A Vedic perspective on Ashtanga’s 1% theory

In one of the first books I’m reading in preparation for our December Yatra, I ran across a very clear and straight-forward description of the Vedic perspective on “the nature of the ultimate” that struck me as perhaps something that would add a little to the well-known formula: Ashtanga is 99% practice, 1% theory.

We typically interpret that saying of Guruji (or any of its similar ratios — 97/3 or 95/5) as meaning that practice deserves the overwhelming majority of our attention. “Do your practice and all is coming,” right?

I’m sure it is because the practice comes so painfully that I’m always looking for a way to emphasize the mental side of Ashtanga as much as possible. So, I’ll admit I might be grasping at straws here, but…

According to Alain Danielou in the omni-present “The Myths and Gods of India,” Indian philosophers conceive of an infinite, undifferentiated space underlying all perceptible forms. What we see and perceive is part of the illusion of the division of this space. Here’s a “traditional example” he cites:

Space within a pitcher is not really separated from the space outside. It was not distinct before the pitcher was made; it will not be distinct once the pitcher is broken and is not therefore really distinct while the pitcher exists.

Danielou goes on the explain this: “All the divisions of space into atoms and heavenly spheres are mere appearances. The space within the atom can be as immense as that within a solar system, and there can be no limit to the number of possible worlds contained in another.”

First off, I should note that Indian philosophers seemed to have grasped the fundamentals of quantum physics pretty well.

I’m also reminded of a high school physics test. You put two people at opposite sides of a room (in this case it was a classroom). Then you have them move half the distance closer to each other. Then you have them do it again. And again. And again.

The point? They would come infinitesimally close to each other but never actually touch. An infinite number of “half the space” always remains.

Now, to the 1%. Here’s my thinking: “The space within the 1% can be as immense as that within the 99%.”

That formulation maybe begins to upend our emphasis and focus on practice, especially a very militant one. (A separate question, of the same vein, might be: What do we mean by “practice”? Is our reading part of our practice? What off the mat activity may be part of yours?)

Now, my intent here is not to dismiss Guruji’s formula. And I don’t intend to follow it any differently than I have. It is just a reminder, to me at least, of our habits and preconceptions and the, perhaps, rigid thinking that we can fall into at times.

How you see and approach things depends on your perception. And, perhaps, your practice.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

3 thoughts on “A Vedic perspective on Ashtanga’s 1% theory”

  1. Patanjali states, in the Yoga Sutras, “…effort toward steadiness of mind is practice (I:13).” But I too have wondered how much reading, pondering, meditation – all of these as different from effort on the mat itself – should be considered a part of this practice. Great post!

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