Virtual Satsang

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An Agnostic on Spiritual Envy

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Longtime KQED Forum host Michael Krasny’s new book explores his journey from faith to science — and skepticism. In the current information age, I find myself frequently amongst fervent (even militant) atheists. When information is a few keystrokes away, and when science and technology are ascendant, I’m noticing many young people in the technology sector are committed atheists. Don’t get me wrong, I respect atheists and know many in that camp. But I am noticing an intolerance among some of them. When it comes to spiritual matters some atheists dismiss all spiritual practices and traditions. Ironically they condemn fundamentalists for being so intolerant!

That’s why I find Michael Krasny’s attitude so refreshing. As an agnostic, he remains appreciative of the contributions of people of faith.

Full AUDIO below:

When I write of spiritual envy, I mean envy of the consolation of faith, of the elevating power of knowing a force or forces beyond the physical, observable world or past the finite limits of self, of knowing a higher purpose, or possessing answers, or even being convinced they can be discovered. To have answers and certainty, to possess spiritual anchoring or spiritual authority and purpose, is to have comfort, a release from the entrapment of life’s suffering. And even though religion has been much maligned in recent years — and deservedly so for having led too many in its name along dark paths of cruelty, intransigence, self-righteousness, and violence — religion also has provided ineffable solace and a reason for living a moral life, a reason for charity and generosity.

Listening to the interview, I get the sense that Krasny is primarily referring to religious faith as opposed to Spirituality. Most of the spiritual seekers I admire, use scriptures, methods and practices from a variety of traditions. The best spiritual teachers are the ones that urge their followers to try things out, and not embrace practices out of blind faith. Spirituality is deeply personal, and practices that become popular enough that we take them for granted, are the result of innovation and investigation1.

(1) As an example I’ve pointed out in a series of posts that modern hatha yoga is the result of innovations that started in the 1930’s, see [1], [2]. [3].


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October 19, 2010 at 7:48 am

Posted in Faith

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Dāna – In Deepest Gratitude

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Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson was the guest speaker at Spirit Rock’s annual event thanking donors and volunteers. A celebration of Dāna!

Full audio below, you can download the accompanying slides HERE.

This moving and heartfelt event is an annual tradition, held each year to to express deep appreciation for the generous donors and volunteers that support Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Rick Hanson, PhD presented for this year’s event, giving an inspiring talk exploring the dimensions and benefits of both gratitude and generosity.

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October 13, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Posted in Meditation

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  • Meditation class for activists, allies, and all agents of social change: From the Center for Transformative Change in Berkeley. They also offer certifications in fearlessYoga and fearlessMeditation.
  • Meditation helps San Quentin prisoners come to terms with themselves and their crimes:

    The Zen meditation group at San Quentin began informally. A number of guys would meet on the yard to talk about Buddhism and its teachings. Then they decided they wanted an official program. So they had to write a proposal. The warden accepted it, and in September of 1999, the first meditation group at San Quentin began.

    … It’s still active. The group meets every Sunday evening. They convert a plain room – which they share with the Jewish and Islamic groups – into a meditation hall. It looks pretty similar to what you might find at any Zen center. About 30 people sit, meditating on chairs or on round pillows called “zafus.” After a period of silence, they do walking meditation, deliberately placing one foot in front of the other.

    Still, there are reminders of where we are. Guards with jangling keys pass outside the room. All of the 25 inmates here are in blue prison garb – several wear jackets or pants that say “CDCR prisoner.” And many of those who come on a regular basis are lifers. These are men who have committed serious and awful crimes: kidnapping, conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and murder.

    Accompanying AUDIO:

  • Hurry Up and Wait: “… a photographic essay by artists James Tribble and Tracey Mancenido-Tribble, a poetic meditation about America’s trucking culture. … The photographs illuminate both the openness of the road and it’s lonesome journey, with images that bring new light to the harsh beauty in the world of a truck driver.”
  • Wealthy Americans Can’t Stop Working: For financial reasons, it’s hard for many American workers these days to actually retire from work. Many who can afford to retire are also choosing not to. If only the retirement-eligible wealthy can direct their skills and passion to helping the many non-profit enterprises who can benefit from their management and business savvy! (full report in pdf format)

    Most want to keep on working in some form, even if they have little financial need to do so. These ‘Nevertirees’ are very actively engaged in what we would traditionally regard as their retirement years; continuing to work, starting businesses and taking on new projects. For many, their work is their passion, and to stop would be unthinkable. … for many their working life is an important part of who they are – it is something from which they derive self-worth and value, and not just a necessary evil to be endured until they can enjoy a leisurely retirement.

