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Eastern thought - an introduction in three parts

Rajiv 55 / 400  
May 22, 2007   #1
Part 1 will be of help in recognizing and categorizing actions and behaviour from the view of the Yoga system, part 2 should be of interest as it introduces the technique of developing concentration with one consequence of the ability, and part 3 goes back to earlier in the book to bring in the real, why life isn't perfect for us.

Understanding philosophical theories is about establishing their relevance, the correspondence in the ideas they express and our experience. Instead of making enormous efforts at understanding a theory alone, is it not a better learning if our experiences can be interpreted in the ideas of a philosophy.

My intention is to convey some of those ideas and how life may actually be happening in that way. That is, we can look at life in a particular way and things begin to make sense, and then as we see it happening, we take assurance that what we learn and believe is not untrue, and have confidence that life may work out like that all the way.

An important philosophical text is the 'Yoga Sutras of Patanjali'. These are a collection of aphorisms, about fifty each in four chapters. The part easiest to connect with is in chapter 2, where Patanjali outlines the practice of Yoga, called Asht-anga, eight-limbed Yoga. I will tell you how I understand the philosophy from this sutra till the 15th sutra in chapter 3, where he explains how the Yogi's perceptions can transcend average natural abilities.

I will step back and speak in general terms of the ideas expressed in these sutras, because they have to be interpreted and understood by a person individually. If I try to explain the sutras one at a time, I may not be able to do it effectively. I will try instead to give the general ideas expressed in these, and then you see when you take them one at a time, how they may apply to your life.

The eight Angas or limbs are a progression and we are spread in our life-experience among them, depending upon how we may be applying these principles. The first idea is about Yama and Niyama, the first two Angas. Each has five elements. The Yamas are manifest as behaviors to control. They are recognizable principles in our lives; non-violence, non-stealing and truthfulness are acceptable values everywhere. The other two, sexual restraint and non acceptance of charity have different emphasis in India compared to West.

Next, in the five elements of Niyama, meaning discipline, the first is purity and cleanliness. It is a very acceptable quality and may even be better practiced in the West. The next, contentment is opposed to values in America, but may be acceptable in Europe. The next three again maybe somewhat acceptable in European culture, but I wonder if austerity is considered practical as a practice as is implied in the text. Similarly self study, even as reflection on oneself maybe ambiguous, because I don't think Western culture may consider pondering on just the idea of our existence as having any benefit for us, and on surrendering of the outcome of all our actions to God; the last of the Niyam, people may see that as implying too ready an acceptance of failure. I will say more on these last three Niyams later in explaining how their practice may lead us towards the desired goal.

Here is the point I am trying to make though. Look at these on one hand and the extent to which within our own lives we may be following them. Notice their outcomes as one practices them to perfection explained below. We may ask how much individually, have we acquired of these 'rewards in nature'. If we accept this philosophy as a correct description of 'nature's behavior', then every human is really living by these principles, even unknowingly, all over the world.


YOGA SUTRAS OF PATANJALI by Hariharananda.( Chapter II )
EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
May 22, 2007   #2

This is a way of thinking which is probably completely new to the majority of Americans. I found this of particular interest: "The next, contentment, is opposed to values in America, but may be acceptable in Europe." (I added a comma after "contentment.") I had not thought of it in those terms before, but it's true: American culture is geared more towards never being satisfied with what you have so that you'll keep striving for more. This leads to a general feeling of dissatisfaction with oneself and one's life, without really understanding why.

I'll look forward to reading more!


Sarah, EssayForum.com
OP Rajiv 55 / 400  
May 23, 2007   #3
Thank you very much Sarah!

It's more challenging to address the next part which I want to write about.

I wish to convey how we may become more than what we normally consider ourselves to be. To bring about that, there are more ways than one. Patanjali points us there through the practice of Yoga and we often have to discover what he means through some of our own effort.

Apart from the practice itself, its interesting to try and grasp the concept how we may literally become, not just understand our Self. This chapter is about Siddhis, extra-natural abilities and perceptions.

The most interesting thing about Indian philosophy is that it says it is possible to see into the future and the past. From one point of view this is completely impractical but from Yoga's point of view this comes about by understanding the world around us differently than we see it normally. Imagine, the world is like a football stadium with those huge night lights. If the sun really stood still like those lights, we would lose our concept of time, because now, its foundation in our minds is based upon the motion of the sun and the changes associated with that change during day and night.

