Ever heard about Descartes? René Descartes was born on the 31st March 1596 in La Haye France. After studying classics, logic and traditional Aristotelian philosophy, he came to the conclusion that the only subject which was satisfactory in his eyes was mathematics. This idea became the foundation for his way of thinking, and was to form the basis for all his works. He wrote in 1637 a treatise on science under the title « Discours de la Methode’ (discourse of the Method’), where he came up with the famous precept: ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’, ‘I think, therefore I am’. This statement became the foundation stone for later philosophical movements such as Rationalism, which emphasizes Reason as a source of knowledge itself. Descartes, although many of his mathematical theories have been proved wrong today, has had a profound influence on European thinking, particularly in France. Yet, there cannot be more of an untruth than the precept ‘I think, therefore I am’: Indian philosophy knows for ages that man is not the thinking man, he is Consciousness, Sat- Chit- Ananda. Sadly, today Descartes is still partially ruling the western thinking world. Man thinks that his Mind is All, that he understands everything. Man wants to explain everything by his mind.
Enters Pranayama, The art of breathing, devised in India more than 5000 years ago “Our first act upon coming in this world is to breathe in, while emitting a cry… and our last, is to breathe out, upon expiring. But in between, we completely forget to breathe”, says HH Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who has revitalized & modernized pranayama in India & the world. And it is true: not only do we all neglect breathing during our whole life – whereas it is the very basis of our existence – but have you never noticed how, we when are angry, our breath becomes so laboured; and how, we are in sorrow, or nervous about something, we hardly breathe at all ? No wonder many of us end-up with blood pressure problems or heart attacks! “Pranayama is such a simple and straightforward everyday practice – and you will derive so many benefits out of it”, smiles Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, And in truth, these daily 30 minutes, which my wife and I have practiced for 20 years are so very precious, because they wipe out the previous day’s stresses, set the pace for the coming day and give us the right rhythm which carry us through all problems, tiredness and hassles for the next 24 hours.
Pranayama is probably the best suited Indian yogic discipline for the West, because it is so down to earth, so scientific – there are no miracles, no levitation, no smoky mysticism and everything can be explained in a rational way.
In India, it is known that prana not only circulates in the whole body, but that it is also the air which surrounds us, in animals, in Nature, in the mineral world even. It is also found in food : today, one speaks of vitamins, proteins, calories – but one does not understand that it is actually the prana in the food which gives us energy; and the quality of this prana depends on the sort of food we are taking. Indians believe, that thanks to pranayama, their yogis are not only capable of mastering their emotions, but also to have control over their body functions. Thus, if you go high in the Himalayas, you can see in winter numerous sadhus who are bathing in icy torrents – and certain yogis are even supposed to be able to slow down their breathing to such a tiny thread, that one can think that they are dead !
Once my wife and I taught the Art of Living course to 40 French doctors who had come to discover India. During the first Sudarshan Kriya session, which forms the core of the Art of Living workshop, many doctors had wonderful experiences, some of them crying, because of suppressed emotions, some of them laughing, others going in deep meditation. The next day half them, specially those who had strong experiences, did not turn up. Why? Because their mind could not understand what happened to them. Because they thought it was some black magic. Descartes again!
How can the Mind explain the Divine the Ineffable, the Miraculous ? It is too far away for him. Yet, there are many scientific explanations of the wonders of Sudarshan Kriya:, scientific research on SK have been conducted at centers of excellence such as the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and the National Institute for Mental health and Neurological Sciences on its benefits. International Symposiums have also been conducted on healings which Art of Living practitioners experience in large numbers. These cover a wide range of conditions including depression, asthma, diabetes, blood pressure and cancer. However not everything can be explained by the mind, reason and logic. Life is a miracle, our breath and the way it works is one of the greatest of these miracle.
What is it that makes miracles ? What is that little extra element which rides on top of the medical phenomenon, or rather uses the medical phenomenon to produce a miracle? Man likes to think that miracles are a haphazard, unexplainable, mysterious phenomenon. ‘But God, writes Sri Aurobindo, works all his miracles by an evolution of secret possibilities which have been long prepared, at least in their elements, and in the end by a rapid bringing of all to a head, a throwing together of the elements so that in their fusion they produce a new form and name of things and reveal a new spirit’.
Are miracles then only a rearranging of forces, an harmonizing of levels that have gone in disharmony because of some event, reason, impact. For me the greatest miracle is the change of human nature, because that is the most difficult. Go home Descartes…