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Renee Descartes’ Contribution to Yoga.

Rene Descartes (1596-1650) is one of the foundational philosophers and mathematicians of Western Civilization. His most famous line is: “I think, therefore I am.” Think he did, and following the natural light of reason he journeyed into the depths of the human psyche. His quest therein crosses paths with yoga philosophy.

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Rene Descartes (1596-1650) is one of the foundational philosophers and mathematicians of Western Civilization. His most famous line is: I think, therefore I am.”

 

Think he did, and following the natural light of reason he journeyed into the depths of the human psyche. His quest therein crosses paths with yoga philosophy, which is rooted in Eastern philosophy, in particular he veers in the direction of Advaita Vedanta, a philosophy most notably expressed in the 20th century by Ramana Maharshi.

 

Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) invigorated the teachings of the Indian teacher Sharkaracharya (8th Century) who reinvigorated the ancient Indian philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. These teachings find their parallel in Idealism, which asserts the primacy of the consciousness of the observer as the basis of reality. This is closely linked to Subjectivism, which says that our individual mental activity is the only thing that is absolutely certain.

 

 

How Descartes Intersects with Yoga

 

Let us imagine that Descartes travels forward in time, from his time, which he would admit to being a quite legitimate possibility, and winds up in southern India in 1936 at the ashram of Ramana Maharshi. We travel back in time to witness the meeting. The two men begin to discuss the ultimate nature of existence and quickly realize that they share an analogy and teaching, which offers insight into the nature of knowledge and the intellect of human beings.

 

The analogy they have in common is that of an individual being asleep and dreaming and yet not knowing they are asleep and dreaming.  Another way of stating the key element of this example is that we cannot distinguish between waking and dreaming because both states are created by our minds and our minds create our individual reality. Unless we discriminate carefully we tend to belief everything that our senses and thoughts convey to us.

 

Descartes uses this example to instruct us that we cannot trust our senses in our quest for ultimate knowledge because the senses do not always perceive even common truths. For example: the fact that we are actually asleep dreaming, whereas we think we are being chased by tigers through a forest. Descartes asserts that if we cannot trust our senses in one case we should never trust them in our quest for ultimate truth.

 

Ramana Maharshi uses the dream analogy to illustrate that the mind creates our reality and since this reality is always shifting: dreamscapes changing as well as waking scapes changing, we must look elsewhere to find the changeless reality. He asserts that only that which does not change is real. Some refute this saying that although the dreamscape is constantly shifting not so with the waking state. Observe carefully the world around you and you will see constant change. The sky, oceans, society, people, your thoughts and on and on. Nothing stays steady. Dream is short and waking is long but both are in flux. Add to that the fact that your and point of focus and hence personal reality is always shifting.

 

In their discussion the two men would hopefully agree that whereas Ramana says he is helping people to find the changeless and Descartes is helping them to find pure knowledge, they are both essentially talking about the same thing.

 

In the quest for truth Descartes doubts what his senses convey to him. Ramana looks at all that is generated by the mind and says, “Neti, neti, not this, not this,” as he searches for that which is unchanging. They both advocate eliminating false knowledge in the quest for true knowledge.

 

Given this shared starting point and dream reality, do Descartes and Ramana point us in the same direction from there?

 

Ramana says that the next step is to feel and realize that amidst all the change between dream and waking there is one thing that is constant: the sense of self. The awareness of the “I” that is having the experience; regardless whether it is a dream or waking reality there is always me at the heart of it. Ramana says to sink into that sense of self and therein you will connect with ultimate reality, the reality of being which transcends the mental fabric of mind. Ramana suggests that as thoughts and emotions arise we observe them and ask ourselves, “To whom has this thought arisen?”  The answer is, “To me.” One can then ask, “Who am I?” That is the inquiry that leads to the substratum of reality.

 

Descartes does not codify the process as succinctly as Ramana, who had a 200 + years of human evolution to draw upon.  Admittedly the concept of human evolution does throw some confusion into our time travel meeting as Descartes gets to go forward in time but still has his thought process from 200 years back.

Descartes does though arrive at the same understanding. He comes to the realization that the only certain thing is that he exists and is the thinker and observer of all his thoughts. Thus he says, “I think, therefore I am.” It is the essential awareness of the self at the center of all.

 

Ramana might say, “I observe, therefore I am.”

At the core of both statements is the essential awakening to the awareness that “I am.” This awareness transcends the ego identification wherein our sense of self is linked to thoughts, possessions and achievements: I am a Democrat, I am a good person, I am a rich person, I am the fastest runner, etc. The realizations of Descartes and Ramana point us to find ultimate knowledge and happiness in the profound awareness of our existence. The process requires diligence and plenty of quiet time, but is well worth the effort.

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Yoga Rules for Life: The Theory & Practice of Sexuality in the Context of Yoga.

What does yoga have to do with sex? Everything, because yoga has something to do with everything and sex has everything to do with being human. Our sexuality is a part of our identity. Yoga is the exploration of identity and ultimately leads us beyond our identity formed by thought and into our identity connected to the infinite.

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Sexuality is one of the cornerstones of our lives. It permeates our biology and hence our thoughts.

 

Our culture and media, which is a reflection of our shared interests, is constantly broadcasting sex and sexuality, oftentimes to influence our behavior.

 

Theory of Sexuality

 

What does yoga have to do with sex? Everything, because yoga has something to do with everything and sex has everything to do with being human.

 

Our sexuality is a part of our identity. Yoga is the exploration of identity and ultimately leads us beyond our identity formed by thought and into our identity connected to the infinite.

 

Our sexuality is part of our body. Our bodies are part of the continuation of our species and hence procreation and the raising of children are ingrained in our DNA.

 

Yoga is the exploration of our body. We become aware of our bodies through the practice of the physical postures of yoga: asanas. The asanas make our bodies strong and supple allowing for the natural flow of energy.  

 

Body, mind and emotions are intertwined. By opening and strengthening our bodies we allow for the natural and holistic expression of our sexuality.  

 

Sexuality affects our breathing. Yoga involves the awareness of breath and breath regulation. Through breath awareness and control we can become aware of our sexual energy and its intrinsic nature in our being.

 

Practice of Sexuality

 

The essence of yoga is to become aware of our deepest nature. The practice of yoga involves bringing stillness and hence the power of observation to all parts of our being. In the stillness of observation we are able to realize and utilize the vast storehouse of energy that is inside the biology and psyche of each of us.

 

This stillness is achieved through many means: mantras, breathing techniques, visualizations, meditation and exercise.

 

Yoga is traditionally thought of as having eight limbs. The first branch involves moral and ethical observations and one of these is brahmacharya, which is the observation and utilization of our sexual energy. Brahmacharya is often translated as celibacy.

 

In order to explore celibacy we do not need to take a lifelong vow of celibacy or live as a hermit in a cave. Amidst all our activities and various interpersonal relationships we can observe and learn about ourselves by observing the sexual energy in our lives.

 

Try maintaining calmness and observe the sexual energy without physically or mentally reacting to it. In this stillness, however long it lasts you can observe and learn about yourself.

 

There are many forms that sexual energy can take. It is in essence the force of creation. Try channeling your energy into different facets of life:  business, friendships, artistic pursuits etc.

 

All aspects of yoga will help you to do this: the postures, breathing exercises, meditation and study. Brahmacharya is not a moral judgment about sexual energy being good or bad. Rather it is an exploration, a scientific experiment, and a journey into the essence of the most powerful force in creation.

 

The sexual force is depicted in mystical art and literature as a snake that is coiled up at the base of the spine. Often called the kundalini, it is the power of nature, which for most human beings resides in the energy centers below and around the navel. The snake is awake but the energy is used in satisfying our base desires: lust and cravings for power, name, fame and wealth.

 

We also find the snake in the mythology of the Garden of Eden. It is the snake, the sexual force, experienced in the form of pleasure that leads Adam and Eve to a new relationship with the world in which they live. Sex with another changes our lives and destiny.

 

The mystical imagery of enlightenment often depicts this kundalini snake as awakening and winding up the spine until it reaches the brain: the top of the spine, the crown chakra. It is then when the yogi is awakened; when you are awakened!

 

 

 

Sujantra McKeever is the founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, which serves over 1,000 yogis a week, and also helped create Pilgrimage Yoga Online. He is the author of five books on eastern philosophy, success and meditation. Sujantra studied meditation with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy and has lectured on meditation and yoga in over 30 countries.

 

 

 

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Ishvara Pranidhana Practice & Examples: Worship God In Your Own Way.

This last niyama, worship of God, is ishvara pranidhana. Genuine worship is any practice that moves our awareness more deeply into the Divine.

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Ishvara pranidhana, loosely translated as ‘devotion to God’, is one of the foundations of the yoga pracitice. It is one of the five niyamas. This ishvara pranidana practice was descibed in the Yoga Sutras over 2000 years ago. Ishvara pranidhana practice and meditations can transform your consciousness.

 

Ishvara Pranidhana as a Practice

 

Yoga is a tree with eight aspects. The first two of these branches are the yamas and niyamas, which are moral and ethical injunctions, and form the foundation of all other aspects of yoga.

 

The yamas and niyamas are: non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, sexual purity, non-receiving of gifts, inner and outer purification, contentment, mortification, spiritual study and worship of God. This last niyama, worship of God, is ishvara pranidhana. Genuine worship is any practice that moves our awareness more deeply into the Divine.

 

The other aspects of the tree of yoga are physical exercises, breath control, consciously turning the senses within, concentration, meditation and samadhi.

