Sunday, 3 January 2016

Krishnamacharya and Burmese Buddhist meditation: focal points linked to breath and brought into asana.

"Those who practice yoganga, with the power of vinyasa and pranayama, have the ability to significantly decrease this number (of breaths). While practicing yoga with reverence, one can offer their essence to God during exhalation and during inhalation, imagine/suppose that God is entering your heart.  During kumbhaka, we can practice dharana and dhyana.  Such practices will improve mental concentration and strengthen silence/stillness.  Eliminates agitation and restlessness". 
Krishnamacharya Yogasanagalu (1941)

Now I'm no doubt reading too much into this and making connections where perhaps they aren't any or where none are necessary (these focal points are after all traditional points of mental focus in yoga) Still,  it's been playing on my mind, something about the technique of linking focal points to the breath and bringing them into asana practice. Either way it makes for a good post and a chance to look at this material again.

For a number of years I've been fascinated by the Idea that Krishnamacharya either went to Burma to study 'Burmese Yoga' or , what now seems more likely studied Buddhism, and Buddhist meditation in the Burmese tradition in particular. I was quite excited then to see this account (below) of Krishnamacharya and his son TK Sribhashyam  visiting the Mahabodhi/Bodhigaya temple, in the recent interview over at Harmony Yoga. Krishnamacharya sits down with some of the elderly monks who are supposedly old friends of his from when they studied Buddhism together. Krishnamacharya then went on to teach his son the differences between pranayama in Hinduism and Buddhism. Wouldn't you have like to be a mosquito on the temple wall for that conversation. What differences in particular did Krishnamacharya explain to his son, Samatha perhaps, mindfulness of breathing? Did any of these practices find their way into Krishnamacharya's own practice and teaching. ?
Now, I was just reading again Ajaan Lee's book, Keeping the Breath in Mind (free download available HERE - Thank you S.) and looking at this use of focal points (or bases of the mind) in the Meditation practice he presents based on the breath.

from Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo Keeping the Breath in Mind
Lessons in Samdhi
"5. Become acquainted with the bases or focal points for the mind—the resting
spots of the breath—and center your awareness on whichever one seems most
comfortable. A few of these bases are:

a. the tip of the nose,
b. the middle of the head,
c. the palate,
d. the base of the throat,
e. the breastbone (the tip of the sternum),
f. the navel (or a point just above it)".

Doesn't that remind you of Krishnamacharya's use of focal points to bring Dharana into his asana practice as outlined by his son TK Sribhashyam in Emergence of Yoga.

BUT Ajaan Lee is of course Thai not Burmese (There is a Thai tradition of focal point/bases for the mind breath meditation- see Dhammakya at the end of post). However, I checked Ajaan Lee's autobiography and it turns out he spent time in Burma and, get this, also India and at Maha bodhi in particular. Was the focal point/bases of the mind approach to Samatha in vogue at mahabodhi at the time Krishnamacharya may have studied there if indeed that was where he encountered Burmese and perhaps Thai Buddhism. Was there a cross fertilisation between this encounter with Samatha and Krishnamacharya's reading of Yoga Yajnavalkya ( see No. 4 below).

Krishnamacharya was always all about the breath, in Yoga Makaranda he only seems to employ two focal points, the tip of the nose and between the eyebrows, he was however well aware of the employment of the vital points in one of his favourite texts YogaYajnavalkya (includes a pranayama technique where the breath -and prana- moved from vital point to vital point). Krishnamacharya would of course have been fascinated had he encountered a meditative tradition based on the breath that focussed on traditional focal points (those from the heart up are considered to be spiritual focal points rather than those for the emotions or those for the body.

  1. First up then the Question and answer from the interview with Sribashyam on Buddhism and Burma.
  2. Next a page outlining the focal points in Emergence of Yoga along with an outline of Krishnamacharya's own practice
  3. A couple of sections from Ajaan Lees book outlining the Meditation technique  with a link to a free download for the full method.
  4. Finally the relevant passages on moving prana from vital point to vital point in pratyahara and pranayama practice found in Yoga Yajnavalkya.


1. Krishnamacharya and Burmese Buddhist meditation
Interview with TK Sribashyam ( Krishnamacharya's 3rd son from this post

"11) You mentioned in the Life Sketch of your Father that he mastered Buddhist Yoga in Burma. Would you be able to tell us more about this and what influence this had on your father’s teaching?"

