Samkhya and Yoga. A contemporary reading

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Interview with Raquel Ferrández Formoso

"Understanding the importance of samskaras is essential to understand the current state of our mind, and to understand the meaning of meditative practice"

Today we bring you an interview conducted by Jonatan González with Raquel Ferrández Formoso, writer of the book Sāṃkhya and Yoga. This work invites us to think about the classical philosophies of Sāṃkhya and Yoga, adapting them to a contemporary perspective in which philosophical research and practical contemplation are combined. Raquel is an Integral Yoga teacher and yoga teacher trainer. Graduated in Philosophy from the University of Santiago de Compostela and Master in Theoretical and Practical Philosophy at the UNED, she is also a university expert in the culture of India and Iran (University of Salamanca).

Where does your interest in Eastern philosophy and more specifically Hindu contemplative philosophies come from?

My interest in philosophy begins with an interest in the spiritual exercises that are the basis of ancient philosophy, be it Greek, Latin or Indian. When I started studying at the university, I realized that Greek and Latin philosophy had gone through a process of hyper-rationalization so great that its practical and existential character had become a mere historical anecdote. The way of life that is at the root of Platonic, Stoic, Epicurean or Neoplatonic philosophy had been reduced to a set of speculations, ideas and philological analyzes divorced from their existential meaning, from the embodiment of those ideas. Indian philosophy, on the other hand, was completely absent from the syllabus. But the practices of Indian philosophy, even transformed and reinterpreted over time, were alive in yoga schools and centers. I began to train as a Yoga teacher, starting a very intense personal journey of self-knowledge, and that is how I immediately turned to the study of the philosophy of Yoga, Samkhya, Buddhism, among others, with the means that were within my reach. . And always putting forward his practical and contemplative nature.

It seems that Europe lives oblivious to spirituality and philosophy, does that explain the rise of yoga practice in the West?

Well, there is often talk of the disenchantment of the West, and the loss of its mystical roots. In this sense, the works of Peter Kingsley have tried to recover those roots. I think the practices or anthropotechnical (methods to protect ourselves from anguish, uncertainty, suffering) from India, and the success of some of them (such as Yoga), have served as an impetus, possibly, to encourage us to recover other practices of self-knowledge lost long ago . The rise of Stoicism in our days is proof of this. It is claimed as a practical mode of existence from sectors as diverse as fitness and sports, as well as from certain sectors of the university academy that are claiming a "practicing" academy and not just scholarly. I believe that the paths of self-knowledge are mutually supportive, and now we have available many of them that come from different cultures and philosophies.

«I believe that the paths of self-knowledge are mutually supportive, and now we have available many of them that come from different cultures and philosophies»

Is modern yoga practice closer to or further away from the teachings of Samkhya and the Yogasutras?

At first I would say that modern practice is moving away from these teachings. The purpose of contemporary Yoga is not the same as the one presented to us in the classical versions of Samkhya and Yoga. These are traditions with a marked ascetic character (influenced by the metaphysics of renunciation typical of ascetics). sramanas), whose purpose is to release the samara, and ultimately, the non-return to existence. The aphorisms of Yoga is not a manual addressed to those who do yoga twice a week, but to an aspiring kaivalya (the liberating isolation, which is the isolation between mind and consciousness). It is inevitable that by changing the purpose of the practice, the practice itself will be transformed. Now, there are many teachings in this classic manual that are still necessary and give meaning to the practice. After all, we find in this text brilliant and universal descriptions of the cognitive processes that the meditative practitioner goes through. When one is immersed in the practice and proposes a serious reading of the yoga sutra, understanding by “reading” assimilation and work with the text, is reflected in a manual from fifteen centuries ago. This usually happens in self-knowledge jobs. Lastly, there is another type of "departure" from this text, which has to do with a tendency of contemporary yoga to assimilate itself to sport and entertainment. In this case, it does not seem to me that there is any possible point of reconciliation. Meditation is not an entertainment, self-knowledge is not a hobbyand, and the dynamic stretching of current yoga is totally alien to Patañjali's treatise. If the purpose of these physical sequences is to work the body to train the contemplative capacity of the mind, we could still establish a bridge with classical or medieval yoga models. But this is not what we usually find.

What basic concepts from these texts may be essential for yoga practitioners?

In my opinion, the Samkhya philosophy offers us a cognitive map oriented to meditators. It is an analysis of the pieces that make up our mind. Observing this map and assimilating it helps us understand how the mind works, and the obstacles that arise when we sit down to work on it. In this sense, the tattvas or categories of that map seem to me essential for practitioners. The gunas, which are often known in contemporary yoga through the influence of texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and also through teachers of Vedantic philosophy, they acquire special relevance in this map since they are considered a synonym of cognitive and metacognitive processes. These states are explained in terms of phenomenological mental states such as clarity, joy (Sattva), passion, anxiety (rajas) and depressive states such as fear and negative thoughts (tamas). On the other hand, Yoga Aphorisms of Patañjali pose meditation as a work on subliminal impressions (samskaras), the latent tendencies that we cannot perceive but that animate and condition our thoughts, our character, our fears, attractions, etc. Understanding the importance of samskaras is essential to understand the current state of our mind, and to understand the meaning of meditative practice.

What can interest in philosophy bring to a regular yoga practitioner? What can reading this book bring in that regard?

Personally, I do not conceive the practice of Yoga as an exercise separated from the study of the texts that explain it, and that are the testimony of advanced practitioners in past times. The application of the mind to the root-texts of Yoga is part of the practice of Yoga, it is a contemplative exercise of the first order. But in the West much remains to be done in this regard. As a Yoga teacher trainer, I often observe an anti-intellectualistic tendency on the part of practitioners, as if the history of the practices we carry out and the texts that support them were a matter for scholars or researchers. It is necessary to raise the cultural commitment of the practitioner, and this must be provided with spiritual exercises linked to study and to reinforce intellectual capacities. Reading is a very important spiritual exercise, and contrary to popular belief, it must be trained, it is not a talent that falls from the sky. Like solitude, silence, and listening, reading is trained and our abilities to tackle complex texts and to engage in enriching conversations about these practices are trained. At least, at the Om Shanti School we are committed to this part of the practice, and we believe that enriching intellectual capacities can only empower the practitioner by inviting him to investigate for himself, and to discern his own path.

At Sincronía yoga we have some introductory workshops on the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. How do you rate these initiatives?

A priori, I welcome these initiatives and they seem necessary to bring this kind of teaching closer to practitioners. But I cannot assess them “blindly”, since everything depends on how they are taught – the same thing happens with the practice of pose, or the practice of pranayama.

Personally, I have attended workshops and courses on these texts bathed in a religious character that greatly conditioned them. Unilateral listening to the interpretation that a particular teacher made of the text was proposed. Before the practitioner could have access to the text itself, divorced as far as possible from previous ideas and conditioning, he was already listening to someone's interpretation and, lacking interpretive tools and personal experience of the text, he has no other choice. to assent to what they tell you. This is not the exercise of empowerment, and intimate relationship with the text, that I have been talking about.

«I do not conceive the practice of Yoga as an exercise separated from the study of the texts that explain it, and that are the testimony of advanced practitioners in past times»

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