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The niyama of Tapas

“ When something or someone is created, produced, emanated, composed, the Vedic texts repeat countless times that this happens through Tapas.”

What is tapas? … it is not “ the Christianizing translations of asceticism, penance, mortification…tapas it is a very particular exercise that implies the development of heat.  Tapas is akin to the Latin word tepor – and indicates fervor, ardor, (passion).  Those who practice tapas could be described as ardent.  They generate a heat that can become a devastating blaze.  This is what happened with the various Rishis who shook the world.  The Rishis reached an unattainable level of knowledge not just because they thought certain thoughts but because they burned. “

( Rishis were enlightened beings who composed the hymns of the Vedas)

“ tapas comes before thought. while the Rishis were sitting motionless and contemplating what was happening in the world, whirling inside them was a scorching spiral,  and from this, thoughts were given off like steam from boiling liquid.  (These ardent thoughts) would one day break off to become the hymns of the Rg Veda or the great sayings of the Upanishads.

Tapas is an invisible combustion engine, producing a gradual heat that is achieved by the operation (fervor, ardor) of the mind. 

What affects the world, what assails it, is tapas.  Tapas is the inner ardor of the mind. Tapas is the flame that passed covertly or overtly through everything.  It is the feeling of being alive.

Tapas reduced to its proprioceptive as well as its thermodynamic essence, is a sensation of something alight, something that burns within on a slow continual flame”.

Taken from “Ardor” by Roberto Calasso
A book exploring the Vedas and the Vedic people

. . .

The Atman (true self)

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The Atman (Self)

(Notes from Ardor by Roberto Calloso)

“ From the Rg veda to the Bhagavad Gita a way of reasoning is developed that never acknowledges a single subject but rather presupposes  a dual subject.  This is because the constitution of the mind is dual: consisting of a gaze that perceives (eats) the world and of a gaze that contemplates the gaze directed at the world.  The first expression of this idea appears with the two birds in hymn 1.164 of the Rgveda: “ Two birds, a couple of friends, are perched on the same tree.  One of them eats the sweet berry of the pippal; the other, without eating, watches.”  There is no more basic revelation than this….two birds dwell perpetually within each of us: the Self, atman, and the I, aham.  Friends alike, sitting on the tree at the same level, one might seem the double of the other.  Every moment becomes the superimposition of two perceptions that can add together, cancel each other out, multiply each other according to the mysterious formula 1 x 1, thought springs forth.  Even if, from the outside, all remains the same.  The answer still seems to be 1.

Atman, the Self, is a discovery.  The Aham – I – intrusive yet insubstantial; the Atman – supreme and untarnishable, yet difficult to coax out form its habitual hiding place.  To reach it requires constant work.

Relations between the Self, Atman and the I, aham, are tortuous, fragile, ambiguous. They look like identical twins.  They have the same outline, the same sense of omnipotence and centrality.

The doctrine of I and Self, like all Vedic doctrines, can neither be proved nor disproved.  It can only be experienced by each person.  This doctrine may sound odd to those who think of their minds as clear-cut, solid objects, which at most are turned on and off.  If, however, the mind is not one single block, varying in depth from moment to moment between the one who is looking and another being who gazes back at the one who is looking, then we begin to glimpse what lies behind the division between aham and atman.  The consequences of this realization are incalculable….and could be the basis on which thought begins to develop.

The paradox of aham (I) and atman (Self)

 The Vedic ritualists seemed perversely attached by paradoxes. In them, they saw the very substance of enigmas (and uncertainty).  Paradoxes were different ways of describing the same unknown quantity, which they called brahman.  

The aham, “ I” “ is below, it is above, it is to the west, to the ast, to the south to the north, the I is all of this”.  An irony, the imaginary supremacy of the I is the strongest obstacle to perception simply because it is what most resembles the true final word; Atman.

The Atman  is placed in all directions of space, in the same terms used for the “I”, 

The final obstacle (of the paradox) emerges: The ”I”, aham has “ the characteristics of limitless expansion, which is central to every world, a self appointed sovereignty, an unlimited domain. And above all, it is the most insidious imitation of self, atman.  The “I” superimposes itself so perfectly on the Self that it can conceal it.  This, in fact, is what happened during the course of Western philosophy; (Western Philosophy)  never worried about giving name to the Self, but always chose the I as the point of observation – Descartes cogito ergo sum.  But for the Vedic ritualists, the “I” is the most daunting obstacle, for it is that which can forever deny access to the Self.”

How to overcome? “ It is not a question of driving away, rejecting the “I”.  that would be pointless and contrary to the physiology of the psyche,  It is a matter of following its movements and then adding others to it which the “I” could not pretend to be. This new being is no longer the “I” with its illusory supremacy.”

