Aspect of Ayurveda
1.2 Prana, Vasanas and Mind
I had the chance to visit a cave in the Himalayas where Vasistha was reputed to have lived and meditated for a long period of time. It is located above Rishikesh very near the banks of the Ganga (Ganges). It was a very small and narrow cave; my six foot frame was only able to enter by stooping. I could see nothing except utter black - blacker than black. I entered and stopped after twenty feet or so and waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. After five minutes I went forward with two other companions, feeling the cold damp wall all the way because I still could not see anything. Another twenty to thirty feet in the cave we found an altar with a few ghee (clarified butter) lamps burning, flowers, pictures, and incense. It was not visible before due to a natural curve in the cave. We sat for quite some time; I had no inclination to meditate, to inquire into the nature of reality or myself. There was no movement in my mind. There was a deep profound peace pervading my being, a happiness that spontaneously arose to pervade everything. It was not cosmic, dramatic, or even experiential. I was just incredibly happy sitting there in this dark cave. After some time another person arrived and I left, taking this happiness outside to Ganga where I spent the next few hours swimming. That happiness pervades to this day some two years later.
These teachings are very profound, often quite subtle. The bottom line of Vasisthas teaching is that you are unlimited, unconditioned, pure consciousness now without doing anything. It is the conditioning of this fundamental truth that gives rise to vasanas. The Laghu Yoga Vasistha is a condensed version of Vaisisthas teaching - the complete book is the third longest in the world - complied by Abhinanda, a Kashmir scholar. In it he gives us a brief ( by Indian standards!) Explanation about the latent impressions and conditionings called vasanas, and how they cause us problems. Interestingly, all of the dialogs in the Yoga Vasistha are given as a verbal teaching from Vasistha to his disciple, the avatar Rama of the Ramayana.
Here Rama asks what is the basic cause of ignorance and unhappiness (samsara).
The seed for this samsara or world - appearance is the body, O Rama . . . . The seed for this body is the mind which is dominated by hopes and desires . . . There are two seeds for the mind: one, the movement of the prana or life-force, and two, mental conditioning which is deep-rooted. When the life-force moves along the subtle channels of the psychic force, then awareness and experience arise and the mental activity commences. Though this awareness exists everywhere, it is activated by the movement of the life-force. Therefore, it is best to restrain this experience . . . . . Therefore, if you restrain the movement of prana and prevent the expansion of the field of objective experience which results from the movement of the mental conditioning (vasanas) then you will go beyond samsara (misery).
OK, so we know now that prana and vasanas are the cause of our miseries, unhappiness, and ignorance because they create what we call mind, and mind gives rise to the idea that we are limited to the physical body. Well, how exactly do these vasanas get formed in our body for the prana to activate them?
Vasistha explains it as follows. A vasana or mental conditioning is developed when we see an object and - without inquiring into its fundamental nature - decide that it is something. How firmly we hold on to the idea of the object perceived either gives it life or not. For example, if I firmly believe I will ger sick from being around some one who has a cold, I will create a mental conditioning (vasana) that correspondingly will weaken my immune system so that I can get sick. Conviction toward any concept gives reality to that concept. We then get overpowered by the concept, perceive it as reality, and are deluded. When we abandon our true unconditioned nature we are deluded, and this is known as mind, or the basic mental/emotional functioning of a person. Mind is not our basic nature. That is intelligence or intellect.
When we are deluded we lose sight of the substratum of the object and place reality on the object itself. This is just a simple mistake of not perceiving the substratum, consciousness. All things exist due to this consciousness: it is not that things do not exist or that they are unreal. Vasistha, instead, says that everything is the same - God, because God is the source of all manifestation as described above. Therefore, the solution to unhappiness, misery, psychological problems, and ultimately physical problems is to look for the substratum in all things - unconditioned consciousness or God.
The basic concepts of body and mind are nor perceived correctly die to prana and vaanas. By learning to control prana, or by dissolving vasanas, we can bring the mind to an unconditioned state in which consciousness alone is perceived.
As long as the mind is not quiet, the conditioning does not cease; unless the conditioning ceases, the mind does not reach the state of quiescence . . . . Study of scriptures dealing with self knowledge, company of holy ones, the abandonment of mental conditioning and also the control of prana - these are the methods for the control of the mind.
This then gives us a practical way in which to overcome daily problems of living on all levels of our life. The physical body will generally be the last to benefit directly. However, Ayurveda says that if the other more subtle aspects of our being are not addressed, true health will nor materialize. Understanding the basis of how the universe and humans are created clarifies the relationship of emotional and psychological disturbances in our life and health. The practical method stated above is threefold: knowledge, a quite mind and elimination of vasanas. All three are inter-related. Prana can be used to quite the mind and so eliminate the mental conditioning that prevent knowledge.
Just how important is prana to our health? To Ayurveda?
Life ebbs away on account of the movement of prana or the life force. If the movement of prana can be arrested, longevity is gained. If one is able to banish movement of thought or movement of prana, he is also able to banish decay and death to a great extent.