Some Thoughts on Spiritual Education

This presentation deals with the role that proper breathing can and does play in education concerning life and living. First of all, let us examine the purpose and aim of education.

The purpose of education is to free the human mind of its narrowness. At the same time, it must be useful in life; otherwise, it is meaningless. I am a Civil Engineer by training. Before I joined BIT, my alma mater, to educate myself on matters related to that branch, I was ignorant of its scope. After I received proper education in Civil Engineering, I understood what the discipline entailed. As a result, my mind was better informed (became free of narrowness) about this particular branch of technical education. Later in life, I used that education to earn a good living. People reading this presentation may have similar experiences with which they can relate. Such examples leads to a simple conclusion that Education regarding life and living ought to be no different in purpose and aim, in scope and usefulness.

While serving as a Faculty Member in the department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Waterloo, I became interested in and began educating myself in Yoga. It is a discipline that teaches how to lead a meaningful life in a manner consistent with the Science of Life. Sankhya Philosophy deals with the theoretical aspect of life: Science of Life is perhaps a good title for this philosophy. Yoga deals with the practical application of this Science. It is an encyclopedia of the art of living.

Before we talk about the Science and the Art of living, we ought to recall our experiences in life. There are moments in life, especially in early morning, when we think of staying in bed; that is, to sleep a bit longer. You may have had this experience as well at least at some time in life. We get out of bed once we realize that nothing can be accomplished by sleeping. During the preparation for the daily activity we go through numerous conflicting ideas of what need to be done. It soon becomes apparent that we cannot accomplish much by indecisiveness regarding choice of one or the other of the ideas that arise. We have to choose and act on one. That I did and put all my attention on what I chose to do. It is possible that you too have gone through similar experience. The focus then would be on the work at hand and not on the ideas that arose in conflict with it. The sequence shows the presence of three states of existence: tamoguni state of sloth or lethargy associate with the physical body; rajoguni state of wild and rapid changes in thought associated with the mental body; satoguni state of focused analysis, judgement and the choice of appropriate action to be taken, associated with the intellectual body. Deep focused breathing makes it possible to observe the three states. The process helps find a way to stay longer in the intellectual body and shows how the satoguni effect trickles down and elevates the mental body to satoguni state and the physical body first to rajoguni state and then to satoguni state. This creates harmony between the physical, mental and intellectual bodies. Accomplishment of an action while the three bodies are in harmony is adeptness in action or karm kaushlam of the Gita.

Deep breathing is a natural phenomenon that babies use even though they receive no training in the technique. Their breathing and movement of chest and abdomen follows a rhythmic pattern. We lose that ability and adopt shallow breathing as we grow. Not only that, we also lose the rhythmic breathing that babies use.

The practice of deep breathing is done in a comfortable and relaxed lying down or sitting position with erect back. The process begins with slow inhaling to the point when it is not possible to breathe in any more. Breathing in should be continuous, without any stoppage or break. Once the inhaling capacity of lungs has been reached, the process of breathing out begins. The transition from inhalation to exhalation should be smooth and without any break. Exhalation should also be smooth and without break till it becomes difficult to breathe out. Start a new cycle of breathing in with smooth transition between exhalation and inhalation. During the process, the mind should focus on breathing or things related to it. No other, especially unrelated thought should enter the mind. As an aid to focus, use a slow mental count of numbers it take to breathe in. Keep the same mental count while breathing out. This is done to maintain rhythmic breathing cycle. A mantra can also be used as an aid in rhythmic breathing. It may take some time before the technique is mastered.

During the early days of practice, the mind may still wander and thoughts unrelated to breathing may arise. If this happens, refocus on breathing accompanied with counting. An interpretation of such observation may be in order. Focus on breathing action has taken us away from lethargic tamoguni state into the active rajoguni state. Obviously, both of these states, including wandering thoughts created in the mind, are under observation. It is reasonable to conclude that the satoguni state of the intellect has been activated. Intellect observes the unwanted deviation and brings the mind back to desired focus on breathing. In fact, the very act of counting displays a decision made by the intellect that has now taken control of both mental and physical activities. Not only has the intellect taken control of the physical and mental bodies, it also imbibes them with its own quality of steadiness and focus.

