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We’re all in this together – I pledge my allegiance to living ever more compassionately – will you?

With blessings and gratitude, Har-Prakash.

Tibetan Thangka Detail, 2007, from Mcleod Ganj

Tibetan Thangka Detail, 2007, from Mcleod Ganj, India.

Shinzen Young – my mindfulness meditation teacher for the last decade – has reworked the common western categorization of the sensory system into a simplified and elegant model. This TSSFIT chart, particularly when combined with the triple skill-set of mindfulness – concentration, sensory clarity and equanimity –  is eminently practical and effective in helping us to understand how the various constellations of the human sensory system, and our relationship to that sensory system, affects identity and behaviour.

In the west we usually conceive of the sensory system as seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling. External sights and sounds are usually identified as other – other people, other beings, or the world in general as something existing separate in relation to our conventional sense of self. Now when we consider how our conventional sense of self arises, what we most identify as who we are is composed of a combination of our body’s touches (for a simple working model smell and taste will be considered special categories of touch or body space – see chart below) and emotional feelings, and thoughts that have internal visual and auditory components, or T-F-I-T for short. Individually we often refer to this as “my” body and mind. Deeper within the self-referential body/mind system are the feelings and thought combinations arising in F-I-T, or feel, image, and talk space. Our reactivity arises most personally as F-I-T activity – shame, embarrassment, rage, terror, grief, happiness, joy, compassion, etc., accompanied and reinforced through thought. “You’re making fun of me!” “I love you.” “That’s mine!” These sensory components of body and mind are self-referentially reflected and reinforced in the “I”, “me”, “mine” of our language. There’s nothing wrong with this in and of itself, but as we’ll see later, if that’s all we identify with we stay limited within our conventional fixed identity.

Now let’s look at the chart below. Notice how in the right side of the TSSFIT chart the FEEL-IMAGE-TALK, or F-I-T sensory spaces, represent the more subjective “I, me, mine” conventional sense of self. On the left side of our chart the T-S-S sensory spaces represent a more “not I, me, mine”, or a more objective “other” or “world” space.

HUMAN SENSORY SYSTEM – Conventional Sense of Self and World

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Sitting Using Gyan Mudra

In Spiritual Practices and the Sliding Scale of Identity I wrote about using the TSSFIT approach to the human sensory system. The practical applications of using the TSSFIT chart are many, and this article will elucidate how it can be applied to Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan.

I began studying with Yogi Bhajan in 1984, and my love and gratitude for his teachings continue, almost five years to the day after Yogiji’s physical death. Combining Shinzen Young’s Vipassana (mindfulness meditation) training over the last ten years, particularly his sensory clarity, his TSSFIT chart component, and his “taking the mist out of mysticism”, has helped me clarify Yogi Bhajan’s deep yogic teaching of moving from “mystery into mastery”, in a form that is “trackable, and therefore tractable”.

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Yogi Bhajan, Summer Solstice, New Mexico.

Yogi Bhajan, Summer Solstice, 1985, New Mexico.

Yogi Bhajan gave thousands of different meditations for people to use. Whichever meditations you choose to work with there are two strategies for building momentum in your Kundalini Yoga practice: meditate more often, and deepen the quality of that meditation. Meditating more can involve formal sits, yoga sets, and using various techniques to extend your concentration and awareness throughout the day. Deepening the quality of your meditation is written about in Patanjali’s classic Yogic Sutra’s, particularly in the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The limbs five through eight Patanjali calls pratyahar, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.

Our attention is constantly being pulled here and there when engaged in the outer world. When we withdraw our attention from the outside world, with the eyes closed and the listening directed inwards – unless you’re listening to the activity of chanting – there are less distractions. This enables us to direct attention inwards, which helps us engage in pratyahar. As we’re persistent in applying concentration at deeper levels, we begin to synchronize and merge with the Source first in formal meditation, and eventually throughout daily activities. This synchronization and merger throughout formal meditation and in daily life is the deeper meaning of pratyahar in Kundalini Yoga.

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Shinzen Young & Har-Prakash Khalsa, Jan. 2009, Santa Barbara

Shinzen Young & Har-Prakash Khalsa, Jan. 2009, Santa Barbara

Har-Prakash Khalsa – Given that, in your own words,  “enlightenment is a multi-faceted jewel”, is there a description of enlightenment that you like?

Shinzen Young – In this regard I tend to go towards my Buddhist background.  Scholastic Theravada Buddhism says that three things go away at the initial experience of enlightenment. It’s very significant that it’s put in terms of an elimination process; something goes away, rather than an attainment, a “getting” of something. So enlightenment is not yet another thing that you have to get.  And meditation as a path to enlightenment could be described as merely setting the stage for Nature/Grace to eliminate from you what needs to be eliminated.

The technical terms in Pali for the three things that go away are “sakkaya-ditthi”, “vicikiccha”, and “silabbata-paramasa”. Sakkaya-ditthi is the most important. Sakkaya-ditthi is the perception that there is an entity, a thing inside us called a self. That goes away.

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