“The point of arrival is a dual subject who is irreducible, unbalanced, intermittent; the perception of the dual subject is not something right there from the start, but something to achieve, the hardest yet most efficacious achievement…to extend the uncertainty.  (The Atman),is  the supreme, unnamed figure “ who oversees this world from the highest point…the rishi leaves us in doubt – if he had claimed something with certainty about the atman, then he would be going beyond what he was permitted to know.  And so he suggests only the possibility of a supreme being, greater than the gods, who nevertheless may not know.  And this is said as part of the Veda, which means knowledge.”

. . .

Manas – the mind

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Manas – the mind

Notes and quotes taken from Ardor, by Roberto Calasso

A history of the Vedic people

The vedic understanding of manas is “ mind thought”, the pure fact of being conscious.  Mind is the only element from which there is no way out.  Whatever happens or has happened, Mind was already there in both unmanifest, and manifest entities. 

“Manas is a word that appears 116 times in the Rg veda. There is nothing similar in the founding texts of ANY other ancient civilization.  It is as though the Vedic people had developed a peculiar lucidity and an obsession toward the phenomenon they called “mind”.  

They understood manas as:

“ Stable in the heart, yet moveable, infinitely fast”

“ Manas would act like a good charioteer.  It would become the one that powerfully guides his men like steeds, by the reins”

“ Mind is the air in which consciousness breathes”

“ The mind was present before the separation between manifest and unmanifest, therefore has ontological privilege.  (Yet) the absolutism of the mind certainly does not mean the omnipotence of the mind”.

Mind and speech

“By themselves they are powerless.  THe horse of the mind must allow itself to be harnessed to speech, otherwise it will be lost.  Relations between mind and speech were always difficult.  They clashed like two warriors, or two lovers.  Each wished to do better than the other.”

The most difficult point is the search for a balance between Mind and Speech.  Mind is “ far more unlimited”.  Speech is never complete, but always flawed or made up of other factors, comprised by its flimsiness, or its lack of weight.”

The Brahmin priests consulted Prajapati – the ultimate creator – to decide which is better. “ Mind is indeed better, for speech imitates what Mind has done and (speech) follows”.

The dispute between Mind and Speech over supremacy is reminiscent of what would happen in Greece between the spoken and written word;  in Greece, Speech, logos, takes the place held in India by the mind, Manas.  In ancient Greece, all that happens takes place within speech. In India, it originates in something that precedes speech: Mind.

“ Mind is indeed more than speech…for the Self, Atman, is mind, the world is mind, brahman is mind. Venerate the mind.”  Chandyoga Upanishad

“ The watershed between East and West, over which so much thought has been given, can be traced to this point.  All the rest follows from that radical divergence, which India would never abandon, following it from the Veda to the Vedanta.

. . .

Guru Purnima 2023

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Prashant Iyengar’s address at RIMYI July 3 2023 on the occassion of Guru Purnima.

These are my notes are taken from his lecture. ANy mistakes and misunderstandings are mine.

We have gathered here for guru purnima. Guru is not a teacher.  We can be mistaken about this these days.

Guru is an institution and a principle.  Why do we require a guru?

For any animal, cattle, bird, insect, worm. They don’t have to get trained to be what they are.  Elephants don’t have to go anywhere  to be trained to be an elephant.  They don’t have to go to any academy to learn what they are.  But human beings need to know what is a human being. By just being a human being we don’t remain human beings.  We have to become human beings.  We all think we are human beings but our species has a lot to become – to become is not a natural or spontaneous process.

Like a cockroach is born, it will become a cockroach, full fledged – it is a natural process.  If they are born they become,  when we are born, we have to become.  Just by taking birth as human beings we are not always human beings. We can be in body form human, but a human being can be worse than subhuman.  A human being can be venomous than a cobra – we can put cobras to shame.   Human beings put to shame divinities and gods.  The gods are put to shame by  lofty human beings.  The range of human beings is to be the lowest subhuman, to the highest human being that puts the gods to shame.

Animals have been here for thousands of years. Humans experience generation by generation there is a change.  How were you when you were 4 years old, how do you see a child today who is 4 years old.  Humans change generation by generation.  

To be a human being we have certain rights, responsibilities, duties. Animals don’t need the principle of a guru since they don’t have a duty or right or responsibility.  Humans say – this is our right, that is our right.  So we need someone to tell us about our responsibilities and duties.  

What does a mosquito owe to our planet, our solar system, our galaxy? Nothing.

But when it is a human being, it is a lot.  We owe a lot.

Human beings need to identify this – we don’t just owe just to those around us, to humanity, our family, we owe something at large to the entire life on the planet, life forms in the ocean, to life forms beyond this planet.  If you are  a human being you OWE.

Many of us take pride – I don’t owe anything to anyone.  The whole world owes to me. This is fiscal dimension.  So when we are born as human beings we need to be told about “ what is a human being”.  Not just make aware of our rights, but our duties and responsibilities. Basically, we owe.

