bestowing immortality once balance has been attained (churning has stopped and one has merged with Divinity). The samudra manthan framework thus shows that Ayurveda is intrinsically linked to Self-realisation.

A new paradigm for the link between Ayurveda and yoga

Traditionally, the following verses of the Svetasvatara Upanishad (Chapter 2: 6, 8) have been viewed as elucidating the common origins of and link between yoga and Ayurveda:

“Where the Agni (fire) is enkindled, where Vayu (the wind) is controlled, where Soma overflows, there the mind attains perfection.”

Here, Agni, Vayu and Soma represent kundalini fire, pranayama and Samadhi respectively in yoga, which in Ayurveda represent the Pitta, Vata and Kapha doshas respectively.

The samudra manthan provides a new framework for the association between yoga and Ayurveda. Having set the Ayurvedic view of wellness against the backdrop of samudra manthan, we see a fascinating new coherence between the two sciences. The two poles of earth and ether representing the asuras and devas also represent the Muladhara chakra (at the base of the spine) and Vishuddha chakra (pit of the throat) respectively. The chakras that sit in the middle are the Svadhishthana, Manipura and Anahata, representing water, fire and air respectively. This harks back to the Ayurvedic model of the doshas (5). Imbalances in the body are caused by imbalances in the activities of these three elements – represented as doshas in Ayurveda and as chakras in yoga (kriya yoga specifically). Leaving the realm in which these three elements play, signifies transcendence in yoga (the activation of the Ajna or third-eye chakra) as it does in the samudra manthan paradigm of Ayurveda with the stopping of the churning at which point immortality is bestowed.

While kriya yoga which is concerned with energy and has a close relation to the elements readily shows a close association with Ayurveda, the other forms of yoga too, because they signify transcendence of the duality of life, are also related to Ayurveda in a spiritual context. The vasanas that we must transcend in yoga are linked to the doshas we must balance in Ayurveda. In fact, we may even go so far as to say that while samudra manthan has been widely interpreted as a symbolic representation of yoga, the process of churning, being the play of life itself, more truly represents Ayurveda.

Conclusion

In modern materialist societies dominated by a body-centric view of life, Ayurveda naturally too became overly associated with the body. The objective of immortality then became associated with longevity rather than its higher spiritual meaning of recognition of our true Spirit nature.

Spirituality, at its heart, is not about what should be but about what already is. For instance while to the uninitiated it may seem like the Ramayana or the Bhagavad Gita are imparting a teaching, advanced seekers and masters have realised that they are merely expressing what already is so. The story of the samudra manthan shows that the same is true also for Ayurveda, confirming its roots as a spiritual discipline. So far, the common view about Ayurveda has been that it is a means to an end. But the samudra manthan shows that Ayurveda reflects what is already true about life, explains the nature of life and therefore is indeed, in a profound sense, the science of life.

Notes:
(1)    ‘Veda’ in Sanskrit means ‘to know’. Atharvaveda is the fourth Veda which is considered to have been a later addition. The other three Vedas are Rig Veda, Sama Veda and Yajur Veda.
(2)    The five bhutas are entities that can be perceived by the five sensory organs (jnanendriya).  These operate together with the five organs of action (karmendriya), and manas (mind).
(3)    This tridoṣha or tridhatu theory has frequently been misunderstood to imply that Vata, Pitta, and Kapha literally mean air, bile, and phlegm, which are the ordinary physiological meanings of the terms. In reality, Vata was taken to stand for the principle of motion, development in general, and the functions of the nervous system in particular. Pitta signifies the function of metabolism, including digestion and the formation of blood, and various secretions and excretions that are either the means or the end product of body processes. Kapha represents functions of cooling, preservation, and heat regulation.
(4) This can be understood through the concept of karma, which on a physiological level, holds life in the body.
(5)    The Ayurvedic model is a horizontal representation while the yogic is a vertical. This seems appropriate given that the play of life is better understood as a horizontal plane (of ‘what is’) while transcendence is better understood as a vertical plane (of ‘being here’).