Then take the astronomical view and see the solar system from outside, and you know the sun is stationary, the earth revolves around its own axis and moves around the sun. Imagine coming closer and closer to the earth, not forgetting you are stationary with respect to the solar system, that is you are free to move by your own will, not moved by the rotations of the earth, and then you focus, remaining yourself unseen, on some things just as you are now. What this has done for you is remove your binding with time and you can see things more as they are. You will notice change happening as an evolution in everything. Your mind is not in a spin because you have to follow the imagined concept of time and you will notice the change happening in things, individually.

Patanjali says you will notice three aspects in anything. Its Dharma, its Lakshanand its Awastha.

Dharmais the stages anything goes through. Everything has a Dharmaand it progresses evolutionarily through those states.

Lakshanare signs indicating where it is going next and where it's coming from within the sequence determined from its Dharma, and Awasthais when we can say how long something has lived in its present state, its age.

If along with objects we consider other things like relationships, our jobs and businesses, our neighborhood. To all of these too we normally ascribe a sequence of stages, we notice signs of change and make judgments of their age, and that's really all we do. We try to define precisely these involuntary natural perceptions all the time. The better we can the more effective we feel we are.

In the practice of the last three Angas we refine these perception to their ultimate degree. We transcend a barrier to our own nature, since in our present perception-cognitions we have to deal with these above aspects, which are really manifestations of a mental limitation and eroded away by the practice.


YOGA SUTRAS OF PATANJALI by Hariharananda.( Chapter III)
OP Rajiv 55 / 400  
May 24, 2007   #4
I wrote these pieces last year to help my daughter appreciate this side of her background, when she started studying 'Theory of Knowledge' at school. I suggested she could make a presentation of this material to her class, but her teacher found it more religious than philosophical. I wonder if you feel so too.

But can we really see our lives through the system of the Yoga Sutras? They even point to the reasons that we have the experiences we do. It is a substantial jump from what we normally come across in our lives and one can be skeptical. We think our lives are unique, which they are, and we make them as we choose. But can something be determining our choices?

We must understand here, that it is not another person who would come to know more about us, but we ourselves, gain insights into our lives.

Patanjali begins explaining the practice of Yoga in Chapter 2 with Yama and Niyamas and then briefly about Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara. To convey what our perceptions are, he explains that we take in the world around us in its three aspects, and to refine these perceptions the last three angas give the practice in Chapter 3.

Before introducing the practice of Yoga he explains the nature of those causes which bring us grief to begin with. We should understand and identify these in our lives, because all of Yoga is the process of slowly whittling away these causes, called Kleshas.

In these sutras there is also something very significant and uniquely Indian, about Karma; the philosophical system of viewing how nature and humans interact. This concept is the foundation of Indian philosophy.

Our own mind is responsible for the world as we experience it. Not in the way, that, as somebody with a destructive mind does something destructive, and when people recognize his nature they limit his actions and punish him so he may recognize it as consequence of his attitude. This curbs his behavior and he may reason with himself that his actions were wrong and hopefully will become corrected. This is the way we deal with criminals and implies intervention is necessary else justice isn't carried out.

The Indian philosophical system says the mind begins in a state of darkness of knowledge, which breeds tendencies of passion, hate, a fear for ones existence, and an unquestioning attitude about our singularity, called Asmita. These are the five kleshas, and they do appear as primal and dark.

The purpose of all existence is the process, where it moves from this darkness into a reality, its opposite. The passage is not always straight, because Asmita more than others, leads us thinking of ourselves at cost to others.

To curb these, one approach is to make just the effort. This is what we are asked to do as children and may be upsetting now. Much better to be ourself and act out our true motives, atleast, we have a chance of learning from their results.

Karma is fascinating as it seems to go beyond our normal realm to our earlier lives, to explain things happening with us. Every action is driven by a motive, so kleshas lie at the root of all Karmas. People accept karma is necessary and for that reason they do their karmas. But if we try to see how our lives follow from our efforts exactly, we cannot do it with accuracy and have to take the system on belief.

tapas, svadhyaya and isvara-pranidhana are kriya-yoga.
for bringing about samadhi and minimizing the klesas.
- reference below

Samadhi is a term denoting the state which is free of hassles. Kriya Yoga is the specific method to get there by getting rid of the kleshas, and tapa, svadhyaya and ishvar pranidhan are the three parts of this method.

These three which are also the last three Niyamas are mentioned here for those who aspire to reach fulfillment through Yoga and cannot be content with the regular pace of evolutionary progress.

