here we go again, part 2

yogis

I want to say from the onset that my writing is not meant to be a scholarly history of Hinduism and I won’t get into any debates about what Hinduism is, who is a Hindu, etc. I am more than cognizant of the various Hindu gods and goddesses and know the difference between a Shaivite and a Vaishnavite (I’m partial to Murugan who is also known in Mahayana Buddhism as Skanda.)

But all that doesn’t matter for this purpose. After all, I am Buddhist with a Kali yantra tattooed on my back so you can figure that out by yourself. I am only writing about yoga as taken from my notes over the years and from the Joshi essay referenced in Part 1. You can read this or move on but be advised that I will not entertain any type of religious debate — there are other forums where you can argue any point you want to make.

When I wrote that “Hinduism actually rejects yoga” in part 1, I knew those words would be shocking.  But when the KYM teacher used those words he was talking about the way Hinduism in general views the philosophy of yoga as a path of liberation.  I have to say that in any yoga training I have ever done I never heard it said that Hinduism gave birth to yoga.  Yes, yoga philosophy is a part of Hinduism, but as for yoga originating in Hinduism, I beg to differ.

Before the time of Buddha (563 BCE to 483 BCE, approximate date of death) the religion of India was Vedic Brahmanism and alongside the Vedic tradition there was an ascetic (the sramanas) form of thought and practice originating in prehistoric times. Prof. Joshi writes that Buddhism had the closest affinity with this sramanic culture and Hinduism grew out of a fusion of Vedic Brahmanism with Buddhism and other sramanic religious trends.

In order to discuss the roots of yoga or whether yoga springs from Hinduism, let’s keep some dates in mind: Vedicism, 1500-500 BCE; Tantricism and Hinduism, 500-1000 CE.

Sages (munis) and ascetics (yatis) lived in ancient India before the time of the Upanisads.  Prof. Joshi writes that “the Rgveda describes a muni who practiced meditation and led an austere life. He is said to be ‘long-haired’ and probably wore a beard. The munis either lived naked or wore … dirty garments and were experts in techniques of silent ecstasy.” (Joshi, p.27)

This was the culture — pre-Hinduism — that birthed the beginnings of yoga.

In part 1 I wrote about Stephen Cope’s talk on the history of yoga during my training at Spirit Rock. He drew a yoga timeline from the Vedas to the explosion of yoga after 1975 when Yoga Journal was first published. He emphasized that the renouncers of the Vedic rituals, these sramanas, starting from the 8th Century BC, used their own bodies and minds as laboratories for the direct experience of yoga and for the research on the nondualism of body and mind.

My KYM teachers taught that Samkhya and yoga are closely related. Prof. Joshi writes:

“In later Brahmanical tradition these two systems [Samkyha and yoga] are generally mentioned together. Yoga as a way of religious perfection is older than the Yoga system of thought now associated with Patanjali’s Yogasutras (cir. 300 CE.) Yoga as a way was an essential element of Sramanic culture. Yoga is therefore of non-Brahmanical and non-Aryan origin. The munis and yatis of Vedic age practiced yoga and dhyana. This is clear from the Rgveda… The early Yoga was possibly identical with Buddhist Yoga or the way of meditation. As it belonged to the non-Vedic Sramanic tradition, the early Yoga was possibly non-theistic and ascetic.” (Joshi, p.33)

Cope taught that Patanjali wrote the Sutras as a treatise for advanced yoga students and reminded us that only three sutras mention asana, the rest are about meditation and the human experience. So when it is commonly said that “yoga is 5000 years old”, that is not true because it was not until the Middle Ages (1300 app.) when the Hatha Yoga Pradipika was written followed by the Geranda-Samhita (1600 app.) and the Shiva-Samhita (1700 app.) that the yoga poses we are familiar with today were revealed.