More from the authors:

Read more by Shruti Bakshi
Read more by Subhash Kak 

Yoga and Pranayama to Keep You Cool Through Summer

The summer season is characterised by Pitta, the Ayurvedic body/mind type associated with the element of fire. As outside temperatures rise, we crank up the air-conditioning but as we all know, that can be very dehydrating – in fact doctors are now saying that air-conditioning causes more harm than good! But fear not because here are 4 eco-friendly and natural ways to keep you cool and calm through the season. If you already practice yoga and pranayama (breathing exercises), then adjusting your practice with these tips will ensure that there isn’t excessive production of heat in the body.

See also: Baba Ramdev’s tips for beating the heat

Chandrabhedi pranayama

Our body temperature is essentially maintained via the movement of air through the right (pingala) and left (ida) channels (nadis) of the body. The right is associated with the sun and masculine energy, heat and vigour, while the left is associated with the moon, feminine energy, coolness and calmness.

In the summer, our left nostril is naturally more active than the right to help normalise the body temperature. Deliberately activating the left channel helps to effectively cool down the body. Blocking the right ear (by inserting a cotton plug) automatically activates the left nostril. More effective however is the Chandrabhedi pranayama. (1)

Unlike the Anulom-Vilom pranayama technique where breath is taken in through alternate nostrils each time, in the Chandrabhedi pranayama, inhalation is only through the left nostril and exhalation always through the right. The pranayama should be carried out gently, slowly and soundlessly.

To do this pranayama:

  • Sit with a straight back preferably in a yogic sitting posture like Sukhasana (common cross-legged position) or Padmasana (lotus posture). If you cannot sit in a yogic posture, you may sit on a chair but make sure your back is straight, feet are firmly on the ground and head is not leaning on a head-rest. Keep your eyes gently closed.
  • Make a fist with your right hand and then pull out the ring and little fingers and the thumb – this is Vishnu mudra. Keep your left hand, palm facing upward, loosely on your lap.
  • Block your right nostril with the thumb of your right hand (which is holding the Vishnu mudra). Take a deep and slow inhalation through the left nostril. After inhalation is complete, block the left nostril with the right hand ring finger. Exhale slowly through the right nostril. Block the right nostril after exhalation is complete and repeat the breathing pattern – inhalation through left and exhalation through right.
  • Focus on your breath through the pranayama. You may practice this pranayama for 5 – 10 minutes.

This video provides a demonstration.

Sheetali and Sheetkari pranayama

Sheetali and Sheetkari pranayamas are two types of pranayama that are extremely effective in cooling down the body and their effect is immediate. In Sheetkali pranayama, air is taken in via the mouth through an extended and rolled tongue, held for a short while and then exhaled slowly through the nose. If you are not able to roll your tongue, you can try the Sheetkari pranayama where air is inhaled through the teeth instead. The pranayamas can be done for 5, 7, 11 or 21 breath cycles (1).

This video provides a demonstration.

Chandra Namaskar or Moon salutations

Yoga students are usually more familiar with the Surya Namaskar (or sun salutations) practice. However, Surya Namaskar may tend to be too heating for some people during the summer. Chandra Namaskar or moon salutations on the other hand are cooling and calming as they incorporate sideways movements as opposed to the more invigorating forward-backward movements of the Surya Namaskar. This video provides a demonstration.

Be mindful of heating practices

Every person is different and so every body reacts differently to yogic practices. Having said that, certain practices are by nature heating (while all practices create energetic heat or ushna, some do more than others) and one may wish to keep this in mind while practicing during hot weather. These include:

  • Surya Namaskar – which as noted above, involves vigorous forward-backward movements
  • Kapalbhati pranayama – which involves forceful exhalations
  • Bhastrika pranayama (‘bellows breath’) – which involves invigorating breathing
  • Suryabhedi pranayama – which as opposed to the Chandrabhedi pranayama mentioned above, involves activation of breath particularly through the pingala nadi (right nostril).