It's natural that we wonder at the promised efficacy of these practices, for that's what they amount to, and wonder how they may change our lives.

There is a test of faith involved here, because we don't know how nature responds to our evolving mind-state. We are asked, and I am not sure how ready you may be to accept that, that what follows naturally and which people in general are most willing to accept, is the natural outcome of their actions. This is predictable with some uncertainty, as something may affect the outcome. We need to accept that the final outcome is the natural response to the experiencing person's mind-state. Patanjali explains that response of nature gets accumulated, and is projected as experience, bunching up with similar responses to actions the individual may have done earlier.

People turn to making wealth as a goal to this same hassle free existence, in the course of which, with a self-serving motive they only ensure more karmas, and to avail these, they need rebirth and experience.

Patanjali has instructed us the practice of kriya yoga, a method to reduce the effect of the kleshas, which like warps in our mental-states we are carrying through lifetimes. He says, the results of our past karmas are already in operation and our suffering is due to them. The fruits of our past actions take place as the opportunity presents itself to nature, like water flowing in the irrigation canals in fields. Whenever there is a breach, water can flow out. Nature behaves in that fashion. The pressure of our karmas lies waiting, our present experiences are already those which could become true for us, others lie in wait.

According to whether a person acted with an ulterior motive or a positive one, the karma is painful or pleasant. So even good intentioned motives bring a return of action.

He asks us, to step aside, go up a level, burn out the klesha inside you, the karma associated with it will never happen, like a seed which does not sprout when it has been burnt inside.


YOGA SUTRAS OF PATANJALI by Hariharananda.( Chapter II )

1. Tapas, svadhyaya and isvara-pranidhana are kriya-yoga.
2. For bringing about samadhi and minimizing the klesas.
3. Avidya, asmita, raga, dvesa and abhinivesa are the five klesas.
4. Avidya is the breeding ground for the others whether they be dormant, attenuated, interrupted or active.
5. Avidya consists in regarding a transient object as everlasting, an impure object as pure, misery as happiness and not-self as self.
6. Asmita is tantamount to the identification of purusa or pure consciousness with buddhi.
7. Attachment is that modification which follows rememberance of pleasure.
8. Aversion is that which results from misery.
9. As in the ignorant so in the learned the firmly established inborn fear of annihilation is the affliction called abhinivesa.
10. The subtle klesas are forsaken by the cessation of productivity of the mind.
11. Their means of subsistence or their gross states are avoidable by meditation.
12. Karmasaya or latent impression of action based on afflictions, becomes active in this life or in a life to come.
13. As long as klesa remains at the root, karmasaya produces three consequences in the form of birth, span of life and experience.

14. Because of virtue and vice these produce pleasurable and painful experiences.
15. The discriminating persons apprehend all worldly objects as sorrowful because they cause suffering in consequence, in their afflictive experiences and in their latencies and also because of the contrary nature of the Gunas.

16. Pain which is yet to come is to be discarded.
17. Uniting the seer or the subject with the seen or the object, the cause of which has to be avoided.
18. The object or knowable is by nature sentient, mutable and inert. It exists in the form of elements and the organs, and serves the purpose of experience and emancipation.

19. Diversified, undiversified, indicator only and that which is without any indication are the states of the gunas.
20. The seer is absolute knower. Although pure, modifications are witnessed by him as an onlooker.
21. To serve as the objective field to purusa is the essence or nature of the knowable.
22. Although ceasing to exist in relation to him whose purpose is fulfilled the knowable does not cease to exist on account of being of use to others.

23. Alliance is the means of realising the true nature of the object of the knower and of the owner, the knower.
24. Avidya, or nescience as its cause
25. The absence of alliance that arises from lack of it is the freedom and that is the state of liberation of the seer.

26. Clear and distinct discriminative knowledge is the means of liberation.
27. Seven kinds of ultimate insight come to him.
28. Through the practice of the different accessories to yoga when impurities are destroyed, there arises enlightenment culminating in discriminative enlightenment.

** we discussed 19, as the four levels, in the previous essay.
EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
May 27, 2007   #5

While I see it as a mix of religion and philosophy, I can understand her teacher's viewpoint. Passages such as these: "Karma is fascinating as it seems to go beyond our normal realm to our earlier lives" which require a belief in reincarnation cannot be seen as only philosophical. There is much here that must be accepted on faith, in order to derive its benefit. Nonetheless, it is an interesting view into a totally different way of looking at life, from that of non-Indian cultures.

