Verse 4: But first … How do you know?

This verse is, in my mind, a turning point in the text. The next set of verses (4 – 7) is where I got stuck in most of my past study attempts. The proposition in this verse is deceptively simple, but in retrospect, it is like the calm before the storm.

When I initially encountered this section of the text I felt discouraged. I felt like I was being diverted from what really interested me. I wanted to know “what is the world? what am I?” But the text demanded that I first address the question “How do you know?”

And the answer(s) to “How do you know?” are not simple. This is where the intellectual rigor begins to ratchet up. In retrospect (in my current studies, I have already passed through and beyond this verse) I can appreciate the critical role these verses play. They are like the pillars of the structure that will be built on top of them. Without them I would constantly find myself asking “well, how can I know this?” In fact I did find myself asking this question, a lot. These verses seem to anticipate that and to preemptively answer that question.

These verses also demonstrate why a teacher (and a supportive practice!) is needed. They invite and deserve to be questioned and challenged. But it is very difficult to do this well on your own. You arrive at the inquiry with established biases. You, naturally, think you know better. You, naturally, think your thinking is reliable. But what these verses are really trying to point out is that your thinking has vulnerabilities. This means that you may think you know better and not be aware that, in fact, you don’t. You CAN know better, but you can also be wrong. This is where a teacher can help.

In fact, this verse explicitly points to this: “valid testimony” implies a source. That source is a teacher. Someone who has been where you are, has dealt with the challenges you are facing, has waded through the questions you have, has made the mistakes you are about to make, and has done so well enough to be able to sotly guide you towards correct learning through correct practice that will lead to correct cognition.

Finding a teacher is, I believe, the most challengiing aspect of Yoga (or probably any discipline?). Good learning requires a convergence of three elements: a motivated student, a capable teacher and reliable teachings. A sustained convergence of all three seems to be rare. I have witnessed my own teacher shift, over decades, away from the lure of teaching groups and back towards a traditional setting of a one-on-one relationhip where there is space for subtle and intimate learning.

TKV Desikachar did not teach different people different things.
Nor did he just teach the same thing to different people.
He taught different people the same thing in different ways.
The same could be said of T Krishnamacharya’s teaching.
Hence the context of the phrase the Viniyoga of Yoga.”

Yoga Studies

There is A LOT more (than is explicitly expressed in this and the coming verses) to be said about right and wrong cognition. But all that needs to be said cannot be conceived or captured in advance. It can only arise in context. It has to be said at the righ time as determined by a teacher responding to a student. What is the right time? The right time is when a question is alive in a student and a teacher feels that the student is able to hold an answer. The right time implies a lasting, intimate relationship and a life-long journey of applied learning. That is how you come to know.

Also, I have updated the creative process page to reflect the changes that the actual process has gone through. I myself was surprised, when I took the time to acknowledge it, how much more detailed and elaborate the real process has become.

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