The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit is a best-selling book which explains how habits are formed and how you can develop good habits. According to the book, habits have three components (1) a cue (2) a routine and (3) a reward. For example, a cue could be the time 3 pm, the routine would be to go and find something sweet to eat, and the reward would be the joy. If you want to change the habit, you have to realize these components. After that, you can change by keeping the same cue and reward, but by changing the routine. Thus instead of downing chocolates, you can go for a walk. (Read a detailed review of the book or listen to a podcast with the author)
When I read the book, it felt as if I had seen this elsewhere, with more depth. So I went back to Patanjali’s Yogasutras with commentary by Swami Vivekananda.
First, Swamiji talks about how habits are formed. Imagine a lake. Each action we take is like a pulsation over the lake. Once the pulsation dies out, what remains are the impressions of those pulsations. When a large number of these impressions are left on the mind, it becomes a habit and it becomes our nature. If some good impressions remain, then we become good and if some wicked impressions remain, we become wicked.
Swami then talks about how to change bad habits. While Duhigg talks about replacing the routine with a different one, Yogasutras talks about replacing a bad habit with a counter habit. The base habits which are deeply ingrained in our mind automatically kick in every situation. The only way to change the base impressions on the mind is by doing good things, thinking holy thoughts and various other yoga practices. These help overwrite the base impressions with new ones, thus transforming you at a deeper level.
This transformation does not happen over night; it requires long continued practice. For example, when you start skiing, you will fall down a lot. Do you give up because others are making fun of you or do you have enough internal power to continue? Do the opinion of others control you or do you have mastery over yourself? Do you have enough vairagyam?
The drawback of Duhigg’s method is that once the cue happens, it can be strong enough to over power the mind. If the waves are strong, then you will not even realize you have carried out the routine; It might hit as a regret later. Thus you need to intercept the waves even before they become a swell. That requires transformation at a subtle level, that the practices mentioned in the Yogasutras can help.

The Self-Validating, Self-Sustaining Transcendental System

The best way of knowing something is through direct experience. You watch a beautiful sunrise and you feel joy. There is nothing here that deludes the senses. Another way is through inference. Observing that there is a distortion caused by some invisible object in space, astronomers infer that there is a black hole nearby. Though this is not direct perception, this seems like a perfectly rational way.
There is another way of knowing which is experiential. For example, yogis perceive certain truths by going beyond the mind. They profoundly alter their consciousness and experience heightened levels of insights. They experience knowledge beyond the senses and we consider them sacred. Raja Yoga has detailed descriptions of these experiences. The biographies of Sri M (See Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master) or Paramahamsa Yogananda contain experiences which would be considered blasphemy in dogmatic traditions.
This also gives an opportunity for charlatans to claim the same experience. Since it is the experience of one person, how can one validate it? Usually, when two of our perceptions do not contradict, that is proof enough, but here are talking about experiences beyond ordinary perceptions.
Rather than depending on a central authority, these systems are self-validating. There are few simple rules which can help to figure out if the person is making up things or if this is really a sacred experience. These are simple rules which long living civilizations can hold in their memory.
They are

  1. It should not contradict past knowledge in that tradition
  2. It must be true knowledge by someone who has transcended the senses.
  3. It depends on the character of the man
  4. This experience must be verifiable.
  5. He should not be selling this knowledge

In science, if a mass murderer like Stalin, makes a discovery, it is acceptable. That is not acceptable in dharmic traditions. The person has to be sattvic, following a well-established path (See No one does yoga anymore)
If someone says, this is an experience that only I can have and that the rest of us have to trust that, it has to be rejected. In scientific traditions, anyone should be able to have those experiences, provided they follow the right path.
Once we understand this, it is easy to figure out why there is so much hatred towards a decentralized, self-validating and self-sustaining tradition which has sustained for millennia. The fact that anyone can be divine goes against the only-one-divine-person-and-trust-him dogma. Belief in this dogma causes them to destroy anyone who does not believe so. (All in the name of “religious freedom”). Once you become a dogmatic prisoner of science too, you shut yourself from these possibilities by restricting yourself to what is directly perceived and inferred. Our mind and body are capable of much more.
Reference: Patanjali Yoga-Sutra by Swami Vivekananda (Kindle Edition – India, US)