The moment we are born, we become debtors.  Who will tell you what you owe?  We are a timeless existence.  If someone says I don’t owe anything – what about your last life? We don’t see this because we don’t believe in our timeless existence.  This is our reality. 

Animals are also eternal but they don’t have to be told about it but human beings need to be told about it and you owe a lot.  We are born with lots of debts on our shoulders. Who is going to tell us? This is why there is the institution of Guru to tell us who are we? Where are we and from whence we came. This is not the question from the buffalo – it is just here.

For us it is a matter of inquiry.

For us to know that we owe something, we need a guru. You have a sense of responsibility and you want to clear out your debts.. Who is going to tell us? The Guru is part of the archetypal scheme and a principle embedded in us – adhyatma – all that is within you.  That cannot be sighted by a body scan or radiological insight.  How does someone become responsible from within?  We owe a lot to the whole universe? 

We owe nature to our ancestors. Today we speak of genetic background – we only blame for negative inheritances, we don’t identify any positives in us from our ancestors.  We all have ancestors.  But we also had a previous life.  In this previous life we had another ancestry.  Our we not supposed to owe them something?  We have some duties to them. Our previous life creditors.  We are indebted to so many people for so many reasons. Who is going to tell you? What is the way out? 

The Guru principle – the Isvara topic – will tell you your ancestors in your life, in your previous lives.  The eternal principle Guri who has looked at your journeys and what you have done and what you have to do.  The Guru is competent in the archetypal scheme and will show you your dharma.   A Guru is not a teacher but someone who maintains the records. Who tells you about your reality.  Guru tells you what you are. We need a perceptor and it is provided by the archetypal plan – selfology.

Adhyatma has to touch us and we have to be touched by adhyatma.  Adhyatma sadhana is the way to clear the debts – once you are debt free you are liberated.

Your Guru had a guru – we owe something to all Gurus going back ad infinitum.  

So we have responsibility to the entire universe – the guru will tell you, guide you, help you, help you clear the debts – this is a guru.  Iis inevitable that we have a guru and if we don’t have a mortal guru, the guru principle is embedded and provided within us – it is a principle within us.  That is why guru purnima has such significance. Don’t mistake it for father’s day, mothers day, teachers day.  It is not such a day.  Dispelling the darkness with light.  Enlightenment: it is the guru principle provided within us.  If you don’t find one in life, you have it within you. If we need something we are given something.  The archetypal scheme provides.

Our satsanga – listen to noble thoughts,  to noble people teaching noble things.  There’s so much literature for us – Rig Ved, Bhagavad Gita, so we will really know what we are. The literature has been transmitted to us.  We have all possible ways to get to know who we are. It is so fascinating.

If you are once shown the mirror – the moment you see a mirror you look at your form, your reflection. But suppose you were given an x-ray or an MRI – are you obsessed with looking at the MRI day after day? How many times will you look at your face in the mirror- we are never tired of it . From when we are 16-17 now we are 86 and 96 – nobody looks at you but you look at the mirror 

That is the outermost gate of knowing oneself, There are so many layers where the glass mirrors won’t work.  There are so many forms of you – who is going to tell you there is something beyond this? Who is going to tell you that there is something beyond that ? We have responsibility to “Know thyself ‘ 

There is no thyself for a buffalo or a bedbug but there is a responsibility to know thyself as a human being.  The human being will become human through the wisdom of the guru, the touch and principle. The Guru is indispensable.  

Aim at “know thyself”  This is why we need a guru.

. . .

Last day: Menla 2023: Isvara pranidhana

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The 5 kleshas build high banks along the river bed of our lives.

Avidya – ignorance, not knowing

Asmita – the ego

Raga – our desires, acceptances, and likes

Dvesa – our rejections, avoidances and dislikes

Abhinivesa – fear (the motivator of the above)

Our internal disciplines can be constructed by our acceptances and avoidances. Therefore, we obstruct our own flow of life confining ourselves within our likes and dislikes, thinking we are free. Prashant Iyengar says that we do this to avoid dukha – sadness. Dukha arises from our acceptances, desires, avoidances and rejections because these make up our “neuroses and psychoses” and, as such, are klista samskaras. We have a “forestation of kleshas, and we want pleasure to get away from pain. We want to repel dukha like mosquito repellent. We do so many things to escape dukha; we are busy and occupied to avoid dukha.” (Prashant Iyengar lecture on Countering Kleshas – Anti kleshotics July 2021).

Tapas and svadhyaya together means we cannot construct or control the outcome. We do, we watch, and through this we let go of klista samskaras slowly and thorougly as we evolve towards ” the highest and noblest aspirations” of ourselves. ” Isvara pranidhana or right orientation enables a spiritual aspirant to look at everything with total attention.” (Rohit Metha; Yoga, the Art of Integration.)

