(Based on interview with Veronica Zador of International Association of Yoga Therapists. The interview held at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, California, July 2006. It has been further expanded with necessary additions and explanations)
“What is Yoga Therapy?”
In Vyasa’s Commentary on Patanjali’s sutra 2.15, the science of therapy is described as being built on four pillars. These are:
Yoga shastra, the science of liberation, similarly is built on four pillars:
Chikitsa, the science of therapy, is part of the science of liberation. It must be viewed in that philosophical context, not separately.
The word for therapy used in Sanskrit is chikitsa, the “desire to know”, quest for knowledge. In order for that desire to be fulfilled, one has to make an admission that “I do not know”, as Nachiketas in the Katha Upanishad admits. Therefore, Yoga therapy is desire for knowledge of the means of liberation. All other aspects of therapy are just parts of that entire science. Without such seeking of knowledge on the part of both the physician and the one suffering, there is no therapy.
Knowledge of what? Knowledge of oneself at all levels. Knowledge of oneself as
The consciousness of earth, water, fire, air, space is not consciousness of the elements as something external. It is not that ‘I am conscious of standing on this solid round earth that it is made of lumps of clay and rock and I shall now draw its map’. It is that wave of consciousness that becomes the earth, waters, fires, air, space-- the way these five subtle elements dwell, the elements as in the chakras:
As one opens the petals of consciousness in each of these centres s/he becomes a master of the five subtle elements whose attributes in the external world only are solidity, liquidity, fieriness and so forth. What we perceive of these in worldly entities and objects is the mayic (magic) projection of these levels of consciousness. Within the chakras themselves they are objectless non-specific fields. Once these fields are realized, become ‘real’ to a Sadhaka, s/he becomes a master of all that emanates from these in the specific worlds. By reaching within these general fields one may calibrate the states of the mind, prana and body and thus conquer the diseases specific to these five fields. All illness is the failure of the physical elements to derive their wholeness from the subtle elements, and the failure of the subtle elements in turn to derive full energy of consciousness, through prana and mind, from the corresponding chakra.
Thus, from knowledge of the subtle elements, the subtle senses, are projected the physical elements, as sparks of consciousness. The physical senses, the channels of our external stimuli and the sources in the world around us from which those stimuli originate, are the external earth, water, fire, air, space-- the five states of matter. Desire to know all of this composite system is part of the means of liberation called the science of Yoga therapy.
Between the pure objectless non-specific most potent field of consciousness in the chakras on one hand and our gross awareness, physical consciousness of earth-solids etc., there are in-between states. For example in svara-shastra, the science of breath rhythms, the breath itself may change from gross the subtle, respectively earth-breath, water-breath, fire-breath, air-breath and space-breath. The common kumbhaka, the retention of breath, taught by popular hatha-yogins of today is that of the earth-breath. The dhyana-yogins do not ‘teach’ but lead the disciple through the processes of making the breath so subtle that finally one spontaneously enters the state of the breath merges into akasha, the space state. Then the left and the right nostril become one, the black eye of the white and the white eye of the black (in the well known Taoist symbol on Yin-Yang) merge into each other, as the Taoists would say.
Till then we perceive ourselves as made of these five elements. Because we perceive ourselves so, we perceive the corresponding solids etc. in the world around. But there are specific practices, coupled with associated mantras for the conquest of the knowledge of these states of the energy-field of consciousness. When one has mastered these practices one has learnt all there is to learn of health, wholeness, state of being sva-stha, the term commonly used for ‘being in good health’ in ayur-veda and in all modern Indian languages, literally meaning ‘one who stays in the reflexive suum’. There is no English equivalent for Latin suum or Saskrit svam. It means being one’s own self (not in the sense of atman). The one knows the meaning of
As the practices of consciousness are mastered, the corresponding elements and faculties are understood and the damaged ones made whole. This does not mean that a yogi will never be ill. The chemistry of the five elements, once set in motion in what Raman Maharshi called the super-disease called ‘having a body’, cannot be totally cancelled. But its effects can be alleviated. More than that the syndrome that
my body chemistry is distorted=I am ill
is eliminated; one no longer identifies the self with the body that one only owns as s/he knows that the ‘body is not I’.
As we have said, the Sanskrit word for therapy is chikitsa, the desire to know, and requires admission that “I do not know”. The physician does not know, the patient does not know. In this ability to acknowledge one’s ignorance of divine reality in the universe, with that humility begins therapy.
Through egolessness begins all therapy.