No One Does Yoga Anymore

Yoga is a multi billion dollar industry in America and yet it has nothing to do with Yoga. In the 1970s, Neem Karoli Baba said that no one does Hatha Yoga anymore and the American Yoga industry proves just that. What Neem Karoli Baba said was Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s has steps to acknowledge our spiritual aspects and it assumes that you have completed two steps prior to embarking on the third one, which is Asana, which is what Yoga studios focus on.
The first two steps are Yama (ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha) and Niyama (Saucha, Samtosa, Tapas, Svadhyaya, Isvara pranidhana). Just look at the last item, Isvara pranidhana. According to Yoga journal, it is surrender to God (the one with the capital G). That’s their game. That’s not what Patanjali means though. He means Ishvara and not God. They both are not the same.
Swami Vivekananda writes that Ishvara has to be worshiped by praise, by thought and by devotion. Will atheists do that? But when you are getting a pie of the multi billion dollar cake, you don’t want to throw Yama and Niyama and Ishvara at your clients.

Indian History Carnival – 38: Yoga, Hindu Colony in Armenia, Brahmi

  1. If you have not been following the debate on the origins of Hatha Yoga, you can start by reading this and then this. Now kupamanduka looks at the arguments of Dr. Elst, Sarvesh Tiwari and Meera Nanda.
  2. Before I conclude this section, a word of complaint about historians’ tendencies to attribute ideas that were/are current in India. They make something out of the lack of Hatha Yoga texts dated to before the fourteenth century. Let us keep aside the dating issues for this post. Did it ever occur to them that a similar lack of reference should weaken the case of the Chinese origin theory as well? One should always also take into account that Indians have done a very terrible job of recording their practices and keeping the records alive. Also we should try to acknowledge that some authorship claims can just not be settled, instead of building one conspiracy theory on top of another.

  3. When she read that it was Asoka’s inscriptions that introduced writing in the Indian sub-continent, Arundhathi decided to investigate.
  4. In the Northwest, the inscriptions are in Kharoshthi, Aramaic and Greek. In other parts of his empire, the inscriptions are in Brahmi. Now why would different scripts be used in different parts of the country? Most probably because these scripts were already in use in those regions. If Ashoka was introducing a script for the first time in most of India, why not simply repurpose one of the preexisting scripts such as Kharoshthi instead of going to all the effort of inventing a new one? After all, for people learning a new script, why would it matter whether it was an existing script used elsewhere or a completely new one invented for this very purpose?

  5. Maddy looks at the  Hindu colony in ancient Armenia
  6. But it was not to last, for St.Gregory the Illuminator arrived with his troops, and had the many famous temples of Gisaneh and Demeter razed to the ground, the images broken to pieces whilst the Hindu priests who offered resistance were murdered on the spot, as faithfully chronicled by Zenob who was an eye-witness of the destruction of the Hindu temples and the gods. The Christians believed that the temple of Kissaneh was the “Gate of Hell and Sandaramet, the seat of a multitude of demons. On the site of these two temples at Taron, St.Gregory had a monastery erected where he deposited the relics of St John the Baptist and Athanagineh the martyr which he had brought with him from Ceaseria, and that sacred edifice, which was erected in the year 301 A.D., exists to this day and is known as St.Carapet of Moosh (Mus).

  7. S.D., at the Economist blog, writes about the loan words from Farsi, Arabic and Turkish in Hindi and Urdu
  8. It happens the other way around too. I was once with a Palestinian friend who had recently arrived in Delhi. At one point, in the middle of a characteristically heated exchange with an auto-rickshaw driver over the condition of his meter, she turned to me and said “Is he speaking Arabic half the time? I feel like I understand every fifth word.”

  9. Sunil Deepak has a post on the works of Acharya Chatur Sen (1891-1960)
  10. I have read two of his works related to ancient India –
    (a) Vaishali ki Nagarvadhu (वैशाली की नगरवधु, The courtesan of Vaishali, first published in 1949 by J. S. Sant Singh and Sons Delhi for Hindi Vishwabharati) about a courtesan called Ambapali during the time of Gautama Buddha, a few centuries before Jesus.
    (b) Vayam Rakshamah (वयं रक्षामः, We are Raksha, first published in 1955; from the edition published by Rajpal and Sons, Delhi 2009) about Raavan, the mythological king from Ramayana.

If you find interesting blog posts on India history, please send it to @gmail or as a tweet to @varnam_blog. The next carnival will be up on March 15th.