“Philosophy is not here to provide all the answers. What it can do however, which is more powerful, is ask the right questions.”
— Slavoj Žižek, philosopher, cultural critic at Institute for Sociology and Philosophy, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
We continue to life in the age of anxiety and of increasing complexity. The term “age of anxiety” was somewhat coined by W.H. Auden (1907-1973), an Anglo-American writer wrote a six-part poem in 1947. With the wide and instant access to information through smartphones and social media, tragic events such as terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and mass shootings in America invade our mind and consciousness at the speed of light.
As a long-term practitioner of Iyengar Yoga, it feels natural to seek solace and mental strength through practice for I have learned and experienced the cumulative benefits of integrating yoga philosophy in my asana practice and in my life. As an Iyengar teacher, it is also my dharma (duty) to introduce and continue to remind my students that our root master B.K.S. Iyengar’s practice and teaching have a rich and solid base of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Therefore, a short discussion on the importance of yoga philosophy in Iyengar Yoga is much needed; it will help us ask the right question.
Inward Journey of our Bhogika Mind
Through his teaching and writing, B.K.S. Iyengar reminds us that our asana & pranayama practice has a mean to an end, which is to develop the “yaugika mind” (yogic mind). The dualism between the “bhogika mind” (outgoing mind) and “yaugika mind (inward mind) in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is historically rooted in Samkhya philosophy. In Samkhya philosophy, the dualism is between purusa (the Seer/Soul) and prakrti (the Seen/Matter). This is also an expression of a duality between the physical body and the non-physical body. In the second chapter titled Sadhana Pada, Patanjali defines kaivalya (liberation) as to the destruction of avidya (ignorance) through right knowledge. It occurs when the link binding the Seer to the Seen, the non-physical to the physical, is absent, or removed, or broken.
Through our uninterrupted asana practice and studentship, our yaugika mind is extended, spread, and expanded through the science and art of Iyengar Yoga. Our body is the instrument with which our bhogika mind works to shed its thick layers from eons of karma (cause-effect) and saṃskāra (subliminal impressions).
Our vritti-s (fluctuations of consciousness) and klesa-s (afflictions) often manifest themselves when we practice yoga asanas. Let us take the example of someone who just begins how to balance in headstand. There is a fear of falling as the space unseen remains unknown and scary. Often with fear for the unknown our mind begins to fabricate confusion in the mind and our senses become unstable. In a standing pose called Uttanasana, we can learn how to develop a deeper connection with the back of the legs (which remains invisible to us) as the head is released downward. So many Iyengar Yoga techniques then allow us to obtain a firmess of the outer legs and awareness of the back of our legs to help with balancing in headstand. This progressive method of postural alignment in Iyengar Yoga is then a technology to cultivate “upeksha” or non-attachment, indifference toward fear and anxiety from a deliberate and dedicated practice of asana alone.
Through the in-depth practice of pranayama, our five senses of perception (jnanendriyas) are drawn inwards. In this sense, our bhogika mind refines itself inwards for knowledge and space as no asana or pranayama in Iyengar Yoga ought to be performed automatically and without deliberate action. This conditioning or de-conditioning of our bhogika mind is the beginning of framing the “right question” on our yoga path.
Framing the Right Question
What would a yaugika mind handle the onslaught of information and news? How would a yaugika mind manage time and create space in our outer and inner life?
What is the real problem and how can our yoga practice help answer calls for help?
In Bhagavad Gita, the central theme was Arjuna’s dilemma. The dilemma involves whether Arjuna, a young warrior prince of the Pandavas, should fight against his kinsmen, the Kauravas army which usurped his kingdom. He then turns to Krishna for guidance by basically asking the question whether such killing is morally and spiritually justified. Krishna urges Arjuna to act with a caveat:
“You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions.
Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.” (II.47)
Wait. Isn’t the question whether or not to kill? Aren’t we constantly being asked to do X or not to do X? To eat this or not to eat that? To choose and to be result-oriented?
Instead, Krishna points to Arjuna that the right question is not a simple choice whether or not to kill his enemy, but a much allegorical question on the inner conditioning of our mind and consciousness facing the challenges of the world.
In Yoga Sutras, Patanjali identifies nine timeless categories of obstacles and how each of them disturbs our consciousness and confuses the state of our mind. Patanjali then introduces the term: citta prasadana through the four heart chambers or four qualities: maitri (friendliness), karuna (compassion), mudita (joy) and upeksa (indifference) (I.33). B.K.S. Iyengar comments that this four qualities or attitudes help yoga practitioners cultivate a “graceful diffusion” in the “turbulent flow” of the world.
The concept of upeksa (see above) deserves a deeper look. It is akin to Krishna’s word to Arjuna on non-attachment. It also refers to another central tenet of Iyengar Yoga based on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: vairāgya, renunciation or detachment. Unlike the English translation of indifference, upeksa does not mean “I don’t care.” On the contrary, B.K.S.Iyengar comments that upeksa is a “mental attitude” for the ups and downs in life while remaining serene and pure. It is also a stabilizing aspect of the mind with one’s own power for liberation. It is to loosen our attachment to all the likes and dislikes, to be alive, alert and active without losing faith.
SIYS Philosophy Study Group meets every Thursdays from 5:50pm to 6:20pm.
Free. All levels are welcome.