Such practices are generally recommended to overcome kapha and vata doshas which have a cold property.

If one wishes to carry on these practices during summer, it may be best to practice them in the cooler hours of the day to avoid discomfort – see more below about adjusting time of practice.

Adjust the time of practice/exercise

Source: www.ishafoundation.org

It is advisable to do yoga or other exercise in the cooler hours of the day, avoiding the heat between around 9 am and 5 pm. In general, the twenty minutes before and after sunrise and sunset are considered best for yoga practice. With the longer summer days, tweaking your yoga sadhana times to align with the earlier sunrises and later sunsets is beneficial.

 
 
 
 

Note: The information presented in this article is for educational purposes only. Please consult your yoga teacher for instructions about any yoga practice and your doctor for medical advice.

Read also: Sadhguru’s Tips: Leave These Off Your Yoga Mat

(1) YouTube video of Baba Ramdev’s explanation

Art, Cosmology and the Divine | Part V

Main photo (above) is a Basohli illustration to the Gita Govinda, ‘Hail, Keshava, Hail! Ruler of Wave and Wood!’, c.1730

The penultimate part of this six-part series (Read earlier parts: Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV) in which distinguished scientist, academic and Vedic scholar Subhash Kak shows how traditional Indian art is not only aesthetically sublime, but is a reflection of the cosmos and of the Divine itself. In Part V we see how the stories of Krishna, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, reflect a harmony between materiality and spirit.

Part V: Krishna’s dance

Krishna, the divine flute player

 

 

Read this article in the LivingWise Project Digest.

 

 

 

Read Part I: Introduction
Read part II: General equivalences
Read Part III: Temples and Gods
Read Part IV: Churning of the ocean
Read Part VI: Indian aesthetic in an age of war

India’s Intellectuals Vs. Vedanta – a gap that needs bridging

by David Frawley

India, for centuries, has had one of the most rigorous, profound and insightful intellectual traditions in the world, the great system of Vedanta. Vedanta was the basis of the training for many of the greatest minds of India from ancient to modern times, from Krishna to Shankara to Swami Vivekananda.

Yet Vedanta is more than a mere conceptual intellectual tradition, such as we find in the West, caught in an outer view of reality, it is a way of meditative knowledge designed to lead us step-by-step beyond the mind and its opinions to a higher truth not limited by time, space or person.

Unfortunately, few Indian intellectuals today seriously study Vedanta, particularly those who claim to be modern. They prefer to imitate more popular but less profound systems of Western thought, which focus on outer sociopolitical views of life and seldom seriously examine the nature of consciousness.

If Vedanta was more commonly studied in India, the country would have significantly more depth and originality of thought, and be able to progress in a determined way on both spiritual and scientific levels.

Teachings of Vedanta

Vedanta during the colonial era was looked down upon as an otherworldly approach, regarding the world as maya or illusion that kept India backward. Yet since Einstein’s Theory of Relativity over a century ago, Vedanta has been sounding more like the cutting edge of physics, which is discovering the illusory nature of physical reality and the existence of subtler energy and information currents behind all that we see.

Vedanta is the very science of consciousness at both human and cosmic levels. It recognises consciousness as the ultimate reality and affirms its presence in all existence. Modern physicists have looked to Vedanta for understanding their proposed unitary field of consciousness behind the universe, to explain the coherence of all cosmic laws.

Vedanta is the unitary philosophy behind the practice of yoga, explaining the oneness of the individual soul with the universal consciousness that yoga aims to realise. Vedanta constitutes the yoga of knowledge, considered to be the highest of all yoga branches.

Vedanta in modern India

Vedanta was the most important philosophy that inspired and motivated the Indian Independence movement, emulated by Vivekananda, Rama Tirtha, Aurobindo, Tagore and Gandhi, among many others. It brought the country back to a dharmic sense of self-rule, not simply political independence, but the independence of the spirit and the awakening of the yogic traditions of the region.