The Sutras are not about asana practice but about uncovering the roots of human suffering. Yoga and Buddhism both grew out of the same cultural milieu of India as a reaction to the dogma of the Vedic and Brahmin culture. Buddha lived about 700 years before Patanjali wrote the Sutras but given the religious atmosphere of India at that time, it would have been impossible for Patanjali not to have been influenced by Buddhist thought. In his essay Prof. Joshi writes that the Mahabharata (which the Bhagavad Gita is part of) was compiled during the period when Buddhism flourished most in India, during 400 BCE to 400 CE: “the present form of the Mahabharata, with its ethics and philosophy, would have been impossible without Buddhism.” (Joshi, p.13.)

Both the Sutras and Buddhism seek to uncover the roots of human suffering. When Buddha said that “second hand answers have no power to transform”, he was talking about direct insight into known experience, the known experience of sitting and watching the breath, watching the body in the body, and the breath in the breath.

Sounds like yoga (asana-pranayama-meditation) to me. It seems that if anyone should “take back yoga”, it should be my ash-covered friends in the photo above because it was their pre-Hindu forebears who saw yoga as a path of liberation via one’s own efforts rather than through being born into the right caste or through the rites and rituals of Vedic Brahmanism.

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Reference:  “Brahmanism, Buddhism and Hinduism: An Essay on Their Origins and Interactions” by Lal Mani Joshi of the Department of Religious Studies, Punjabi University, 1970.

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guest blogger Barry Wadsworth on "Yoga as Mindfulness Practice – A Buddhist Perspective"

Many of you know that my yoga practice is informed by Buddhism. I am unable to treat my physical yoga practice as anything other than a moving meditation or mindfulness practice. I have studied the buddhadharma for so long with various teachers in both the Mahayana and Theravada traditions that I think it’s ingrained in my DNA by now! Yoga is my meditation and vice versa. In some of my workshops I’ve started to incorporate dharma talks on Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness as they apply to the physical yoga practice.

Most yoga teacher trainings (at least the ones with which I am familiar) do not speak much of Buddhism (even though Buddha was most definitely a yogi) which is why I was so glad I found the first Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training at Spirit Rock in California. It was finally a training that spoke to my entirety and I am blessed to have been part of the first training with such wonderful teachers in both classical yoga and Western Buddhism.

I see no conflict with my Buddhism and my traditional yoga training in India at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram and with Srivatsa Ramaswami. It’s all good and each enhance the other as far as I am concerned.

Vinyasa krama is what I have studied with Ramaswamiji since 2004 and it is the yoga style that I primarily use for my own practice (combined with yin yoga) and with private clients. According to Ramaswamiji, vinyasa krama yoga is an ancient practice of physical and spiritual development, and is a systematic method of practicing and adapting yoga for the individual. Krama is a Sanskrit word meaning “stages.” It is a step-by-step process involving the building in gradual stages toward a “peak” within a practice session. This progression can include asanas of increasing complexity or gradually building one’s breath capacity. In his book The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga, Ramaswamiji says that “by integrating the functions of mind, body, and breath. . .a practitioner will experience the real joy of yoga practice. . .Vinyasa krama yoga strictly follows the most complete definition of classical yoga.”

So I was glad to “meet” Barry Wadsworth when he made me an administrator of the Vinyasa Krama group on Facebook. He has just completed Ramaswamiji’s 200 hour vinyasa krama teacher training and is also Buddhist so we had a lot to talk about. Our Facebook conversation about yoga and Buddhism morphed into his writing here…enjoy!

For those of you who would like to explore classical yoga with a true yoga master who studied with Krishnamacharya for over 30 years, Ramaswamiji will be teaching in Chicago during September.

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“For Buddhists, the practice of yoga asanas as a method of mindfulness practice is especially meaningful. Although some traditional yoga teachers emphasize mindfulness of breathing in synchronization with the breath, the Buddhist context of using bare attention to penetrate the moment as a means to realization is not as emphasized or is missing. During Chan and Vipassana practice, especially on retreats, slowing down all activity to the point that you can peer into its very nature is essential and can lead to a very direct experience of impermanence and self-nature. This understanding and emphasis coupled with the practice of yoga asanas is particularly useful.

