Prashant Wisdom

Excerpt from a Lecture by Prashant Iyengar on the Occasion of Guruji’s 85th Birthday

 These lectures were given each evening for six consecutive days in December 2003 and were delivered as commentaries on the lecture/presentations of B.K.S. Iyengar in the morning sessions. 

In our asana we need to understand: What is the grosser form of it? What is the substantive form of it? What is the subtle form of it? Now, that subtle form is constituted by primordial matter, which is constituted by sattva/raja/tamo gunas. Because body is matter. Now the sattva/raja/tamo gunas will cost you, depending on what your purpose is in doing Trikonasana. Are you doing it for the back? Are you doing it for strengthening the legs? Are you doing it for the development of will? Or are you going to do it for meditation? Trikonasana can be a meditative pose. Our master [Guruji] would perform Trikonasana as a meditative pose, so that the purpose will be apavarga (emancipation, liberation). He will try to get something: some light, viveka, some discrimination, knowing also reality. Trikonasana is also a means to understand reality. Some reality will be revealed in Trikonasana by a master of it. So if the purpose is backache: a particular mode of Trikonasana. For knees or legs: a particular mode of Trikonasana. For cervical and neck problems and shoulders: a particular mode of Trikonasana

Now, but suppose somebody says, “I want to experience ‘Prayatna saithilya ananta samapat-ibhyaam,’ ‘Tatah dvandvah anabhighatah’” (Yoga Sutras II. 47, 48: “Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached. From then on, the sadhaka is undisturbed by dualities”). Then the purpose of Trikonasana is changed. So, the infrastructure will change. If the infrastructure is going to change, the foundational aspect is going to change; the superstructure is going to change. Therefore, how to do an asana depends on why you want to do it. How to do an asana, how to do pranayama, how to do anything depends upon why you are going to do it…

Why do you want to do Trikonasana? Do you want to do Trikonasana to know something or to attain something? Now when you want to attain something, are you attaining something on a mundane plane or a trans-mundane plane? Do you want to know Trikonasana on the mundane plane or the trans-mundane plane? According to the modus operandi it will be taking place. And that’s why this interpenetration comes. The sutra sthula svarupa sukshma anvaya arthavatva…” (Yoga Sutras III. 45: “By samyama on the elements—their mass, forms, subtlety, conjunction, and purposes—the yoga becomes Lord over them all”) has a big philosophy behind it, and it has a technology behind it. Because, suppose the gross external Trikonasana is going to work for your joints, then the underlying principles—svarupa (attributes of the elements), sukshma (subtlety), anvaya (interpenetration), arthavatva (purpose), samyama (restraint)—they will have a compatible mode. Because what is the purpose? The purpose is to work on the muscles, to work on the joints, to work on the body…

So that is how in our asana we have got to understand what track and what channel we are following. Accordingly, we will collect the components. Compatible components will be collected. On the physical plane, if I have to do Trikonasana for spondylitis, I cannot be collecting components of Trikonasana which are for athletes’ legs. The athlete has to work on the leg muscles in a particular way. So his purpose of Trikonasana is for what will develop the legs, while the cervical spondylitis patient has a purpose of curing his neck problem. When the purpose changes, the whole structure changes. The arthavatvam (purposefulness, fullness) is changing; that is the philosophy of action. Because our action is going to take place with the matter: bhutic (elemental) matter or indriya (sensory) matter. It is all prakrti. Bhutendriyatmakam. (Yoga Sutras II. 18: “The nature of the elements and the senses.”)

So that is how the asana needs to be structured. I think it has to be an integral practice. [In this morning’s lecture] Guruji beautifully related the klesas: avidya, asmita, raga, dvesa, abhinivesa. They will manifest because they are all the time in us. Avidya never goes to sleep. Even after death, it remains. That is the something that transmigrates. Our mind dies with the death. But the subtle body doesn’t die with it. The subtle body transmigrates. And those klesas are manifest in us on the plane of body, on the plane of mind, on the plane of intelligence, on the plane of the senses. Because they are all working on avidya. Avidya is the material cause for all manifestations in us. Avidya is the source. So there is avidya in skin, flesh, muscles, bones, tissues, cells, fibers, cavities, senses, awareness: everywhere. That’s the material cause. Like out of gold you can make anything: you can make ornaments, you can make vessels, you can make a blouse, you can make chips. It’s all gold, gold, gold, gold. So our body, mind, senses, everything is avidya, avidya, avidya, avidya, avidya.

Now how does it manifest in different actions, different aspects of the body? So Guruji was explaining what is avidya of one leg. Why one leg is in avidya and the other leg is not so much in avidya, perhaps. It is in asmita.

So somewhere there is raga, somewhere there is dvesa. Now if I keep you in a difficult contortion for a long time that you cannot bear, what happens? The mind develops aversion for you. You are exhibiting an asana, but the body develops aversion for you. “Why are you keeping me here so long? Why are you killing me?” So there is somewhere aversion. There is somewhere raga. So all those klesas manifest in different forms, different modes in every aspect of body and mind; every facet of mind, every aspect of the body: sapta dhatus (seven constituent elements of the body). All that management has to take place.

Transcription by Chris Beach, with Sanskrit assistance from Leslie Freyberg