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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remember to live

The deaths of two people I never met inspired this post.

Yesterday a man and his dog were killed by a drunk driver one block away from my house. Not even one block away. I wasn’t home when it happened but I am sure I would have heard the crash and the neighbors’ screams and the police because this is a very quiet neighborhood. The truth is that it could have just as easily been me because I also walk in the morning on the street where he was killed. Yesterday morning I did not.

A 57 year old man was walking his dog around 6:30 AM. A drunk driver was speeding, left the road, struck mailboxes, and then hit the man and his dog. He then went back on the street and hit an SUV, pushing it into a front yard. He got out and tried to run away. He was charged with aggravated driving under the influence, reckless homicide, failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, driving on a revoked license, and failure to give information or aid.

Today my husband attended the wake of the husband of one of his employees. The man was undergoing chemotherapy after a cancer operation and after leaving the hospital after his treatment, he was walking across the parking lot to his car and literally dropped dead. He was 41 years old. My husband stood in line for 90 minutes at the funeral home because there were so many people waiting to pay their respects.

Incidents such as these always make me question how people live their lives. I always tell my husband to live each day as if it will be his last. I try to follow my own advice and after being on this yogic and spiritual path for quite some time, the little things just don’t bother me anymore. The clothes get folded when they get folded, the dishes get done when they get done. Sometimes even the bigger things just don’t phase me anymore.

People come to my classes totally stressed about one thing or the other and sometimes I throw the question out there: how would you live if you knew you only had one more hour to live? What good does all that attachment to the past and fear of the future do for you now? If you knew you only had one more hour to live I guarantee you that you would start cherishing each moment and each breath. I challenge you: visualize it, really feel it in your bones — what would it be like to know you will be dead at the end of an hour?

Contemplating death is an important aspect of Buddhism, yet fear of death is a major fear for most people. It is said that all our fears in life stem from our fear of death. Buddha said that death is certain but the time of death is uncertain. When we allow this reality to become conscious, it jolts us awake to life’s juiciness and heightens our awareness of the beauty and uniqueness of everything.

So why can’t you live as if you were dying? Our delusion is that we live as if we will never die.

It’s a physics fact that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. As a Buddhist I believe that it follows from that fact that what is never born can never die. I heard the Dalai Lama say that “what is never born can never die” in a teaching on dependent origination.

My body will die, but what makes me me will never die — my life energy, my prana, my chi, my soul, my spirit, or whatever you want to call it, will continue on. Fully realizing that was liberation. I no longer fear death or dying. That realization helps me to truly enjoy life, every living, breathing present moment, the good AND the bad. I am as equally grateful for the bad as I am for the good.

It has made me fear-less.

How will you remember to live?


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Happy Saga Dawa!

In the Tibetan tradition, June 7 was Saga Dawa, a remembrance of the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. Saga Dawa is the entire fourth month of the Tibetan calendar which this year began on May 25 and ends on June 22. The seventh day of Saga Dawa, May 30, is the day of the historical Buddha’s birth for Tibetans. However, the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and entry into Nirvana at his death are observed together on the 15th day of Saga Dawa which was June 7.

A faithful reader sent me this link to a series of gorgeous photos and pithy dharma quotes in the blog of a very talented photographer: Gritz Photo Blog. One bit of wisdom from the blog:

“Conflicting emotions come from within this mind, this inner security we have set up for ourselves, where we think of our emotions as legitimate. For the world to function it is not necessary to have a belief that it is real or permanent. If I am convinced that all phenomena are impermanent I am convinced that my distractions will be reduced. We have to give up wrong views, an improper attitude towards others, that everyone is ever lasting …There is a discrepancy between how things are and how we see them.