When the mind wander during the observation of breathing, it has a tendency, at least in the beginning, to wander and recall events from the past. The recollection of painful or unhappy events will likely trigger similar emotion now and result in a stressful situation. An intellectual analysis will immediately reveal that the mind has become captive of the past and sowed a seed of event as memory that has sprouted in pain or unhappiness now even while the action of recollection and its effect appear in the present. Similarly, a plan of future action drawn by intellect can induce fear of failure that in turn can create stress in life. Analysis will again reveal that only the plan has been conceived now. No action has yet been taken. Therefore, any associated fear of failure of action in the future is groundless. Such fear may lead to a feeling of inadequacy and to stress in life. To prevent it, the Gita proposes the idea of nishkam karmayog. In other words, it tells us not to dwell on future reward.

It seems therefore that all three, the satoguni intellectual body, the rajogoni mental body and the tamoguni physical body act together in the present. Remember that all of our physical actions always occur in the present. The elixir of life or the spirit of living flowing through these bodies must exist now for all bodies to act in unison and harmony at the same time. Let it be known as the spiritual body. The flow of life that binds the physical, the mental and the intellectual body to the spiritual body creates a situation that we know as YOGA. The connection that is felt or observed is an experience of yoga. Yoga is therefore not a word that can be endlessly talked about. It is an experience in which the individual identity of physical, mental and intellectual bodies merges into one unity. That unity is often considered spiritual and identified as the experience of advait. Advait is therefore not a word either, it is a spiritual experience. The totality of this experience gives us a feeling of existence, known as sat; the feeling itself is the knowledge of sat and is identified as chit, and the consequence of the feeling is called anand or bliss. Sat-chit-anand is therefore not a word to be debated or talked about; it is an experience.

Once the interpretation of the experiences have been made as outlined above, the art of living becomes intimately linked with development of human personalities. Vedic text (Rig Ved, 10/129) tells us that there was neither sat nor asat in the beginning. Sat is the existence that does not change while asat changes during the course of observation. Sankhya describes asat in three parts: the physical (gross), mental and intellectual (subtle and the link between the subtle and causal). They can be linked to physical, mental and intellectual personalities that we inherit and subsequently develop as we age. All of us have noticed changes in our physical personality over the years. We have also noticed changes in the way we think. That indicates change in the mental body or personality. Our power of analysis and judgement also change indicating evolution in intellectual body or personality. In fact, according to the Neural Science, the cells that our body and brain are made of are replaced every seven years or so, a statement that is supported by our experience. If so, we must live in a way that these personalities change into better ones compared to one we had before. This is the Art of Living promoted by the discipline called Yoga. It is of course helped by deep breathing that involves drawing in and supplying Oxygen to all cells (especially vital for human existence are the cells of the brain and heart muscles). Oxygen is the basic food for their existence and sustenance. Ample supply of food for health makes the bodies healthy. Those who are interested in a different interpretation of the verses in the Gita will readily identify sat with akshar brahma as well as with Purush of the Sankhya. Asat can now be identified with kshar brahma of the Gita or Prakriti of the Sankhya. Para Vidya mentioned in the Manduk Upanishad deals with the education about akshar brahma, where as the concern of Apara Vidya is kshar brahma. In terms of current terminology, the Spiritual Education is the topic of Para Vidya. Apara Vidya deals with the Secular Education. Both are indispensable for a good life that is free from the Physical, the Mental and the Intellectual suffering. A diligent application of both of them in life leads to an experience commonly known as Moksha, Nirvana, Kaivalya or emancipation.

Dr. Rajendra N. Dubey