” This is surrender to God (Isvara pranidhana), often equated with bhakti, the yoga of supreme devotion and selflessness. Ego is on an elastic and will always pull you back. Only the practice of meditation will eventually erode the attraction between ego and self-identity.

Surrender to God is possible only for one who has, perhaps by circumstance or adversity or humiliation, discarded ego. For the surredner to be lasting, meditation in its highest sense must be accomplished. Surrender to God is not surrender to what you think God wants. It is not surrender to our conception of the will of God. it is not God giving you instructions. As long as your ego persists (along with the kleshas) your interpretation of God’s (isvara pranidhana) wishes will be fragmented by the distorting prism of ego”. (B.K.S. Iyengar. Light on Life)

Finite and Infinite (Corine Biria)

We want to go to the infinite but nobody wants to go to the end of the finite. Everyone wants infinite, so we are in the jail of the finite because we don’t want to go to the frontier of the finite. So we move partially the body, keeping ourselves with the will to go to the infinite.

What is the frontier of the finite into the arms and legs? When we reach this, see how we reduce our own nerves.”

Unfold Your Own Myth by Rumi

Who gets up early
to discover the moment light begins?
Who finds us here circling, bewildered, like atoms?
Who comes to a spring thirsty
and sees the moon reflected in it?
Who, like Jacob blind with grief and age,
smells the shirt of his lost son
and can see again?
Who lets a bucket down and brings up
a flowing prophet?
Or like Moses goes for fire
and finds what burns inside the sunrise?

Jesus slips into a house to escape enemies,
and opens a door to the other world.
Soloman cuts open a fish, and there’s a gold ring.
Omar storms in to kill the prophet
and leaves with blessings.
Chase a deer and end up everywhere!
An oyster opens his mouth to swallow on drop.
Now there’s a pearl.
A vagrant wanders empty ruins.
Suddenly he’s wealthy.

But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things
have gone with others. Unfold
your own myth, without complicated explanation,
so everyone will understand the passage,
We have opened you.

Start walking toward Shams. Your legs will get heavy
and tired. Then comes a moment
of feeling the wings you’ve grown,

The Music Master: Rumi

We are the mirror as well as the face in it.

We are tasting the taste this minute

of eternity. We are pain

and what cures pain, both. We are

the sweet cold water and the jar that pours.

. . .

Part 2: readings from the retreat (Menla 2023)Kriya Yoga: Svadhyaha

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Svadhyaya is self study, self reflection, contemplation.

” Patanjali asks the spiritual aspirant to begin thinking for him/herself.” (Rohit Mehta: Yoga, the Art of Integration)

” Svadhyaha or self-knowledge, is difficult. We so much associate knowledge with the acquisition of learning. In reality, svadhyaha, whether through study, or self-analysis, is the path of concentration (dharana), and dhyana (contemplation and reflection – Prashant Iyengar), leading up a cruel and stoney path to knowledge and to disrobing of the false or pretenrious self with all is flaws. It’s reward is the path of wisdom (jnana marga), which so denudes us of self-illusion that we are ready for the next great step.” (B.K.S. Iyengar: Light on Life.)

Tapas and Svadhyaha are our internal checks and balances. Tapas is outward, inviting zeal and commitment: svadhyaya is inward, asking us to measure the quantity of tapas required to act skillfully. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krisha speaks to Arjuna of “skillful action” using tapas and svadhyaya as action and inaction:

” What is action and what is inaction? This question has confused the greatest sages. I will give you the secret of action with which you can free yourself from bondage. The true nature of action is difficult to grasp. (4:16 and 17)

The wise see that there is action in the midst of inaction and inaction in the midst of action. Their consciousness is unified, and every act is done with complete awareness” (4:18)

” The awakened sages call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results: all his selfish desires have been consumed by the fire of knowledge.”

(The Bhagavad Gita: Translation and commentary by Eknath Eswaran)

” In tapa and svadhyaha, Patanjali asks us to inquire into the nature and the content of both the opposites. A rejection of one opposite is not enough: there has to be non-indulgence in the opposite. Tapas may enable one to reject one opposite, but it is only self study which makes it possible for the student of Yoga to refrain from indulging in the other.” (Rohit Metha: Yoga the Art of Integration.)

” You have to work with the threads. The T-shirt is made of threads, vertical and horizontal. You have to open the vertical threads, the horizontal threads. These threads create your intelligence. You thread the whole body. You are tailoring the whole body. You thread the needle with your thread. The tip of the needle is itself, like consciousness. The thread is intelligence. The intelligence following conciousness.” (Geeta Iyengar: 2009 Teachers convention)

Rumi; Quietness

Inside this new love, die.

Your way begins on the other side.

Become the sky.

Take an axe to the prison wall.


Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.

Do it now.

You are covered with thick cloud.

Slide out the side. Die,

and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign

that you have died.

Your old life was a frantic running

from silence.

The speechless full moon

comes out now. 

. . .

