The Body As Ob­ject Of Mind­ful Ob­ser­va­tion

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - AN EPIPHANY OF IDEAS - Navtej Jo­har

Mind­fully see­ing or wit­ness­ing with the in­ner-eye is in­te­gral to the em­bod­ied prac­tices that have emerged in the sub­con­ti­nent over the last 2,500 years.

The Bud­dha rev­o­lu­tionises the idea of spir­i­tual prac­tice by propos­ing “mind­ful see­ing” as a mode of en­light­en­ment. Af­ter six long years of ar­du­ous self-mor­ti­fy­ing prac­tices, he re­alises that: 1) Depriv­ing or ar­rest­ing move­ment of the body does not in fact ar­rest the com­pul­sive flux of the mind; and 2) Spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence is a pleas­ant one, im­bued with sukha and priti. He pro­poses vipas­sana, a method of ob­serv­ing in­vol­un­tary move­ments on the screen of the mind, but in a man­ner that is “spe­cial” – de­tached, un­en­gaged, and non-judge­men­tal, as though wit­ness­ing from one-re­moved.

Draw­ing heav­ily from the Bud­dhist canon, Patan­jali, a few cen­turies later, of­fers the model of ab­hyasa with vaira- gya – lit­er­ally mean­ing, “prac­tice with de­tach­ment” – in the Yoga Su­tras. The aim is to dis­able com­pul­sive turn­ings of the mind so the “in­ner-seer” may re­gain its orig­i­nal and au­tonomous con­di­tion within, un­per­turbed, un­en­gaged and un­coloured by fluc­tu­at­ing ten­den­cies of the mind. And to this pur­pose he in­cludes within his model the prac­tice of pranayama, the tem­per­ing plus ob­serv­ing of the breath as though it was that of an­other, see­ing from the po­si­tion of a pari-dr­ish­tau.

It may in­ter­est prac­ti­tion­ers of (hatha) yoga asana, in­tensely pre­oc­cu­pied with the body, to be in­tro­duced to an­other model pro­posed by a Kash­mir Shaiva text of the 8th cen­tury CE, the Shiva Su­tras, in which Va­sug­upta of­fers the body, shari­ram,as the ob­ject for de­tached-spec­tat­ing, or dr­ishyam.

The “body” here does not im­ply the body alone but en­com­passes all phe­nom­ena, the ob­jec­tive, per­cep­ti­ble world, that con­sti­tutes “our” vishwa. Swami Lak­sh­man­joo says, there are “two ways in which this su­tra is to be trans­lated. One, this whole ob­jec­tive world is his own self and two, his own body is an ob­ject.”

While the ob­ject of ob­ser­va­tion shifts from the mind, to breath, and fi­nally to the body in the Bud­dhist, Patan­jali, and Tantra tra­di­tions re­spec­tively, the idea of de­tached see­ing has re­mained com­mon and in­te­gral to all three. All three ob­jects are cat­e­gor­i­cally ma­te­rial and be­long to the phe­nomeno­log­i­cal, per­cep­ti­ble world. All re­quire a prac­tice of cul­ti­vat­ing a finely dis­cern­ing sen­si­tiv­ity in or­der to open up a breath­ing space be­tween the per­ceived ob­ject and the per­ceiv­ing sub­ject, even if they are maybe es­sen­tially the same! Yoga, by def­i­ni­tion, is the prac­tice of reign­ing in or dis­abling the pro­jec­tive ten­den­cies of per­cep­tion, re­sult­ing in, as the Shiva Su­tras say, vishwa samhara, or the de­struc­tion of our “per­ceived” uni­verses.

So­matic prac­tice in­cludes yoga and dance, in­spired by both the Yoga Su­tras as well as the sub­se­quent Shaiva model of sen­si­tively fa­cil­i­tat­ing and wit­ness­ing the body as it mind­fully ne­go­ti­ates the ex­ter­nal forces of den­sity, grav­ity, buoy­ancy, flu­id­ity, airi­ness, space and time, with the aim to let the body ex­er­cise and re­veal its sen­sory in­ten­tions, sub­tle forces and di­rec­tional pulls within the present mo­ment.

So­matic prac­tice is of both gen­tly ob­serv­ing as well as mov­ing au­then­ti­cally from the in­side; it does not sub­scribe to the more pop­u­lar “pu­rity” model of be­ing self-cor­rec­tional and per­fec­tion­ist in pur­suit of an ex­ter­nal ideal, even if spir­i­tual. It is the prac­tice of first sta­tion­ing “self-will” within the phys­i­cal body, and then mov­ing au­tonomously from “within” with sen­sory clar­ity, aware­ness, re­spect. This in turn is a re­sult of the sub­tle, self-ac­cept­ing, pleas­ant and sonorous ca­pac­i­ties of the in­ner-eye.

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