"My father’s teaching of Indian Philosophy (Yoga Sutra, Vedanta, and even Hatha Yoga) had very often comparisons to the Buddhists thoughts – either to make us understand the flaws that existed in the Buddhist logic and analysis or to bring to light some similar views, especially in the psychology of Buddhism, so that we develop conviction in the Buddha’s teaching.
Apart from this, he used to receive Buddhist monks who would have long discussions with him on this philosophy. As often it was a private discussion, we did not dare to attend these lessons.
In the late sixties, when I went with my father on a pilgrimage to Allahabad, Varanasi and Gaya, he took me to Bodh Gaya for two consecutive days. It is here that he gave some important points of Buddha’s teaching, as also their method of Dhyāna, particularly their very significant mantra: Buddham Sharanam Gachami, Dhammam (Dharmam) Sharanam Gachami, Samgham Sharnam Gachami. I remember some elderly monks saluting him and expressing their happiness at meeting him. They sat in a corner in the Buddha’s temple and had more than an hour’s discussion. The meeting was completed by a silent meditation. Later, my father told me that they were his colleagues when he studied Buddhism. He taught me the technique and practice of Pranayama applied by the Buddhists and subtle differences between Hinduism and Buddhism. However, he was not criticising Buddhism in his lectures. My father had great respect for Buddha’s teaching.
We should not forget that Buddha is considered as one of the incarnations of Vishnu.
A successful Vedic ritual or even a meditation requires a healthy body and mind so that we can stay during the rituals and in a meditation for a longer period without getting disturbances from the senses and the mind".
full interview HERE


2. Concentration on the the sixteen vital points

from Emergence of Yoga by Krishnamacharya's 3rd son SRI T K SRIBHASHYAM

Also example from the Book of Krishnamacharya's own practice to show how concentration of vital points might be employed.

*Note in the second sheet ( EG. Baddha Konasana ) how the concentration  moves from point to point, mula to sirsa, on the inhalation although the exhalation always remains on a single point


3. Keeping the Breath in Mind
Lessons in Samdhi
byAjaan Lee Dhammadharo

Method 1
"Sit in a half-lotus position, right leg on top of the left leg, your hands placed
palm-up on your lap, right hand on top of the left. Keep your body straight, and
your mind on the task before you. Raise your hands in respect, palm-to-palm in
front of the heart, and think of the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and
Sangha: Buddho me n›tho—The Buddha is my mainstay. Dhammo me n›tho —The
Dhamma is my mainstay. Saºgho me n›tho —The Sangha is my mainstay. Then
repeat in your mind, buddho, buddho; dhammo, dhammo; saºgho, saºgho. Return
your hands to your lap, and repeat one word, buddho, three times in your mind.
Then think of the in-and-out breath, counting the breaths in pairs. First think
bud- with the in-breath, dho with the out, ten times. Then begin again, thinking
buddho with the in-breath, buddho with the out, seven times. Then begin again: As
the breath goes in and out once, think buddho once, five times. Then begin again:
As the breath goes in and out once, think buddho three times. Do this for three inand-out
Now you can stop counting the breaths, and simply think bud- with the inbreath
and dho with the out. Let the breath be relaxed and natural. Keep your
mind perfectly still, focused on the breath as it comes in and out of the nostrils.
When the breath goes out, don’t send the mind out after it. When the breath
comes in, don’t let the mind follow it in. Let your awareness be broad and open.
Don’t force the mind too much. Relax. Pretend that you’re breathing out in the
wide-open air. Keep the mind still, like a post at the edge of the sea. When the
water rises, the post doesn’t rise with it; when the water ebbs, the post doesn’t
 When you’ve reached this level of stillness, you can stop thinking buddho.
Simply be aware of the feeling of the breath.
 Then slowly bring your attention inward, focusing it on the various aspects of
the breath—the important aspects that can give rise to intuitive powers of
various kinds: clairvoyance, clairaudience, the ability to know the minds of
others, the ability to remember previous lives, the ability to know where
different people and animals are reborn after death, and knowledge of the
various elements or potentials that are connected with, and can be of use to, the
body. These elements come from the bases of the breath. The First Base: Center
the mind on the tip of the nose, and then slowly move it to the middle of the
forehead, The Second Base. Keep your awareness broad. Let the mind rest for a
moment at the forehead, and then bring it back to the nose. Keep moving it back
and forth between the nose and the forehead—like a person climbing up and
down a mountain—seven times. Then let it settle at the forehead. Don’t let it go
back to the nose.
 From here, let it move to The Third Base, the middle of the top of the head,
and let it settle there for a moment. Keep your awareness broad. Inhale the
breath at that spot, let it spread throughout the head for a moment, and then
return the mind to the middle of the forehead. Move the mind back and forth
between the forehead and the top of the head seven times, finally letting it rest
on the top of the head.
 Then bring it into The Fourth Base, the middle of the brain. Let it be still for a
moment, and then bring it back out to the top of the head. Keep moving it back
and forth between these two spots, finally letting it settle in the middle of the
brain. Keep your awareness broad. Let the refined breath in the brain spread to
the lower parts of the body...."