Readings from Menla Retreat, April 2023

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Our habits are called samskaras. Habits are behavioural patterns that take place physically, mentally, emotionally. They accrue through living – stored in the memories of our cells. Every experience leaves a samskara. Our samskaras can be helpful – aklista, or harmful – klista. Our klista samskaras increase “exponentially” (Prashant Iyengar), and our aklista samskaras increase “drop by drop.” They are “congealed behaviours” (Georg Feuerstein: A deeper Dimension of Yoga). Yoga practice helps us replace klista samskaras with aklista samskaras. Samskaras get better in search of truth – not subjective truth, but objective truth. New samskaras can set aside earlier samskaras. This is the process of yoga. Patanjali gives several methods that help us notice, modify, and change our samskaras.

One method is through Kriya Yoga

Tapah svadhayayesvara pranidhanani kriya yogah 2:1 The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Kriya Yoga is the yoga of action. It is comprised of three parts: Tapas, svadhyaha and isvara pranidhana

Tapas – austerity, putting away of all non essentials, discipline, patience, commitment, heat and the burning away of impurities. ” Tapas…is to be simple..devoid of all encumbrances.”

What is Tapas? Geeta Iyengar (2009 Teachers Convention)

” You know when you go to buy cloth. If one thread is damaged, you will see a space, a hole. Do you want to buy this one? You have to see that the threading is done correctly. This is how we practice our asana. This takes a longer time. Especially because we use only that part where the threading is easier, where the threading has gone correctly. Where it is hard, or hasn’t gone correctly, we don’t touch that portion.

So normally we ask, ” Am I able to do thhis? Yes, I did it. THAT IS NOT TAPAS. Tapas is the austere practice where you are able to face all those difficulties – threads, knots, and lose ends – and clear them; burn the impurities, so the purity surfaces.”

Discipline and tapas – Rohit Mehta: Yoga and the Art of Integration

” The problem of discipline seems to be closely related to all questions pertaining to spiritual life, and yet there is no subject on which such confusion prevails….But…the plant of spiritual life flowers in an atmosphere of freedom possible only in disciplined living. How can freedom and discipline be reconciled? ..freedom and discipline are regarded as contradictory…but the fact of the matter is that only s/he who is completely free be truly disciplined. Often a person says that s/he does not accept any discipline that is imposed by an external authority, but such a person forgets that the so-called internal authority…that impinge upon an individual either from society or from the ideological group to which one belongs. It iso nly when the individual, being alone, takes complete responsibility for all that s/he does. When we realized that no authority can save us – then alone are we supremely disciplined.

It is a discipline which emanates from the very act of living. It is not a discipline base on an ideal which one attempts to translate into one’s daily conduct. It is a discipline which comes into being in the very process of learning. One learns, and that very act of learning creates its own discipline.

It is like the river, which, in the very act of flowing, creates its own discipline in terms of the two banks. The banks are not created in advance. One may create such banks and may find that the river has taken a different course. This is equally true of the river of life. If its flow is dept uninterrupted then that very flow creates its own discipline. When the flow is obstructed, disorder starts.

It is the mind of man, with its conclusions and vested interests that creates obstructions in the flow of life.

One has only to look at nature to know how all its activities are perfectly disciplined. But this is not a discipline that is apart from living. The act of living is a dynamic state. Life’s dynamism demands a discipline that comes into being in the very act of living.”

. . .

Reading from our restorative practice

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Readings from our restorative practice 10/27/2022

REST by David Whyte

is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be.
Rest is the essence of giving and receiving; an act of remembering, imaginatively and intellectually but also physiologically and physically. To rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right; to rest is to fall back literally or figuratively from outer targets and shift the goal not to an inner static bull’s eye, an imagined state of perfect stillness, but to an inner state of natural exchange.
The template of natural exchange is the breath, the autonomic giving and receiving that forms the basis and the measure of life itself. We are rested when we are a living exchange between what lies inside and what lies outside, when we are an intriguing conversation between the potential that lies in our imagination and the possibilities for making that internal image real in the world; we are rested when we let things alone and let ourselves alone, to do what we do best, breathe as the body intended us to breathe, to walk as we were meant to walk, to live with the rhythm of a house and a home, giving and taking through cooking and cleaning. When we give and take in an easy foundational way we are closest to the authentic self, and closest to that self when we are most rested. To rest is not self-indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and to perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given.
In the first state of rest is the sense of stopping, of giving up on what we have been doing or how we have been being. In the second, is the sense of slowly coming home, the physical journey into the body’s un-coerced and un-bullied self, as if trying to remember the way or even the destination itself. In the third state is a sense of healing and self-forgiveness and of arrival. In the fourth state, deep in the primal exchange of the breath, is the give and the take, the blessing and the being blessed and the ability to delight in both. The fifth stage of deep rest is a sense of absolute readiness and presence, a delight in and an anticipation of the world and all its forms; a sense of being the meeting itself between inner and outer, and that receiving and responding occur in one spontaneous movement.
A deep experience of rest is the template of perfection in the human imagination, a perspective from which we gain that most difficult of human virtues: patience, that is, we are able to perceive the outer specific forms of our work and our relationships whilst being nourished by the shared foundational gift of the breath itself. From this perspective we can be rested while putting together an elaborate meal for an arriving crowd, whilst climbing the highest mountain, moving a herd of sheep along a Cumbrian country lane or sitting at home, surrounded by the chaos of a loving family.