 

Through the practice of yoga we can become conscious of our eternal nature. It is from our eternal aspect that we develop our sense of God. Eventually, in the yogic journey, we each need to think and feel the Divine in a way that draws our longing to experience God. Once we have a sense of the Divine then we can worship God in a way that resonates with us. This can include karma yoga, prayer, meditation, visualizations, mantra and anything else that connects you with That from which your sense of self has emerged.

 

To elevate into the practice of ishvara pranidhana is to make a significant stride in your yoga practice because it involves conceptualizing and feeling God and igniting your heart and emotion into your practice. Finding your unique conception of God: with form, without form, masculine, feminine, young, old etc. This is called your ‘chosen ideal.’

 

Examples of Ishvara Pranidhana

 

I was raised a Roman Catholic so my first conception of God was that of an old man who sat in judgement of human souls and either cast them to hell or lifted them to heaven. This conception created fear in me but may have been very helpful for learning the feelings of right and wrong and the concept of punishment…for eternity!

 

I attended a Jesuit highschool. The Jesuits are an order within the Catholic church who are very contemplative and scholorly. Two classes that especially impacted me at Saint Ignatious in San Francisco were Contemplative Prayer and Mediation and The Bible as a Historical Work. Both of these classes helped me to move away from a world view of absolutes and towards an understanding of the subjective nature of reality.

 

In the prayer and meditation class I learned to feel a living spirituality within myself that was not dependant on the conceptions of others. The ideas of others movitated me but it was the feelings in my own heart that were moving me forward. This is the idea of ishvara pranidana: finding your own love and devotion towards your spiritual journey.

 

Every journey has a destination and the word God, is often used as the destination of the spritual journey. As much as many religious organizations and fundamentalists thinkers would like us to think otherwise; God can mean many different things to different people. This makes perfect sense as we each view our lives through the unique lens of our personal experiences and cultural upbringing. Hence Jesus, Buddha, a river, or a mandala, or anything else of our choosing can each be God. Is that not the true meaning of religious freedom?

 

Devotion to your own highest ideals will lift your yoga practice to new heights. Have the courage to conceive of God in a way that resonates with you and find ways to connect with that feeling in your own heart and life. You will soon find yourself soaring to new heights of realization.

 

Sujantra McKeever is the founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, which serves over 1,000 yogis a week, and also helped create Pilgrimage Yoga Online. He is the author of five books on eastern philosophy, success and meditation. Sujantra studied meditation with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy and has lectured on meditation and yoga in over 30 countries.

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A Breakdown of Self Inquiry and Ramana Maharshi’s I AM Meditation.

The I AM technique of self-inquiry as taught by spiritual teachers such as Ramana Maharshi is profound and accessible if learned properly. The spiritual teachings of Ramana Maharshi abound with spiritual insights for both the beginner and advanced seeker.

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The I AM technique of self-inquiry as taught by spiritual teachers such as Ramana Maharshi is profound and accessible if learned properly. The spiritual teachings of Ramana Maharshi abound with spiritual insights for both the beginner and advanced seeker. Everyone’s practice of meditation and self-inquiry will be benefited from the reading of Ramana Maharshi’s writings.

 

Exploring the I AM Technique

 

Let’s explore the I AM technique for self-inquiry and its roots in the very make up of the human mind.

The technique is rooted in the idea that the essence of each being is the Self and that this awareness of the Self is possible for all. Ramana says that this sense of self is always with us, though the feeling is vague. The I AM technique is the remembrance of the Self. We become lost in thoughts and forget our essence. In Talks with Ramana Maharshi page 164, he writes, “Thoughts rule the life. Freedom from thoughts is one’s true nature—Bliss.”

The basis of the I AM technique is explained by Ramana, on ,  page 160 of Talks,  “The sense of body is a thought; the thought is in the mind, the mind rises after the “I”-thought, the “I”-thought is the root thought, if that thought is held, the other thoughts will disappear.” Holding on to that “I”-thought leads us to the essence of our sense of being: I AM. Read my first blog on Ramana Maharshi for more details on finding that feeling.

I first came across the I AM self-inquiry technique when I moved to San Diego to attend college in 1980. I had moved from San Francisco to fulfill my dream of becoming a surfer—I was heavily influenced in my early teens by the Gidget movies of the time! The other possibility I held out, and another storyline in a movie of the time, was to move to New York and work at the United Nations. I was intrigued by the idea of the nations of the world coming together to solve problems with intelligence and dialogue rather than the caveman mentality of physical violence.  

The mind is a mystery to western sciences, but to Ramana Maharshi it is something understandable, accessible and able to be transformed. The reason the I AM meditation technique is so effective is that it is rooted in the foundational structure of the mind.

In Ramana’s first writing, Self-Inquiry, written in 1901, he notes, “This inquiry into the Self in devotional meditation evolves into the state of absorption of the mind into the Self and leads to Liberation and unqualified Bliss.” I take “devotional meditation” to mean meditation rooted in feeling, sensation and emotion. The Self is rediscovered, for it is never lost, through a profound awareness of our own existence. Self is a feeling.

I traveled to Ramana Maharshi’s spiritual community in 2006. I have read numerous books of his. With insights culled from his writings I posit three primary aspects of mind that develop organically, to a greater or lesser extent, in all human beings.

One of these aspects of mind is the foundation for the I AM technique. Another leads to meditation on images, sounds and the like. The third leads to discrimination, which is the foundation of jnana yoga. Understanding these foundational aspects of mind will help you in observing your own mind and practicing the I AM meditation.

These three aspects of mind develop their basic functioning organically, as they are rooted in the survival instinct. They are developed to their highest potential by conscious effort. Lets start with the creation of mind. Ramana says, on page 20 of The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi, “…there exists an entity known as the ‘mind’, which is derived from the subtle essence of the food consumed…” So it matters what we eat!

 

3 Aspects Of The Mind

 

Now to the three aspects of mind. Firstly there is the I AM consciousness, by which we are aware of our own existence. This sense of our own being is always there but most cannot quite put their finger on it. Ramana says on page 156 of Talks with Ramana Maharshi, to a seeker: “You are hazily aware of the Self. Pursue it. When the effort ceases the Self shines forth.” The gateway to the Self is this core I AM aspect of mind. We always have the vague sense that we exist, but most times the pure joy of the feeling of existence is covered by the fabric of mind that creates our sense of reality.

This second ability of mind is to hold a sensation or thought. This holding gives sensations and thoughts a feeling of permanence. We create the world in which we exist through this magical power: the thought of an apple, a memory from the past, a vision of the future or even the idea that you are the physical body.

It enables us to create a sense of the world around us and allows us to create identifications of ourselves as the various roles and activities that we do in the world. This aspect of mind leads to meditation and concentration techniques where one focuses on something such as a sound, mantra, mandala, chakra, quality or other points of focus. Ramana says that through these concentration techniques the mind gains strength, but he also notes that the experience is still rooted in thought and hence impermanent.

The third ability of mind that emerges is the capacity to hold in the mind multiple sensations and thoughts, and compare and contrast them. This last ability is described by Ramana with wonderful simplicity on page 20 of The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi, “To think whether a certain thing may be eaten is a thought-form of the mind. ‘It is good. It is not good. It can be eaten. It cannot be eaten’: discriminating notions like these constitutes the discriminative intellect.” Through personal effort this aspect of mind leads to the ability to compare ethical and moral options and ultimately to distinguish the eternal from the transitory. This is the least developed aspect of mind in most individuals.

Through the proper use of the I AM method of self-inquiry we reconnect with our core mind and from there connect into the Self. To learn this technique I advise reading at least 4 books by Ramana Maharshi. His writing will give you a basis for understanding and practicing self-inquiry. Give yourself quiet time each day to concentrate upon his writings, interspersing reading with concentration, breath awareness and mediation.

I AM awareness, which we all have, yet are not fully conscious of, can become a conscious experience. When that occurs it is the state of Samadhi and Liberation.

 

Sujantra McKeever is the founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, which serves over 1,000 yogis a week, and also helped create Pilgrimage Yoga Online. He is the author of five books on eastern philosophy, success and meditation. Sujantra studied meditation with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy and has lectured on meditation and yoga in over 30 countries.

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An Overview of Divine Feminine Goddess Archetypes.

The archetype of Mother includes other references or meanings.  There is an awe and mystery about the divine feminine that includes mother but also includes other forces that act upon us in our psychological and biological forms.  

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Everyone has a mother: all embodied beings are born, and to be born means to have a mother.  To have a human mother means to have a relationship to a person who brought us forth out of her body, who cared for us when we were at our most helpless and vulnerable. We were utterly helpless as infants: if she had not protected us, we would not be here.  For most of us, she smiled at our open gaze and spoke sweet words to us. She wrapped us up when we were cold, and comforted us when we were hurt or frightened. Above all, she fed us and kept us warm. The experiences that we had at the beginnings of our lives have created our deepest memories and associations. These are the bedrock of our conscious and unconscious lives.  Mother is the womb, the home, the beginning. She is the nest: we learn, we live with each other, we share our lives and livelihoods because we began our lives with a mother.

