Lead me from untruth to truth.
Lead me from darkness to light.
Lead me from death to immortality.
Sri Guru Stotram
Pramana is the first of five vrtti-s I mentioned in my last blog post about vrtti-s, or activity in the heart-mind in English. I am not a fan of Bachman’s use of the word “correct” because it seems to infer the way of being right. In the words of sage yoga teachers I have had in the last couple years since working with the new and improved greenmonkey yoga, “Being right for humans is crack.” And it is, because, being human, I have experienced this first hand! I prefer how Bachman described it in his vrtti-s chapter: pramana: valid means of perception.
Before I continue, here is the list of everything I have covered so far:
- Atha: Readiness and Commitment
- Citta: Heart-Mind Field of Consciousness
- Purusa: Pure Inner Light of Awareness
- Drsya: Ever-Changing Mother Nature
- Viveka: Keen Discernment
- Abhyasa: Diligent, Focused Practice
- Vairagya: Nonattachment to Sensory Objects
- Yoga as Nirodha: Silencing the Heart-Mind
- IsvaraL The Source of Knowledge
- Karma and Samskara: Action and it’s Imprint
- Parinama: Transformation
- Duhkha: Suffering as Opportunity
- Samyoga: False Identification of the Seer with the Seen
- Vrtti-s: Activity in the Heart-Mind
As earlier mentioned, there are five main things that cause thoughts and emotions, or vrtti-s, in our heart-mind, or citta in Sanskrit. Valid means of perception is the first one we are tackling on this topic.
One of the most worn-out topics for yoga teachers to preach about is perception. It is worn out because it is true that our perception determines everything in our lives: from how we feel about our selves, lives, and bodies and our own self efficacy in how well we can perform certain actions, including goals, that exist in our lives. When I teach my meditation seminar, I speak a lot about perception, and mostly in the realm of our perception of events and situations that happen to us, and our perception of how easy it is in our minds to attain and achieve goals.
In my meditation seminar, I compare and contrast a stressed out brain to a brain that is trained through meditation. One thing I found that came up over and over again in researcher’s findings was that distress (the “bad” kind of stress; it’s opposite is “eustress”, good stress, in terms of like planning weddings, going on rollercoasters, vacation stress, etc.) was a direct result of a person’s PERCEPTION of what was happening in their lives. For example: you get a big assignment at your place of work. There is a lot of pressure to get it done on time and done well. Distress would be a reaction to the work as being nearly impossible to complete, total disbelief in your ability to accomplish this task, and to fall into complaining about this piece of work, which may result in less-than-quality work which would create a self-fulfilling prophecy that you would be right.
Or, you could take the task on with the belief in yourself that you can do it well and complete the work on time. In fact, you can take it one step further and be grateful you got the work assigned to you because you actually enjoy doing it, and you enjoy a challenge. You, then, are far more likely to create work that you are proud to share to others, and will probably get asked to do more work like it, and likely get paid more to do more of the same.
This is just an example of what perception can look like, and it does tie in this post’s topic: pranama, valid means of perception.
Whatever it is you believe about your life is true.
So, if you believe that your job sucks, you are right. If you believe you are not healthy, you are right. If you believe you are great at your job, you are right. If you believe you have great people skills, you are right. If you believe you are a great cook, you are right. If you believe you can own your own business and be a raging success at it, you are right.
The power of human self-belief is one of the most powerful forces on this planet. Pranama speaks to practicing viveka, or keen discernment, around all sources of information that come in to your being on a daily basis.
Bachman defines three ways we can receive information, from the most important to the least:
- Direct, first-hand experience. When this occurs, there are no other opinions of others’ present when you experience something-anything-on your own, as it leaves clear space for your heart-mind to take the lessons in. This is the most reliable type of knowledge we all know, and we can agree with this. Bachman’s example here is beautiful: “Can we know what honey tastes like if someone merely describes it to us in words?”
- Inference, or second-hand knowledge. This requires imagination and another entity giving us information, usually in a way of observation. Where there is smoke there is fire, right? What if what you are seeing you only think is smoke, and it is actually something else? Or perhaps there is no fire at all? Misperceptions, or viparyaya, are common, and they are not good or bad. They just happen, and when they do it’s ok to take ownership that you believed a misperception, forgive yourself, and move on.
- Reliable testimony, or second- or third-hand knowledge. This comes from reading anything published or hearing it from another person. Oftentimes written texts are written by people with first-hand knowledge, and it is important to know that the first-hand knowledge is their own, and not your own. It is important to practice gratitude when someone does share their first hand experience, especially if it is rooted in compassion and good-intentions, but know that an abhyasa (diligent, focused practice) of viveka (keen discernment) determines everything when it comes to your own experience of pramana.