In the Yoga Sutras, there is the concept of uninterrupted, moment-to-moment one pointedness or focus. But the goal there is not realization of self-nature in the Buddhist sense, but realization of individual self (atman) as distinct from the citta vrittis. Of course, this is where Buddhism departs, with an emphasis on there not being an independently existing person, self, or soul.

Practicing yoga has been a kind of experiment for me. Can a practicing Buddhist practice yoga in such a way that the fundamental truths of Buddhism, suffering, impermanence, and no self (anatma), are not distorted or lost? I think the answer is definitely yes, but it requires a clear understanding of the differences in addition to the similarities of the two traditions. Otherwise, it becomes a confusing melting pot that doesn’t do justice to either tradition. For me, the goal is not Patanjali’s dualistic realization of individual self as distinct from phenomena and Universal Self (Purusha of Isvara). It’s also not Shankara’s non-dualistic realization that self is Brahman. Rather, it’s the complete liberation from attachment to any notion of self. Once self is removed from the picture, perception is pure and everything is seen just as it is. This is true, unimpeded and boundless liberation. When the experience of self is lost, perception pivots on itself and myriad things sing in harmony with all other things, infinitely correlated, perfect and complete. Any clinging to “self” collapses this perfect harmony, the natural state of things, to self and other, internal and external, interesting and uninteresting, good and bad, mine and not mine.

One might say that one who experiences “aham Brahmasmi” (I am Brahman) also experiences this same non-dualistic reality and is not impeded by attachment or aversion to anything since everything is experienced as Self. Yet Buddha’s awakening specifically had the characteristic of going beyond an eternal notion of self, even Universal Self, as the highest enlightenment. According to Buddhist sutras, as long as there is any identification with self, one is still trapped in the cycle of birth and death and not completely liberated. The wisdom of knowing the truths of suffering, impermanence, and no self engenders compassion for all sentient beings and frees one to act completely for the benefit of others, without regard to self. I’ve seen this selflessness in my Shifu, Chan Master Sheng Yen and in my Vipassana master, Ven. Chanmyay Sayadaw. They both have the quality of being completely present and available, fully there for you with no distraction, when you talk with them. Your ego could even get puffed up with the feeling that you were the most important person in the world to them at that particular moment. But, they also had the compassionate ability to deflate the ego when the time was right. I’ve noticed the same quality in the Dharma heirs of Master Sheng Yen and some of Chanmyay Sayadaw’s disciples and lay students — fully present, awake and clear, penetrating, insightful, patient, and compassionate. I noticed the same qualities in the Dalai Lama. The world needs more saints like these!

For Buddhists and non-Buddhists, practicing yogasanas with mindfulness can be very beneficial in developing a very direct perception, a bare awareness of space, time, motion and sensation. Deepening this experiences enables the silence of meditation to stabilize in daily activity and bring about moment-to-moment penetrating focus along with awareness unbound by the environment. The union of Buddhist understanding with mindful practice of yogasanas is particularly beneficial. I’m very glad to hear of courses being taught, such as those at Spirit Rock, that have this focus. This is bound to improve the overall landscape of Yoga as it is taught in the West.”

Read more at Barry’s blog Chan Practice.

life is a vinyasa

1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

The forever changing images that I see in the mirror each morning remind me of the first of Buddha’s Five Remembrances. Today this soul’s present incarnation has been on this planet for over 50 years.

My photographs are also constant reminders of my mortality. Every birthday reminds me that I now have less time ahead of me than I have behind me. That knowledge makes each day more precious than the last. I will not die an unlived life.

“eat mangoes naked
lick the juice off your arms
discover your own goodness
smile when you feel like it
be delicious
be rare eccentric original
smile when you feel like it
paint your soul”
—SARK

What happened to the 16 year old? What happened to the 20 year old? They are still here but the package has changed, the ribbons are torn and frayed and the wrapping paper yellowed and weakened in spots.