Rested, we are ready for the world but not held hostage by it, rested we care again for the right things and the right people in the right way. In rest we reestablish the goals that make us more generous, more courageous, more of an invitation, someone we want to remember, and someone others would want to remember too.

. . .


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A summary of my notes taken from a lecture given by Prashant Iyengar in June 2020

Our senses cannot be understood mechanically.  We cannot have a mechanical view of our senses.  How our eyes, ears, tongue, nose, skin function depend not just on the external object but on our subjective understanding.

A camera will pick up everything in the frame.  An audio device will pick up everything with no reservations or discriminations. But how do we have a visual act?  If we look at something beautiful or not, our eyes will function differently, unlike a camera.  Our ears as well; we listen and hear differently depending on the sound.

So don’t think the senses are very technical.  There is no formal understanding of the sensely acts like your asana or pranayama practice.

Therefore we have to have observation.  Patanjali dedicated 1 limb of 8 to deal with the senses.  This is pratyahara,

The word is so fascinating, so apt, that we have to investigate it: Prati – opposite, – ahara – food.

Vision and form(rupa) is the food for the eyes

Sound (sabha) is the food for the ears

Taste (rasa) is the food for the tongue

Touch (sparsa) is the food for the skin

Smell (gandha) is the food for the nose

When the five senses are feeding, they gravitate towards external objects and are called visheindriyas.  This is their role in the business plane of daily activity,  But, western understanding sees them as cognitive organs or jnanendriyas – organs of knowledge.  How do the senses go for knowledge? How much do they go for objects?

How are your senses involved with spiritual processes?  Do you send your senses somewhere? Ears somewhere? Eyes somewhere?  Of course – we send them within.  But they do not function in the same way.  

The eyes are not going inwards to feed on sight

The ears are not going inwards to feed on sound

The tongue is not going inwards to feed on taste

The nose is not going inwards to feed on smell

The skin is not going inwards to feed on touch

Instead, you go for wisdom.  It is then that the senses become organs of knowledge (jnanendriyas).  When we are eating mangoes we don’t bother to have any knowledge of the mango.  We just want to relish the taste, not the knowledge of the mango.  The eyes don’t necessarily look at something for knowledge, but for gratification, ears listen to gratify, not to gain knowledge etc.  In this realm, it is not right to call the senses jnanendriyas when they are grazing in the field of sense objects.  They graze to get gratified and that is their food.  

If you take the food away, then what do they become?  

-ahara is food.

Atyahara is overeating

Upahara is grazing or munching

Alpahara is undereating

Anahara is fasting

Then we can understand pratyahara.  Pratyahara is a kind of food.  The senses are not fasting.  The senses are taken inward and there is an experience.  You don’t go for a sensory deprivation condition where you are unconscious.  The senses are merely disengaged from external objects but engaged within, for knowledge.  When this happens, the roles of the 5 senses become one – wisdom alone.  

It is not like the turtle withdrawing it’s limbs.  A tortoise does this out of fear not due to yoga.  It is a defense mechanism for protection.  We do the same – we shut our eyes, block our ears and nose etc. to protect our senses. 

Pratyahara is not drawing the senses inwards.  Pratyahara is pratyahara.  It cannot be translated in technical terms. The senses go inwards for a spiritual purpose, not fasting or starving.  They have an engagement and become spiritual wisdom organs and they become absorbed from five to one.

(these are my notes, therefore any and all misunderstandings of Prashant’s teachings are mine.)

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Klesa and Karma

Categorized as Uncategorized

To live  demands that we make decisions on how to act, and what to do. B. K. S. Iyengar asks, “How does a freeman act, and yet remain free?” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 238).  Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras seek to answer this question by exploring the “Klesas” (afflictions) which are the motivations that drive our actions. Through practice we can become aware of our habit patterns, act skillfully and directly, and find freedom in the life of daily routine.

