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March 21, 2011 at 7:48 am


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  • LA Times profile of Sharon Salzberg:

    Sharon Salzberg, 58, a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, has spent more than three decades helping Westerners access a daily spiritual practice that originated in Buddhism but is not confined to that faith.

    … The Buddhist principles of vipassana, or mindfulness, and metta, lovingkindness, afforded Salzberg what she calls a “spacious” form of awareness in which people know they have a choice. Instead of being dominated by her fears, Salzberg said, she began to communicate what she learned, ultimately publishing seven books.

  • Yoga isn’t as old as you think: Responding to the the “Take Back Yoga” marketing campaign, the author cites a couple of authors (Sjoman and Singleton) that I’ve previously highlighted. One additional academic source worth mentioning is David Gordon White’s upcoming book on the Yoga Sutras.

    … Both Sjoman and Mark Singleton, a US-based scholar who has interviewed many of those associated with the Mysore Palace during its heyday in the 1930s, believe that the seeds of modern yoga lie in the innovative style of Sritattvanidhi. Krishnamacharya, who was familiar with this text and cited it in his own books, carried on the innovation by adding a variety of Western gymnastics and drills to the routines he learnt from Sritattvanidhi, which had already cross-bred hatha yoga with traditional Indian wrestling and acrobatic routines.

    In addition, it is well established that Krishnamacharya had full access to a Western-style gymnastics hall in the Mysore Palace, with all the usual wall ropes and other props that he began to include in his yoga routines.

    Sjoman has excerpted the gymnastics manual that was available to Krishnamacharya. He claims that many of the gymnastic techniques from that manual—for example, the cross-legged jumpback and walking the hands down a wall into a back arch—found their way into Krishnamacharya’s teachings, which he passed on to Iyengar and Jois. In addition, in the early years of the 20th century, an apparatus-free Swedish drill and gymnastic routine, developed by a Dane by the name of Niels Bukh (1880–1950), was introduced to India by the British and popularised by the YMCA. Singleton argues that “at least 28 of the exercises in the first edition of Bukh’s manual are strikingly similar (often identical) to yoga postures occurring in Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga sequence or in Iyengar’s Light on Yoga.” The link again is Krishnamacharya, who Singleton calls a “major player in the modern merging of gymnastic-style asana practice and the Patanjali tradition.”

  • Europe’s New Politics: I try to stay away from politics on this blog, but I thought this recent BBC podcast on the rise of populist, anti-immigrant parties in Denmark & Sweden was worth highlighting. The Danish cartoon controversy aside, it is disturbing to witness the rise of intolerance in Western Europe. Immigrants are stereotyped as being ill-suited because of culture (Islam) and economics (over dependence on the welfare state). To be fair, in both Denmark and Sweden, we are talking about minority parties. But in both cases they have real influence on parliamentary proceedings.

  • How effective is yoga?:

    The aim of this overview was to evaluate critically all systematic reviews of yoga for the symptomatic treatment of any condition. Twelve electronic databases were searched and 21 systematic reviews relating to a wide range of conditions were located. Nine systematic reviews arrived at positive conclusions, but many systematic reviews were associated with a high risk of bias. Unanimously positive evidence emerged for depression and cardiovascular risk reduction. Despite an impressive number of systematic reviews, evidence of effectiveness is positive only for two indications.

Written by virtualsatsang

February 21, 2011 at 8:06 am


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  • 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.

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February 7, 2011 at 7:20 am

Five things to help you relax in two weeks

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One of the best things I attended last year was a breathe workshop conducted by Max Strom. Max has such a gentle way about him, notwithstanding the fact that many regard him one of the finest yoga teachers in the US. These tips are from his recent book, A Life Worth Breathing (see pages 55-56).

1. Listen or read the news once a week — no more. … Does this mean we should go into denial and ignore the problems? Absolutely not. … If anything momentous happens you will hear about it; everyone will be talking about it …

2. Read inspiring, life-affirming books before going to sleep at night … Whether it is the Bible, the Upanishads, the Torah, the Koran, great philosophers, or inspiring poetry — to go to sleep with hope and inspiration will improve the quality of your sleep and dreams.

3. Watch no violent or disturbing images on TV or at the movies. No explanation is necessary.

4. Get to sleep by 10 PM. According to traditional Chinese medicine (those who practice acupuncture), the period between 10 PM and 3 AM is the most vital for the body to replenish and repair itself.

5. Give up caffeine gradually. Sorry but this is important. … What will amaze you is that you will find you have more energy, not less.

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January 5, 2011 at 8:02 am

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

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From the Nov/2010 issue of Common Ground Magazine (by Jill Abelson)

Gratefully Walking the Talk

May all beings everywhere be happy and free. May I offer my life to all beings everywhere.

As we turn our hearts to gratitude this season. we acknowledge the incredible abumdance and blessings in our lives. Spiritual seekers might naturally ask. “How can l give back?” This mantra offers us a path.

Lokah means “location, place, realm, all universes existing now.” Samastah comes from the Sanskrit word same and means “all beings sharing that same location.” Sukhino is from sukha, or “happiness”. Bhav means ‘divine mood or state of unified existence? Antu translates to “may it be so”, as in, “I promise to do that.”

