Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Middle of the night conversations

My wife was concerned about death and its consequences for a husband-wife couple yesterday. She was wondering who it would be better to die first - husband or wife! After a few more musings on the same, she was wide awake and a tad concerned about death. I was a bit sleepy when the discussion started, but as all husbands know far too well, I too know that it is not a good idea to doze off when better half is keen on talking about something! We both got up and started exploring her concerns.

Initially I was not sure how to further this exploration. I was asking a few vague questions and it was not going anywhere. She started loosing interest in the conversation. Then, all of a sudden, I remembered a meditation practice I had devised for myself and given to a few of my students a few years ago. I suggested the same to her too. The details of the same and the discussion that ensued is given below.

I asked her to sit silently, close her eyes and replay her life in front of her eyes. First she was told to take herself back to her earliest memory of herself. From there on, we moved to her schooling days - junior / middle & senior schooling days, college days, days at infosys our engagement, wedding and so on. It took her a few minutes. Then I posed her a question - 'what are the reasons for her joining Infosys?'. First few answers were obvious - she attended and cleared the interview, Infosys came for campus interview to her college, she studying in the college she studied etc. Gradually the web of causality expanded. It included her decision to take this course in this college, her parents decision to shift her to a different school in class 11, IT boom in India in the first decade of the 21st century and on and on and on.

Next, we explored the causes for all other things in her life - her height, IQ, attitude towards work / life / money, curly hair etc. Genetic and psychological characteristics of her parents then came into the causal web. The apartment complex where she grew up and her socio-economic background came in next. The list went on and on. It was obvious to her that the web of causality for all of these things extends far beyond in the past than what we can see at this point. More importantly, she had been flowing along with this current of flow of events. Specifically, the web of causality decided her characteristics and they were not consciously chosen. After a few stuttering moments, she was able to observe this whole flow of the web of causality and how she has been having many characteristics not out of perfect free choice. It has literally created her, except for a few minimal conscious choices. That was a aha moment!

I then said this ability to observe and willingly taking responsibility for every possible characteristic is the experience that is communicated by the very first yoga sutra

अथ योगानुशासनम् ॥१॥
atha yoga-anuśāsanam - ||1.1||
Now begins the experience of Yoga

I continued that this does not mean she can immediately change every characteristic. It just means she is now aware that seemingly arbitrary events had created her and now by being aware she has a shot at making conscious choices in some if not most of these characteristics. She was quite hooked on to what I was saying and not willing to go sleep any time soon. Normally, if I talk about any such thing she will have sheepish grin on her face within 5 minutes as I would have completely lost her. But not today! We then moved on.

I then told her that over the course of these years that she observed, things have constantly been changing. Her body in particular easily gives away the fact that things have been changing.

She nodded in rapt attention.

The next question begged itself. So, what has not changed? She had no idea. Everything seems to have changed, she said. "Compare yourself today with yourself when you were in class 9", I said.

Everything has changed, she said. My thinking process has completely changed, she said. She felt she used to look at the whole world completely different then.

Exactly I said. You know that. You know now you have changed. So, what has not changed between the two?

Hmmmm.. I do not know. I am very confused!

Can you observe that you are confused?

Do you want me to find a solution for the confusion? I do not know how to think about it.

No. Just observe that you are confused. It is instantaneous.

Hm... A gentle smile. Then, she proceeded. But, as I observe, what I wanted to observe seems to runaway. I am not able to observe it then.

Haha. Yeah. That is its nature. It is like a classroom of young kids in schools these days. The class will be very noisy, but the moment the teacher arrives, without the teacher doing or saying anything the class settles down. Likewise, as the observer arises, the observed settles down and does not make much noise.

Hmm.. Yes. Some clarity on face.

May be is it the observer? You can observe that you have changed. But, what about the observer, has it changed? 

Of course, she said. Everything has changed.

Really? I paused. Then, I said, if something has changed in the observer, then who knows that?

Suddenly her face brightened up. She sat silently, with an erect spine, closed her eyes and nodded in agreement. She then asked me to play the song extraordinaire 'Keshavaya namaha' by Bombay Jayashree, which was there in my mobile. Then she said, yes, the observer has not changed and cannot change. But, I am not able to maintain that and I slide down from there in a second and am back to the normal world.