The five kleśas or afflictions appear as psychological “somato-psychic” conditions (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2012 pg. 82).  The primary motivation of the kleśas is the desire to preserve the ego-self. 2.3 Avidyᾱ asmitᾱ-rᾱga-dveṣa abinveśaḥ-kleśᾱḥ lists the kleśas. The second is asmitᾱ – the ego identity. Asmitᾱ is formed to protect the identity we show to the world. To do this, asmitᾱ seeks out more of, and becomes attached to, what gives pleasure and security. This is raga, the third kleśa. Asmitᾱ rejects and avoids what is painful, disturbing, and threatening. This is dveṣa, the fourth kleśa. Asmitᾱ’s preservation techniques have a logic to them as the kleśas offer layers of protection. However, if left unattended asmitᾱ is motivated only to satisfy pleasure and avoid pain. Any challenge to these motivations brings up fear. Prashant writes that we cannot tolerate the “empirical I being tormented or harassed” (P.Iyengar, 2013, p. 33). Fear, and fear of death, is translated as abhiniveśaḥ and is the fifth kleśa. Fear is an instinctive reaction to anything that threatens asmitᾱ, not just in terms of death and dying, but to whatever challenges its continuity. B.K.S. Iyengar writes that abhiniveśaḥ “is instinctive and causes one to become selfish and self-centered” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 105).

Most of us are unaware of our motivations. We even consider our likes, dislikes, and fears to

represent individual freedom of expression. This is avidyᾱ, the first kleśa, meaning ignorance, not knowing, or lack of awareness. Avidyᾱ encompasses all the other kleśas. Avidyᾱ leads to incorrect comprehension of reality. Strangely, avidyᾱ is seldom expressed as avidyᾱ. We rarely find ourselves saying – “I’m so ignorant about this or that”. We are more likely to say, “ I always do it this way” or “I never do it that way”. One of avidyᾱ ’s characteristics is that it is hidden. We notice avidyᾱ “more by its absence than its presence” (Desikachar, 1995, p. 11). Moreover, we may not even have an urge to notice them, let alone lessen their effect, because they are effective at protecting asmitᾱ and, as Desikachar comments, we have little, or no, interest in reducing their effects (Desikachar, 1995).  Prashant Iyengar writes that the kleśas are “utterly delicious to the body, mind, senses, like the dessert in the context of the meals of life” (P. Iyengar, 2013, p. 33). 

B. K.S. Iyengar emphasizes that the kleśas are not simply obstacles, but “wave patterns of interference that stem from our glorious individuality” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 194) : and yet they are “suffering and the cause of suffering” (Mehta, 1975, p. 108), they are “affliction, pain, distress, sorrow, trouble” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 105). Why? Because they stop us from being present and give us the illusion that we are living in reality, when in fact we are living in a reality built by the kleśas designed to protect asmitᾱ.

Karma means to do, to act, and also the effect, or result of an action. The Bhagavad Gita states, “no-one, even in the twinkling of an eye, ever exists without performing action” (Sargeant, 1984, p. 111).

Sutra 4.7 karma aśukla akṛṣṇam yoginaḥ trividham itareṣᾱm says that “The karma of a yogi is neither good nor bad: in the case of others, karma is of a threefold nature” (Mehta, 1975, p. 405). Edwin Bryant refers to Vyasa’s commentary on Karma (Bryant, 2009) which can be: “Black” consisting of selfish, unkind and destructive acts; “White” actions which are of honesty, austerity, self-study, and non-attachment; and Grey karma, a blend of the two with limitless shades of Black and White. The results from Black karma are negative, White karma are positive or indifferent, and Grey brings about mixed results. Vyasa comments that negative karma, can be from actions that are positive, and negative karma cannot destroy positive karma, but it can merge into grey karma, and therefore “one should aim toward good deeds” (Bryant, 2009, p. 416). 

What determines the type of karma we enact are the kleśas.  Prashant Iyengar writes that, all the kleśas have a boiling-bubbling potential for karma” (P. Iyengar, 2013 pg. 121), and that the “kleśas are the roots and sources of karma” (P. Iyengar, 2013 pg. 41)Sutra 2.12 kleśamūlaḥ karmᾱśayaḥ dṛṣta adṛṣṭa janma vedanῑyaḥ states that our birth is determined by past karma, and driven by the kleśas. Sati mule tadvipᾱkaḥ jᾱti ᾱyuḥ bhogᾱḥ (2.13) adds that the quality and duration of our life is determined by our karmic experiences. Sutra 2.14 te hlᾱda paritᾱpa phalᾱḥ puṇya apuṇya hetutvᾱt infers that our current birth is limited by the pleasurable or painful fruits of past and present karma (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2006).