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October 4, 2010 at 8:08 am

Right Livelihood and the Global Economic Crisis

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The Fourth Noble Truth in Buddhism holds that the Noble Eightfold Path can lead us away from suffering. One of the elements of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right Livelihood, a set of guidelines to help followers of the Buddha find ethical professions:

There are two criteria for right livelihood. First, it should not be necessary to break the five precepts in one’s work, since doing so obviously causes harm to others. But further, one should not do anything that encourages other people to break the precepts, since this will also cause harm. Neither directly nor indirectly should our means of livelihood involve injury to other beings. Thus any livelihood that requires killing, whether of human beings or of animals, is clearly not right livelihood…. Selling liquor or other drugs may be very profitable, but even if one abstains from them oneself, the act of selling encourages others to use intoxicants and thereby to harm themselves. Operating a gambling casino may be very lucrative, but all who come there to gamble cause themselves harm. Selling poisons or weapons–arms, ammunition, bombs, missiles–is good business, but it injures the peace and harmony of multitudes. None of these is right livelihood.

BBC’s Heart and Soul recently interviewed Buddhists in several countries to find out how they ended up in their current professions/vocations. What was their discernment process like? The hosts also ask “Has the Global Economic Crisis made it more difficult to find Right Livelihood?”


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October 1, 2010 at 7:30 am

Posted in Meditation, Seva, Work & Life

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  • Life After Death (from This American Life): “Stories of people haunted by guilt over their role in others’ deaths, even when everyone agrees they’re blameless.”
  • Masters in Focus:  “… a pictorial book that commemorates the five great masters of yoga – T Krishnamacharya, BKS Iyengar, Indra Devi, Pattabhi Jois and TKV Desikachar.” From yoga teacher and photographer Kausthub Desikachar, son of TKV Desikachar and grandson of Krishnamacharya.
  • Yoga distortion field:  As I highlighted in an earlier post, Krishnamacharya’s Mysore yogasala was heavily influenced by athletics and physical education. Nonetheless, the video is still disturbing.
  • Awake in the Wild: Meditation teacher and author Mark Coleman combines his passion for the outdoors and mindfulness  to ” … shows seekers how to remedy this widespread malady (‘Nature deficit disorder’) by reconnecting with nature through Buddhism.”

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September 23, 2010 at 8:00 am

Posted in Art, Malas, Meditation, Yoga

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Recommended Reading: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice

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Yoga Body is part of the author’s (Mark Singleton) PhD disseration at Cambridge University. While it can be a bit dry in some places, it provides a wonderful overview of current (academic) research into how modern Yoga Asanas evolved.

I recommend Yoga practitioners read the final Chapter first  (“T. Krishnamacharya and the Mysore Asana Revival”), as many will recognize many of the key figures discussed. Krishnamacharya is best known for having taught some seminal Yoga teachers (B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois among others) who went on to popularize asana practice in the West. In the final chapter, Singleton  provides convincing documentary evidence (and supporting interviews) that explains how Krishnamacharya (and his students) likely put together the sequences many have come to enjoy. Krishnamacharya was heavily influenced by the gymnastics, body-building, and physical education trends of the time. Suryamanaskar, which later became central to Krishnamacharya’s Mysore style, wasn’t part of yogasana when he first started teaching. Singleton argues that Suryamanaskar arose from a multitude of influences — and not the Vedas or some ‘lost texts’  as Pattahbi Jois claimed (see page 180).

Yoga Body is a must-read for Yoga practitioners curious about how some of the more popular asanas (and modern postural Yoga itself) came to be.

Related links:

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September 21, 2010 at 8:39 pm

Posted in History, Yoga

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