Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ruminations on Self-Enquiry and Pranayama

I don't want to get too bogged down in theory here. It's kind of my weakness, by which I mean something I indulge in too easily. But there's a couple of comments from the last post that bring to mind a few simple matters.

One comment asks about the “afterglow” of this practice, and whether it continues. My experience in dabbling with self-enquiry over the last couple of years or so is that it does continue. In other words, there is something that “matures” in the process over time, and which leaves me in a deeper and more relaxed state. There's certainly fluctuations in my state, but in general, a clear trend towards a happier, more relaxed, and deeper sense of freedom.

For example, in relation to the breath, we could even talk about this going back many, many years. I first became directly aware of breath as “prana”, as an energy that circulates through the body via the breath, when I was just nineteen. I remember the very first time I ever felt it. I was working as a delivery driver in San Francisco, living in a Daist household, and someone mentioned to me before work that morning that there was a prediction of an earthquake for later that day. I kept thinking about that during my high speed travels around the Bay Area. I felt very intensely attuned to the possibility of death – particularly as I drove through the underside of the 880 freeway in Oakland, which did in fact collapse and kill dozens of people during the 1989 earthquake. I could imagine dying there, and the thought of death made me feel a deep sensitivity to this human condition of mortality. The deeper I felt into this, the more attuned my breath become to a certain kind of energy in the body, until it was clear that I was breathing more than just air, but “prana”, the life force which undergirds the physical, biological life of the body. It helped attune me to the reality that there is more to this life than the physical body, that there is a whole dimension of energy, particularly associated with the breath.

Over the years I began to feel the prana of the breath more and more often. Particularly when my feelings ran deep, I could feel this prana, and notice how it related to emotions and mind. I noticed how my negative emotions tended to obstruct this feeling, and even how constrictions and contraction of the body could render me unable to feel it. But over time, I felt it more and more often, to the point where now I feel it virtually all the time, whatever I'm doing. Of course, I still notice that sometimes I feel it more strongly and deeply than at other times. When I refer to self-enquiry strengthening the breath, I mean that it helps me feel this natural pranic energy of the breath more deeply and consistently. That seems to me to be one of the most obvious side-effects of practicing self-enquiry of late. My ability to feel the prana of the breath is way stronger than it has ever been, and as a consequence, my general state of mind and body and overall feeling is way stronger than it's ever been. As I say, it's not as if there are no fluctuations, but the general trend is all positive. It gives me a greater sense of positive emotion, love, general freedom and happiness that I've ever experienced. It's not that things are just honky dorry or anything, just more deeply human, more feelingly sensitive, and so forth.

This is of course something Ramana talked about frequently. He often mentioned that pranayama was one of the primary supports for the practice of self-enquiry. However, it's not as if I have ever intentionally practiced any formal pranayama in my life. There's a whole yogic literature about such things, and I've never really done any of it. I just breath and feel and relax, that's about it. It seems to work just find doing it this way. And self-enquiry seems to help also. They seem mutually supportive of one another. The more simple pranayama I do, the more it enables self-enquiry to be effective, and the more self-enquiry I do, the more effective is pranayama. We aren't talking about anything earth-shaking here, just very down home feeling and breathing. But it still makes for a very satisfying physical and emotional experience. And it does feel right and good and it grows over time, as I practice.

So what I mean when I say using this mantra of Papaji's “I am free” brings about a feeling of ease and release, I'm talking about something tangible in body and mind, something that does indeed grow over time. I mean, I can feel that every little bit of it helps me grow a little bit more, and feel a little bit more, and that this accumulates not like a pile of dog bones buried in the back yard, but as a deepened sense of release and freedom. It just feels that the more I do this, the deeper that release grows, bit by bit, and that none of it is really wasted or futile. Yes, sometimes it actually triggers a reaction in me, but even those reactions are simply part of a larger purification cycle. Sometimes those reaction cycles get acted out in life, in relation to other people. Sometimes I get distracted by them. But eventually, when the reactions have died back down into self-enquiry, I find myself feeling at least a little bit deeper as a result. I find the breath fuller and stronger, and the prana even more pervasive and enjoyable. And the love, all the more tangible. I'm lucky of course to have a wife who is sensitive to spiritual things, and who has a great capacity for love. And kids who are similarly inclined. And friends as well.

Now, the other thing someone brought up is the old saying “In maya there are no answers, in Brahman there are no questions”. Which is of course true, even of self-enquiry. Self-enquiry is not something that is done in Brahman, it is done in maya. The only answer to the question “Who am I?” is not found in the mind, in maya. It is found in Brahman. So it requires that we leap out of maya if we really want the answer. It requires that we leap out of the very mind that asks the question. This is not actually a paradox, or an impossibility, as maya is simply a superimposition on Brahman. In other words, even as we ask the question, we are already dwelling in Brahman. We are already free. We need not search for an answer. We need merely to pay attention to where we already are, to what and who we already are. There are of course no answers in Brahman, because Brahman is itself the answer. It is the “who” of “who am I?” So the practice of self-enquiry is something of a bridge to Brahman. But even that is misleading, because you can't build a bridge to a place you already are. It is really just a reminder, a way of drawing attention to the fact that we aren't in maya at all, that we are not who we think we are at all, that we are Brahman, that we are free. In that sense, it serves its purpose well, even in the form of a question. But the question is not itself the true form of self-enquiry. The mere turning of attention upon itself is the real form of self-enquiry. Noticing that we are aware, and noticing this with greater and greater depth, is all it really amounts to.

1 comment:

kang said...

Hi BY. I'm glad you're open to this little bit of conversation here. I was about to say that we are in agreement on what you wrote, but I'll modify that to say - in part.

It's all about clarification, isn't it? Specifically here about the character of maya and Brahman. Some apparent disagreements are only linguistic, but others may be substantive.

I don't know about this "turning attention upon itself." I'm inclined to say that phrase has no actual meaning. If attention becomes the object of attention, what has occurred? Can attention be its own object? What does attention look like?

The phrase Krishnamurti used (I know you may object to the source) was "The content of consciousness IS consciousness." Translating that to the present case, "The object of attention IS attention." Apart from its objects there is no such thing as attention, so attention cannot be its own object, or "turned upon itself." I'd consider that to be linguistic spaghetti.

Therefore, you are still in maya with such notions. Another indication of this is the use of relative terminology, such as "greater and greater depth."

From the old forum, it was sometimes said that maya is "measurement," so such relativisms are all maya, considered illusory or "manufactured knowledge" as opposed to Truth or absolute knowledge. An example of manufactured knowledge that always comes to my mind is when I have two sticks. I lay one against the other and say, "That stick is two sticks long." Essentially, this is all measurement/maya amounts to, and it is, classically, empty of meaning.

Brahman cannot actually be thought to have depth, being immeasurable (not maya), so certainly anything greater or less cannot refer to it. I might anticipate you saying "infinite depth," but infinite means not finite, immeasurable, and depth must imply some measure. Brahman has no dimensions.

Therefore, in general, when you speak in such terms as greater or lesser or deeper or all such comparative, relative qualities, it is not something that an enquirer after Brahman finds at all interesting. It is maya. There is no happiness in maya considering that all qualities are temporary, limited, and cyclical and in those respects are forever unsatisfactory and disappointing.