We all have a deep psychological imprint of mother.  Our biological makeup is designed to interact with a mother, even while still in the womb.  Much of this is instinct, built into the structure of our bodies and nervous systems. In fact, this primary relationship is the foundation of individual consciousness.  Mother is more than a biological entity, a creature that gives birth to us; she may not even be female. Males may function as mothers in certain circumstances, as may other family members or relatives. In nature, beings are born in all sorts of ways, and not necessarily through a biological female. A certain kind of male frog, for example, receives the eggs from the female frog and then incubates the eggs and tadpoles until the baby frogs are born from the male’s side pouch. For humans, Mother is an archetype: the relationship with a mother is part of our innate psychic makeup.  We find someone on whom we can “project” the image and function of the Mother, whether or not that person happens to be a biological mother.  In this sense, we create our mothers as much as our mothers create us. We smile or cry or demand care of our mothers, and they respond as best they can. When the process of mothering goes as it should, she remains at the center of our psyche.  She is the great being who has brought us physically and psychologically into this world.

Never mind for a moment that in our time and culture, the category of “mother” does not carry the universal meanings that it once may have had.  Real mothers can have problems with parenting. Many people have issues or problems with their parents, or have misgivings about the mothering role that they themselves are expected to play. When our relationship with a mother is damaged or incomplete, we may feel damaged or incomplete as human beings. We may develop trust issues or suffer emotional traumas or a stunted ability to love others. This said, shortcomings in real mothering are not necessarily relevant to a meditation on mothering itself.  Mothers give birth to each one of us. We have all been protected, nurtured, and taught by mothers. All multicellular beings have been born from mothers. This is true even for the many organisms that are born from eggs. Even so-called “bad” mothers took care of us when we were at our most vulnerable and most helpless. On some preconscious level, we all remember this.

No beings come from nothing.  Life produces life, and life nurtures life.  Life survives only by the grace and protection of mothers. This truth is timeless and sacred – and it may not be confined to just this life.  Motherhood may be an aspect of having multiple lives. If you can accept the idea that there are more lives to live than just this one, then we have all been mothers.  We have all given birth to other beings. The Buddhists like to say that there have been so many incarnations of every being in every conceivable situation and circumstance, that in the countless eons of time, every one of us has been a mother to every other one of us. And every one of us has had every other one of us as a mother.  All of us are related to everyone else through being mothers.  We are all linked in a most intimate and interdependent way. This is a sacred and beautiful concept. If it seems preposterous or silly, just accept it as a poetic conceit.  Meditate on it. Contemplate it.

 

Mother as Devi, the Goddess

 

On a cosmic or universal level, we can relate to Mother as a sacred being — as Devi.  Devi, a term from the Hindu religion and philosophy means goddess. It is one of the terms or metaphors used when discussing the divine.  Perhaps most importantly, Devi is the archetype of the Mother as a primordial symbol in all cultures and at all times. It signifies the feminine aspect of divinity, god, or consciousness. What exactly is connoted by the term “feminine” depends upon what religion, philosophy or spiritual disciple you are referring to.  It has a renewed resonance in new age circles, invoking Celtic mystery goddesses, Hindu deities like Kali or Durga, ancient Mediterranean goddesses like Astarte, Aphrodite and Hecate, earth mothers, and gentle healing feminine archetypes of all descriptions.

The archetype of Mother includes other references or meanings.  There is an awe and mystery about the divine feminine that includes mother but also includes other forces that act upon us in our psychological and biological forms.  She is Devi or Durga to the Hindus, the Universal Mother out of which all other manifestations of the goddess originate. Devi is associated with death and transformation as much as she is associated with birth and protection. In the Hindu pantheon, she is part of a trinity of divine forces that include Shiva as the destroyer, Vishnu as the preserver, and Devi, who embodies the creative or manifesting force in the universe. The Hindu concept of divinity differs from the Western notion of gods and goddesses associated with specific and limited powers and spheres of influence.

Depending upon the philosophy or religious practice or region or scripture being considered, Devi can be many goddesses. As Parvati, she is the consort of Shiva in his guise as the great Lord of the Universe.  Or she can be Kali, the process of destruction and dissolution as much as creation and preservation. The male deities Vishnu, Brahman and Shiva are metaphysical absolutes.  Their feminine counterparts are experienced as Shakti, the creative expression of the cosmic absolute.  Shiva can be thought of as the unmanifest potential of the universe, the energy substratum out of which time, space, and causality come into being: picture the image of Shiva Nataraja in His cosmic dance of creation and destruction.  Parvati can be thought of as the force of Prakriti, the manifested universe of name and form.  Think of her as she is portrayed in a Chola period bronze, infinitely full and voluptuous. She is nature: the world of the senses. Shiva and Parvati are two aspects of the same reality, in the way the West has devised the metaphor of matter and energy as two expressions of the same underlying reality.  

 

Devi as the Divine Feminine

 

Devi is beauty, as well as the creative expression of intelligence or consciousness.  The divine Mother can appear as Saraswati: it is this energy that brings poetry, music and philosophy into human life.  What would humanity be without language, sagas and songs, architecture, and mythologies?  Saraswati represents our ability to express and represent our symbolic and metaphysical universe.  As such, she makes the forms of consciousness possible: language, meaning, and the awareness of ourselves as individual ego-minds encased in the body.   As the goddess Lakshmi, she manifests as our livelihoods — as abundance, grace, beauty and charm.  She makes life possible — and bearable. The consort of Vishu the preserver, she represents material and spiritual wealth and well-being.  Finally, Devi manifests as Kali, the source, origin, duration, destruction, and negation of the world. Kali is related to Kala, or time. Ultimately, she is time, space and causation.  As such, she is the ultimate reality: another way of experiencing the Lord Shiva.

Devi is a metaphysical reality. But as a human being, I relate better to an abstract philosophical principle when it is more accessible and concrete.  In all spiritual traditions, God is made manifest in some way that is accessible to human emotion and human experience. The Divine is represented in such figures as Christ, Goddess, Buddha, Zeus, or Mother Mary.  The divine is experienced through Yahweh, Allah, Mohammed, Moses, or some other entity that possesses a name and a presence.  Personally, I like to experience the spiritual reality as a feminine presence, as Devi, especially in two forms: as Mother Kali and as Tara, the liberator and protector. Tara is the easier to approach and to understand. She is the rescuer, the savior goddess, the one who represents the boon of fearlessness.  She destroys all dangers, especially those psychic dangers of fear, doubt, and ignorance. She demands only our attention and our devotion. She is love and forgiveness personified — the ideal mother, lover and friend.

Kali is the goddess of spiritual transformation.  She is the death of the limited, ego self and the liberation beyond the illusions of time, materiality, and the human form.  She takes many forms and has many, many names. Similar forms of the goddess appear in the Buddhist pantheon as Nairatmya, or “egoless woman,” and Vajrayogini, the tantric deity of transformation and annihilation. Kali is represented as standing on top of her consort Shiva, who represents a transcendental absolute reality. She holds a sword of non-dual wisdom that cuts through illusion and falsity.  She also holds the severed head of a male demon that has had the temerity to challenge her. The head represents arrogance, ignorance and pride, as do the other 108 heads that she wears on a necklace around her head. Kali is fierce but compassionate. She is terrifying to those of us who are holding on to our illusions and resisting the realities of time, transfiguration, and our own apotheosis. She is the savior goddess to those who surrender to divine revelation.  Unlike Tara, she is not an easy goddess to accept or to love. But both are to be venerated as two aspects of the same goddess, the same divine reality.

 

Her Worship and Sadhana

 

How does one approach the Mother as divine feminine?  In one form, she is experienced in meditation as the simple presence of consciousness or awareness.  In tantric or Kundalini practice, she is experienced as internal energy or bliss. She exists in images and statues to be worshiped and meditated upon.  Finally, she exists in liturgies and prayers to the Goddess. Chanting, japa, or repeating mantras in ritualistic worship are not things that appeal to everyone.  It can be argued — and has been — that ritual worship or the worship of deities is not essential to spiritual practice. It is also argued that specific liturgies lead to idolatry and to the weaknesses and potential divisiveness of religious practice and spiritual dogmas.  It is often argued that it is better to be free of religious symbolism and ritual practice, and simply to meditate on the heart chakra or compassion or some other uplifting concept. These are all good points — and yet, the presence of the divine in one’s life is as powerful and potent an expression of our humanity as is our reason and our human love. Why would we want to deny its personification as gods and goddesses?  The meaning of Yahweh is “I AM”: ultimately, this is all that God really is.  The gods and goddesses manifest as archetypes simply because it is in our nature as human beings to manifest them.  In the words of one of my liturgies, the gods and goddesses do not exist except as a means to allow us to experience the true nature of reality.  Reality in this sense means to experience the inner and outer presence of THE PRESENCE, as my own guru once put it.

There are as many ways to experience the divine Mother as there are devotees to experience her. One way is to allow the manifestation of the divine Mother in ordinary life.  This involves a little fantasy and role playing, but don’t our jobs, marriages, trips to the supermarket and to the dentist — our ordinary life in general – call for some role playing anyway?  Our lives are devoted to fantasy and make-believe: the fact that we believe in the roles and dramas we enact is all the more reason to stop, look, and listen. All of these thoughts and opinions and make-believe are also forms of the divine manifestation. Devi is the manifestation, out of the emptiness of pure potential, of our lives and us.  As we all know, there is nothing really out there. Or, if you prefer, you can say that it is all hydrogen and specks of dust. Yet to us, our political parties, neighborhood parties, retirement parties and every other party happen day after day, throughout our lives. Where does this intense activity come from? What or who manifests it? Why not call it the Divine Mother?  She is the cosmic womb from which everything that exists, exists. In the Hindu metaphor, she is Shaki: the power or energy of the divine that appears as everyone and everything in the universe of names and forms. The Divine Mother is our lives and in many ways, she is us.