We act from our fears, our desires, and our dislikes to preserve asmitᾱ. The results of our actions cause us to react from the kleśas, causing more karma driven by the kleśas. The accumulation of karma is known as karmasaya. Prashant writes, “Kleśas are materially responsible for our actions, reactions, unactions, nonactions, and responses” (P. Iyengar, 2013, p. 128). Our entire karmic being is present at every moment in the form of habits and tendencies. The word vᾱsanᾱ means subliminal impression or tendency. Sutra 4.8 tataḥ tadvipᾱka anuguṇᾱnᾱm eva abhivyaktiḥ vᾱsanᾱnᾱm explains that vᾱsanᾱs arise and become active under certain conditions. While we might perceive that our next action emanates from an independent decision-making process, it is, in fact, linked to past karma and motivated by the kleśas. We use the phrase “to be stuck in a rut” to mean that we feel compelled to act in the same way repeatedly as if what we do is beyond our control; that we are helpless in the face of our desires, pleasures, aversions, and fears. 4.9 jᾱti deśa kᾱla  vyavahitᾱnᾱm apy ᾱnataryaṁ smṛti saṁskᾱryoḥ ekarūpatvᾱt tells that, “due to the uninterrupted close relationship between memory and subliminal impressions, the fruits of actions remain intact from one life to the next” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 239). The one exception is Ῑśvara 1.24 kleśa karma vipᾱka ᾱsayaiḥ aparᾱamṛṣṭaḥ puruṣaviśeṣaḥ Ῑśvaraḥ. Puruṣaviśeṣaḥ refers to a special being that is Ῑśvara, who is unaffected by the kleśas, karma, and the reactions that ensue. But we are not Ῑśvara.

How to begin to overcome the kleśa/karma cycle? Prashant writes, we must “trace the merit of karma in our drives, motives, tendencies, and intentions behind our actions, and influencing this analysis are the kleśas” (P. Iyengar, 2013, p. 147).  Vyasa offers the following threefold sequence to eliminate the influence of the kleśas; firstly, to remove the extreme or gross effects is like shaking a cloth, or washing it in water (Bryant, 2009). Sutra 2.2 samᾱdhi bhᾱrvanᾱrthaḥ kleśa tanūkaraṇᾱrthaśca, says that this can be done through the practice of yoga (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2006).  The second cleaning has to be more subtle; Vyasa uses the image of beating a cloth against a stone to remove the finer dirt.  Sutra 2.10 te pratiprasavaheyᾱḥ sūksmah suggests that subtle afflictions can be minimized and eradicated by a “process of involution” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2006, p. 111) noted in sutra 2.11 as dhyᾱna (meditation), as it is the “subtlest discipline of yoga”  (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2001, p. 123).  Sutra 4.6 tatra dhyᾱnajam anᾱśayam – states that “the one born of meditation is without the storehouse of karma” (Bryant, 2009, p. 414).

Meditation can remove the effects of past karma, and its effects become “burnt seeds”, meaning that they cannot propel further action and effect (Bryant, 2009). 4.12 atῑta anᾱgataṁ svarūpataḥ asti adhavadhedᾱt dharmᾱṇyᾱm explains that through meditation “the past and the future is as real as that of the present” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 243). 4.27 tat cchidreṣu pratyayᾱntarᾱṇi-saṁskᾱrebhyaḥ cautions “when there are moments of non-awareness the old tendencies make their appearance once again” (Mehta, 1975, p. 433) and one must be vigilant. The third level of cleaning is for the most subtle dirt and dust, this can only be done by the most accomplished yogi, for the metaphorical cloth is destroyed completely, in other words, when one’s actions are completely free from attachment to results. Mehta’s commentary on sutra 4.29 (prasaṁkhyᾱne api akusῑdasya sarvathᾱ vivekakhyᾱteḥ dharmameghaḥ samᾱdhiḥ) describes this moment as beingwhen a state of meditation is an end in itself, and not the means for the fulfilment of some other end” (Mehta, 1975, p. 441).  This is the moment where complete virtue and wisdom ensue and is termed as dharmameghaḥ samᾱdhi.  Finally, at this point, as sutra 4.30 states (tataḥ kleśa karma nivṛttiḥ) there is freedom from karma and its effects, “as if a kite were released in the sky, without a string, to bring it back to earth” (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005, p. 238) and one has attained kaivalya.  


Bryant, E. (2009). The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary with Insights from the Traditional Commentators. North Point Press.

Desikachar, T. K. V. (1995). The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice. Inner Traditions/Bear.

Iyengar, B. K. S. (2001). Astadala Yogamala (Vol. 2). Allied Publishers Private Limited.

Iyengar, B. K. S. (2005). Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (New edition edition). HarperCollins India.

Iyengar, B. K. S. (2012). Core of the Yoga Sutras: The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga. Harper Thorsons.

Iyengar, B. K. S., Evans, J. J., & Abrams, D. (2006). Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom (Reprint edition). Rodale Books.

Iyengar, P. (2013). Fundamentals of Patanjali’s Philosophy: Theory of Klesha and Karma. Ramāmaṇi Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute & YOG.

Mehta, R. (1975). Yoga, the Art of Integration: A Commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Theosophical Publishing House.

Sargeant, W. (1984). The Bhagavad Gita: Revised Edition. SUNY Press.

Note: All transliterations of the sutra text is taken from (B. K. S. Iyengar, 2005), spelling of Sanskrit is consistent with that text.

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