January 27, 2012

“The More the Medicine, the Worse the Sickness.” ~ Tias Little

Photo: Kevin Hutchinson

“The more the medicine, the worse the sickness.”

{Yoga Koan number one}

This line is from the Zen tradition of China called Chan. It is part of a collection of sayings and teachings called koans that directly address the workings of the mind. Like yoga postures, they are meant to bend your mind and loosen it, so that the way you once thought was up or down changes. At the very least, they are meant to change your point of view, ultimately leading you to see that there may be real problems with any one point of view.

This line “the more the medicine, the worse the sickness” suggests that.

At first we think, “oh, it is a good idea to reduce my intake of pharmaceuticals.”  While that may be a good idea, this phrase is pointing to another kind of medicine. It is the medicine doled out by almost all spiritual teaching. By the time the yoga teachings had all been made into texts through lineage transmission, from India to China to Japan, there came to be a real wariness (and weariness) regarding technique and formula. There came to be too much emphasis on principles, protocols and sutras.

This is good to keep in mind today, as yoga teachers go running around espousing their personal doctrines, or their system’s doctrines. It is for this reason that I align with the Buddha’s teachings that say, “No vehicle is the vehicle of the buddhas.” So the more spiritual medicine one ingests, the more they have to break it down at some point. This is hard on the liver!  It can cause excess heat and stagnation! So, the less you take in the less you have to process.

However easy this sounds, this is is a fairly sophisticated idea, “the more the medicine, the worse the sickness.”  Initially, spiritual practitioners need to swallow a lot of teachings, teachings full of dogma and doctrine. I did, for twenty years, I followed various yoga systems until I hit a wall.

Then I thought, Gee, what I really need to do is start dropping all my fixed notions, all my concepts—even if they are admirable, altruistic principles like ahimsa and satya. And principles as to what is “right” alignment in a pose. So then the practice involves dropping our agendas, our fixed notions.

This process in itself can take 20 years, so don’t wait! Caution should be applied to views of vegetarianism, truth and universal principles of alignment. It is for this reason that the phrase, “the more the medicine, the worse the sickness” is so potent and radical. It is for this reason I like to think of my school Prajna Yoga as the “system-less system.” The last thing I want to do is give students more medicine that just may be bad for their health.


Edited by Kate Bartolotta


Tias Little is a yoga teacher, meditation instructor, and regular contributor at YogaModern.com. Tias is committed to teaching yoga as a contemplative path, leading to greater sensitivity, tolerance and deep understanding (prajna). His teaching combines the techniques of yoga that stem from the work of B.K.S Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Tias is a long time student of Tsoknyi Rinpoche in the Dzogchen practice of Tibetan Buddhism. He is trained in Vipassana meditation and the Japanese Soto school of Zen Buddhism founded by Dogen. He currently studies koans within the Chan Buddhist traditions in China with Roshi Joan Sutherland. Tias earned a BA from Amherst College Mass in 1988 and a Masters degree in Eastern Philosophy from St. John’s College Santa Fe in 1998. Learn more about Tias’ classes, workshops, and teaching at prajnayoga.net

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