More recently, Swami Dayananda, head of the Hindu Acharya Sabha, spread the message of Vedanta with logic, humour and penetrating insight. Prime Minister Narendra Modi honoured Dayananda as his own guru and visited Swamiji shortly before his Mahasamadhi in September, showing how much the PM respects the Vedantic teachings.

The year 2015 marked the 100th birth anniversary of Swami Chinmayananda, who taught a lucid practical Vedanta that resonated with the youth and intellectuals alike. A brilliant and inspiring movie On a Quest was made on his extraordinary life. The prime minister released a national coin in honor of Chinmayananda on the Swami’s 100th birth anniversary as part of the extensive celebrations.

The Vedantic view

Vedanta is a physics and psychology of consciousness, an inner science of self-knowing that the outer science can benefit from to arrive at a full view of the multidimensional universe in which we live.

Vedanta teaches a way of self-knowledge that does not require any beliefs. It says we must first know ourselves in order to arrive at true knowledge of anything. This requires looking beyond body and mind to the core awareness within us. Vedanta employs a strict rational approach allied with introspection, yoga and meditation to enable us to directly perceive our own consciousness that is universal in nature.

The Vedantic view is simple – the entire universe dwells within your own heart. Your true self is one with the self of all. All the powers of the universe belong to each one of us as energies of love and wisdom.

We have moved from materialist views to a high-tech view of reality as energy and information. Vedanta takes us to a yet higher level of the universe as a manifestation of consciousness.

Let us not forget our true self, which is the self-aware universe. This is the spiritual soul of India and its message of peace, happiness and unity to the world.

 This article was first published in the DailyO and has been republished here with permission.
Read also: The Bhagavad Gita – the essence of India and its profound message for the world  

Understanding the Ayurvedic principles of Panchamahabhuta and Tridosha

Panchamahabhuta: the five basic elements of nature

Ayurveda describes five basic elements “Panchamahabhuta” of Air “Vayu”, Water “Jal” , Fire “Agni”, Earth “Bhumi”, and Space/Ether “Aakash”. The Panchamahabhuta mix together in multiple ways and proportions to create unique and distinct forms of matter.

In the human body, the correspondence of the presence of Panchamahabhuta is as follows:

  • Space represents the voids within the body such as mouth, nostrils, abdomen
  • Air denotes the movement of the muscular and nervous system
  • Fire controls the functioning of enzymes  and corresponds to intelligence, functioning of digestive system and metabolism
  • Water is in all bodily fluids such as plasma, saliva, digestive juices
  • Earth manifests itself in the solid structure of the body  such as bones, teeth, flesh, and hair etc.

The Panchamahabhuta therefore serve as the foundation of all diagnosis & treatment modalities in Ayurveda and has served as a most valuable theory for physicians to detect and treat illness of the body and mind successfully.

Ayurvedic Principles - Tridosha

Tridosha – Ayurvedic principles that define the physical state

The Panchamahabhuta work together in different ways to create physical energies, termed as “dosha” in individuals. These three govern creation, maintenance and destruction of bodily tissues (“dhatus”) as well as the assimilation and elimination functions.

  • Earth + Water Kapha corresponding to structure and all of the oily factors of  our body such as, fat tissue, lubricating fluids like synovial fluid in joints,  the mucous secretions in the digestive system and respiratory system. Qualities – heaviness, slow movement, oiliness, liquidity, thickness and density.
  • Air + Fire Pitta corresponding to digestion, bio transformation of the digested food, and the factors responsible for our metabolism. The seats of Pitta are in the digestive system, skin, eyes, brain, lymph, liver, spleen and blood. Presence of Pitta is evident through our body temperature. Qualities – hotness, sharpness, lightness, liquidity, sourness, oiliness and fast spreading nature.
  • Air + Space Vata corresponding to movements of our body and inside our body. These include movements of the muscles, movement of food through our digestive tract and movement of the blood through the blood vessels. Qualities – dryness, roughness, coldness, mobility, clarity and astringent taste.

