Archive for the ‘Sadhana’ Category
Towards the end of Kenneth Liberman’s essay on The Reflexivity of the Authenticity of Hatha Yoga1, he provides guidelines that can be used to distinguish what can be “… authentic in yoga today”. I’m listing them below because I thought the items he lists would also be useful for finding teachers and classes.
I personally prefer smaller, more intimate classes, taught by teachers who are attentive to the needs and safety of their students. I find classes taught by “celebrity” teachers, in trendy studios, to be disappointing. With the right teacher, larger classes can work. But I find popular teachers to be more “performance-oriented”, and thus their classes tend to be distracting, if not outright competitive. I prefer teachers who are service-oriented, humble, and familiar with the psychological & spiritual benefits of asana practice. Thus, I love the following guidelines I culled from Kenneth Liberman’s essay.
Fortunately, I’ve found teachers that have guided my practice. These days my asana practice is primarily a home practice. But through regular private sessions and workshops with my teacher, my practice remains vibrant as ever.
First among them is the resolve of yoga to overcome egoism. This especially conflicts with contemporary Western culture and its individualism and its idolatry of celebrity; but anything that results in inflating ego cannot be considered a yoga practice. It is the considered opinion of two millennia of yoga practice that egocentrism leads to ruin, so techniques for reducing obsessiveness with which a student pursues his or her self-image and interests need to be preserved. The system of yoga of Patanjali and all yogis since have included yamas and niyamas or something similar, that refers to basic moral practices such as honesty, good will, selflessness, and the like, without which a daily practice cannot be considered “authentic” yoga. Accordingly, these need to be made part of the regular and daily instruction in yoga classes worldwide. The point of teaching asana is to lead students to a pacification of nervous energy so that spiritual rewards of simpler ways of being can be experienced for oneself. … Can there be an authentic yoga that is not oriented toward cultivating spiritual motives? Doing yoga is not like doing chin ups, and the thoughtful cultivation of one’s nerves and energies has a spiritual purpose. This does not mean it has to be worded or clothed in Hinduism, but it is to be felt along with “the exercise” and within part of the exercise. And in this regard, asana and pranayama must provide skillful guidance, for only confusion will result without it. Karma yoga involves social service, which itself can contribute in a powerful way to the reduction of egoism. In the modern fitness marketplace, where the disciples are motivated primarily by the desire for an attractive body, social service can be employed as a radical method to redirect consciousness. Finally, there is the large region of yoga that involves tapas or self-control that may involve “forceful repression” (i.e., hatha yoga). … Simplicity should be taught and practiced for it is the very heart of yoga. … somehow its practice must be introduced into the modern yoga studio instead of lines of yoga wardrobe. … A fundamental yoga practice that is given short shrift even in the classic texts and commentaries is pratyahara — the withdrawal of one’s natural circumspective inquiry from the pursuit of external sources for happiness and the simultaneous cultivation of internal resources for enduring satisfaction.
(1) Liberman questions “… the belief of many modern practitioners that there was once an original and pure yoga that now serves as the basis for the contemporary practice of yoga.”
During our lifetimes we generally pay a lot of attention to our bodies, but rarely think about what goes with us when we die. We cannot, of, course, take any physical or material aspect of our lives with us when we die. It is only the consciousness that goes with us. It is also the consciousness that experiences suffering or, more accurately, is able to perceive the experience of suffering. Most importantly, it is consciousness itself that can be transformed into wisdom during the dying process. The majority of the time we are focused on maintaining our physical body and material environment, when we actually need to place our attention on practice! Realizing this can help us shift our focus and motivate us to practice every day.
… Just as all of us make great effort to maintain our everyday lives, we should make similarly great effort in our preparations for death. If we are living and practicing the essence of the Dharma teachings, there should be no difference between our spiritual practices while we are living and those that we engage in at the time of death. One practice that we all share on the path, no matter what other teachings we have received or practices we have committed to, is training in mindfulness to ensure that in our last moments we will be able to make good use of our death.
- Journey Into Buddhism Trilogy (the Yatra Trilogy): Just stumbled upon these gorgeous (travel) documentaries from writer/director John Bush. The cinematography is mesmerizing, and you’ll learn about Buddhism as practiced across several Asian countries. Highly recommended!
- The New Atheists’ Narrow Worldview:
Having lived in Cambodia and China, and traveled in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Africa, I have come to appreciate how religion functions quite differently in the developing world—where the majority of believers actually live. The Four Horsemen, their fans, and their enemies all fail to factor in their own prosperity when they think about the uses and abuses of religion.