I see these old photos and am reminded that I almost died at my own hand when I was 16. I never thought I would live to be at the party where my friend grabbed me with gusto around the waist. I could have left this earth a long time ago in more ways than one. I tried my damnedest for years to do just that. But I am still here, those girls are still around somewhere inside my head.

Those photos are also a reminder of the me I lost but found again once I got back on the yoga path. Life is a circle.


“The Ouroboros often represents self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things perceived as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end. It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished.”

The photos bring home the truth of the Five Remembrances and the truth of impermanence and they remind me to THINK. Birthdays are contemplations on what I would like to plant in this final season of my life.

What will it be?

What do I plan to do with this one wild and precious life?

2. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.

Every day I wake up with pain. My freaky femurs that Paul Grilley uses as examples of extreme internal hip rotation are beginning to ache. My hair is thinning and I can see my scalp. My eyes have the beginnings of cataracts. But I thank the Universe for my physical yoga practice because without it I probably could barely move.

I thank the Universe for my yoga and meditation practice that allows me to know the truth of Buddha’s Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness: mindfulness of the dharma, of the true nature of reality that nothing is permanent, that each moment is constantly changing. Asana practice offers a great window into impermanence because our practice changes every time we step on the mat, from day to day, moment to moment. Is your practice changing as you change? And if not, why not? Get real.

3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

These remembrances are the hardest lessons to learn. Thoughts of death of those near and dear to us and of our own death strike the most fear in our hearts. It is said that our only fear is the fear of death, all our other fears arise from that primal one.

We know things change but we put so much effort and energy into trying to live life as if that were not so. This is what Patanjali wrote about in chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutra-s: he described the qualities necessary to change the mind effectively and gradually from a state of distraction to one of attention, one of the qualities being avidya which is literally “not seeing.” This willful denial of reality, this willful not seeing the truth of impermanence perpetuates our suffering and misery. We so want things to never change – our hair, our skin, our supple spines, the people in our lives – that clinging to things that are by their very nature impermanent causes our suffering.

The suffering of change is what gives us the most gut wrenching pain in our lives. It is not our physical pain, but the pain of pain.

But when this truth of reality sunk deep into my bones it was liberation. I am not responsible for anyone’s happiness, I am only responsible for my own. No one is responsible for my happiness, I am only responsible for my own.

It’s a law of physics that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. We are energy bodies, filled with chi, prana, Life Force, whatever you want to call it. This body is merely the vessel that will eventually crack open and fall apart like an old terracotta pot. But the essence of me will live on. What is born dies but what is never born can never die. We truly are billion year old carbon.

We shall not cease from exploration.
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
-T.S. Eliot

5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

Like everyone else, my life is composed of losses and gains. My losses have been due to neglect, poor judgment, ego, recklessness, selfishness. My gains have been through hard work, grit, determination, and intuition. Other gains have simply come through the blessings of the Universe. Karma. I’ve been graced with a fortunate birth despite going through things back in the day that would have killed a weaker person. I should never have become this old. The cards were stacked against me. Or were they? I truly am a survivor.

The Five Remembrances keep me awake to the human condition. My spirituality has brought me closer to Spirit, have helped open a heart that was closed for so long, and has taught me to have gratitude for whatever comes my way. My dharma wheel is turning and it tells me to embrace the inevitability of life’s changes.

Life is a constant series of movements that change from one form to another — just like asanas. I have reached a deep sentient awareness that nothing is truly lost in the end. We meet who we are meant to meet in this life and people come and go and return again in a constant dance and flow — like a vinyasa. We meet ourselves and each other over and over again in this spanda until we find our way home.

What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

dharma talk: Michael Stone

What a surprise it was to receive an email from Michael Stone, author of Yoga for a World Out of Balance: Teachings on Ethics and Social Action.

Michael told me that he likes this blog (and it always does this old English major’s heart good when published authors tell me they like my writing – he thinks LYJ is “not simply the repetition of familiar yoga cliches”) and asked whether I wanted to contribute to the conversation about his book.

