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Asparśa-yoga: A unique Vedantic technique of Mindfulness by Nithin Sridhar

Conference on Vedic Mindfulness- Asparśa-yoga: A unique Vedantic technique of Mindfulness by Nithin Sridhar. This paper, was presented at the seminar on 'Vedic Mindfulness' jointly organized by Indic Academy's Inter Gurukula University Centre and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi in July, 2019.

Mindfulness is a very popular practice today in the West. It is often understood as the psychological process of paying attention to, and consciously experiencing each moment in the present, in a non-judgmental manner. While its origins in the Buddhist meditation practices of Zen and Vipassanā are grudgingly acknowledged, the rich traditions of meditation and mindfulness in the Vedic tradition, which form the basis of even the said Buddhist practices are rarely written about.

Nithin Sridhar in this paper examines one such practice of Vedic meditation—the asparśa-yoga or the yoga of non-contact; that has been conceptualized in the Māndukya Kārikā of Ācārya Gauḍapāda and practiced in the tradition of Advaita Vedānta. Though the concept of asparśa-yoga is quite old and can be traced back to the major Upaniṣad­-s, the phrase itself appears for the first-time only in the Māndukya Kārikā of Ācārya Gauḍapāda.

The paper examines the different meanings and connotations of the term asparśa-yoga; and goes on to show  how it primarily refers to the state of jīvanmukta; and only in a secondary sense, does it refer to the spiritual practices that lead one to jīvanmukti. A detailed analysis of asparśa-yoga as a spiritual practice is then undertaken.

Nithin Sridhar elaborates on the two stages of the spiritual process involved. The first stage comprises of withdrawal of the mind from worldly objects and pleasures, by constantly fixing up the mind in the recollection (anusmṛti) of the fact that the empirical world is full of misery. In the subsequent stage involves re-focusing the mind upon brahman, by recollecting (anusmṛti) the fact that birthless brahman, who is non-different from ātman- the innermost Self is everything.

He also discusses the two modern models of Mindfulness practices. The model proposed by Shapiro, Et al. identifies three axioms of mindfulness as (a) intention, (b) attention, and (c) attitude. A similar model proposed by Mark R. Leary and Eleanor B. Tate. suggests five components of mindfulness: (a) mindful attention, (b) diminished self-talk, (c) non-judgment, (d) non-doing, and (e) a particular set of philosophical, ethical, or therapeutic beliefs.

Modern mindfulness techniques developed in the west are mostly aimed at deriving medical and therapeutic benefits. The intention in such practices is mainly self-regulation and stress-management. The goal of asparśa-yoga is neither self-regulation nor stress-management. It does not aim at resolving any medical issue or providing any therapeutic benefits. These could be, at best, considered as secondary unintentional benefits that happen on their own.

The primary and the only intentional goal of asparśa-yoga is the attainment of birthless brahman and as such, the attention is directed towards continuous recollection of the fact that brahman is everything. Though asparśa-yoga has many similarities with the Buddhist vipassanā practices, especially how they view the futility of the empirical world; Buddhism leads to śūnyatā or emptiness. The Vedanta is positive in approach. It doesn’t lead to śūnyatā but to pūrṇatā or fullness. It is therefore unique, concludes the author.

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