Tag Archives: Patanjali

“Mechanism of Meditation” — lecture by Kausthub Desikachar, 3/15/12

The second of Kausthub’s lectures at the “Discover Yoga Anatomy” intensive at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, March 2012….

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Many people make claims about meditation, but still don’t  understand it.  They assume that TECHNIQUES are meditation. 

What is happening in modern day science and medicine is that they say meditation works, but we don’t want to understand WHY it works.  Books on this subject are merely guidebooks, they give no explanation as to HOW meditation works.  If we take a tool like meditation and become attached to it, there is no understanding.

WHY is more important than WHAT.

There are three domains of meditation in yoga, but modern yogis are concerned with bendy bodies, fancy clothes, and taking their pictures in front of waterfalls.  They should be applying for jobs in Hollywood, not in yoga.  Yoga is meant to be done as a meditative practice.

The first domain is that meditation is about helping us live our lives better.  We have daily activities, actions concerning the world, we’re part of a social eco-system.  Many times we do not deal appropriately with this eco-system because of our klesas — we make mistakes.  To help us see clearly, to improve our actions, meditation is done.

The second domain of meditation is to improve or regain our health because we get sick, whether it is body, mind, emotions, or spirit.

The third domain has to do with self-realization.  The difference between animals and us is that we are not only interested in eating and sex, but as humans we have the potential for self-realization.  We have the ability to question the meaning of life and our role in it, what we can give back.

It is my hope that there will be enough sanity in future yogis to move beyond the body and go inward.

So how does meditation work in these three domains, because it does not work the same in each.

For the first domain, yoga philosophy says that there is a process in which an action begets another action.  We hear or read something (knowledge) and that awareness creates a desire.  That desire creates an action, so we act from a place of desire.  The action is not the end of the cycle because there is a consequence.  The consequence leaves an impression on us, good or bad.  This is where mistakes happen.

Meditation works here by addressing the source:  is your awareness right or wrong?  Our knowledge is not based on a fact but what we are drawn to.  We have the illusion of clarity, we see what we want to see, not what is really in front of us.

In meditation for this domain, the practice is designed in such a way in order to give us clarity of perception.  It takes us to a neutral space, not from a bias.  Meditation can influence how we see things, i.e. with greater perception of clarity.  In that way, our responses in life become more appropriate — this is the opposite of what we usually do, how we usually react in and to life.

In the second domain, it is given that the mind controls the body.  For example, we have a nightmare and truly believe that whatever is happening in the nightmare is actually happening to us, we have a physical reaction to the nightmare  — that is how strong the mind is over the body.   In the same way our mind can influence us in a positive way.  Modern science is finally seeing this.  When the mind moves into nirodha samskara (YS Ch. 3), the mind becomes stable.  Meditation helps us change the patterns of the mind which can thereby change the patterns of the body.   In yoga philosophy, diseases and health are seen as nothing other than a set of patterns.   Patanjali introduces the concept of yoga therapy in the second and third chapters of the Sutra-s.   The mind is very powerful — there is a reason why it is said “mind over matter” — because the mind can literally change matter.   This seems paranormal, but it is not.

The trouble is that we always want things to change quickly, but change takes time.  The mind is linked with the senses which are linked to matter.  What is held in the mind moves towards what holds the senses.   We have seen what could be called miracles at the Mandiram, when all we do is show a person how to breath, how to meditate, when they came here and could not even lift an arm.

However, the same thing won’t work the same way with everyone.  The stupidity of modern times is that everyone is the same — we want the same prescriptions.  The same focus will be different with everyone.  A metaphor for this is that the same food will be cooked differently whether it is cooked in an electric oven or a traditional tandoor — same food, different result.  How your mind is will affect what the change is.  Giving the same medicine to everyone and expecting the same results is ridiculous.

Patanjali said that each of us has different kinds of mind — which mind that holds the object of meditation will affect the change.  The standardization of meditative practices is rubbish.

The third domain is the spiritual domain.  The exploration of our potential is the spirituality contained in the Yoga Sutra-s.

We all have within us seeds that are dormant, seeds that will grow.  Meditation in the spiritual domain is like a dry field with seeds — prana is equivalent to water for that field.   The prana will irrigate that mind field so that our seeds will sprout.

But we trap ourselves.  We are ignorant of our seeds.  We don’t nourish them because we don’t have the patience.

We don’t want to be who we are, we want to be someone else.  We think being different is somehow better.  This is where acceptance of ourselves is so important — a mango can never be a papaya.  We have to start accepting who were are and stop rejecting who we are.

The river of prana must water the deep levels of the mind, but remember that we also have negative seeds.  Besides the beneficial seeds, a field also has poison seeds, weed seeds — we have to accept both.  We do not have authority to judge ourselves or others.

If prana is remaining in you, it finds you worthy of something — look at the positive, not the negative, because no one is perfect.

the retreat, part 1


Phillip Moffitt said it was an historic event. Jack Kornfield said that he has not been this excited since the Dalai Lama came to Spirit Rock. Stephen Cope compared us – the 90 yogis from around the world – to the original yogis, the sramanas, who in the 8th Century BC distanced themselves from the rituals of the Brahmin priests, taking to the forests and questioning the status quo.