We know everything is impermanent but we would rather see it as permanent.”
–Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche

Tomorrow I am off to Vermont for seven days to attend Level 2 training of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. I’m excited about seeing Vermont as the only place I’ve been out east is Washington, DC. Funny how I’ve been to India three times and never to New England. Here is what I wrote about how I resonated with the Level 1 training. We shall see what Level 2 brings.

may all beings have happiness the causes of happiness.
may all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
may all beings never be parted from freedom’s true joy.
may all beings dwell in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion.


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shhhhh…..


Sindhu of Flower Girl’s Rural India commented on my sense of my new found spaciousness. She said that she felt the same:

“I practice Silence “Mouna”

My dad used to practice this for a Mandala period, when he would be on complete silence….I am refraining from responding unless otherwise required. I have reduced responding nearly 70% to 75%. (I’m very talkative)

It has given me real inner peace.”

In 9 days I leave for Spirit Rock Meditation Center to do the last retreat of my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training. While we can talk a bit during the yoga training, the rest of the time we are in silence. I can’t tell you how much I love that. But when I tell people that I’ve been on more than few silent retreats, even yoga teachers say, “no way could I do that.”

Those sentiments lead me to thinking about speech in general, but particularly the first principle of ethical conduct in Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path which is RIGHT OR WISE SPEECH.

Silence makes people uncomfortable. I’m not a big talker to begin with, especially around people I don’t know, and that makes people uncomfortable.

We had to read Phillip Moffitt’s book Dancing With Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering for this retreat (and I highly recommend this book.) When I read the chapter on Right Speech I kept nodding my head:

“The practice of right speech is built around meeting three conditions simultaneously:

Say only what is true and useful and timely. If any one of these criteria isn’t met, then silence is the wise form of speech. This is such a simple formula and easy to recall even in moments of strong emotion, but it is very hard to execute even under the best conditions, because the grasping mind corrupts speech faster than it does action….

You may not realize the aggressive nature of your speech until you try to make it a mindfulness practice….

Applying the filter of saying only what is useful is even harder. We live in a culture where ‘speaking your truth’ is promoted as a form of empowerment and good communication. Yet this is not the case if your words don’t provide useful information or better understanding….

Practicing right speech includes actively refraining from giving unsolicited opinions or stating your view when it serves no purpose….You also don’t use the truth as a weapon for making yourself look better in comparison to another, or to put others in their place…don’t use speech to satisfy your ego.

Right speech involves listening from the heart…you give full attention to the words of others and listen without judging, preparing a response, or comparing….

You may utilize right speech with others, but have violent, unsettling or crippling interior speech.”
(DWL, pp.233-236)

I am the first to admit that my mouth has gotten me into trouble over these many years. Not that I say malicious or hateful things to people, but I am outspoken and am guilty of giving unsolicited advice (especially about yoga.) But the longer I am on this Path, I am much more mindful of things I say. Believe me, I try, and intention and motivation are everything. I think before I open my mouth and if it serves no useful purpose then I usually keep my mouth shut (my friends might disagree with that but they can also keep their mouths shut…;)).

I also pay close attention to when I listen with an open heart. I notice whether I am fully present when someone is speaking to me. I notice whether my Ego is telling me “I wish they’d shut up….hey, I have to get some rice milk on the way home…I have to call….” I think you get the idea. I have heard the Dalai Lama admit that in meetings even he thinks “this is boring. I’m hungry. I want some tea.” True story.

Now with the internet and things like blogs and Facebook, it’s this Buddhist’s opinion that Right or Wise Speech is even more important. Right Speech also refers to the written word.

As bloggers many of us have dealt with trolls on our blogs, people who write nasty comments or argue with everything you write or insult your other readers. Useless.

As for emails I’m sure there is not one person reading this who has not regretted firing off a nasty response to someone and it’s come back to bite them in their yoga butt. I am very familiar with that one. I wrote an unflattering email about someone and sent it to the person I was writing about instead of to the person I had intended to send it — definitely the epitome of mindLESSness, not mindfulness. But I had the guts to own up to it and called the woman to apologize. I knew that this yoga teacher had said some untrue and nasty things about me before I wrote my email but two wrongs don’t make a right.

