TTY 2016: nondual yogic practice

Nondual yogic practice: the yoga of awareness

You should be ceaselessly engaged in the pursuit of this gentle inquiry: Who am I? What is this universe? It is this true inquiry alone that that generates knowledge. — Yogavasistha

This week we will be exploring medieval Indian texts and traditions that describe yoga primarily in terms of our experiential awareness. In them, yoga is a prolonged examination of the very nature of human consciousness. These nondual traditions prescribe yogic practices that can radically expand our understanding of who and what we truly are.

We will begin with the Yogavasistha, a text that is difficult to date but was probably composed in several stages between the 8th and 13th centuries. In this text the sage Vasistha answers the questions of and offers teachings to young Lord Rama. Vasistha tells a series of intricately nested stories interspersed with teachings on the nature of consciousness, ultimately laying out a seven-fold yogic path.

On Wednesday we will turn our attention to the Pratyabhijnahrdayam, an 11th century text that describes both cosmic creation and individual embodiment in 20 extremely terse sutras. This is an extremely subtle and philosophically elegant text. We will focus Sutra 5, which describes the relationship between supreme Consciousness (represented in this tradition by the goddess Citi) and the individual mind. We will also briefly examine the yogic path that can take the yogi from the ordinary experience of limited mind back toward that infinite awareness.

Just as the most challenging physical poses can take a lifetime of practice to actually achieve, these subtle inner postures of awareness are virtually impossible to attain when first encountered. Your thoughtful attention to doing the readings and practices for as many days as possible BEFORE class will help us all to get a glimpse of what these complex and elegant teachings are pointing toward. AND we will learn a lot more and have a lot more fun doing so!

Assignment for Monday (13 pages): Please read the following two short excerpts from the Yogavasistha. The story of the hundred Rudra: Read the story several times, and make sure you follow the thread of how this one being becomes many different beings. Remember that Rudra is one of the gods of the Vedas, who later becomes Shiva in the Indian religious imagination. Jiva is a Sanskrit term for individual soul, much like atman. Does the story of the hundred Rudra remind you of any of the teachings from the Bhagavad Gita? What does it say about the relationship between the individual soul and God/cosmic consciousness? Vasistha’s seven-fold yoga: Notice the parallels that the author Chris Chapple describes between the Bhagavad Gita and the Yogavasistha. As you read Vasistha’s teachings on the seven-fold yogic path, try making a list of the actual practices that he describes. If you were practicing this form of yoga, how would you actually DO your yoga?  Choose one or two practices and experiment with them. Please bring your list of yogic practices to class. Be prepared to share your list AND your experience of practice.

Assignment for Wednesday (15 pages): Please read Swami Shantananda’s commentary on Sutra 5 of the Pratyabhijnahrdayam. Try experimenting with the fundamental teaching of this sutra: our mind takes the form of the object of perception. Notice how your awareness “zooms in”, much like a camera lens, on whatever you are perceiving or thinking about. To what degree do you carry certain thoughts/memories/feelings/attitudes into every aspect of your own daily life? Are there certain things that your mind “zooms in” on over and over again? How does this affect your experience/dream of the present moment? Make a list of the thoughts/memories/feelings/attitudes that strongly color your experience. As they arise, experiment with Swami Shantananda’s practice (described on page 123) of thinking: This is a temporary configuration of Consciousness. Take notes on your experience of this practice and come to class prepared to share what you have learned.

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