 

Shakti; Her divine manifestation

 

As devotees of Shakti, the divine Mother, we should find her sacred presence everywhere.  I remember seeing Mother Kali dancing in a shopping mall. My spouse and I were emerging from a department store in a huge shopping mall in Maryland, when I spotted Mother Kali. She was a wonderfully exotic looking black woman with waist-length hair wearing middle-eastern clothing, heavily jeweled and formidable looking. She was standing near an improvised stage by the food court, looking through a box for additional CDs. Two of her brightly dressed apprentices were slowly dancing arm in arm to entertain the crowds of holiday shoppers with a choreographed routine.  I said to my wife, “Look over there — its Ma Kali”. She thought it might be the two dancing apprentices, but they were far from the real thing, like ordinary devotees next to a master. Kali herself danced next, and the change was electrifying: a middle-aged black woman, lithe, quick, sharp, and delicate as a cat as she moved carefully and liquidly around the stage. Her dance genuinely summoned the goddess. As I watched from the upper balcony, she shot a quick glance around at the assembled shoppers. I was inwardly reciting a hymn to Kali: “It will be auspicious if she looks at me.” Her glance shot by, but I couldn’t tell if she was looking at me. Isn’t that just like all incarnations of divinity? We can never quite tell if they are really looking at us or not.

On that day, I was preoccupied with an important decision that I was soon to make — a decision that would change my life dramatically. As it usually happens, I was thinking that this was my decision to make. But, as I watched the black woman dancing, a story came into my head from a biography of Vivekananda. Vivekananda was the world-famous disciple of Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna is a great saint of modern India and a fervent devotee of Mother Kali.  Vivekananda, his greatest student, travelled extensively throughout Europe and America at the beginning of the last century, preaching brilliantly about Vedanta and Indian philosophy. His work made it possible for later teachers like my guru Gururaj to be understood in the west. Gururaj would sometimes talk about Vivekananda, and even once claimed to be an embodiment or reincarnation of Vivekananda. In the story as I remembered it, Vivekananda is concerned about restoring a ruined shrine to Kali, whom many Hindus worship as the mother of the universe. No sooner does he think this, however, then the voice of the Mother comes to him and admonishes that it is She herself that restores or destroys her own temples, not any work of the ego or the human will. God alone does everything. We can do nothing by ourselves. I myself heard a similar inward voice that day, warning me that I can decide nothing. I can do nothing. It is an illusion that I am the agent of my life. God alone acts.

 

Spiritual Surrender and Devotion to the Divine

 

This brings up the devotional attitude of surrender to the divine feminine. When we have a decision to make, some of us like to invoke Tara, Durga, Kali, Mother Mary, or whatever form of the divine Mother we are personally devoted to. If we have been doing intense spiritual practice, we can even visualize God or Devi as our guru and ask him or her what to do. The divine Mother or God or our guru may even tell us — but we are really just talking to ourselves. We may hope for some voice of higher wisdom, and we may get one, but in one way or another, it’s really just our inner selves that we are talking to.  This inner voice, or inner guru as it is sometimes called, is a tricky thing. If we are lucky, and sufficiently wise, it is our divine natures we are invoking and not just another form of the bewitching and misleading ego consciousness: this latter entity is merely the voice of our fears, doubts and illusions. It is easy to be fooled.

So, who or what is it that we invoke, when we invoke the divine Mother?  I like to think of her as everything that forms the entire fabric of our existence, both inner and outer experience.  This is the whole manifest universe of thought, word, deed, objects, and selfhood — everything. Because this world seems to exist, and furthermore, seems to exist as something that we can conceive of and even participate in, I think of it as feminine: alluring, terrible, seductive, all-pervasive, loving, powerful, merciful, forgiving, remorseless, beautiful, and empty. Empty, because ultimately, it is nothing but the ceaseless play of consciousness, without form, substance, or duration. But, this is getting too philosophical and conceptual. Mother is best experienced directly, not through concepts and ideas.  The divine Mother is not philosophy or an idea about experience, but experience itself. This is why you can see the entire manifest universe in the form of a bewitching black woman dancing in the vast shopping mall of the universe. The whole mystery of manifestation exists in each and every moment of the divine dance. Mother and I exist just for each other: God and her devotee.

While I rarely “pray” to the divine in a conventional sense, I always remember: “God’s will be done.” Like most people, I am involved in the world: I live far from some monastic ideal of renunciation and detachment. I do my spiritual practices every day, without fail, as an expression of my devotion and love.  I probably meditate and contemplate the divine reality more than most people, but I do so without expectations. The Mother is what she is — and I accept that. But it is also true that the divine Mother gives her devotees what they secretly want in their heart of hearts, with all the joys and sorrows that come with an involvement and identification with the manifest world of space and form.  Whatever we may think we want or fear, we will be all consumed by our life. It is our own nature that propels us into the world, into action and into endless activity. The divine manifests itself in the world through each one of us. That manifestation IS God, IS the Goddess. And that Goddess is no other than myself: not myself in my ego dream of separation and division, but in her true guise as the Mother itself.  Though all of my existence transpires within my own awareness, that consciousness is itself divine. It IS the Mother.

My hope — or my prayer, if you like — is that in surrendering my own illusion of individual self, I will be enacting God’s will: my submission to the Will of the embodied universe. Gururaj, after a lifetime spent actively doing all the things in the world that he was born to do — teaching, fathering, meditating, being the guru to many of his devotees — wrote a mysterious poem of resignation shortly before his death.

 

The world goes on

through its twists and turns,

I go on in its meandering ways

but I am still!

Who wants to watch

the waves of life’s ocean…. floundering

Gururaj Ananda Yogi, May 1988

 

I get shivers when I read that poem. Vivekananda too, after a very active life of teaching and traveling, came to realize a higher kind of resignation to the will of the Mother. He had done it all, and he had his fill of it.

Vivekananda (in a letter to a disciple):

“The whole world is a mere child’s play — preaching, teaching, and all included. ‘Know him to be the sannyasin who neither hates nor desires.’ And what is there to be desired in this little mud-puddle of a world with its ever-recurring misery, disease, and death?… This rest — eternal, peaceful rest — I am catching a glimpse of now in this beautiful spot. ‘Having once known that the Atman alone, and nothing else, exists, desiring what, or for whose desire, shall you suffer misery about the body?’ I feel as if I had my share of experience in what they call ‘work’. I am finished. I am longing now to get out…May Mother gather me soon to Herself never to come back any more. These works and doing good etc. are just a little exercise to cleanse the mind, I have enough of it. This world will be world ever and always. What we are, so we see it. Who works? Whose work? There is no world. It is God Himself. In delusion we call world–neither I nor Thou nor you, it is all He the Lord, all one.”

(Quoted in The Life of Swami Vivekananda, Vol II, pg. 119)

This might sound a little extreme, or even faintly negative. It doesn’t sound especially positive or “life-affirming.” But who are we to affirm life — or anything else, for that matter? Life affirms itself. The manifest universe is doing a very good job of manifestation, whether we like it or not, and we get to be included in it. After all, we ARE it. That last line of Gururaj deserves some careful meditation. Is he saying that he does or does not enjoy watching those waves of the world? Is he floundering, or is it the world that flounders? Who knows? Who cares? It’s all Mother’s doing. She’ll tell us when to come in from play.

 

The Divine Mother as Ananda; Bliss

 

Who, finally, is Mother?  Beyond divinities and symbolism, Mother consists of this mysterious union of existence, consciousness, and ineffable joy that the Advaita philosophy calls Sat Chit Ananda.  The Tibetan Buddhists call it the Dharmakaya in its formless aspect, the Sambhogakaya in its power to be aware, and the Nirmanakaya in its manifest or expressed form.  The Catholics have their Trinity, and the Jews simply state, “I AM.” This is Consciousness as Being. Awareness arises co-dependent with Shiva, the primordial Being. Without awareness, there is no activity of Consciousness.  This is symbolized by the Sleep of Brahman. The activity of awareness is experience-in-the-world, which is another way of saying that it is Mother’s manifestation as Shaki, the primordial activity and expression of consciousness.

The divine union of Shiva and Shakti is the union of manifestation and the un-manifest source.  Out of this divine union arise the self and the object of awareness.  This is embodiment, or what the tantric practitioners call mandala.  This I what I experience as Kali or the divine Mother: the universal expression of wisdom, energy, ecstasy, and knowledge.  Kali is the timeless awareness out of which Time arises. She is Formless and Un-manifest: out of her arise both the inner world of thought and perception and the outer world of objects and attributes.  She is always still and is always in motion. She is causality and Karma. She is without personality, and She is the supreme personality — the only personality, the universal “I.” Not surprisingly, she enjoys herself.  She is the enjoyer: the knowing aspect of consciousness and the experience that experiences itself. She is never without action. She is Existence, Consciousness, Bliss. She is the Supreme Self, the only self, and my true self — the “me” which manifests as personality in the world.  

Her great devotee is the 19th century Indian saint Ramakrishna,

“My Mother is the principle of consciousness. She is akhanda satchidananda; indivisible Reality, Awareness, and Bliss. The night sky between the stars is perfectly black. The waters of the ocean depths are the same. The infinite is always mysteriously dark. This inebriating darkness is my beloved Kali….”