We can apply this principle in many different ways. We can figure out all kinds of psychological and physiological methods from limb manipulation to mantric manipulation.
One of my favorite texts in the world literature is the Avesta, text of the Zarathustra tradition, the holy text of the Mazda-yasnians, sometimes referred to as Zoroastrians or, in India, the Parsees. The language of this ancient text is parallel to that of the Vedas. The two are closely related. In one part of Avesta, Ahur Mazda, the great God of Light, tells Zarathustra to sit in a cave like a Yogi for ten years tending the holy fire. Zarathustra evokes the presence of the divine sun, and the divine fire god of light appears and asks Zarathustra, “What do you wish?” Zarathustra like Nachiketas expresses his wish for knowledge. The fire god then asks, “What can you do with all this knowledge I give you in the fires?” As the devil said to Jesus, Ahur Mazda –testing as in the case of Nachiketas and Buddha, not tempting – said: I give you all the sensuous pleasures, I give you all the wealth of the earth, “What do you want with all this knowledge?”, Zarathustra refuses the wealth and empires. So the god of fire gives Zarathustra knowledge that he sought.
The Avesta text says that there are three kinds of therapies:
In this Mazda-yasnian religion, there are seven positive forces in the universe which are called mantra tanu –they whose bodies are mantras. As in the traditions of India, the devas, luminous ones of the universe, have two kinds of bodies: luminous and sonar: light as body and sound as body. The mantric sciences introduce the divinity first as the sonar mantras.
The Avesta says: of the three types of therapies, the true one is therapy by mantras.
The word mantra has a much wider meaning in Sanskrit language. The mantra also means secret counsel. The word for a king’s minister is mantri, the mantra-keeper. To this day, the prime ministers of India, Malaysia and Indonesia are called pradhana or maha-mantris, the chief mantra-keepers; these are the commonly used terms in all their languages. A minister is a mantri. I cannot say how many of these ministers know any mantras. But that is the word used in every newspaper and in the constitutions. Ministers are supposed to be mantra-keepers and the prime minister the chief mantra-keeper. When the ancient mantris, the mantra keepers of the kings, gave political, economic, diplomatic counsel, along with that to reinforce it, they gave the mantras. The two were inseparable. In the texts of polity, we are told that shat-karna, a mantra that has fallen into six ears is burst. It should be only between the giver and the receiver-- only between four ears. Not six. The mantras are given in secret.
The highest degree of therapist is the mantra-giver, whose counsel is not just counsel as to what to do, but to actually infuse a force within the counselled: the patient or the disciple because
a patient is a disciple.
Please bear that in mind, the patient is a disciple. There is no difference between the two, and a disciple is Guru’s patient also. Thus also the highest therapist is the mantra-giver.
Nowadays sometimes, better than nothing, people pick up books about this science, and start suggesting mantras. But in the tradition of Yogis, it is an initiatory process. My Guru did not authorize more than about ten people worldwide to confer mantras. The ancient texts have said,
Guard this. Protect this, for, it is your treasure. Do not give a mantra to someone who is envious, or not simple and straight, or to someone who has not learned self-control. Do not pass mantras on to such ones.
That is why the keepers of the science of mantra in India have chosen to let the science die out, rather than to give it to those who are not spiritually purified. Traditionally, to learn anything from archery to Ayurveda one had to live with a Guru in a forest hermitage. Better than nothing, - I pay due respect and reverence and gratitude to those who are trying to spread this knowledge, - the weekend courses in Ayurveda are a far cry from the way the ancient chikitsakas, the physicians, were taught the science of therapy-- the science of wanting to know. It is a very strongly established principle in the texts of Ayur-veda that
if the physician is not pure, his healing will not work.
Part of the spiritual training for the physician is self-purification. Doctors in all fields of medicine suffer from a deep self questioning at times. They do their very best and the patient dies. It’s a mystery to them. In the training of an Ayurveda doctor and especially in the training of a Yoga physician, part of the real experience is as a disciple. One has to ask oneself, “Why did my therapy not work? What purification do I have to undertake? What mantras do I have to do? Did I administer the medicine with ego, with claims that I am the almighty who can cure or did I do so with egolessness?” Without that self questioning, without a commitment to self purification on the part of the Ayurveda physician or the Yoga therapist, Yoga therapy will not work. It will not work without humility.
In egolessness do we find how the moskha-shastra and the chikitsa-shastra, the science of spiritual liberation and the science of therapy are inter-related. The ultimate in therapy is the spiritual liberation of the disciple-patient or patient-disciple.