I returned from the first 10 day retreat of the Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California inspired but also with a confirmation of what I have always felt about yoga – that yoga taught without attention to mindfulness of the body and the breath and without meditation is not yoga, but merely acrobatics. Indeed, this is what Desikachar told us in my trainings at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.

This training is a ground-breaking 18-month program for yoga teachers and experienced practitioners that integrates asana and pranayama, mindfulness meditation, and Patanjali’s classical yoga system. It is led by nationally renowned teachers in both the Buddhist and yogic tradition, using asana and pranayama as foundations for the more subtle limbs of yogic practice (meditation, concentration, and insight), using the techniques taught by the Buddha. Phillip Moffitt told us that planning this program has taken two years and as far as they knew, this training has never been taught anywhere in the world, that is, a program that integrates Buddhism with Patanjali’s classical yoga as written in the Yoga Sutra-s.

According to Spirit Rock’s website, the benefits of this blended program include: an experiential grounding in an integrated yoga and vipassana practice that can nourish practitioners in their daily lives; a solid understanding of the entwined history, philosophy, and techniques of both yoga and Buddhism; and the foundational skills and understanding necessary to practice yoga–and for teachers to teach it–in a way that embodies and facilitates a deep understanding of core Buddhist principles such as mindfulness, lovingkindness, compassion, equanimity, and the interdependence of all life.

There is a core group of vipassana and yoga teachers with guest teachers coming in for each retreat. The vipassana teachers are Jack Kornfield, Phillip Moffit, Mark Coleman, and Anna Douglas. The yoga teachers are Stephen Cope of Kripalu, Anne Cushman, and Janice Gates. The guest yoga teacher for this retreat was Tias Little. Future guest yoga teachers will be Sarah Powers, Frank Jude Boccio, Judith Lasater, and Jill Satterfield, among others. Dr. Dean Ornish is also scheduled to teach.

Before the retreat we were required to read portions from four books: Loving-Kindness: The Revoluntionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg; Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation by Jack Kornfield; Mindfulness Yoga: The Awakened Union of Breath, Body and Mind by Frank Jude Boccio (who was also at the retreat but did not teach); and a recent translation of the Sutra-s by Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali. This is the first translation I have read that takes into account the influence of Buddhism on Patanjali.

We woke up every morning at 5:15 for the first 45 minute sitting meditation at 5:45 am. The first three days we had 11 periods each day of either sitting or walking meditation, 30 or 45 minutes at a time, with two hours of yoga practice, together with a yoga talk in the morning and a dharma talk at night. The next 7 days we had 9 periods each day of sitting or walking meditation. We had a choice during one of the 45 minute morning time slots to do walking meditation or our own personal yoga practice. Most people chose yoga. At this point in the retreat we did not have the yoga talk in the morning, but had a three hour yoga seminar in the afternoon and this is when Janice Gates and Tias Little taught. We still had the dharma talk led by a different vipassana teacher every night.

I have never been to Kripalu but I’ve read Stephen Cope’s books. All I can say about him is that he is brilliant. A brilliant lecturer and a brilliant yoga teacher, besides being a classical pianist obsessed with Beethoven. If you ever get a chance to go to Kripalu, run, don’t walk, to sign up for his teachings. On the second night of the retreat he gave the dharma talk and drew us a yoga timeline from the Vedas to the explosion of yoga after 1975 when Yoga Journal was first published. He emphasized that the renouncers of the Hindu rituals, the sramanas, starting from the 8th Century BC to the 2nd century CE, used their own bodies and minds as laboratories for the direct experience of yoga and for the research on the nondualism of body and mind — just as we will do during the next 18 months.

He told us that Patanjali wrote the Sutras as a treatise for advanced yoga students and reminded us that only three sutras mention asana, all the rest are about meditation and the human experience. So when people say that “yoga is 5000 years old”, that really isn’t accurate because it was not until the Middle Ages (1300 app.) when the Hatha Yoga Pradipika was written followed by the Geranda-Samhita (1600 app.) and the Shiva-Samhita (1700 app.) that the yoga poses we do today were revealed.

Cope said that the core of the Yoga Sutra-s is not about asana practice but about uncovering the roots of human suffering. He said that yoga and Buddhism both grew out of the same cultural milieu of India at that time, that is, as a reaction to the dogma of the Vedic and Brahmin culture. Buddha (563-483 BC) lived about 700 years before Patanjali wrote the Sutra-s but Cope said that given the religious atmosphere of India in the 2nd Century (wandering Buddhist monks), it would have been impossible for Patanjali not to have been influenced by Buddhist thought. Both the Sutra-s and Buddhism seek to uncover the roots of human suffering. When Buddha said that “second hand answers have no power to transform”, he was talking about direct insight into known experience, the known experience of sitting and watching the breath, watching the body in the body and the breath in the breath.