Reality with attributes, saguna brahman, has been unanimously declared by the Vedas, Puranas, and Tantras to be Mahakali, the primordial energy of awareness. Her Energy is like the rays of the sun. The original sun is attributeless Reality, nirguna brahman, boundless awareness alone. Proceed to the Original through its Radiance. Awaken to non-dual Reality through Mother Kali. She holds the key. —

Sri Ramakrishna in “Great Swan”, by Lex Hixon, p.184

So, who is Kali?  Who can say what the Mother truly is?  We can only lose ourselves in astonishment at the beauty and majesty of this world, which she creates.  Beyond thought, beyond the mind, she is the being that looks into our eyes when we look up into hers. She is also that which looks out of our own eyes. With hope, fear and expectations, we love her, and she, through her divine grace, returns this love.  

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR, JEFFRY CARR: Jeffrey Carr has been active with meditation and spiritual practice for over forty years.  He is a Full Teacher in the American Meditation Society (americanmeditationsociety.org), a Senior Teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia (www.tibetanbuddhist.org), and has completed a two year program in the Clearlight Meditation Teacher Training program of the Clearlight Meditation Institute (www.clearlightmeditation.org).  Carr grew up in San Diego and has recently returned after a career as an art professor at a number of colleges and universities and then as the Dean of an artschool in Philadelphia.  Some of his artwork can be seen here: www.jeffreycarr.work.  He has been a disciple of Gururaj Ananda Yogi for over 35 years, and is a long-term student and practitioner of Tibetan Buddhist and Dzogchen traditions. Carr’s interests and experience include Zen meditation, the teachings of his root guru, Gururaj Ananda Yogi, Non-dual Advaita Vedanta, Tibetan Buddhism, Dzogchen, Non-dual Saiva Tantra and emerging contemporary traditions of non-dual spirituality.

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A Breakdown of the Teachings of Ramana Maharshi.

Ramana is, in my estimation, the fountainhead of the teachings of self-inquiry that have become quite prevalent today. His basic teaching is interpreted and used by many teachers in our time.

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Ramana Maharshi taught the technique of self-inquiry as a method to reach liberation. His teachings are rooted in an ancient Indian philosophy called Advaita Vedanta. Ramana Maharshi synthesized these voluminous, obscure and often inaccessible teachings into a simple, profound and accessible technique centered on the “I AM” experience.

Ramana, who passed away in 1950 at the age of 71, advised seekers to observe the flow of thoughts cascading endlessly through the mind and to pose to oneself the simple question: “To whom are these thought occurring?” The answer is obviously: To me. The next question the seeker ask is: “Who am I?” This is the essence of how to practice self inquiry.

 

An Introduction to Ramana’s Teachings

I first encountered the teachings of Ramana Maharshi in 1980, at age 18, while attending the University of California at San Diego. I had been practicing various types of mediation for about two years. His writings inspired me and gave me clarity in my spiritual search, yet I found the technique rather difficult. It was not till 30 years later that I would uncover within his teachings a few keys that have made the practice very accessible.

Ramana is, in my estimation, the fountainhead of the teachings of self-inquiry that have become quite prevalent today. His basic teaching is interpreted and used by many teachers in our time. Not all do the same justice to his teachings and some have created questionable hybrids. Best to drink from the source if you want the purest water.

When exploring his teachings it is it is important to remember that his original words and writings were not in English. Others later translated them into English. English does not have a sufficient lexicon of spiritual vocabulary to translate word for word from Sanskrit or other Indian languages. Understanding the intricacies of a practice such as self-inquiry requires an exact understanding of the teachings.

To remedy this I suggest either studying Sanskrit or Tamil or reading at least 4 of Ramana’s books in English (different translators worked on his books) to great the feel for the spirit of his teachings.

Coming back to my college attempts at self-inquiry. After having read just a few passages from Ramana I tried the technique of observing my thoughts, then asking, “To whom have these thoughts arisen?” I would then have the thought, “They have arisen to me.” I would then ask: “Who am I.” The problem was–I felt like I was in a hall of mirrors. Whatever thought or idea would arise in response to “Who am I?” would just lead me to ask again “Who am I?” and I just kept going around and around in the carousel of my mind. It became frustrating and seemed senseless.

As “fate” would have it—I can explore Ramana’s philosophy on free will and destiny at another time!—I moved onto other meditation techniques, disheartened by the hall of mirrors effect.

Many years later I returned to the writings of Ramana in more depth, read 5 different books by Ramana, each translated by a different translator—hence my above suggestion to you—and discovered the solution to my challenge.

 

Talks with Ramana Maharshi

Talks with Ramana Maharshi is the book that unraveled my confusion. The book is a translation of talks that Ramana had with visitors to his ashram and covers a period of four years, 1935-1939. All were recorded and translated by Sri Munagala S. Venkataramiah who spoke both Tamil and English fluently.

In a discussion the visitor says that in the process of enquiry thoughts suddenly cease and then the deeper sense of I—to whom all these thoughts occur—arises as a FEELING! They ask if it is this feeling they are to focus on.

On page 17 of the book Ramana says, “It is certainly right. Thoughts must cease and reason disappear for the “I-I” to rise up and be FELT. FEELING is the prime factor and not reason.” (Emphasis is mine.)

What had happened to me in college was that in the process of asking the question “Who am I?” I was expecting or awaiting an answer in the form of a certain thought. I was posing the question through thought and sought a thought in return. But what becomes clear from the above passage is that although the question is asked with thought, what one is seeking in answer is a feeling. A feeling of Self.

Once I began to FEEL my sense of “I,” of individuality, I knew, both intuitively, and through the writings of Ramana that I was now following the thread of awareness in the direction his teaching were pointing: toward liberation.

Sujantra McKeever is the founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, which serves over 1,000 yogis a week, and also helped create Pilgrimage Yoga Online. He is the author of five books on eastern philosophy, success and meditation. Sujantra studied meditation with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy and has lectured on meditation and yoga in over 30 countries.

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Peace

We’re all searching for peace in some way but what does that mean?…

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What is peace?

We’re all searching for peace in some way but what does that mean? When we look around we don’t see peace offered up like a commodity. We can’t buy it in a store. There are no peace vendors, so to speak. So, how do we acquire this ethereal concept that we all want but can’t touch?

Most of the time peace is defined by the use of negation. In other words, what peace is not. Peace is the absence of war and violence. Peace is freedom from disturbances; from antagonism, antipathy, enmity, hatred, hostility, unfriendliness, alienation, breach, divorce, estrangement, rupture, schism, scission, severance, dissent, dissidence, anarchy, disorder, disturbance, strife, turmoil… all things that peace is not.

But peace can be defined by affirmative qualities, too. Harmony, compatibleness, unity, cohesiveness, affinity, serenity, empathy, connection, tranquility, sweetness, empathy, understanding, love… factors that are peaceful or that lend themselves to a peaceful state of being.

Peace is a state of being.

Peace remains an ethereal quality. But it is dependent on certain factors. Truth, non-harming (ahimsa), compassion, empathy, harmony, all formless qualities, yet they are absolutely necessary in the formation of being a peaceful soul. And this is where we hit the nail on the head. Peace is an inner quality. In the end, there is truly no place to find peace except within one’s self.

While peace remains formless, non-peace can take on physical qualities. Dis-harmony brings about tension, stress, loneliness, anger, hostility, disease, all qualities that mire us with outward, mental anguish. And these manifest physically; we turn to drugs, alcohol, unhealthy eating habits, excessive shopping, inappropriate sexual behavior… we are negligent of our bodies, our vehicles, all physical things we use in an attempt to substitute for our general dis-harmoniousness. When we are disharmonious there is no space to explore our inner being, so we turn to external, physical ‘remedies.’

It has well been said many times by great advocates of peace that peace can’t be bought, nor brokered. It can’t be negotiated or contracted. Peace isn’t something you vote for. Peace is ONLY an inner quality of being. And I think peace is only attainable when we learn to live in a state of AWE. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said it all:

“If you are not in AWE you are not paying attention.”

Our souls are mired in the everyday experience. We completely loose sight of the miracle of our existence. Our separateness conditioning is the chain that binds us to our physical form. We seem to forget that life on earth is the only life we have found in the universe (to date). We look upon life as commonplace and we find no peace in that. We find peace when we pay attention!

Meditation is a door opener to peace. In the practice of pratyahara, we withdraw our physical senses from our immediate attention so that we might bring awareness to the qualities that foster inner peace. Meditation is about heightened awareness. It’s NOT naptime. We develop a state of awe. We recognize the miracle of our existence and we tap into the infinite, the timeless. We make peace with life, with the universe.

Because we are a part of this universe, by the definition of Unity, singularity, we always have been and we always will be.

Our being began as a spark in the ‘big bang.’ Everything emanated from that singular impetus. It’s comforting to know that the universe and we are one. Life is not just biological. The universe is life. We are universal beings. And we are peace.

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Ep 45 – Consciousness

Consciousness. Exploring body, vital, mind and heart consciousness…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 45 – Consciousness. Exploring body, vital, mind and heart consciousness.

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Ep 44 – Truth in Thought, Word and Deed

Truth in thought, word and deed. Exploring truth in your life…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 44 – Truth in thought, word and deed. Exploring truth in your life.

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Ep 43 – The Mandela

The Mandela. Creating an external form of your inner dimension…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 43 – The Mandela. Creating an external form of your inner dimension.

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Ep 42 – Going Beyond Religion

Going beyond religion. Exploring the beauty and limits of yoga…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 42 – Going beyond religion. Exploring the beauty and limits of yoga.

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Ep 41 – Exploring the Soul’s Uniqueness

Exploring the soul’s uniqueness and the ego’s separativity…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 41 – Exploring the soul’s uniqueness and the ego’s separativity.

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Is Yoga Broken?

