When you’re teaching dozens of classes each week, it’s easy to run out of inspiring themes to talk about at the beginning of class.
Both Tania and I had enormously full schedules during the tine we were running our yoga studio. We were teaching private sessions outside of the studio as well as carrying a lot of the classes at the studio.
But I’ve always felt a sense of responsibility to my students to educate and inform them about some of the deeper concepts of this ancient practice. So it was common for me to dig deep to build a class around a concept that I found particularly helpful in my own practice.
One of these concepts is the idea of SAṂVEGA.
Saṃvega is a Pali Buddhist term which describes “a sense of shock, anxiety and spiritual urgency to reach liberation and escape the suffering of saṃsāra.” (1)
‘Sam’ translates to ‘with’ or ‘together,’ and ‘vega’ is ‘force, wave, agitation, dismay.’ The Chinese character is 厭怖, or ‘yanbu,’ a combination of 厭 (‘loathe, tire of’) and 怖 (‘shudder, terror, dread’). (2)
You get the idea…it’s an intense emotion.
It refers to the Buddha’s mental state after his first three encounters when, as a young prince at his father’s palace, he was exposed to aging, sickness and death.
It’s a gut-wrenching spiritual dilemma—angst coupled with a sense of urgency. It can lead to bitterness, cynicism or depression… or, it can cause one to seek the Dharma, Truth or one’s path to liberation.
When I first heard this term, I understood it completely, all at once.
It describes the complex feeling that overcame me when I took my first yoga class. You might’ve had this same feeling. It was as if the lights in my particular little closet in which I was living suddenly went on, and I realized that yoga was going to be a way of life for me. But it brought with it the angst that how I had been living was going to have to change radically.
According to Thanissaro Bhikku, saṃvega can be defined as:
The oppressive sense of shock, dismay and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it’s normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle. (3)
It is said that the cure for saṃvega is PASADA.
Pasada was the Buddha’s mental state after the fourth encounter, with a renunciate religious contemplative. The word expresses “a firm confidence or conviction that practice will lead to Buddhahood; to a resolution of saṃvega.”
In other words, at some point in each of our lives we are faced with the unavoidable suffering (the three encounters of aging, sickness and death) of our human existence.
At which point we have a choice: descend into darkness and despair over the futility of life; or, seek the Dharma (the path of enlightened wisdom and supreme peace).
I personally have known those who’ve chosen to go down one or another of these life paths. I myself was on the path of “darkness and despair” before meeting yoga—life was pretty confusing, uncertain and lacking in meaning then.
Knowing that this choice exists has been SO important in my own life. And I think it accounts for why students feel such a deep devotion to their yoga path.
In one of my next posts, I’ll discuss the concept of SANKALPA as it relates to going forward in life once the lights have turned on.
I encourage you to share these concepts with your students, in your own words, and in a way that’s meaningful to you. They might even have relevance to something you might be experiencing in your life right now. Be sure to share that with them too.
(1) Wikipedia – Saṃvega
(2) Fraught with Peril – Saṃvega and Prasada
(3) “Affirming the Truths of the Heart: The Buddhist Teachings on Samvega & Pasada,” by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 8 March 2011.
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