from Method 2...

"As soon as you find that your breathing feels comfortable, let this comfortable
breath sensation spread to the different parts of the body. To begin with, inhale
the breath sensation at the base of the skull and let it flow all the way down the

"Then let the breath from the base of the skull spread down over both
shoulders, past your elbows and wrists, to the tips of your fingers and out into
the air".

"5. Become acquainted with the bases or focal points for the mind—the resting
spots of the breath—and center your awareness on whichever one seems most
comfortable. A few of these bases are:

a. the tip of the nose,
b. the middle of the head,
c. the palate,
d. the base of the throat,
e. the breastbone (the tip of the sternum),
f. the navel (or a point just above it).

If you suffer from frequent headaches or nervous problems, don’t focus on
any spot above the base of the throat. And don’t try to force the breath or put
yourself into a trance. Breathe freely and naturally. Let the mind be at ease with
the breath—but not to the point where it slips away".


4. the Sixteen vital points in pratyahara 
from Yoga Yajnavalkya (AG Mohan edition)

However, we know too that Krishnamacharya stressed  the importance of the Yoga Yajnavakya and this text treats the vital points in the chapter on pratyaha, drawing the prana from one point to another. Perhaps then we don't need to look to Burmese Buddhist meditation to find the seeds of Krishnamacharya's employment of the vital points, to bring an element of Dharana to his asana and mudra practice.
from Yoga Yajnavalkya AG Mohan Translation

"The senses, by nature being drawn towards [their sensory] objects, their restraint by [conscious] effort is said to be pratyahara.
Whatever you see, look upon al of it as [being] in the self, and as the self. This is also called pratyahara by great souls who have realized [the essence of] yoga.
For all beings, the mental practice of the daily duties that are prescribed (by the Vedas), devoid of external actions, is also said to be pratyahara.
The following pratyahara is the greatest yogic practice and is praised and followed by yogis always. Having drawn the prana from one point to another, holding it in the eighteen vital points (marmasthanas) is spoken of as pratyahara. The Asvini Kumaras who are the best among the physicians of the celestials (devas) have spoken thus of the vital points in the body,
for the attainment of liberation through yoga".

"I shall explain all of them in an orderly manner. Listen, disciplined [Gargi]!
The big toes, the ankles, in the mid-shanks, the root of the calves, the knees, middle of the thighs, the root of the anus, the center of the body (dehamadhya), generative organ, the nave], the heart, and neck pit, Gargi Then, the root of!he palate, the root ofthe nose, circular orb of!he eyes, the center of the eyebrows, the forehead, and crown of the head. [Gargi,] best among sages!
These are the vital points".

"One must focus and retain the prana, using the mind, in these vital points. In one who does pratyahara, drawing the prana from one point to another, all diseases perish. Far him yoga attains fruition".

This is perhaps the most interesting of all, employing the Vital Points in pranayama.
It should be noted that the seven vital points from the heart to the top of the head are considered those most important for spiritual practice, the others being for the emotions and the 'body', this approach then might be taken with just the seven 'spiritual' vital points depending upon ones intention.