The question asked: Is Yoga Broken?…

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There has been a great deal of talk and discussion about the current state and direction yoga is headed. The question asked: Is Yoga Broken?

Alanna Kaivalia, who we interviewed about a year ago for pyo.yoga and two other teachers, Tara Stiles and Anna Conversano chime in: (an interview by Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy.)

Read it here: http://yhoo.it/2ca4HFc

Leslie Kamanoff, in another interview with Pilgrimage Yoga online also weighs in on the future of yoga.

https://www.pilgrimageyogaonline.com/leslie-kaminoff/

broken_yoga1

… And here’s my take:

Yoga is a business. Whether you are an independent teacher, an employee or a studio owner, a non-profit or a for-profit, and ashram or a retail operation, it’s a business. There has to be a positive cash flow. The operation has to support itself; it has to have legs. And as we know, business practices can sometimes (or frequently) overlook, side step, disregard what might be deemed ethical, moral, virtuous standards. Yoga is no different.

The moral, ethical bar is set very high in the yoga world. The ideals and principles are clear-cut. The yamas and niyamas are solid and incorruptible. Derivation from these principles doesn’t corrupt them. It does, however, impact the overall impressions of the industry by the public. And it does impact the viability of the yoga business, in the long term.

Honor Before Profit

In the west, sadly, the capitalistic approach of business is predominately, ‘profit before honor,’ whereas, it is implied by its foundational principles that yoga should be based on, ‘honor before profit.’ This idea should be the foundation of all businesses. Sadly, it is not. We see plainly in our economy how profit is king, to the detriment of our people, the environment, the larger world, our vision of life… and the yoga industry is no different.

The yoga world has seen some big pundits go down in flames. In every case, the most fundamental tenants of yoga have been abandoned, violated. In every case, profit has been elevated above honor.

broken_yoga2

Buy Impulsively?

I recall reading an interesting article a few years ago on the marketing of yoga. The idea was that business marketing centers around the premise of getting people to buy impulsively; to buy what you don’t need, to buy things that are bad for you, to buy junk, to buy and then buy again… and the author suggested quite implicitly that “Yoga doesn’t have that problem.” I couldn’t disagree more! Just look at the yoga fashion industry. Look at the yoga merchandise industry. Look at the yoga brands. Even when a yoga ‘superstar’ goes down in scandal and disgrace, he simply re-brands himself and seeks to profit. And we throw ourselves and our resources at these personalities and products even when it is obvious there is something wrong. Make no mistake. Yoga and capitalism are like oil and water. They don’t mix very well, most especially in the absence of honor.

So what do we do?

Despite what we are led to believe, the consumer has the power. If we mindlessly buy crap we will only have crap in our lives. If we research about what we are buying we will become a more discerning consumer. And that’s what is needed, in yoga and in general. We need to be more mindful. We need to stop buying crap. When we do, the crap will disappear. A business can only survive if it has customers.

One of the biggest participants in the yoga fashion industry started in a garage. Now, most, if not all, of their product is made in china. We still pay the same high retail price while they exploit cheap labor explicitly for increased profit. They make lofty claims about, ‘giving back’ and ‘improving working conditions,’ but this pretty package of goodwill is generated by virtue of the exploitation of the foreign worker, the lack of opportunity for the domestic worker, AND the exploitation of the end consumer, you and me. And we tolerate it. The cost of producing a yoga pant in China is about 30 cents in labor. The retail price for the same pant is $70-80.00.

Yoga’s highest purpose is to build discernment in the practitioner. Yoga is so much more than just a workout. When we discern that we are being manipulated and exploited we should put ourselves in check. We should make a conscious choice ‘not to be deceived.’ We must make conscious choices of what to buy and who to follow. Yoga’s purity breaks down through the apathy of unconscious consumers.

Support the mom and pops. Steer away from the institutions. Don’t be swayed by deceptive marketing. Be a discerning consumer. Research your leaders. Choose wisely. Yoga isn’t broken. We are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Philosophy Podcast E40 – Nurture Oneself

How to nurture oneself. Exploring dimensions ourselves through health and wellness…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 40 – How to nurture oneself. Exploring dimensions ourselves through health and wellness.

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Who am I?

I have this identity. I am this person. I have this body. I have this story…

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I have this identity. I am this person. I have this body. I have this story… But deep down, when I slow down, I find that I have this other ‘me’ that I can’t really touch. I know it’s there. It’s very clear and yet, indefinable… ineffable, if you will. So I ask, “What is this?:” And, “Who am I?”

If you are currently practicing yoga, you have probably already come across this dilemma. In many respects, the recognition of this inner being is central to the practice of yoga. It’s called, “discovering your ‘true’ self.” In other words, we connect with the inner, indefinable, ineffable, untouchable part that we ‘discover’ is there, nebulously, veiled, secret, dormant. Who am I?

And then amazing and numerous Self-discoveries will be made.

Star Bud

Self-discovery

All of philosophy, spiritualism and religion have within the idea of Self-discovery. In fact, each considers Self-discovery to be primus, the principle purpose of life. Some doctrines would have you attain realization vicariously by devotion to a person, other doctrines, a concept. The grand idea, however, even if it is underlying, is that YOU must do the work. It is called ‘Self’-discovery, after all.

I like to think of my inner Self as being a spark of the universal. I consider how small my vessel is compared to the cosmos. And yet, I am a part of the vast cosmos. I am within it. I am not separate from it. And I was a part of the spark, the bang, if you will, that brought the cosmos into being. Every part of what is today was contained in that first spark.

Before time, I awaited…

Since time, I have unfolded…

When time ends, I will await again. ~the Author

Man and Nature

Science Breaks Down

It’s tough to swallow an idea that can’t be explained. Our intelligence only can take us so far… then intelligence breaks down. Science breaks down. What we have left is a miracle to be recognized, and to KNOW that the entirety is a miracle. It is a ‘knowing.’ It’s faith. It’s complete confidence. It’s something you feel and experience!

The imagery of the statue of Ganesha contains a beautiful example of our ineffable, inner being and how to reconcile with our physical knowledge. Ganesha is usually depicted with one broken tusk. Symbolically, the broken tusk represents the failure of intelligence on the physical plane to explain the ineffable nature of our origin and being; we have this inner Self that we can’t explain or touch. The unbroken tusk symbolizes that only faith can transcend the gap between the physical and the inner Self. In the end our intelligence fails to explain us… but we can ‘know.’ And that ’knowing’ is the basis for realization. It’s more than belief… It’s knowing! It can bring us peace; ‘the peace which passeth all understanding.’

The following quote points to this separateness thinking that confounds our efforts to find ourselves:

“There are hidden contradictions in the minds of people who “love Nature” while deploring the “artificialities” with which “Man has spoiled `Nature.’” The obvious contradiction lies in their choice of words, which imply that Man and his artifacts are not part of “Nature,” but beavers and their dams are.”

From Starship Troopers: ~Robert Heinlein

Peace

Children of the Universe

When we recognize that we are children of the universe, when we know that we are miracles, when we know that we are not separate, we are well on our way in the discovery of our true nature, our true Self.

Because I am a part of the universe, by the definition of Unity, I always have been and I always will be… Shanti, peace.

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Philosophy Podcast E38 – The Mind the Subtle Realm

Attuning your mind to the subtle realm.

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 38 – Attuning your mind to the subtle realm.

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Philosophy Podcast E37 – What Matters Most

What is dearest to your heart? Exploring what matters most, and why. Let go of expectations…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 37 – What is dearest to your heart? Exploring what matters most, and why. Let go of expectations.

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Philosophy Podcast E36 – Exploring Why

Exploring Why – Looking for change in our attitude and circumstances…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 36 – Exploring Why – Looking for change in our attitude and circumstances.

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Philosophy Podcast E35 – Death and the Sheaths of Life

Death and the Sheaths of life… Exploring the philosophy behind death and reincarnation…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 35 – Death and the Sheaths of life… Exploring the philosophy behind death and reincarnation.

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Philosophy Podcast E34 – Emerson’s Brahma

Join a philosophical exploration of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem, Brahma…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 34 – Join a philosophical exploration of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem, Brahma.

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Philosophy Podcast E33 – Ramayana – Rama’s First Great Challenge

Philosophic Discussion of the Indian Epic, Ramayana. Rama is called to his first great challenge…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 33 – Philosophic Discussion of the Indian Epic, Ramayana. Rama is called to his first great challenge…

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Philosophy Podcast E32 – Spiritual Teachers

Finding the Key to your Spiritual Journey…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 32 – Finding the Key to your Spiritual Journey.

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Philosophy Podcast E31 – Blake – Garden Of Love

William Blake’s ‘The Garden of Love.’…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 31 – William Blake’s ‘The Garden of Love.’

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Philosophy Podcast E30 – Connecting with a Spiritual Teacher

Connecting with a Spiritual Teacher. How to connect with a teacher who is no longer living…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 30 – Connecting with a Spiritual Teacher. How to connect with a teacher who is no longer living.

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Philosophy Podcast E29 – Karma

Karma – Exploring cause and effect in our thoughts and actions…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 29 – Karma – Exploring cause and effect in our thoughts and actions.

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The Master Key

It’s not often that someone says, “Here is The Master Key.” In fact…

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It’s not often that someone says, “Here is The Master Key.” In fact, ninety-nine times out of a hundred it might be regarded as a fool’s statement, akin to claiming enlightenment. It seems ridiculous that someone might have the Master Key to the ineffable.

I found such a claim to The Master Key

It comes from what I consider to be a reliable and well-considered source, Manly P. Hall.

