Saturday, September 18, 2010

"Awakening To Prana" by Chip Hartranft (Conclusion)

The final part of Chip’s essay begins with the section entitled “Bhavana: To develop and ‘make much of.’” In fact, it is helpful and important to remember that the word most used by the Buddha for the mental cultivation of meditation was indeed bhavana. As Georg Feurstein points out in his ‘ten fundamental principles’ of the Yoga Tradition, the practice is yoga is all about process. I think even those traditions that emphasize “sudden awakening” do so with an implicit awareness that such sudden awakening occurs after some time of practicing. In Zen, the Korean master Chinul, as well as others, speak of ‘sudden awakening; gradual cultivation.’ This refers to the fact that after the sudden awakening into our true nature, there is a gradual cultivation of that insight, or as Chinul said: “It is not enough to be enlightened; one must live an enlightened life.”

In the sections “Right Effort” and “Gathering Energy,” Chip argues against what is perhaps the most common process in meditation when he suggests that “most yogis benefit from feeling a larger field of awareness and observing” rather then beginning with a “more specified field right from the start.” Frankly, that has not been my experience. Most of my students have a hard time with non-specific awareness and seem to benefit most from first developing what the Japanese tradition calls joriki – a kind of physic energy that allows for the sustaining of awareness which enables them to observe ever-changing field of mind-body experience without getting caught or swept away in them.

However, I do think the points he makes in the section “Within and Without” are valuable to contemplate. For example, I have had many students who found “listening meditation” more accessible than breath awareness or even mindfulness of sensation. Further, Chip argues that the idea that the Buddha meant “in somebody else” when instructing the yogi to be mindful of the body…within, without, or both is “improbable.” I personally do not make much of this, but I also agree – as Chip also notes – that the commentarial tradition that says “external” does refer to others is indeed of great value! Just think of how often you sense the emotion and energetic state of those who you are close to. Such sensitivity is a boon for the cultivation of right action.

In the section entitled “No ‘There’ There,” Chip draws the parallel between the vision of dharma-megha-samadhi mentioned by Patanjali towards the end of the Yoga-Sutra, and the vision of the dhammas arising and passing away. It is this understanding that all phenomena are not ‘things’ at all, but momentary conditions of energy in constant flux that leads to what the Buddha called the liberation of ‘letting go.’ As Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, we should not think of this as a letting go of reality, but rather letting go of our wrong perceptions and misconceived notions about reality! Letting go means relinquishing all that keeps us (falsely) separated from reality as it is. All boundaries between ‘us’ and the ultimate reality, between us and others is seen as not real. However, for Patanjali, having reified awareness as a Purusha, offers a letting go of one reality (that of the material universe) to abide in another reality (pure spirit or pure awareness). I think this philosophical difference is one that should not be white-washed nor ignored.

Finally, Chip points out how Patanjali would most likely not recognize much (if any!) of what goes on in the typical contemporary hatha-yoga class as yoga! The deep states of concentration he spends most of his time on in the Yoga-Sutra, are by definition impossible to attain while in Downward Facing Dog! So Chip asks if we’re really doing Yoga while on the mat and he says “yes.” I say, “maybe” or at best “it’s possible.” As he points out, if one takes the appropriate mental stance to one’s experience while on the mat (that is to say, if one is practicing and cultivation mindfulness) in such a way that our mind-body conditioning is revealed so that we grow in insight and equanimity, and more toward the stillness of sitting, then one is ‘doing Yoga.’ As I often point out to my students, while practicing “Tree” for instance, if you are cultivating stability and ease mentally, even if continuously falling ‘out of the pose,’ they you are ‘doing Yoga,’ but if you are struggling, and getting caught in irritation or frustration, they you’re just standing on one leg! And apparently not even doing a good job of it!  :-)

frank jude


  1. Hey Frank,
    I think this blog is great. Biggest challenge is remembering to practice first thing in morning. However I do prefer starting my day with the smiling waking up gatha, feels very positive and productive. What do you do, as in your case, when you wake up with a beautiful woman lying next to you. The smiling part works. But I would forget the gatha.
    The blog has a lot to digest, it represents a lot of work on your part but a huge demand on us if we are going to take the time to really understand.
    I always have to read this zen/yoga stuff a bunch of times before I'm comfortable that I am starting to get it. That's another aspect that challenges is the time it takes to study/practice.
    The discussion on "are we really doing yoga?" is fantastic. Kinda like skp jois said something like "without correct breathing it is just weird gymnastics" xo pw

  2. Hey Peter, thanks for sharing your comments.

    I agree! Again, that's why it's helpful to recall that the word we translate as 'mindfulness' more literally means 'remembering!' Much of our practice to be more awake in life is simply (not easy, but simply) to remember to remember!