Thank you for sharing it!

Sarah, EssayForum.com
OP Rajiv 55 / 400  
May 28, 2007   #6
Hello Sarah!

If I may ask then -- what do you think about karma?


OP Rajiv 55 / 400  
May 28, 2007   #7
As I see it, there are two non-conventional aspects to the normal understanding people have of karma. The first, as you too indicate is its connection with the re-incarnation idea. But, really more significant is its connection to this other idea - that reactions of things we have done, and we talk only of those in our present life-times, naturally follow from our actions which preceded them. As an example, during his younger years that a man lived in some neighborhood he spent much time on building a farm, which he had to leave without finishing, as he was forced to leave town to take up something elsewhere, and made sense to do so at that time.

So on his return to the old town after many years, he can start work on his farm again, almost as he left it. The people he bought supplies from, though different now, have no problems working again with him; the produce of his farm too, he sees he can find buyers for, pretty much amongst the same group that earlier would have bought from him... so all in all, everything takes on, from where he left it.

But, now, in a manner of speaking, we move closer to what he did during his earlier days, that is, with every project, constructing a fence, or clearing the land to build a barn upon; when he negotiated with the supplier of his material, did he look for ways to take more than store-keeper would have given him happily. Did he perhaps wait for the time when he knew the store-keeper would be away from his shop, and he would be able to take advantage of the wife, or his son who were not so business savvy. Or, for clearing the land for his barn, did he perhaps not care, that what he threw away was messing up a stream flowing by his land.

If no one is the wiser about his actions, we may remark, simply, he's earned bad karma. But then, what is the implication of this remark!

EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
May 28, 2007   #8

I think the idea of karma (the second type you speak of), whether it is called by that name or not, is gaining in universal recognition. It can be seen in a phrase which is now popular here in America: "What goes around, come around." While karma may not always be as "instant" as the sort John Lennon wrote about, it does seem apparent that actions have consequences, and bad actions will, eventually, have bad consequences. The idea is certainly ancient: from this, that; you reap what you sow, etc. Those are variations of the same theme. Is it because of some cosmic moral law, directed by some unseen spiritual force? Or perhaps merely the logical progression of physics? Therein lies the basis for philosophical--and religious--debate.


Sarah, EssayForum.com
OP Rajiv 55 / 400  
May 29, 2007   #9
Greetings Sarah!

The point of the story is that, it's the man's intentions which form our picture about him, as they are dilineated in the last paragraph. Its one thing that the people in the town have this impression about him and perhaps, will not be helpful to him. But its quite another thing to say that his circumstances will be so arranged, that its not because of what the people don't do for him that his life is difficult, but his circumstances themselves, as though showing a mind of their own, wish to taunt him for just the excesses of behavior he showed during his previous years spent there.

OP Rajiv 55 / 400  
May 29, 2007   #10
If the second explanation, the one about nature having its own mind, seems only an enchanting story - so would it be, if two men were standing together watching a cannon firing. If one of these men, knew Newton's laws and predicted where the ball would land, would not the other man be equally struck with wonder? Even without bothering to bring up the equations in our mind, or the factors that need be known to arrive at the result, the mass of the ball, the initial velocity.., we have put our faith for explaining all of nature's phenomenon so much in physics, that when we do not have a ready answer we still feel safer believing in physics, than any other way of understanding.
OP Rajiv 55 / 400  
May 29, 2007   #11
Dear Sarah,

I truly wish to ask your help in making the essays more approachable - specially the last one above. Please do not hold back from any fear of offending my sensibilities. I would gladly suffer that to make them easier to read and understand. I mean that in total sincerity.

Thank you.

EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
May 30, 2007   #12
Dear Rajiv,

I will be happy to do so. I am a bit under the weather, so if you would be good enough to give me another day to respond, I would appreciate it and look forward to putting better mental effort into it then. :-)


OP Rajiv 55 / 400  
May 30, 2007   #13
Thank you so much Sarah!

My very best wishes to you, and I wish for you to recover soon and completely. I really appreciate your feeling comfortable enough to tell me this. I think you would understand I am more than happy to wait till you are ready with what you want to tell me.

take care!

EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
May 31, 2007   #14

I think we are saying the same thing about karma, in actuality. I agree that there seem to be forces beyond simple interactions with others at work. There is a theory that is gaining popularity these days which says that we attract the kind of energy we put out; if we do negative things, we attract negative energy, and bad things happen to us. The author of a recent book calls it "The Secret." It is not new, though. This idea has many forms of expression; would you agree that karma is one of them?


Sarah, EssayForum.com
OP Rajiv 55 / 400  
May 31, 2007   #15
Greetings Sarah!

Would you be willing to agree that Newton's laws are the same as the action of Karma?

OP Rajiv 55 / 400  
May 31, 2007   #16
... or in the story I was making above, is this quite acceptable to you -

" Its one thing that the people in the town have this impression about him and perhaps, will not be helpful to him. But its quite another thing to say that his circumstances will be so arranged, that its not because of what the people don't do for him that his life is difficult, but his circumstances themselves, as though showing a mind of their own, wish to taunt him for just the excesses of behavior he showed during his previous years spent there."
OP Rajiv 55 / 400  
May 31, 2007   #17
As I am asking for your help to make the essays more approachable, I am not sure why they aren't, since the language is intelligible. Yet my distinct sense is that the message in them is not carried through. I really want to know what the reason for this is.

Is it that I have only made the subject appear simple in the way I have expressed it and in fact, a reader is not able to get their arms around it? So the simplicity of the language is really misleading.

Thank you very much for your efforts in trying to answer my questions.
EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
Jun 1, 2007   #18

OK, first question first! No, I would not agree that Newton's laws are the same as the action of Karma. Newton's laws are demonstrable, repeatable, with predictable results, in a laboratory setting. They demonstrate what we call "facts." i.e., something which can be replicated and proven through scientific method. Karma is much less predicatable, wouldn't you agree? Now, it may well be as certain; but can you replicate it in a laboratory? I don't think so. That is why karma belongs in the realm of philosophy or religion, rather than science--in my opinion. I am keenly aware that reasonable minds may differ. :-)

You ask a very good question with regards to your writing style. Yes, the words are simple enough, and yet, often, I really am not at all sure what you are trying to say. Occasionally, it may be as simple a matter as sentence structure. For example: "Imagine coming closer and closer to the earth, not forgetting you are stationary with respect to the solar system, that is you are free to move by your own will, not moved by the rotations of the earth, and then you focus, remaining yourself unseen, on some things just as you are now." That last phrase "on some things just as you are now" threw me off completely. One must look back and say, "oh, 'focus on some things' because there is a phrase between the two; then, one must wonder what you mean by "just as you are now." I'm still not entirely sure what that means! I think perhaps a bit more specificity would be helpful. It is a fine line between not assuming the reader knows what you are talking about, and hitting the reader over the head with something he or she already knows (which, unfortunately, is what most beginning writers do).

I will try to be more specific myself in pointing out which phrases confuse me and why, from a writing standpoint. I think then you may start to see where the disconnect comes between what you meant and what the reader comprehended.

And yes, sometimes, too, it may be the subject matter; but, I do think that most topics can be explained so that the ordinary reader can comprehend them, if one is specific enough.

I hope this helps!


Sarah, EssayForum.com
OP Rajiv 55 / 400  
Jun 2, 2007   #19
Thank you very much for your answer.

I think what is working for me, as you say it, is just trying to match your own excellent and clear writing. I also pay close attention to the specific things you point to, and at the same time, I don't want to lose sight of what I am wishing to convey.

Karmas are the reaction of an insentient nature working within its own laws. These laws, we have called the causal realm, are the fourth level of existence. They, ie. karmas, of course include our ego-sense, and therefore us from the third.

Newton's laws of motion are an insight into nature's laws as they apply to inert bodies, mass and their motion.
EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
Jun 3, 2007   #20

Thank you for the compliment on my writing. :-) I agree that it is very important not to lose sight of what you wish to convey; that would defeat the whole purpose, wouldn't it? :-))


Sarah, EssayForum.com
OP Rajiv 55 / 400  
Jun 4, 2007   #21
Thank you Sarah,

I have learnt much in these discussions with you. But there is much, much further I have to go, I only hope I am never lost and without a direction to take.

EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
Jun 4, 2007   #22

I have a feeling that won't be a problem for you; you seem very focused to me. :-)

OP Rajiv 55 / 400  
Jun 4, 2007   #23
Thanks Sarah. I'm really glad your pet came back.
EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
Jun 4, 2007   #24
Thanks! She lived a good life; seven years, as is average for a ferret. I still miss her, after 13 years. :-)

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