Our task as yogis, as humans, is to put effort into mindful consideration. We meditate. We slow our busy, frantic activities in our outer world and delve into our inner world. We seek our place in the universe. As we progress, we recognize the concepts of Unity and diversity of Principles and particulars, of Generals and personalities. And this is key: we begin to realize that men come and go, live and die… but Man, the Principle continue in the universe and even beyond, by evidence of Man’s presence here and now as a part of eternity. Eternity is wholeness. We always were and we always will be.

Mistaking particulars as Principles

We have great tendency to equate or elevate particulars to the status of Principles, a fallacy. Religion is an obvious example. Each claims supremacy over the others and yet each teaches the same thing. St. Paul understood it perfectly: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect (Unity) is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” (I Cor. XIII: 9-10) The Christian church would have that ultimate unification of mankind under it’s own banner, unmindful that it is itself a particular, and can only be sustained until “that which is perfect is come.” Unity, Wholeness is without parts.

Manly P. Hall

What is the Master Key, then?

The key is the aligning of our consciousness, by establishing our mind in wholes, in unities, rather than particulars. This is The Master Key!

“…the establishment of the mind in wholes (unities) is essential to right thinking, and is the master key to the rational cognizance of the order and sequence of parts…” — Manly P. Hall

As long as man considers himself an individual, he is mortal. The key is the mindful consideration of Unity.

Excerpted quotations from the volume, Lectures on Ancient Philosophy, Chapter 12, by Manly P. Hall.

I highly recommend the above book and also Hall’s marvelous volume, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, published by The Philosophical Research Society, Los Angeles.

Check the schedule for times and locations of meditation, philosophy, mindfulness, pranayama and Kirtan at Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga.

 

 

 

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Philosophy Podcast E26: Karma

Explore the concept of Karma and how to negate ‘Bad Karma.’…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 26: Explore the concept of Karma and how to negate ‘Bad Karma.’

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Karma

“My own gratitude heart is all that matters.” — Sri Chinmoy

When we meditate we create a surface upon which we can build…

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Karma

“My own gratitude heart is all that matters.” — Sri Chinmoy

When we meditate we create a surface upon which we can build a platform of stability, where gratitude and compassion can be the grounding sources of our causalities.

I’ve been thinking about Karma and it’s meaning. In simple terms, Karma is the law of cause and effect. Our causes (thought, word, deed) have effects on others (positively or negatively). Those causes we create are ‘recorded’ on our personal ledgers, so to speak, and we are responsible for the effects.

What we do after we create a cause is important.

But Karma should not be regarded only by the effect our causes have on others. More importantly perhaps, karma should be regarded as the effect our causes have on ourselves. Common references to this concept include: ‘An eye for an eye,’ ‘Live by the sword, die by the sword,’ ‘What goes around comes around.’

Dominos

I’ve developed a personal mantra:

The only thing in the entire universe that truly matters is my own personal ledger.

Karma is what we have done to ourselves. Karma is ‘Life-Lesson’. Every day we have to deal with the effects created by others. How we deal is our own. Our response creates good or bad Karma for ourselves. But the causality belongs to someone else, in this case.

But when we create a ‘cause’ the responsibility is all on us. It goes on our ledger.
(Our response to the effects of other’s causalities goes on our ledger, too.) Our ledger contains our causes and our response to causes created by others.

Wayne Dyer Quote

50,000 years from now the only thing that will have mattered is our own life’s record. Everyone that we have ever helped or hurt will be dead. Nothing will have mattered to anyone. Only your own life’s record will matter. And it only matters to you.

What’s on your ledger?

Is your record black… or red… or is it the purity of white? I’ve found that in this life there are but a few lines, which once crossed, cannot be uncrossed. We have the capacity to fix our wrongs. We can correct the karmic influence. We can rewrite our ledger… mostly. We can take responsibility. We can do better. We can learn and grow. We can create the causality of repair. We can move forward in a positive, compassionate manner from this point forward, while we work on our past discrepancies. We can apologize. We can forgive… We can forgive ourselves!

It can be rightfully said that we are in control of our life experiences. We have the capacity to choose: to choose to create with compassion and gratitude and to respond with compassion and gratitude. No one can influence our choice. It’s up to us. We may find ourselves in less than desirable circumstances; circumstance beyond our control. But how we respond affects our karma, our ledger.

I try to consciously remember the truly miraculous nature of life. We are so distracted by the attraction to form, to stuff. We literally identify ourselves with our possessions, rather than our heart, the place where discernment lives. Our lives are true miracles. We’ve lost sight of the miracle. We are more than just the memory of our bygone possessions. We are miracles beyond the capacity of our language to define. Life is a miracle! It’s not commonplace! We are still the ONLY life that we have positively identified in the universe (conspiracy theories, not withstanding). That realization should generate a degree of gratitude. In fact,

“My own gratitude heart is ALL that matters.” —Sri Chinmoy

Coming from a place of gratitude and compassion for our miracle-life enables us to create peaceful, loving causes. Gratitude enables us to respond positively even to negative causality. And it gives us the insight to go within ourselves and correct our causal mistakes.

Open your ledger. Look carefully… and be constantly aware…

Pilgrimage of the Heart offers Pranayama with Lauren, Mindfulness with Joe, Meditation with Sujantra, Papaha and Astika and Kirtan (chanting) with Tom, Sujantra, Sita Rose and ‘Fast Heart Mart’ every week. Check the schedule for times and dates.

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Philosophy Podcast E25: Evolution And Transformation

Exploring imagery and circumstances for personal growth…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 25: Exploring imagery and circumstances for personal growth.

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Philosophy Podcast E24: Yoga Sutras I : 12 – 16

Exploring the deeper reality of self and mind…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 24: The Yoga Sutras I : 12- 16: Exploring the deeper reality of self and mind.

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Philosophy Podcast E23: The Power of Surrender

Sujantra explores Sri Chinmoy’s 1974 poem about the power of surrender…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 23: Sujantra explores Sri Chinmoy’s 1974 poem about the power of surrender.

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Philosophy Podcast E22: Yoga Sutras I 12 – 15

Practice and non-attachment are the keys to progress…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 22: Practice and non-attachment are the keys to progress.

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Interviews Podcast: Richard Rosen Transcript Part 3

Wow. It’s so great to speak with someone who can elucidate these subtle spaces so well…

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The Yoga Dana Foundation

Sujantra: Wow. It’s so great to speak with someone who can elucidate these subtle spaces so well.

Let’s talk about your foundation. We’ve graduated about 150 yoga teachers from our studio here in San Diego and for me, it’s so inspiring to see people excited and inspired to teach in studios or to take their teaching out into the world. We have a recent graduate who has MS and she teaches yoga to MS patients. You have the Dana Foundation. Can you tell us about that?

Yoga Dana

Richard: We started out as the California Yoga Teachers Association, a non-profit organization that owned Yoga Journal. The Board of Directors had a hand in running the magazine. Eventually Yoga Journal got into a little bit of financial trouble so we sold it to a man named John Abbott, who was the white knight in shining armor that came in and saved Yoga Journal. He’s done quite a nice job over the years to build it up while keeping it true to the yoga tradition. Then he sold it. The California Yoga Teachers Association had kept a percentage of Yoga Journal so when John sold it we would get some money as well. We invested that money and we now have money to give away every year. The IRS tells us we have to give this money away. We have an application on our website for towns in the Bay Area. We’ve given money to cerebral palsy center and the Piedmont yoga community, the organization that supports teaching to disabled students and cancer survivors, we’re giving money to a gentleman that works at San Quentin prison to teach yoga there, and a Parkinson’s yoga class that I used to teach but have since turned it over to a friend. We’re supporting teachers who teach in prisons, jails, low-income, homeless, disabled, abused teenagers, you name it and we’ve given money to these organizations.

PYO

Sujantra: Wow, that sounds like fantastic work and you’re touching thousands of people a year.

Richard: I don’t know about thousands, but certainly hundreds! The teachers go out and work with a number of community health centers, elementary schools. We have a program that is teaching yoga in San Francisco high schools.

Sujantra: Congratulations, that’s amazing.

Richard: We’ve been doing this for over ten years and we’ve given away over $1 million.

Sujantra: That’s what the world needs more of.

Richard: We were talking in our last meeting about trying to find ways to promote this movement and make it more nationwide. Modern yoga, which is very different than old yoga, is very inclusive. Old yoga was very exclusive. Our goal is to bring in as many people as we can no matter their physical state or financial situation.

Happy Yogis

They All Go Home a Little Happier

Sujantra: You mention the whole range of underserved populations, yet they are all benefitting from the practice of yoga. How can yoga help someone who is homeless, imprisoned?

Richard: It’s different benefits for different groups, I’d say. For instance, people with Parkinson’s, yoga helps alleviate the symptoms. It’s not a cure-all for Parkinson’s but they all go home a little happier than when they came in. People in prisons or juvenile hall they learn to deal with their emotions a little bit better. Some of the people in health centers do benefit from some of the health benefits of yoga so it really depends on what the population is.

Sujantra: One of the things I notice here at our studio is watching the students who have been coming for a month or two and you can observe their breathing is calmer, their posture is better and that just flows into any problems they’re dealing with. It sounds like you were right there at the ground floor when Yoga Journal was happening.

The Potential of Yoga

Richard: Yoga Journal was started in 1975 by my friend, Judith Lasater. I came on the board of California Yoga Teachers Association in 1990 so I wasn’t exactly on the ground floor.