Prakruti and dosha

Each person is born with a unique combination of these doshas which decides their temperament or body type and is termed as “prakruti”. Understanding of each person’s prakruti for deciding their personal diet and exercise pattern, supplements and medicinal herbs, cleansing and rebuilding therapies that is right for them are among the chief methods that Ayurveda employs for the maintenance and restoration of health.

Physical features of an individual can also be utilized to understand the prakruti of the person, as shown below:

This article has been contributed to LWP by www.medhyaherbals.in where it was first published.

Read also:

Are Veggies Living-Wiser?

Art, Cosmology and the Divine | Part III

Main photo (above) is a Basohli illustration to the Bhagavad Purana, Krishna Bringing the Parijata from Indra’s Heaven,  Tira-Sujanpur, c.1780

Continuing this six-part series (Read Part I and Part II) in which distinguished scientist, academic and Vedic scholar Subhash Kak shows how traditional Indian art is not only aesthetically sublime, but is a reflection of the cosmos and of the Divine itself. In Part III we see how ancient Hindu temples were designed to reflect the cosmos. The representation of the cosmos simultaneously at the level of the universe and the individual, was meant to facilitate the devotee’s spiritual transformation.

Part III: Temples and Gods

The temple is considered in the image of the Cosmic Purusha, on whose body is displayed all creation in its materiality and movement. Paradoxically, the space of the Purusha (Rigveda 10.90) is in the sanctuary only ten fingers wide, although he pervades the earth.

The outer cosmos is expressed in terms of various connections between the temple structure and the motions of the sun, the moon, and the planets; the inner cosmos is represented in terms of the divinity (universal consciousness) in the womb of the temple and various levels of the superstructure that correspond to the states of consciousness. The position of the gods in the Vastupurusha-mandala within the temple is a symbolic representation of the spatial projections of the cosmic Purusha in his body. There are other iconic representations of sacred space, as in the Sri Yantra where the body’s three parts – vagbhava, madhya, and mula – have recursive structures within, that represent Vedic cosmology in a unique fashion.

The prototype of the temple is the Agnikshetra, the sacred ground on which the Vedic altars are built. The Agnikshetra is an oblong or trapezoidal area on which the fire altars are built. During the ritual is installed a golden disc (rukma) with 21 knobs or hangings representing the sun with a golden image of the purusha on it. The detailed ritual includes components that would now be termed Shaivite, Vaishnava, or Shakta. In Nachiketa Agni, 21 bricks of gold are placed one top of the other in a form of shivalinga. The disk of the rukma, which is placed in the navel of the altar on a lotus leaf is in correspondence to the lotus emanating from Vishnu’s navel which holds the universe. Several bricks are named after goddesses, such as the seven krittikas.

Ganesha: elephant-headed, wise with mouse as his vehicle

The Hindu temple represents the Meru mountain, the navel of the earth. It is the representation of the cosmos both at the level of the universe and the individual, making it possible for the devotee to get inspired to achieve his own spiritual transformation. The purusha placed within the brick structure of the altar represents the consciousness principle within the individual. It is like the relic within the stupa. The threshold to the inner sanctum is represented by the figure of Ganesha (see right), who, like other divinities, symbolizes the transcendence of oppositions.

The temple construction begins with the Vastupurusha mandala, which is a yantra, mostly divided into 64 (8 × 8) or 81 (9 × 9) squares, which are the seats of 45 divinities. Brahma is at the centre, around him 12 squares represent the Adityas, and in the outer circle are 28 squares that represent the nakshatras. This mandala with its border is the place where the motions of the sun and the moon and the planets are reconciled. It is the Vastu in which the decrepit, old Chyavana of the Rigveda 1.116.10 asks his sons to put him down so that he would become young again. Chyavana is the moon and Sukanya, whom he desires, is the sun.