    Waking up to a beautiful woman, and not also a beautiful new baby, I may indeed forget the gatha. But, if I remember that I've forgotten -- no matter how much later in the day -- then I do it then! Simple! It's a form of 'beginning anew!'

    But generally, I can say I remember much more than I forget. Somedays, if our schedule is such that we awake and get out of bed at the same time, we say it together. Monica is, in truth, my most intimate sangha!

    As for having to re-read this stuff -- yeah! As I mentioned to Sara in a previous post, in fact I have found that as my understanding changes, and my practice matures, when I re-read a book I find that it is NOT the same book! I've changed, so it too has 'changed.' In fact, I underline my books, and sometimes I fine when I re-read that I am underlining completely different passages then the first time, sometimes wondering how I could have missed the importance of these lines I now find so relevant!


  3. I have heard somewhere that yoga asanas were intended to improve physical stamina and remove blockages of energy flow in preparation for sitting meditation, but aren't and end in themselves. Has anyone else heard this?

  4. "Much of our practice to be more awake in life is simply (not easy, but simply) to remember to remember!"

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Frank. I am going to (try to) etch this statement on my brain. I believe it was very early on in the blog that you first stated the connection between mindfulness and remembering. And it just struck me so strongly: To remember to remember to be present . . . .Of course!

    If I could just remember TO DO that each minute, or even 5-10 minutes at a time, in the day. But that is the beauty of the practice ... at least as I think I am beginning to see: Everytime I remember that I am NOT doing it -- i.e., everytime I remember that I have FORGOTTEN -- at that moment I AM doing it. And I can reset my intention to be present anew. And the more often I do that, the more often, and perhaps longer, I will remember to remember to be present (or open or compassionate or whatever).

    The connection of being present and remembering is really helping me personally. For the last year especially, I have felt that my short-term memory is slipping (well, sometimes, careening) away. Initially, I found it very scary, and sometimes I get so upset with myself when I forget things. Or I will tell myself: why even bother? I am not going to remember it anyway. It's like my brain is deteriorating and there is nothing I can do about it.

    It occurs to me that perhaps this is a story I have been telling myself (over and over), not my reality at all, but, as you reference Thich Nhat Hanh above, a wrong perception, a misconceived notion for me to let go. So that I might turn my attention (focus) to the practice of mindfulness, mindful that it is a process and that I am ever-changing in it. AND that if I do forget, it's not the end of the world, but instead another opportunity for me to remember to remember.

  5. You're the dopest MC brother. Don't forget it. If you do, remember. Thanks for your efforts to spread AWAKE.

  6. Thanks, Philly. Great to 'see' you here! And brother, YOU rock!

    Mary, you've hit upon an important realization: when the mind has wandered, there's nothing you can do about it because awareness is not there, so there's no need to feel frustrated afterwards. THEN, when you HAVE noticed the mind has wandered, there's nothing really to do -- certainly not fall into self-criticsim as now there is mindfulness!

    As you note, in the very moment you see the mind's distraction, you are awake!

    Matt, indeed from the earliest centuries of hatha-yoga, the postures were seen as a physical technique to prepare the body for kundalini/shakti awakening. It helps to recall that hatha comes out of the Tantra movement. The idea was to create an adamantine body (sometimes called a rainbow body or diamond body). It was all about the energetics of the nadis and chakras.

    AND, from the beginning warnings were made that if you made the asanas into an end in themselves they could become obstacles to awakening or liberation as then one could develop greater attachment and identification with the body as 'self.' We see this as perhaps pride in achieving a 'difficult' posture or despair in not having a body able to do the more contorted postures etc.

    An early text warned: Posture practice outside meditation practice is an hindrance to liberation.

    Good advice then; good advice now!

  7. Hey Frank Congratulations on the new baby

    'Formlessness becomes form'

    On your most recent post:

    Further, Chip argues that the idea that the Buddha meant “in somebody else” when instructing the yogi to be mindful of the body…within, without, or both is “improbable.” I personally do not make much of this, but I also agree – as Chip also notes – that the commentarial tradition that says “external” does refer to others is indeed of great value!