Lokah samastah is a common mantra in yoga classes around the world. We all have a sense of what it means in the abstract, theoretical sense. Its a bit harder to put the mantra into practice by examining and observing how we treat others, not just in the theoretical, abstract sense, but in real terms. On the one hand. we feel incredibly privileged to practice yoga. On the other hand, we know at some gut level that our practice must ripple out externally to have long-lasting meaning, to carry through.

Ruth Lauer-Manenti, a friend and fellow Jivamukti yoga teacher tells this story in her book An Offering of Leaves. A few years ago her cat got very sick, spent two months in the hospital, and died. The vet bill amounted to what she earns in a year and she didn’t know how she would pay. The bills started coming, and she set them aside in a pile. A month passed, until one day she opened all the bills. Several of the bills were identicaL but the seoond to last showed that a significant portion had been paid, and the last bill showed no balance due. She asked her husband, “Did you pay the bill at the animal hospital?” He hadn’t, so they figured out that a kind benefactor must have paid. She was so touched, she started to cry.

Ruth says she sees herself as a person who gives, because she’s always dedicated herself to charities and other causes. Like most of us, she sees herself in many ways throughout her life both giving and not giving. We see ourselves do everything that we do, and it leaves an imprint, a samskara. Then that imprint is projected out into the world. If we see ourselves as people who give, then we will live in a world where we see others in the same way. That’s how we create our world.

The aim of yoga is to purify our hearts to get to a point where kindness toward others comes naturally and easily. I once heard a yogi say that its important to walk the talk. We chant the mantras, and also challenge ourselves to take on their meaning. How can my life contribute in real terms?

Written by virtualsatsang

December 2, 2010 at 7:03 am


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  • When your boss is a tyrant: I wanted to share this episode of This American Life because it really struck a chord with me. No “job” is ever completely perfect, but what happens if your boss is an out-of-control tyrant? For many years this was the plight of maintenance workers in a NY school district.
  • Sitting quietly, doing something: Author Daniel Goleman on Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, “the happiest man in the world”.

    … But when it comes to his own pursuit of happiness, Buddhist theory and practice are Rinpoche’s chosen tools. He has done several years-long meditation retreats, under the tutelage of some of the most renowned Tibetan masters.

    … Richard Davidson, who heads the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, has found one distinct brain profile for happiness. As Davidson’s laboratory has reported, when we are in distress, the brain shows high activation levels in the right prefrontal area and the amygdala. But when we are in an upbeat mood, the right side quiets and the left prefrontal area stirs. When showing this brain pattern, people report feeling, as Davidson put it to me, “positively engaged, goal-directed, enthusiastic, and energetic.”

    … Kabat-Zinn, who has pioneered this contemplative method with medical patients to ease their symptoms, taught mindfulness at a high-stress biotech company; these beginners meditated for 30 minutes a day for eight weeks. Davidson’s measures showed that after the eight weeks they had begun to activate that left prefrontal zone more strongly — and were saying that instead of feeling overwhelmed and hassled, they were enjoying their work.

  • The Hajj on Wheels: Heart and Soul interviews muslims with disabilities on how they made the trek to Mecca.

  • Facing Death:

    In Facing Death, FRONTLINE gains extraordinary access to The Mount Sinai Medical Center, one of New York’s biggest hospitals, to take a closer measure of today’s complicated end-of-life decisions. In this intimate, groundbreaking film, doctors, patients and families speak with remarkable candor about the increasingly difficult choices people are making at the end of life: when to remove a breathing tube in the ICU; when to continue treatment for patients with aggressive blood cancers; when to perform a surgery; and when to call for hospice.

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November 29, 2010 at 7:02 am


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  • Tea, Zen and The Art of Life Management: The founder of Samovar Tea in a panel discussion with Leo Babauta, author of the blog Zen Habits, Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, and Susan O’Connell, VP of the San Francisco Zen Center. This is a long video, so you may want to watch bits and pieces over several sessions. The dynamics of the panel can be at odd at times – the hyperactive and demonstrative Ferris, in contrast to the calm demeanor of Susan O’Connell – but overall they really pulled it off well.

  • Living Goddess (a documentary set in Nepal): Just when I thought I was familiar with Nepalese culture, I come across a film on aspects of Nepal I knew nothing about (and have a hard time comprehending). This documentary follow 3 (pre-pubescent young women) Kumari’s who represent Devi. Nepalese have a tradition of worshipping Kumari’s, who are believed to be the reincarnation of Dunga (until they menstruate, at which point Dunga is believed to vacate their bodies). The documentary takes place during a period of intense street protests against the monarchy. Be warned, the scenes involving animal sacrifice to commemorate Dasain can be horrific to outside observers.
  • Raga Unveiled (from the makers of Yoga Unveiled): If you’re a fan of Indian Classical music, this 4-hour series from 2009 provides a detailed introduction to its key components. I was amazed by the complexity of the Tabla, particularly the vocabulary that accompanies the popular Indian percussion instrument.
  • The Whoop: In this episode of Heart and Soul, a self-described white, Jewish journalist looks into a preaching/oratorical style common in African American churches. You might be surprised to know that there is a lot of technique that goes into the Whoop. Full audio below:

Written by virtualsatsang

October 25, 2010 at 7:18 am

Posted in Art, Faith, Malas, Meditation, Work & Life

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