Sunday, June 26, 2011

Yogah Karmasu Kausalam

There is a famous zen story on the interactions between a zen master and samurai warrior, both of whom were expert archers. The zen master lived at the base of a mountain and the samurai warrior shows himself there one day and challenges him on who the better archer is. So, the zen master asks him to demonstrate his skill. The samurai warrior takes him up a mountain and from there, shows the zen master a far away tree down in the valley and tell hims,

"Can you see the third branch on the right side of tree. Follow this branch to the point where this branch forks into two. Can you see a tiny flower on the right fork?".

The zen master being a fairly old man had to squint his eye and finally spotted it. The samurai warrior then said that he can hit that flower and immediately took his bow out and hit the flower right in its middle. The zen master applauded the tremendous skill of the warriors.

"Your turn", said the warrior.

The master told him he will demonstrate his skill atop another mountain. So, after a few hours of trekking down this one and climbing up another one, they were at the spot where the master was to demonstrate his skill. From this mountain, there was a tiny rickety, almost ready to break, narrow bridge connecting the adjacent mountain. The zen master coolly walked on this bridge, stop right at the middle of it, completely unaffected by the huge fall into shark rocks below, and hit a flower on a similar far away tree. He then looked at the warrior and smiled gently.

As the zen master walked out of the bridge, the warrior had no option but to surrender for he quickly realized that all his skill would desert him the moment he stepped on that bridge.

While this story may seem far fetched to some of us, it actually is not. If not the literal situation, we face many situations like the samurai warrior where all our skills desert us. Imagine an interaction between a teacher and a student where the teacher, who is well informed and evolved to a certain extent but not perfected, is using some sharp language to correct a students mistake. If we imagine that this circumstance being played out in some far away country, it is conceiveable that we may say that the student has a great chance to learn as he is only being corrected. Even if we do not agree with this precise statement, we may have a fairly clear idea about what correct action would be at that point. But, if the student were ones close friend or a sibling, immediately the version of correct action we have in mind changes such that we take the side of the student. If the student is someone we do not like, we may side with the teacher. If we work in the same school and like both of them, we would want them to resolve the issue.

Taking the example further, if we were the student ourselves, we may react in so many unpredictable ways. Its always easy to imagine the situaion outside and come up with our best response. But, when we ourselves are caught in the situation, so many of our unconscious parts start trembling within. We rarely even pause to reflect and discover the right action that we are capable of. If we are in the situation and if the teacher is someone we like, we react differently. But, if the teacher is someone whom we do not like, it is an altogether different response.
But, in all these situations, there is the witnessing faculty alive in us at all times. In exactly the same situation, in some circumstances we are able to precisely come up with what according to oneself is the right action and in some other circumstances our own perception of right action is distorted. Further, if ouselves are in the situation, we have no clue what right action is. But, in all these situations, the witnessing faculty of ours, that can witness the situation as it is, is alive. If we can regularly get in touch with this witnessing faculty of ours, we can get in touch with that part of us which can guide us and tell us what the right action is. This right action is not what is right according to the Buddha or Krishna. It is what the innermost being tells us. Following this is indeed skillful action. This is the meaning of the title of this essay, 'Yogah Karmasu Kausalam' - 'Yoga is dexterity in action' ( a quote from The Gita). But, to follow this ones witnessing faculty needs to be very active in every situation.

If we are at all convinced of this, then we will constantly try to discover the witnessing faculty in us in every situation. If a sincere effort is made in this direction, one will easily discover that awareness is this witnessing faculty. We may also see that most times we respond in a way that is anything other than the most skillfull action we are capable of, we are being biased by our past memory of pain or sufferring. When this bondage to past memory goes away, one may be free to act skillfully. Patanjali says,

smṛti-pariśuddhau svarūpa-śūnyevārtha-mātra-nirbhāsā nirvitarkā
When bondage to memory goes, one acts as if one is absent. This means that the image of oneself and that of others accumualted in memory does not interfere in ones action. If action is not free from bondage from memory, then the old patterns will keep playing out continously and the ever fresh nature of life will be missed out.

When our families, organizations we work at and society at large is infused with people who can act skillfully as described above, clearly, there will be less and less conflicts. Even if there is conflict, it will not be carried forward in time. In addition, there will clearly be a high efficiency in the work done. May we all recognize and continuously strive to act at our skillfull best in every situation in life!

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