Sunday, March 13, 2011

Vitarka to Ānanda, via Vicāra

If a famous urban legend is to be believed, there is at least one lady somewhere who believes that the earth is resting on the back of a turtle. Apparently, someone tried to point out the logical fallacy in her belief and asked her what does that turtle stand on? She was taken aback a little. She thought for sometime and said that the turtle is standing on another one and there are turtles all the way down! This is the classic example of the inability to make simple rational arguments. But, this can be easily solved with simple training in rational arguments. This ability to make rational arguments is called vitarka in Yoga.

Conventional schooling these days, one may argue, gives reasonable training to make rational arguments. But, sadly, it takes away the ability for the next step, vicāra. This is a subtle level of arguing that needs personal evolution and not just grey matter in the brain. This requires subtle watching of oneself. It requires the ability to identify ones own personal agendas, personal beliefs etc that bias oneself in the quest for truth. Even if there is a single bias, the truth will elude the individual. This is a tough shift to make for most people.

Modern education training, teaches people to laugh at many ancient spiritual truths and thats exactly what prevents them from moving from vitarka to vicāra. True, nothing needs to be accepted without evidence. Modern education, not only teaches this but also biases the individual against ancient Yogic truths (through many subtle and not so subtle ways). Similarly, many religious fanatics constantly gloat over the greatness of their religions without ever realizing that the gloating comes because they associate themselves with their religion and hence their pride is essentially a pride about themselves and has nothing to do really with their stated facts. When an individual realizes these biases in the arguments they make and modify their stance by addressing these beliefs, the arguments made are called vicāra.

This vicāra is a most fantastic one. Once learned, this can be used to take oneself completely to the highest truth. But, it also requires tremendous determination and sincerity for the discovery of the truth. Most individuals identify themselves with a mind made sense of person which emerges from a collection of beliefs about who they are. In the process of vicāra, due to the passion of truth and the understanding that biases prevent dicsovery of truth, the individual starts removing the beliefs from hi(m|r)self one by one. This is the most fantastic process of spiritual awakening. The buddha said, like the log floating in the river, neither get stagnated on either bank, neither sink but reach the sea of nirvana. Similarly, flow on the river of vicāra and reach ānanda. The ego is a stone tied to the log, if its heavy, the flow will be affected and the destination may not be reached. If the stone is dropped, the flowing process will be smooth.

When all the beliefs are gone, only emptiness remains. This emptiness is the state of ānanda or total bliss. All suffering is a form of resistance to the truth. Since, all biases that prevent the flow of truth have been removed from the individual, the individual can never suffer anymore and hence the state of ananda is accessible to the individual. This process of vicāra, is at once most slippery and most simple. Until all beliefs have been totally abolished, the individual derives a sense of individuality from their beliefs and removal of the same will be painful and seems like madness. But, when the truth is desired sufficiently strongly, the individual will find the motivation to do the same. They can also be inspired by well motivated individuals who have been on this path before. But, the good thing about this is that one need not manually remove every single belief. The individual built over the mind made beliefs are structures ultimately and hence, removal of one or two key beliefs can lead to a collapse of the entire system pretty fast.

Remove they key stick, and the structure collapses instantly!

Yoga calls this state of deriving ones sense of individuality through these collection of beliefs as asmita. But, when one moves from vitarka to vicāra and holds on to vicāra firmly, asmita can be transcended and ānanda within may be discovered with ease! This, in my opinion, is a correct interpretation of Patanjali sutra 17 in the first chapter
vitarka vicāra ānanda asmitārūpa anugamāt samprajñātaḥ

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