Dharsanas Or Points of view
Lao Tzu in The Tao Te Ching (verse 2, part 1):
Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty,
Only because there is ugliness.
All can know good as good only because there is evil. Being and nonbeing produce each other.
The difficult is born in the easy.
Long is defined by short, the high by the low.
Before and after go along with each other.
In a similar train of thoughts, we may say that we only die because we were born. Most religions and ideologies see death not only as our inevitable fate, but as the main source of meaning in life. It is only through death that one may gain eternal life or suffer everlasting damnation. Without death, religions and philosophies would not make sense. Making sense of death gives meaning to life.
Eastern philosophical traditions have developed Dharsanas. Dharsana can be translated by philosophical systems/schools or points of view, based on the four Vedas. Each veda is divided into four categories, and the last category for each of them forms the Upanishads, whose main topic is existential: “Who Am I?” Uppa means near, ni is noun and shad is to sit. When a guru or teacher thinks that a disciple is ready, he calls him (ni), near (uppa), to sit (shad). So let’s sit together.
While western philosophical traditions as exemplified by Descartes, equate mind with the conscious self and theorise on consciousness on the basis of mind/body dualism, Samkhya and Yoga provide an alternate viewpoint by drawing a metaphysical line between consciousness and matter — where matter includes both body and mind. Because mind is matter, mental events are granted causal powers to initiate body actions.
Because abstract concepts are difficult to understand by the intellect, the philosophy of Vedanta uses practical illustrations, through stories called Nyayas. Its main support is that Brahman alone is absolute and real, the whole world is its divine manifestation, but it is unreal in the sense that it is impermanent. The individual soul or True Self is nothing but Brahman itself. Therefore Atman is real and also eternal (permanent):
Crystal and colour
Crystal is pure and colourless. Yet, when placed near a coloured object, it will reflect that colour.
Our true Self is clear and sharp, not coloured by the mind or our background, our childhood, our emotions, our experience. Like the crystal, Brahman/Atman does not have any attributes, it is absolute. But the reflection of the 3 qualities of manifested nature (gunas) , make it appear to have qualities.
Patanjali developed a practical system of concentration and control of the mind, for it is the mind which creates all illusions through our senses. It suggests that Purusha or Brahman, the supreme consciousness, is the cause of the creation. Our soul or Atman is this common divine identity that we share with Brahman, the absolute, the Self with a capital S. It is the realisation of this cosmic consciousness that constitutes real knowledge. Yoga is essentially a philosophy and a discipline based on experience, that allows us to reach this supreme consciousness, beyond the intellect, beyond our individual ego.
Consciousness is often compared to light which illuminates the material configurations or ‘shapes’ assumed by the mind, like the crystal absorbing colours. The intellect after receiving information from the mind and illumination from pure consciousness, creates thought structures that appear to be conscious. Then the ego appropriates these mental experiences to itself and transform them to suit its desires and fantasies. But consciousness is itself independent of the thought structures it illuminates. Patanjali’s philosophy is dualist: on one hand there is Prakriti (including the body/mind), on the other hand Purusha/Brahman, supreme consciousness, the divine dimension.
However, in the modern world, from the 18th century, new ideologies have developed and people lost interest in an afterlife reward. Liberalism and Socialism both value and promote immediate rewards in this life: “ Have your cake and eat it too,” with some variations on how many people might actually be able to do that. Both ideologies have been shaped by the belief that humans can outsmart and defeat death through science.
For scientists, death is not a divine decree – it is merely a technical problem. (Yuval Noah Harari, 2020)
This Israeli historian and philosopher is writing that scientists now believe that humans die not because God said so, but because of some technical fault, such as the heart stops pumping blood or Cancer that has destroyed the liver or viruses multiply in the lungs. These are generally pairing with more technical problems: the heart stops pumping blood because not enough oxygen reaches the heart muscle. Cancerous cells spread in the liver because of some chance genetic mutation. Viruses settled in my lungs because somebody sneezed next to me in a shop. Our present gurus now sit in committee like SAGE; although we are not quite sure who they are or what their advice really is. However, there is no space for metaphysics here.
It follows that Scientists therefore believe that every technical problem has a technical solution. Hence they might not have the solution to fix the problem yet; but they will do. The new belief is not about how to die gracefully and with meaning; but how to extend life as long as possible.
Esther Perel, in her article about “anticipatory grief and other new pandemic-related emotions,” points out that Covid-19 has left us with an unprecedented set of unfamiliar emotions. Most people live in a state of constant dread, even when we can see some positive outcomes from the quarantine: an opportunity to reflect and leave our busy-speedy life aside, the renewed importance of making more time for family and loved ones. Whatever the positive aspects of the situation, it is difficult to make abstraction of the “invisible” enemy.
Because of it, we have to adapt to an entirely new worldview while dreading the coming global crisis. Will they be a return to “normal” and what will this “normal” be? When will it happen anyway?
To conclude, cultivating detachment and equanimity, developing acceptance and dharma, as described in my previous articles, might not solve the technical issues; but at least it might allow us to be “well”. In my Course on “teaching `Yoga to people living with Cancer” one of the student had terminal cancer. We were taught Yoga Nidra, which includes a resolve, a sankalpa. It is a short statement that takes its seeds from our individual dharma. She said that for her it did not make sense to have a resolve such as “I am being healthy”; therefore she opted for “I am being well”. Truly I feel that this is the point: things might not be great technically; but we can still be “well” in ourselves. Besides developing our health equipment and train more nurses and doctors, maybe it would help to develop our spiritual capacity, whatever shape and form it might take.
In this confusing and surreal situation we are living in at the moment, we have no choice but to adapt to new ways of life and concepts such as “social distancing,” “reaching the peak,” or “flattening the curve,”. I feel that here is not much of a sense of direction as for what is going to happen, whether it is in the short or the long term. Nobody quite knows what the “new normal” is going to be like. However, in the mean time, “Let’s not count the days, let’s make the days count.”(anonymous)
• Yuval Noah Harari: Will Coronavirus change our attitudes to death? Quite the opposite, The guardian, Monday 20 April 2020
• Esther Perel: What is this feeling? Anticipatory grief and other new pandemic-related emotions
• Vishnu-Devananda: Meditation and mantras
• Sivananda Advanced Teacher training, Uttarkashi, India, Notes
Lao Tzu : The Tao Te Ching
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