"Some skilled yogis speak of[another] pratyahara. Listen, beautiful [Gargi], I will tell you [about] it. During the practice of pranayama, the prana must be held by the mind from the big toe to the crown of the head, like a totally filled pot. Drawing [the prana] from the crown of the head, one must focus it in the forehead. Again, drawing the prana from the forehead, one must focus it between the eyebrows. Drawing [the prana] from the center of the eyebrows one must focus it in center of the eyes. Drawing the prana from the eyes, one must focus it in the root of the nose. From the root of the nose, one must focus the prana in the root of the tangue. Drawing [the pranaa] from the roof of the tongue, one must focus it in the base of the throat (neck-pit). Drawing the prana from the neck-pit, one must focus it in center of the heart, from the center of heart in the center of the nave!, again from the center of the navel in the generative organ and then from the generative organ in the abode of fire (dehamadhya), from the dehamadhya (center of the body), Gargi, in the root of the anus and from the root of the anus in the [mid-] thighs , then from the mid-thigh in the center o fthe knees. Then, [from the knee] one must focus the prana in the root of the calf, from there in the middle of the shank, and drawing [the prana] from the middle of the shank in the ankle. From the ankle, Gargl, one must focus
it (the prava) in the big toes of the feet".


(Phra Mongkhonthepmuni (Sodh Candasaro; 10 October 1884 – 3 February 1959), the late abbot of Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen, was the founder of the Thai Dhammakaya meditation school in 1914.

As with many forms of Buddhist meditation Dhammakaya meditation has both samatha and vipassana stages. The goal of Dhammakaya meditation at the samatha level is to overcome the Five hindrances.When the mind becomes peaceful and stable as the result of successful practice for tranquillity, the mind will overcome the Five Hindrances and reach a state of one-pointedness (ekaggata) also known in Dhammakaya Meditation as the 'standstill of the mind' (i.e. to a state where it is free of thought). The indication of reaching this stage is that a bright clear sphere will arise spontaneously at the centre of the body. The mind should then be directed continuously at the centre of this sphere helping to transport the mind towards the ekalyânamagga path inside. attainment at the level of vipassana arises. 

There are several ways of focussing the attention at the centre of the body, namely:

following down through the seven bases of the mind, namely: the nostril, the corner of the eye, the centre of the head, the roof of the mouth, the centre of the throat, the middle of the stomach at the level of the navel and two finger breadths above the previous point.
visualising a mental image at the centre of the body: characteristically, a crystal ball [alokasaññâ] or a crystal clear Buddha image [buddhânussati] and repetition of the mantra ‘Samma-Araham’ (which means ‘the Buddha who has properly attained to arahantship’).
placing the attention at the centre of the body without visualising

7 bases of the mind

Dhammakaya meditation was re-discovered by Phramongkolthepmuni on the full-moon night of September 1914 at Wat Bangkuvieng, Nonthaburi.[1] This monk had practised several other forms of meditation popular in Thailand at the time with teachers such as Phrasangavaranuwongse (Phra Acharn Eam) of Wat Rajasiddharam, Bangkok; Phra Kru Nyanavirat (Phra Acharn Po) of Wat Pho, Bangkok; Phra Acharn Singh of Wat Lakorn Thamm, Thonburi; Phramonkolthipmuni (Phra Acharn Muy) of Wat Chakrawat, Bangkok and Phra Acharn Pleum of Wat Kao Yai, Amphoe Tha Maka, Kanchanaburi.[2] He claimed that the Dhammakaya approach he discovered had nothing to do with the teachings he had received from these other masters - but he did have previous knowledge of the Sammā-Arahaṃ mantra before discovering the technique. The technique of directing attention towards the centre of the body is already described in an obscure 18th century Sinhalese meditation manual that was translated into English as Manual of a Mystic. It was probably introduced into Sri Lanka by Thai monks during the Buddhist revival in the mid-eighteenth century, and taught to forest dwelling monks of the Asgiriya Vihara fraternity in the Kandyan Kingdom, who wrote it down.[3] After rediscovering the technique, Phramonkolthepmuni first taught it to others at Wat Bangpla, Amphoe Bang Len, Nakhon Pathom in 1915.[4] From 1916 onwards, when he was given his first abbothood, Dhammakaya Meditation became associated with his home temple of Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen. It is said that Phramongkolthepmuni was the rediscoverer of Dhammakaya meditation, because members of the Dhammakaya Movement believe that the Buddha became enlightened by attaining Dhammakaya, and that knowledge of this (equated with Saddhamma in the Dhammakaya Movement) was lost 500 years after the Buddha entered Parinirvana.


T. krishnamacharya applying Tri-bandha from Paul Harvey Centre for Yoga Studies


an earlier post on Pratyahara and marma points

No comments:

Post a Comment