Sunday, December 20, 2009

Standards or Ideals

"In his Yoga Sutras Patanjali lists five classes of chitta vrtti (causes for the modification of the mind) which create pleasure and pain. The first one is:
Pramana (a standard or ideal), by which things or values are measured by the mind or known, which men accept upon (a) direct evidence such as perception (pratyaksa), (b) inference (anumana) and (c) testimony or the word of an acceptable authority when the source of knowledge has been checked as reliable and trustworthy (agama).
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 24th paragraph of the Introduction.

Thinking that things are a certain way--having expectations--is a source of movement in the mind that creates pleasure and pain. Generally, when things meet our expectations we like them, and when they don't fit the way we think they should we don't like that.

We have standards and ideals for what life should look like from moment to moment: Pramana.

direct evidence such as perception (pratyaksa)

I went to a restaurant, and I ordered something. It was delicious! My senses were directly delighted. From this direct experience, I discovered that I liked that menu item or maybe I decide that "I love that restaurant!" From now on I am in a different relationship with this place: it is either going to meet my expectations and make me proud when I introduce others to it, or it is going to disappoint me by changing something. I no longer am percieving directly, I am more in relationship with my mind or ego than with the present moment. I think I know this place. My mind percieves it differently now that I rely on it being a certain way.

inference (anumana)

My mind might also form an impression that skews my understanding of the world through inference. In this case I might assume that I know something that I don't know directly. Maybe my Yoga Teacher walks right by me without saying hello or smiling, and I tell myself that she doesn't like me. I have inferred by seeing nonverbal cues that she has judged my presense to be not desireable. But this might not be correct. She might have just heard some bad news, or just needs to take care of something--it could have nothing to do with me. But if I hold on to this impression it might affect my future actions. It could cut me off from experiencing a good relationship with this person if I don't continue to get to know them. We tend to be quick to judge, and this skews perceptions. The mind may begin to prefer certain safer relationships, and the world becomes inappropriately small.

testimony or the word of an acceptable authority when the source of knowledge has been checked as reliable and trustworthy (agama)

I'm tempted to call this one "trusting books" even though the source of this kind of mental modification is wider than books. This happens when we take the words of another person as our own belief without having experienced or understood something for ourself. This also colors a persons viewpoint.

One time a friend of mine told me that a man--a Yoga Teacher--she had been intimate with wasn't trustworthy. Then I started to see him more around my professional life in the Yoga Studio. At first my perceptions were definitely different than they would have been had I not trusted my friends perceptions. I kind of wanted to avoid this one. Finally I started to see for myself that this was actually a nice guy to me. But it took some work to get there. And I can't speak to what happened between those two, I can only discover what is for me.

I think that it can be hard to know when a source is reliable and trustworthy, but I can find out for myself what I can.

Examining this class of chitta vrtti, Pramana, helped me get a sense of how my evaluation in a moment might become an invisible player in how I move through the world going forward. And, regardless of the source (direct, inferred, or learned from another source) of the internal standard or ideal it makes sense to be awake to this operation of consciousness.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

1 comment:

YogaforCynics said...

What this immediately brings to mind for me is something I read in the New York Times this morning, written by Joe Biden: "The perfect became the enemy of the good." While I'm not entirely sure I agree with the context Biden's using it in(which I won't go into here), I do think it applies in an awful lot of situations, such as those you describe. You might, for instance, have a very good lunch at the restaurant you mention, but it might be ruined by comparison to the "perfect" experience you had that first time. And, probably, it applies to relationships more than anything. I once got an e-mail from a woman, the day after our first and only date, which ended with her saying all kinds of lovely complimentary things to me, which were repeated in the e-mail. But, she said, I wasn't a "perfect fit" for her. I thought about replying "if I'd known you were looking for perfection, I wouldn't have bothered," but thought better of it.

Of course, the other side of this is that, if we don't have ideals or standards, we can end up like the countless people in the world who stay in abusive relationships, jobs they hate, etc. Certainly, when it comes to "trusting books," I find I can be rather self-contradictory--I have a real problem with books being seen as absolute authorities, whether it's yoga friends' quandries with wanting to hold the Yoga Sutras up as unimpeachable truth but struggling with parts they can't seem to make themselves agree with or believe in (usually the stuff about abstinence or supernatural powers) or Christian fundamentalist relatives bending themselves into knots to explain how that stuff in the Bible about selling your daughter into slavery, stoning people to death for working on the sabbath, or condemning that vast majority of God's children to eternal torture for failing to worship Him properly, fits with their concept of a loving God. They're just books, I say, and the people who wrote them were just people. At the same time, if I didn't trust books at all, I wouldn't have spent such a vast portion of my life reading them--including a couple of different translations and commentaries on the aforementioned Yoga Sutras. And certainly, my life would be incredibly different now were it not for the influence of those books (my path toward yoga, for instance, probably began when a friend lent me a copy of a book on Zen while we were hitch-hiking in Italy twenty years ago). In some ways, my life would probably be a lot more conventional, maybe a lot more unhappy, but also probably less complicated without all these ideals gleaned from books--like "satori" in that Zen book...

(I mean, seriously, if your couple paragraphs here can get my mind going like this, just imagine what a book can do...).