“The More the Medicine, the Worse the Sickness.” ~ Tias Little

Via on Jan 27, 2012
Photo: Kevin Hutchinson

“The more the medicine, the worse the sickness.”

{Yoga Koan number one}

This line is from the Zen tradition of China called Chan. It is part of a collection of sayings and teachings called koans that directly address the workings of the mind. Like yoga postures, they are meant to bend your mind and loosen it, so that the way you once thought was up or down changes. At the very least, they are meant to change your point of view, ultimately leading you to see that there may be real problems with any one point of view.

This line “the more the medicine, the worse the sickness” suggests that.

At first we think, “oh, it is a good idea to reduce my intake of pharmaceuticals.”  While that may be a good idea, this phrase is pointing to another kind of medicine. It is the medicine doled out by almost all spiritual teaching. By the time the yoga teachings had all been made into texts through lineage transmission, from India to China to Japan, there came to be a real wariness (and weariness) regarding technique and formula. There came to be too much emphasis on principles, protocols and sutras.

This is good to keep in mind today, as yoga teachers go running around espousing their personal doctrines, or their system’s doctrines. It is for this reason that I align with the Buddha’s teachings that say, “No vehicle is the vehicle of the buddhas.” So the more spiritual medicine one ingests, the more they have to break it down at some point. This is hard on the liver!  It can cause excess heat and stagnation! So, the less you take in the less you have to process.

However easy this sounds, this is is a fairly sophisticated idea, “the more the medicine, the worse the sickness.”  Initially, spiritual practitioners need to swallow a lot of teachings, teachings full of dogma and doctrine. I did, for twenty years, I followed various yoga systems until I hit a wall.

Then I thought, Gee, what I really need to do is start dropping all my fixed notions, all my concepts—even if they are admirable, altruistic principles like ahimsa and satya. And principles as to what is “right” alignment in a pose. So then the practice involves dropping our agendas, our fixed notions.

This process in itself can take 20 years, so don’t wait! Caution should be applied to views of vegetarianism, truth and universal principles of alignment. It is for this reason that the phrase, “the more the medicine, the worse the sickness” is so potent and radical. It is for this reason I like to think of my school Prajna Yoga as the “system-less system.” The last thing I want to do is give students more medicine that just may be bad for their health.

 

Edited by Kate Bartolotta

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Tias Little is a yoga teacher, meditation instructor, and regular contributor at YogaModern.com. Tias is committed to teaching yoga as a contemplative path, leading to greater sensitivity, tolerance and deep understanding (prajna). His teaching combines the techniques of yoga that stem from the work of B.K.S Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Tias is a long time student of Tsoknyi Rinpoche in the Dzogchen practice of Tibetan Buddhism. He is trained in Vipassana meditation and the Japanese Soto school of Zen Buddhism founded by Dogen. He currently studies koans within the Chan Buddhist traditions in China with Roshi Joan Sutherland. Tias earned a BA from Amherst College Mass in 1988 and a Masters degree in Eastern Philosophy from St. John’s College Santa Fe in 1998. Learn more about Tias’ classes, workshops, and teaching at prajnayoga.net

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11 Responses to ““The More the Medicine, the Worse the Sickness.” ~ Tias Little”

  1. Joe Sparks says:

    We need solid agreement on basic concepts and complete freedom and independence and flexibility in applying them.

  2. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Thank you Tias!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  3. dan says:

    so when are violence and lies appropriate? why the tease?

  4. Linda Buzogany linda buzogany says:

    A breath of fresh air, thanks. Let me unfurrow my brow as I stop trying to figure out everything.
    ~Linda

  5. Valerie Carruthers ValCarruthers says:

    Right on, Tias. Yoga, meditation, yamas, niyamas, commandments and Zen precepts were intended as guidelines to be contemplated, explored or adapted for the positive growth of the disciple. It's when we get stuck in the troughs of rigidity that more sickness is created. On the pathless path I've sometimes found it necessary to put some of my most sacred cows out to pasture and become the healthier for it.

    Wonderful to have you here at EJ.

  6. Valerie Carruthers ValCarruthers says:

    Right on, Tias. Yoga, meditation, yamas, niyamas, commandments and Zen precepts were intended as guidelines to be contemplated, explored or adapted for the positive growth of the disciple. It's when we get stuck in the troughs of rigidity that more sickness is created. On the pathless path I've sometimes found it necessary to put some of my most sacred cows out to pasture and become the healthier for it.

  7. Valerie Carruthers ValCarruthers says:

    Btw, the correct url for Tias Little's studio is prajnayoga.net. Entering prajnayoga.com will take you to a studio but it's not his.

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  10. [...] phrase comes from the Zen teachings and is part of the path to realization. It is relevant to the practice of yoga, and is a [...]

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