I am sorry to say that I have not yet read the book, but I’m getting a copy from the publisher. When read, I will review it here. I am especially interested in his book that will come out in September Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind. The subject is one that is near and dear to my heart, the yoking of yoga and Buddhism:

“Buddhism and yoga share a common history that goes back centuries. But because yoga and Buddhism came to North America from Asia as two separate traditions, their commonalities in the West often seem invisible. Most people choose to study either yoga or Buddhism and generally don’t combine the practices. Michael Stone brings together a collection of intriguing voices to show how Buddhism and yoga really do share the same values and spiritual goals.”

In my humble opinion, Patanjali could not have written the Yoga Sutra-s without being a bit influenced by the wandering Buddhist monks during his time. When I sat in my Sutra-s classes I would think “yes! and Buddhism says….” Then in any Buddhism classes I would think, “yes! and the Sutra-s say….” In my own mind, there was never any separation of the two philosophies. As they say in India, “same same but different, madam!”

For those of you interested in this idea, read Chip Hartranft’s translation, The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation with Commentary.

Here is an exceptional video of Michael Stone. It’s about 30 minutes long, so make some tea, pull up a comfy chair, and listen to a dharma talk on things such as the Self, karma, transcending patterns, and meditation. I like the reference to “heat” in the title since I always tell my students how yoga marinates and cooks us!

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=10336462&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Michael Stone Dharma Talk: Let the Heat Kill You from Centre of Gravity on Vimeo.

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handbook for life, 2010

Lots of good advice here, but my three favorites are nos. 21, 33, and 37.

HEALTH:
1. Drink plenty of water.

2. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like beggar.

3. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is
manufactured in plants.

4. Live with the 3 E’s — Energy, Enthusiasm and Empathy.

5. Make time to meditate.

7. Read more books than you did in 2009.

8. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.

9. Sleep for 7 hours.

10. Take a 10-30 minute walk daily. And while you walk, smile.

PERSONALITY:
11. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is about.

12. Don’t have negative thoughts or things you cannot control.
Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.

13. Don’t over do. Keep your limits.

14. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

15. Don’t waste your precious energy on gossip.

16. Dream more while you are awake.

17. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

18. Forget issues of the past. Don’t remind your partner with his/her mistakes of the past. That will ruin your present happiness.

19. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Don’t hate others.

20. Make peace with your past so it won’t spoil the present.

21. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

22. Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.

23. Smile and laugh more.

24. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

SOCIETY:
25. Call your family often.

26. Each day give something good to others.

27. Forgive everyone for everything.

28. Spend time with people over the age of 70 and under the age of 6.

29. Try to make at least three people smile each day.

30. What other people think of you is none of your business.

31. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will.
Stay in touch.

LIFE:
32. Do the right thing!

33. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.

34. God heals everything.

35. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

36. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up.

37. The best is yet to come.

38. When you awake alive in the morning, be thankful for it.

39. Your Inner most is always happy. So, be happy.

Many thanks and much metta to my teacher, Bhante Sujatha.

“In the traditional greeting of yoga, ‘With great respect and love we honor your heart as your Inner Teacher. May the harmony of yoga manifest within and without'”.
– Mukunda Stiles


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a Buddhist thanksgiving

Even if you are not a vegetarian or a vegan, please remember to practice compassion and mindfulness in how and what you eat.

I know that His Holiness the Dalai Lama eats meat, but the longer I’m on the yoga/Buddhist path, the closer I get to becoming a total vegan. I still eat fish. Occasionally.

Please dedicate the merit of your Thanksgiving meal tomorrow to all sentient beings, especially those who suffer in cages and factory farms.

OM MANI PEDME HUM…may all beings be free from suffering

On this Thanksgiving I am thankful and grateful for everything in my life, even terrible things in the past — because everything is a teaching and I am a survivor. I am also grateful and thankful for my upcoming adventures in India and Africa, whatever they may bring.


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