Yes, exactly. That is why you practice yoga. Due to the causal web we saw just now, each of us has a different amalgam of gunas and have to choose the appropriate practice to discover and stay with that observer. Over many years of having these gunas blindly and their interaction with the world has left in us certain residues (mental dispositions / biases / our image about ourselves / cravings / fears). The region in the mind where these residues are to be found is called the 'citta'. These residues affect us all the time - in how we see the world, how we relate to different individuals,our choices etc, and this impact on us is referred to as their fluctuations or 'citta vrtti'. These internal disturbances preclude our being with the observer. Patanjali defines Yoga to be the cessation of these disturbances within that prevent us from being with the Observer.

योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः ॥२॥
yogaś-citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ ||1.2||
Yoga is the cessation of internal disturbances

We can choose to be with the observer or the observed. But, because of citta vrtti, it is difficult to maintain that for all but few moments. But by regular appropriate practice for a long period of time, one can cultivate the ability to be with the observer always. Patanjali says,

स तु दीर्घकाल नैरन्तर्य सत्कारादरासेवितो दृढभूमिः ॥१४॥
sa tu dīrghakāla nairantarya satkāra-ādara-āsevito dṛḍhabhūmiḥ ||1.14||
Correct practice done over long period of time in an interrupted manner is necessary.

अभ्यासवैराग्याभ्यां तन्निरोधः ॥१२॥
abhyāsa-vairāgya-ābhyāṁ tan-nirodhaḥ ||1.12||
Practice and dispassion are neccessary to attain state of Yoga.

Going back to your original question about who will die, it is the observed that was born, that grows and that dies. The observer remains all the time. It is a choice we make on how much we will be with the observer and how much we will be with the observed. The observer only sees and the observed only acts.

द्रष्टा दृशिमात्रः शुद्धोऽपि प्रत्ययानुपश्यः ॥२०॥
draṣṭā dṛśimātraḥ śuddho-'pi pratyaya-anupaśyaḥ ||2.20||
Observer can only observe but is directed by the deeper mind.

The more we are with the observer, the more we can observe things around us. If that space becomes natural within us then, dharmam, gnanam, aishwaryam and vairagyam become natural. We would have freedom to choose things. We may not work day and night for money. Simplicity becomes natural as that builds inner and outer potential to rest with the observer at all times. We will not trash the world like how we are all doing. For some people these things are spontaneous but the rest have to work with sincerity and courage.

श्रद्धावीर्यस्मृति समाधिप्रज्ञापूर्वक इतरेषाम् ॥२०॥
śraddhā-vīrya-smṛti samādhi-prajñā-pūrvaka itareṣām ||1.20||
Sincerity, potency and memory of past mistakes and goal are most important for all practitioners.

Traditionally, in India, each individual is trained / allowed to explore each of the above 4 characteristics and choose how they want to explore for themselves. I for example, have some minimal non-zero interest in aishwaryam but more keen on the other three aspects. This is neither good nor bad. This is just my tendency. Someone else may want to focus more on aishwaryam. This is their tendency and neither that is good or bad. But, in todays world, everyone is forced to worry about aishwaryam, irrespective of their tendencies. Naturally, other things like Dharmam, Gnanam etc are weakened and therein sowing the seed for discord and conflict in the country. But, if a majority continue to try to be with the observer, then this can be noticed and corrective measures can be taken.

She said with a smile, "After long time, I have understood what you have said!" :)


I further said that, anything that changes is not part of the observer as someone can observe it changing. For this change to happen, the observed has to be in time. Time then is measured in terms of change. This implies that the observer which is changeless is free of time.

The observed though keeps changing forever. Not just that, these changes are of a cyclical nature. Old patterns keep playing out forever like a faulty gramophone. But, amidst all of that is the observer that never changes and is free of all these cycles. Ability to invoke that at any time is an indication of ones depth of practice and its arrival is reflected by inner stillness. This unmoving unchanging inner centre is referred to classically as ishwara.

क्लेश कर्म विपाकाशयैःपरामृष्टः पुरुषविशेष ईश्वरः ॥२४॥
kleśa karma vipāka-āśayaiḥ-aparāmṛṣṭaḥ puruṣa-viśeṣa īśvaraḥ ||1.24||
Ishavara is the centre that is free of change and time and therein is neither afflicted by impurities nor is affected by consequences of action.

I started to expand more about the observer. She let out a stifled yawn. Again as any husband knows, one should not talk when madam is not ready. Conversation ended right there and the land of nod invited us!

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