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What holds and nourishes

2020 has been a different year, clouded by the Covid-19 pandemic. But then, eastern philosophy teaches us that this is a world of pariṇāmachange, fluidity and modification. And can easily be one of duḥkha: suffering and dissatisfaction.

There is a Buddhist story in which Kisa Gautami, a first time mother, sees the death of her one year child and becomes struck with grief and pain. Caring the dead body from house to house, she cries for a way to overcome death and revive the loved one. When taken to the Buddha, he advises that there is only one way to solve her issue: to find four or five houses in which no one has ever died. Believing that this method would actually resuscitate the child, she knocks in many houses, only to discover that death and pain are not personal, but common to all.  

This year can also be used to reflect on the Sanskrit concept of śraddhā. Commonly understood as faith, it could also be read as self empowerment or conviction. This faith we are talking here is not necessarily religious, but an attitude which holds and nourishes. In a very broad sense, it is the meaning you find to carry on in life.

Attitude is a good expression for it, as it brings some sense of fierceness. And attitude is one element that can help bring personal transformation. Just doing something like Yoga postures, or meditation, or praying, don’t necessarily bring about any actual transformation. But having it from the heart space, from the core of our self, from a conviction, can give the meaning that many times lack in our endeavours in life.

Here is where it gets difficult to teach  śraddhā. It’s something that comes from the depth of humans. “When there is śraddhā, the person is not disappointed in failing to get immediate benefits” says the Yoga teacher TKV Desikachar. Faith then is what informs the mind, and not the opposite. Modernity, with all it’s benefits, has also brought a crisis which is the necessity of outcome confirmation before taking action. Although it has helped us in many standards, sometimes life’s events are not as clear as a lab.

Even if we can’t teach conviction, we can for sure kindle it, like a fire. The company of good people, the reading of good information, the living of a lifestyle which is suitable, and the curbing of excessive desire (rāga) which diverts too much energy from the ideal path, can all help.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras I.20 says śraddhā-vīrya-smr̥ti samādhi-prajñā-pūrvaka itareṣām”. In order to achieve calmness and stability in our minds, it is necessary to kindle self empowerment and conviction. This faith will slowly develop into energy, creating a self sustainable loop. When used properly it will result in the creation and maintenance of good actions and thoughts, which will lead to clarity and wisdom.

As this year made many of our houses a self retreat place, it also evoked the importance of meditation. These practices gives us the prajñā (wisdom) that everything we hold in the mind (dhāraṇā dhyāna), we momentarily become (samādhi). The repetition of doubt, fear, and anxiety constricts the mind, creating an unpleasant existence. But in meditation we can kindle “an understanding. Something not based on your memories, something that transcends your memories”, says TKV Desikachar.And meditation is no different than everything else. It also needs the fire of śraddhā, of faith, to unfold. “When disturbances that take the mind everywhere but nowhere are contained, then the individual is like a high class diamond, with no blemishes”, says Yoga Acharya Krishnamacharya. For both Ayurveda and Yoga, a confused, disturbed mind, can’t distinguish right from wrong, or good from bad, therefore is the root cause of diseases.

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