Last weekend I was standing with a couple of friends discussing the way that the finer points of alignment in a yoga pose intersect with yoga philosophy when one of them sighed. “We’re such yoga geeks” She said. “Sometimes I wish I was a beginner again.” We all nodded our heads in agreement remembering the innocent pleasure of discovering yoga.
As a teacher, I can taste the giddy excitement of discovery when I teach beginners. The benefits and insights that arise from practicing yoga come quickly and copiously when you first begin to practice regularly. It seems that every practice brings new understanding and it lights up everyone in the room. Once people become more experienced they also become jaded. It is much harder to please a room full of experienced yogis than a room full of beginners. We want to taste the excitement of revelation, and we expect our teachers to deliver it to us again and again.
Jnana shakti is the power of knowledge. When we discover a new passion, the first thing we do is to educate ourselves. We learn everything we can, and then try to tell everyone we know what we’ve learned. It is jnana shakti that convinces so many passionate yogis to take a teacher training, whether we wind up actually teaching or not. Thrilled with the benefits of our yoga practice, we intuitively know that sharing our knowledge will give us more access to it.
According to the Samkya system of Indian philosophy (which greatly influenced yoga philosophy) there are 3 ways of knowing. Authority (someone you trust told you so), inference (logical deduction) and direct sense perception (your own experience). These run in order from most external (unmesha) to most internal (nimesha). Knowing something because someone told you is very different from knowing something you’ve experienced yourself.
Knowledge, while clearly powerful, is also limiting. The more knowledge we have about a topic, the more closed-minded we tend to be about it. As the Zen priest Shunryu Suzuki said “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” When we believe we know one thing, we often discard its opposite, though our world is one of paradox and complexity.
The stronger our internal connection (nimesha) to what we know, the more confident we feel about that knowledge. That doesn’t always translate to the knowledge being more accurate. The deep feeling of knowing often wears off over time. Some of the things we thought we KNEW when we were younger are embarrassing to remember now. A renewed humility arises when discover that what we thought we knew was only a part of the picture. Other times, what feel like deep truths in a moment are forgotten without direct relevance to our daily lives.
The teachings of yoga suggest that we already have access to all the knowledge we need through our connection with the one big energy that runs through everything. The forgetting that we experience as ignorance or suffering is a condition of our embodiment. Through this experience of forgetting, we are able to taste the sweet nectar of revelation. As we dive deeper into our chosen passions, we experience the same revelations again and again. Sometimes we had forgotten the previous incarnation of knowing, and sometimes the revelation is a deepening of knowledge we already held.
When we admit that we only see a part of the picture, we remain open to the mysteries yet untapped. True knowledge should open us more to the possibilities of our lives, not cut ourselves off from them. Consider the character of Yoda, full of knowing and yet playful and almost childlike, Yoda is a caricature that points to truth. We don’t have to be short, green, and talk funny to embody the essence of confidence and humility. We just have to keep seeking knowledge while remaining open-minded and open-hearted.