July 31, 2011

In Peace with the Past – The ideal of “Kshama” in Yoga.

As the oscillations of our mental pendulum drag us between past and the future, we are left wondering, why is it that things in life never stabilize?

Feelings of bitterness, pain, resentment pull us into the past and anxiety, anticipation, impatience drag us into the future. Over a period of time these subtle emotions start manipulating our mind and eat us up from within.

Modern human lives in a state of perpetual anxiety and fear especially in the recent times of media domination where public opinion is heavily influenced by what “they” tell us.

Our reactions are predominantly based on store house of memory, impressions and preconceived notions of our selves or society as a whole. Every single experience which is labeled as “bad” by our mind stops us from appreciating and enjoying many of the lighter, happier moments. How many times has one small spat with our friend , made us forget those years of  beautiful moments of friendship ?

The Ideal of “kshama” is one of the grounds of practical yogis. “Kshama” is usually translated only as forbearance in English but it is more than that. Locally in India the ideal of “kshama” is understood not just as dry forbearance but majorly as forgiveness and let go, in this sense it’s a matter of both heart and the head.

A “kshami” is the one who does not cloud his/her present perception with remorse and resentment from the past and hence lives in the present completely, thus practicing forbearance on basis of forgiveness.

In this way the Yogi creates a “revolution” every moment by breaking away from chains of the past and making every present moment a new discovery, a new adventure. Forbearance and forgiveness go hand in hand and the Yogi tries to be in the present always.

When one’s mind has a tendency to oscillate towards the past regrets, the present manifests in the form of self-blame. By being in a perpetual state of self blame in the present the soul gets smothered. And when we smother our soul, the very source of our existence, how can we expect our personality to flower ? The way we try to “balm” our uncomfortable present is by blaming someone from the past. This blame game does give a temporary relief but in longer run it only makes the chunk of subconscious tendencies denser and denser. This game has been going on not just in the “past” of this life but since the “pasts” of many earlier lives.

Psycholigists Dr. Les Parrott and Dr. Neil Clark Warren very beautiful describe a person who lives in the past by saying “dwelling on the past is like driving your car with your foot on the brake, your eyes on the rear view mirror and your gas tank empty. You are wondering why you are not moving forward and yet all the while you are focused on the wrong direction.

Yoga scriptures and yoga masters of yore have always inspired the masses to forgive. It is the ornament of a Yogi, they say. Having said that it is understood that forgiveness is not easy and that’s why the scriptures remind us again and again and motivate us to forgive and forbear. Becoming a “kshami”, the one who forgives and endures is a matter of remembrance and patient application over a period of time.

Shankaracharya defines “kshama” in Vivekachudamani  as “unaffectedness”, unaffectedness in the present on basis of letting go of the past. Even the great Ramanujacharya remind us that “forgiveness is freedom from antagonism towards others even when they cause injury to oneself,’

Thus, practicing forgiveness aspect of “kshama” in the present purifies the load of past in our memory, and practicing forbearance aspect of “kshama” makes us resilient and strong in the present. Since our present builds our future a clarified and resilient present can make a healthier and sturdier future. A time comes when a Yogi lives with this ideal, and becomes the “unshakable”, as Bhagvat Gita says in chapter 12.

“The one who is equal in oppositions ( forbearance ) and forgiving , reaches the Inner Divine.”

Some tips for cultivating the ideal of “Kshama”

1)      It’s essential to have a firm belief in the methods of yoga that you practice and/ or the teacher, without faith nothing moves.

2)      Remind yourself and resolve to hold on to the ideal no matter what.

3)      Realize that every experience in life is trying to teach us something. If there was no learning the experience would not come to us. Look deeply at the experience and not at the experience givers, try to figure out what it is trying to teach you. Extract the learning from the experience and let go off it.

4)      Remember that life is an unpredictable game. Play the part with clarity, be responsible for the intent and action but not towards the result. Spare that nervous energy that is wasted in anticipation of result and channel it into clarifying the intention and making the action total.

5)      The biggest blow of past attack manifests through psycho-physical disturbances. Take up a regular practice of asana, pranayama and meditation to improve the neuro-muscular response and to feel strong while practicing forbearance. A little more oxygen in the system could certainly be that crucial SOS.

6)      Associate with like-minded people, motivate yourself by reading about lives of those who have worked with this ideal in the past.

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Prasad Rangnekar  |  Contribution: 1,220