For me in my experience, what came up while reading this chapter was my choice to give up all avenues of receiving the news. I have not watched the news or read a newspaper in well over two years. In those fleeting times when I happen to catch something on the news because I happen to enter an environment where it is present or someone relays something to me that was reported, I realize that every single story on the news has absolutely no weight on the effectiveness or path of my life. It is a type of second- or third-hand knowledge that does little to move us forward as individuals, and seems to only exist as a medium of keeping our minds locked in a veil of fear. I have felt much lighter and content with my life since completely cutting out the negativity of all news reports from all mediums and resources. In this decision, I have cut out the option for myself to even formulate opinions on things that do not have affect in my life so that I may focus on those things in my life where I can make a difference for myself and for others.
As Bachman writes, correct perception can be either helpful or harmful or neutral. A helpful pramana is when we perceive something and our heart-mind remains unaffected. This includes witnessing events where people act out of compassion and kindness towards others, or express their God-given talents in beautiful ways, or encourages others to keep their course, and the list goes on.
A harmful pramana is when we correctly observe (and by correctly I assume Bachman is referring to the first-hand experience) something that disturbs our heart-mind. This would be something low-vibrational that we just can’t shake out of our memories. For me, it was the news stories I would hear on tv that I would then relate to others around me because I used to think it was great conversation. Not only was I living those negative stories again, but I was letting those negative stories GROW within me at an awful accelerated pace. Where your focus goes, your energy flows, and since I was focusing on negative stories from people I didn’t even know I had no space to grow into my own potential as an entrepreneur, author, and yoga teacher. I cut those things out, and voila! I had more time and energy for the things I am passionate about, like teaching yoga, making coffee, writing, and making malas and bracelets.
I love that Bachman writes that these disturbing pramanas are like undigested food, and he is right. I know someone who is very much addicted to reading the news and watching the news on tv. I see him multiple times per week, and I have finally gotten him to break the habit of reporting to me every awful thing that is happening in the world. I know he thinks I am insane for not knowing that things he knows, but what he doesn’t see is that he lives in a veil of fear as a result, and I do not. For example, he is terrified of mosquitos, yet he is outside all the time. The time he spends outdoors, whether it is exercising or playing with his children or any other umber of things, he is focused on the potential mosquito that could be flying toward him at that moment. His fear of mosquitos is actually attracting them to him, and he doesn’t see it. He also does not like using bug spray because, according to the articles he has read on Yahoo, bug spray can cause cancer. But mosquitos can carry West Nile, malaria, the zica virus, and other things. Ask him anything about mosquitos, he is an expert, he will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about them.
But he won’t change his routines. Actually, that’s not completely true, because he has begun to use bug spray.
Interestingly, when I am around him, mosquitos hardly bother me, and, if they do, I do not react harshly to them. I notice them if they are there, and I swat them away, and squish them if I absolutely must (only if they are biting).
To me, what is sad about this situation is that he has let in the negative information around mosquitos into his brain so much that it affects the enjoyment of nearly everything else in his life. He believes very strongly that they are out to get him and he is in danger, and he puts materials into his daily life to support that belief so that he can be right about it in all future conversations, because scientists have said x, y, and z about these “dangerous” pests.
Things like this are a perfect example of the universe responding to our thoughts and beliefs that we choose to let in and remain in our beings. These things, and things similar, are what cloud our citta’s with information and beliefs and thoughts that do not serve us, but only serve to lower our vibrations and distract us from our true course. Of course, there are examples far bigger and far more intense than just mosquitos. Our mission as humans is to really look at the mosquito-like things in our lives and ask, is it really worth believing those terrible things, only to help them manifest and become totally true?
It is our work to imbue our heart-minds with clarity, compassion, and discernment. Choose what it is in your life that powerfully moves you forward, and focus on only those things. Your life inevitably has a snowball effect, and it is a snowball effect that you can ride along and enjoy it or you can be taken, not know your course, and live in fear all the time. True thoughts, honest communication, and right actions lead to positive memories that support recurring cycles that develops and refines your field of consciousness. Choose to take that snowball, and not the fear-based one.
The highest and most reliable form of knowledge is direct, firsthand perception.
With a clear and open heart-mind, I can register external events openly.
I will carefully choose my secondary sources of information, including teachers, books, and news.