As for blogs, online newspapers, and Facebook and MySpace, we all know the things that are said publicly on those websites. Accusations, misrepresentations, insults, oneupsmanship, always having to get in the last word, you name it. We can agree to disagree but it’s good to remember to “say only what is true and useful and timely.” As I told my husband four years ago when he was not supportive of my going to India the first time, “if you have nothing positive to say then don’t say anything at all.”

One of my students told me about her 9 year old niece who she said was out of control ADD. She said that ever since the girl was born there has never been a moment of silence in her brother’s house, that a radio or TV is always playing, ever since this girl was one day old. I thought that supported Jon Kabat-Zinn’s belief in his book Coming To Our Senses that it is not the ADD child who is dysfunctional, the entire family is dysfunctional — we are an ADD nation. Think of all the people you see and know who are always texting, talking on a cell phone, or listening to their IPods non-stop. The thought of never being still or silent boggles my mind. We all know people who talk just for the sake of talking and end up saying nothing.

I am far from perfect and it will probably take me another lifetime or two to get over my penchant for sarcasm. I can certainly be the queen of yoga snark. I will always speak my truth but I’m definitely more mindful of what I say and how I say things. Intention and motivation are everything and each moment of mindfulness and awareness is a step closer to awakening. As Sarah Powers said in the last workshop I did with her, her favorite teachers are the ones who are also human as they teach and try to live the dharma. I am certainly human.

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books for your Buddhist path

In a comment to this post Kristen asked for book suggestions to start exploring a Buddhist path.

I first read books on Buddhism and the other Eastern wisdom traditions when I was in high school and college over 30 years ago. I put them down and picked them up again when I started back on the yoga path. I was in a different place so they resonated with me in a different way. I can not separate my spirituality from yoga although the yoga teacher trainings that I know of rarely mention Buddhism. I think that’s unfortunate, but that’s me. Here are my suggestions:

Of course, a good translation of The Dhammapada. I recommend Eknath Easwaran.

Whenever a beginner asks me what book they should start with I always recommend Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. Clear, concise, simple but not simplistic. I’ve read the book about five times.

What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula. A great book for the traditional teachings.

Buddhism, Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen. Classic.

Any book by Jack Kornfield, especially Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation and A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life (my favorite.)

I’ve studied both Theravadan and Tibetan Buddhism, so in the Shambhala tradition, books by Chogyam Trungpa: Journey Without a Goal: The Tantric Wisdom of the Buddha and Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. My two favorite phrases that Trungpa uses are “spiritual materialism” and “idiot compassion.” You can google those.

Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha’s Teachings by Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield’s teacher.

Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg.

Buddha Takes No Prisoners: A Meditator’s Survival Guide by Patrick Ophuls. One of my favorites.

Dancing with Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering by Phillip Moffitt (which I have to finish before returning to Spirit Rock at the end of April!)

Good Life, Good Death by my teacher, Gelek Rimpoche. Contemplating my own death made me feel so much more alive and in a way liberated me because I know that what is never born can never die. That realization is freedom.

This a very short list but I believe these books contain the essence, at least for me. Some of these books will not resonate with you because we are all different. Search amazon.com or any book store and you will find hundreds more books and a hundred more authors. Just as there are different styles of Christianity, there are different styles of Buddhism: Zen, Theravadan, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Pure Land, etc. Walking my own path I’ve found that it all boils down to the same thing, the essence of Buddha’s teachings: The Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, nothing more, nothing less.

The picture above is Prajna Paramita, the Mother of All Buddhas. Here is the most well-known quote from the Heart Sutra, an essential discourse on Prajna Paramita:

“Form is emptiness,
Emptiness is form,
Form is not other than emptiness,
Emptiness is not other than form.”

Simple.

OM MANI PADME HUM

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