Adventures in Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy and science of spirit. We are one you and I; are you curious why?..


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More Than Breath

Hari OM
Application - that is what 'Workings-days' are about!
The text under study is BHAJA GOVINDAM, song of despair of time-wasting, by Sri Adi Shankaraachaarya.

The penultimate shloka…
àa[ayam< àtyahar<
kuvRvxan< mhdvxanm!.30.
Praanaayaamam pratyaahaaram
Kurvavadhaanam mahadavadhaanam ||30||
The control of all the activities, the sense-withdrawal,
The reflection and enquiry into the permanent and impermanent,
Along with japa and practice of reaching the total inner silence -
These you perform with care; with great care!

The 'activities' referred to are the functions of the body, as contained within the praanayaama-kosha.  With this, the guru sets out a saadhana - a strict schedule of practice - for the ardent seeker of Truth.

In Vedanta there are five key bihr¼ saxna/bahiranga saadhanas or outer practices; study the Gita, worship the Lord, engage in satsang, exercise charity and eliminate all the attaching distractions with correct thinking. There are also the inner practices or ANtr¼ saxna/antaranga saadhanas; this shloka points to them. Control the functions of the body (praanaayaama), withdraw the senses (pratyaahaara), use your discrimination (viveka-vichaara), japa, and gain the cumulative effect of samaadhi.

Praanaayaama does not only pertain to control of breathing (for which it is most commonly known), but to all the functions of 'life'; the word praana actually means life and applies to all the needs of the body; perception and reception of things into subjective life (praana), rejection of things and responses (apaana), digestion (vyaana), the circulatory systems (samaana) and the power to lift ourselves, ejection if you will, (udaana). All these together constitute praanaayaama. On the physical level, there are some strong breathing exercises which help to regulate all these functions - and it is for this reason that it has become synonymous with respiration.

The physical controls are important, for they are the starting point. Hence they are given as the first step in the antaranga also - only when ground is properly tilled will it properly bear crops! The next step is to plough the field into organised furrows; thus we are asked to put a reign on the senses and focus on the inner being. Cutting away all distractions (weeds and stones of our spiritual field), only then can we address proper thinking to the matter of what is Real and what is not. Developing a discriminative intellect is a key part of Vedantic practice. Part of the path to this development is to utilise japa; a voice meditation with repetition of a mantra in which the mind must remain steady and unwavering. The level of concentration builds by its use and this intellect can then be properly applied to the study and questioning of the philosophical texts called the Upanishads in which are found logic and science as well as mysticism.

One who undertakes this kind of saadhana finds themselves ever more devoted to it, rather than the external world, and little by little they will raise themselves towards that Divine Goal of samaadhi - union with Self. It is not that samaadhi is a separate thing to be attained like everything else of the world. It is with us now, but like the 'lost key' or the 'misplaced spectacles', it is forgotten somehow. Correct saadhana will simply lift the veil of forgetfulness and we shall be restored to our lost Self.

This is not something which can be forcibly completed. One must cajole and wheedle and tease the mind along; there will be steps and plateaus as we attempt this path. There must not be haste, for it will surely result in waste. Take your time, complete each component fully before taking on the next. Become solid in resolve to rise from the mundane into the Divine. Do this carefully and at a pace which is right for you and, it is to be assured, samaadhi awaits. This is the offer and promise of the guru in this shloka.

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