Harris and his colleagues think that religion is mostly concerned with two jobs—explaining nature and guiding morality. Their suggestion that science does these jobs better is pretty convincing. As Harris puts it, “I am arguing that science can, in principle, help us understand what we should do and should want—and, therefore, what other people should do and should want in order to live the best lives possible.” I agree with Harris here and even spilled significant ink myself, back in 2001, to show that Stephen Jay Gould’s popular science/religion diplomacy of “nonoverlapping magisteria” (what many call the fact/value distinction) is incoherent. The horsemen’s mistake is not their claim that science can guide morality. Rather, they’re wrong in imagining that the primary job of religion is morality. Like cosmology, ethics is barely relevant in non-Western religions. It is certainly not the main function or lure of devotional life. Science could take over the “morality job” tomorrow in the developing world, and very few religious practitioners would even notice.
Buddhism, for example, is about finding a form of psychological happiness that goes beyond the usual pursuit of fleeting pleasures. With introspection and discipline, Buddhism and other contemplative traditions attempt to find a state of well-being that is outside the usual game of desire fulfillment. Buddhism aligns metaphysically with the new atheism and psychologically with the humanistic traditions. Many of the new atheists have recognized that Buddhism doesn’t quite be long with the other religious targets, and they reserve a vague respect for its philosophical core. I’m glad. They’re right to do so. But two days in any Buddhist country will painfully demonstrate to its Western fans that Buddhism is an elaborate, supernatural, devotional religion as well.
… Religion is not really a path to morality, nor can it substitute for a scientific understanding of nature. Its chief virtue is as a “coping mechanism” for our troubles. Powerless people turn to religion and find a sense of relief, which helps them psychologically to stay afloat. Those who wish to abolish religion seek to pull away the life preserver, mistakenly blaming the device for the drowning.
- A Workout Ate My Marriage: There have to yogis and yoginis in a similar boat as the couples described in this WSJ article.
With exercise intruding ever-more frequently on intimacy, counselors are proposing a new wedding vow: For fitter or for fatter. “Exercise is getting more and more couples into my office,” says Karen Gail Lewis, a Cincinnati marriage and family therapist. Newlyweds have long recognized the risks of potential sickness, infidelity and ill fortune. But few foresee themselves becoming an exercise widow. After all, the idea that one’s beloved will take the occasional jog sounds appealing—until two miles a day becomes 10 miles, not counting the 20-mile runs on weekends.
- What is spiritual materialism?: This old lecture, reminded me a of a recent Dharma talk (by Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron), which I highlighted earlier.
In the end, just three things matter: how well we have lived, how well we have loved, and how well we have learned to let go.
Try practicing with virtually every teacher in your area. You will find someone you resonate with — someone who will be just the right person to help you on your journey. A yoga teacher should be knowledgeable, kind, considerate, a great communicator, and show interest in your practice. Avoid yoga teachers who are vain and self-centered. If the teacher isn’t kind, move on. If they are not moral, move on. If they miss these two precepts, they are misunderstanding the purpose of yoga.
Also, you should avoid teachers who tend to literally push students deeper into poses with aggressive hands-on adjustments. Hands-on adjustments are very useful, but only when done gently and mindfully. More injuries are caused by the ego of the student, pushing themselves too far, and the ego of the teacher, pushing the students beyond their limits.
… I should mention here that even though the main ingredients are all vegetables, such dishes are not strictly vegan. At Eiheiji, curries and stews are made using standard commercial roux, which does contain meat products. Even so, this does not violate any Buddhist precept.
In Thailand and other countries practicing Hinayana Buddhism, which emphasize adherence to ancient precepts, monks go begging for their food. They eat whatever is placed in their begging bowl, be it meat or vegetable, without penalty. The Discipline of the Ten Chants stipulates three conditions under which it is permissible to eat meat: if you did not see the animal being killed for your consumption; if you did not hear the animal being killed for your consumption; if it is certain the animal was not killed for your consumption. As long as these three conditions are satisfied, the meat placed in Thai monks’ begging bowls may be eaten with impunity.
What really matters is the determination not to take life. In fact society is full of people who spend so much energy pursuing the means of doing something that they all lose sight of purpose. Rather than thinking about purpose, people are more attracted by, and more proficient at having various methods at their disposal. But methods that are devoid of purpose or detached from ultimate meaning will often — like war, and like development in the name of progress — lead only to disaster.