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! :-)