    For me this awareness 'both internally and externally' is soooooo important, it's invaluable. Surely this is inter being. Not only do we share physical space we share psychic space. I haven't read any suttas on dependant origination but I imagine this is in the same vein as Thich Nhat Hanh's 'Interbeing' that we are all metaphorically like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle ( without such defined boundaries of course) that we are created by the pieces around us and also 'by definition' 'create' the pieces around us, there is no separation. This awareness of no separation is fundamental to a sustainable environmental awareness, think local act global.

    How could we possibly be aware of what's happening in someone else without being aware of being aware of that???? It's happening in us!

    'All boundaries between ‘us’ and the ultimate reality, between us and others is seen as not real'

    Gregory Kramer's 'Insight Dialogue' points directly to the importance of this through the practise of interpersonal meditation. We practise meditation in pairs or groups, orientated by practise guidelines (if you are interested see the website of the Metta Foundation) This practise allows one to experience the subtle vibratory fields that we share with other human beings, how sensitive we are, that even the flicker of another persons eye creates ripples of sensation in the perceivers body. In this practise one has the opportunity to experience the truth of 'internally/externally' directly, no boundaries, and so recognise ones capacity for equanimity and inclusivity (Metta) This is not abstract theory, this is transferable to the everyday world of interrelationship and as such is such a resource for living well.

    Even when we are on our cushions meditation alone, there are temperature, sensations of contact, sounds, emotions and thoughts arising and passing away. We are NEVER just internal nor separate.

    and Mary....

    Yes, this re-membering is so important, this coming back to the present and also as I have been learning from listening to Stephen Batchelor and from engaging in discussion with Frank on this blog it's also useful to ask 'How am I remembering? What is my orientation?' Can I remember that I've forgotten with compassion, kindness, trust and patience. The forgetfulness is teaching me to remember, can I be grateful for this too...

  8. Rosalie,

    Thank you, for your words to me here and your comments throughout the blog in general. Yes, the HOW, the orientation is crucial. Sometimes I remember that I have forgotten AND that I have done so withOUT compassion, so that I am remembering two things at once, a double dose of mindfulness!

    Seriously, I am touched by your words. I had not consciously thought that "the forgetfulness is teaching me to remember," but, you know, so often in my life EXACTLY that pattern has occurred: the process or characteristic that I am seeking to change, or chastising myself for, turns out to be precisely what I needed all along to learn what I needed to know or do. Of course, it is only afterward, sometimes long afterward, that I become aware of it.

    Like seeking to become more patient: Oh, lordy, how the universe bombarded me then with people, places and things that would just GET MY GOAT! Until I remembered what I had asked for, and then I just had to laugh. And, yes, "be grateful for this," too.


  9. Hey Mary

    Yes the universe is a great listener and with a sense of humour too!!!!

    Have you come across Sue Bender's book 'Everyday Sacred'. Your words reminded me of it. It's a beautiful book with Sue's reflections on life, the universe and everything. It's written very directly and simply and I have found it so inspiring for contemplation.

    I tell you my heart sings with gratitude often these days and I am so grateful for that too. Gosh I have had to descend some valleys and climb some mountains!!! These experiences, particularly the tough ones have helped me to cultivate the strength to be with my experience, to strengthen the 'holding' potential of awareness. In one of Jack Kornfield's books he has a chapter called 'Turning Straw into Gold', there is much of this in my life. As you say impatience is the soil in which patience can grow.

    With a grateful bow to you


  10. Rosie and Mary,

    Wonderful dialogue on this topic. Not much to say but would like to share this anecdote. I was invited to lecture on Buddhism and mindfulness for an Interfaith Seminary, and I had talked about just this, that the path IS everyday life. That what at first seem to be obstacles or even 'failures' are really the step stones of the path. I shared that my teacher had once given me the practice of looking at everyone I met over the course of a week as being a fully enlightened Buddha offering me a lesson. That cocky, slow cashier at the checkout counter? A Buddha, teaching me patience. That guy that just cut ahead of me on line at the bank? A fully enlightened Buddha teaching me equanimity and selflessness etc.

    Afterward, a Catholic priest who had attended the lecture said it was similar to what he tells his congregation: "Pray to God for patience, and he will put you on the slowest line at the bank."

    Thank you both for your practice!