In the basic Vedic scheme the circle represents the earth and the square represents the heavens or the deity. But the altar or the temple, as a representation of the dynamism of the universe, requires a breaking of the symmetry of the square. As seen clearly in the agnichayana and other altar constructions, this is done in a variety of ways. Although the main altar might be square or its derivative, the overall sacred area is taken to be a departure from this shape. In particular, the temples to the goddess are drawn on a rectangular plan. In Shiva or Vishnu temples, which are square, change is represented by a play of diagonal lines. These diagonals are essentially kinetic and are therefore representative of movement and stress. They embody the time-factor in a composition.

The Hindu temple, as a conception of the astronomical frame of the universe, serves the same purpose as the Vedic altar, which reconciled the motions of the sun and the moon. The progressive complexity of the classical temple was inevitable given an attempt to bring in the cycles of the planets and other ideas of the yugas into the scheme. There was also further complexity related to the expansion of the tattvas within the temple. For example, in Shaivite temples we see the unmanifest (Shivalinga) expand into the intermediate state of manifest-unmanifest (Sadashiva), and finally into manifest (Mahesha).

The Ashtadhyayi of Panini (5th century BC) mentions images. Ordinary images were called pratikriti and the images for worship were called archa. Amongst other things we are told that a toy horse is called ashvaka. (This means that the queen who lay down with the ashvaka in the Ashvamedha did not sleep with the dead horse.) Deity images for sale were called Shivaka etc., but an archa of Shiva was just called Shiva. Patanjali mentions Shiva and Skanda deities. There is also mention of the worship of Vasudeva (Krishna). We are also told that some images could be moved and some were immoveable. Panini also says that an archa was not to be sold and that there were people (priests) who obtained their livelihood by taking care of it. They also mention temples that were called prasadas.

Complementing the tradition of the Vedic ritual was that of the munis and yogis who lived in caves and performed austerities. From this tradition arose the vihara, where the priests lived. The chaitya hall that also housed the stupa may be seen as a development out of the agnichayana tradition where within the brick structure of the altar was buried the rukma and the golden man.

The gods are the entities that hold up the inner sky of the mind. There is the single Brahman or Purusha, interpenetrating and transcending the inner and the outer universes. But the framework of the inner sky is held up by a variety of gods. The physical nature, governed by laws, is the Goddess or Shakti. If Brahma is the deity of the astral world, Shiva is that of the physical world, and Vishnu that of the causal or the moral world. They each have a consort: Brahma’s is Sarasvati, the goddess of learning and the arts; Shiva’s is Parvati, the goddess of power, energy, and intuition; Vishnu’s is Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune.

Shiva

Shiva as Ardhanarishvara (Shiva-Shakti)

The gods themselves are interconnected. Brahma’s origin is from the lotus in Vishnu’s navel. Shiva is the god who subsumes all oppositions. He is the celibate, divine yogi, who is also the perfect husband to Parvati. He brings the world to an end by his dance, but he also creates the world. He is the heart of consciousness, the lord of all beings, the divine dancer. As Ardhanarishvara, he is half Shakti; as Harihara, he is half Vishnu.

Vishnu is the all-pervader, the primal person, without beginning or end. He is also known as Narayana, with his abode is in the waters. He is Hari, the golden-garbed one (like the Sun), and his mount is Garuda, the eagle. During the periods in between dissolution and creation, he sleeps on the cosmic serpent Ananta (the endless). He wields in one of his hands the discus, Sudarshana, which represents time. His consort, Lakshmi, appeared out of the Churning of the Ocean. Periodically, he descends to earth as an avatara to battle evil. Two of the most popular of these avataras are Rama and Krishna.

Read Part I: Introduction
Read part II: General equivalences
Read Part IV: churning of the ocean
Read Part v: Krishna’s Dance
Read part vi: Indian aesthetic in an age of war