Sujantra: Okay. But you’ve seen the growth of yoga and I’m wondering what you see happening in yoga over the next ten or fifteen or twenty years. What do you think the potential is?

Richard: The potential is enormous but it depends on how the people of this country direct it. I think there are two streams. There’s an exercise stream which is perfectly fine, I have no objection to that. It just makes people healthier physically which has a precedent in traditional yoga. There’s a text saying that if you do this practice your hair will be black again, your belly will be flat, you’ll…

Sujantra: Be as strong as an elephant.

Elephant

By Mister-E (Angry elephant ears) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Richard: Right. I don’t remember which book it’s in but it states that if you look like Kama and you’ll be irresistible to the opposite sex. (Laughs.) That didn’t work with me, but…(laughs). Hopefully there’s another stream that I see with people becoming more. The yoga in this country is in its early stages. We usually credit Vivekananda for bringing yoga to this country in 1893 but that’s just not really true. He brought a form of meditation. Hatha Yoga didn’t really come and get established until the late 1940s when Indra Devi came and opened a studio in Hollywood. So basically, we’ve had yoga in this country for 60-70 years which in relation to the 2500 years in India, it’s a blink of an eye.   We are the yoga babies right now lying in our crib wiggling our fingers and toes. The people who are teachers now, and the students who are coming through these yoga trainings, have a huge responsibility and will to a large extent help determine the course of yoga in this country and in the West. We will have to see what they do. Hatha Yoga is incomplete right now. It had to be altered in certain ways to make it more accessible to a mass audience and I think there are some things that are missing in the practice that need to be added to it to make it a more transformative practice. What those things are, I’m not exactly sure, but it’s something that everybody that’s becoming a teacher right now needs to think about.

Sujantra: One thing I see in our teachers is how they incorporate meditation, pranayama, the yamas and the niyamas in their own classes. Even when people are just coming for the purely physical. The student body is becoming more aware of the other dimensions.

Richard: I hope to say one thing that the yoga sutras is such a widely read book that there is a misconception that there are only five yamas. There are actually thirty or forty yamas, including compassion and bravery and things like that. I think there should be a greater awareness of those other yamas more than just truthfulness and non-harming.

Yoga FAQs

Sujantra: You’re working on a new book, “Yoga FAQs.” Is that something you’re going to touch on?

Richard: I’m really feeling bad about taking so long to complete this book. (Chuckles.) I’ve given Shambhala every opportunity to dump me. (Laughs.)

Sujantra: How long have you been at it?

Richard: I’m not quite sure, but more than a year that’s for sure. It feels like a long time. They’ve given me several extensions. They’ve been very generous. They really want this book written. I’m plugging away. I’m sitting here at the computer right now and was working on it this morning before you called. This is a book of questions about yoga. There’s a chapter in there about the sutras, hatha yoga, Sanskrit, modern yoga and more. I’m plugging away, let’s just say that.

Sujantra: On behalf of all the other yogis out there, I want to say thank you for everything you do to spread yoga, share it with others and help to keep yoga on track in America.

Richard: Thank you. It’s been very nice to talk with you.

Sujantra: Thank you so much for joining us. To all our listeners out there, I encourage you to read Richard’s books and if you want more information on the Yoga Dana Foundation you can find it at www.yogadanafoundation.com and also on our website www.pyo.yoga in the resources section. Thank you again, Richard, I really appreciate your time.

Richard: Thank you very much.

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Philosophy Podcast E21: A Delight Beyond Pleasure

Exploring the philosophy of Sat-Chit-Ananda…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 21: Exploring the philosophy of Sat-Chit-Ananda.

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Meditation Podcast E24: Exploring Ananda with Live Music

Journey to your depths with guided visualizations and music…

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The Pilgrimage of the Heart Mediation Podcast is a recorded broadcast of Sujantra’s weekly Tuesday night meditation class held in San Diego California. Each week Sujantra introduces a new topic related to meditation and leads the class through various types of meditations including: visual concentration, yogic concentration, breathing techniques, chanting and much more.

Ep 24: Journey to your depths with guided visualizations and music.

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Interviews Podcast: Richard Rosen Transcript Part 2

In looking at your books, you have so many different exercises and types of pranayama…

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The Authentic Breath

Sujantra: In looking at your books, you have so many different exercises and types of pranayama and yet at this time in your own practice you now mostly observe your breath.

Richard: Yes. That’s exactly right. I’ve come all around, full circle. I’m back to the beginning again. I think it’s important to establish what I call the authentic breath. Parkinson’s has an effect on breathing too. I don’t know what the word is, but it shortens you in the front of the torso so it makes full deep breathing difficult. So I use my breath as a way to pry open the front of my chest. I am trying to pry things open a bit more by using the breath.

Sujantra: You use the term “authentic” which makes me think of rather than using an outer state, you use an inner state.

Richard: Well, it’s breathing that has a minimum of resistance and effort. A lot of my students have restricted breathing in one way or another whether it’s because of posture, tension and other things too. Before you start a pranayama practice you have to let go of a lot of those obstacles to breathing.

PYO

Sujantra: In my meditation classes here in San Diego, I teach that breath, body, mind and emotions are all intertwined.

Richard: Yes, of course.

Sujantra: When you say  the restricted breath it makes me think that maybe these restrictions could be mental or emotional.

Richard: Yes, there are all kinds of restrictions nowadays.

Sujantra: In your students, you see the restrictions in their breath and by helping them clear their breath you are helping them clear other things that you probably can’t even see.

Richard: Right. Sometimes they don’t want to be cleared (laughs). There is resistance and sometimes it gets pretty difficult for some students. The body holds emotions. When the breath triggers some of those emotions to the surface there can be some very unpleasant experiences. You have to be very careful how you teach breathing. I don’t think a lot of people understand the transformational power of the breath.

Deepen Their Pranayama Practice

Sujantra: If someone is going to asana classes and they’re enjoying some of the simpler pranayama practices, how do you recommend they deepen their pranayama practice without crossing that line?

Pranayama

Richard: Well, you have to watch yourself very carefully when you breathe. You have to make sure your emotional state is not being disrupted. In the old books, they say your mind should be sattvic before you even begin a pranayama practice.

Sujantra: For our listeners, sattvic means…

Richard: Clear, calm, quiet. You have to be very careful when doing pranayama practice. You don’t push yourself beyond reasonable limits. You can push yourself in an asana class if you want to touch your toes or whatever you want to do. Pushing yourself in pranayama is certainly a bad idea because it can bring up some very unpleasant experiences. You have to watch yourself. Over time if you have a bad day, you can just turn the page after that. But if you continue to have bad days over and over and over, then that’s something deeper and you should talk to a teacher about that.

Sujantra: I see. In terms of your pranayama practice, if you have one bad day then that’s okay, but if it occurs time and time again, then that could indicate something and you should speak to your teacher about that.

Richard: Right. Over time if your practice isn’t feeding you, making you happy, then there’s something wrong and you need to figure out what that is rather quickly.

Yoga Class

 

Complete Yoga

Sujantra: At one of the studios where you teach, your class is called Complete Yoga. Could you describe that class?

Richard: At this studio they don’t put levels up so they want the teachers to describe their classes and that’s what I came up with. The idea behind it is that I don’t just do an asana class.  All of my classes have pranayama involved. Intermediate classes have meditation too. Complete Yoga means there will be some breathing at the end of class.

Sujantra: And you put in some meditation for some of them and a little philosophy.

Richard: Mostly I do that with the intermediate classes and some of the advanced beginners too.

Sujantra: For those students who are familiar with pranayama but not meditation, how would you describe the difference between the two?

Richard: Pranayama is working with your breath. It’s kind of a false practice because you can’t really stand back from your breath entirely. The breath and consciousness are the two sides of the same coin. In your breathing practice you’re watching your breath and looking to see what your reaction is where you’re holding or resisting. You’re standing back from your breath. I take meditations from the hold hatha texts which include some sort of a visualization.

Sujantra: In “Autobiography of a Yogi” one thing that always stuck in my mind is when Yogananda talked about that in the state of Samadhi breathing stops because mind has stopped. Does it always have to be that way or is that one approach to highest consciousness?

Richard: That sounds like classical pranayama in which the breathing is slowed down so much that it stops altogether. There’s nothing else going on, the breathing movement is a fluctuation and you’re trying to calm those superficial fluctuations so you can look inward and find out what’s going on inside. So I would say that it’s a formula in yoga that says to stop this and that thing stops too. If you stop your breath the fluctuations of consciousness will cease as well.

Pranayama

You Can’t Stop Breathing

Sujantra: My common sense mind says, “you can’t stop breathing.”

Richard: No, we can’t.

Sujantra: So it slows down so much that the mind slows down and you reach deep peace.

Richard. Really slow. I’m sure you’ve had the experience where you have a project in front of you and you’re very intent on it, you stop moving, your breath slows down and you become inwardly focused. There are things going on around you but you may not even hear them until they become a little bit more intrusive. That’s a form of Samadhi right there.

Sujantra: That’s a super form of concentration right there.

Richard: Yes, well, Samadhi is really is a state where you enter into whatever you’re meditating on, you see it from the inside. Samadhi means, “put together.” You understand it in its essence.

Sujantra: Wow. It’s so great to speak with someone who can elucidate these subtle spaces so well.

 

Interviews Podcast: Richard Rosen Transcript Part 1

Interviews Podcast: Richard Rosen Transcript Part 3

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Philosophy Podcast E20: Exploring Individuality

Exploring our human individuality and our divine individuality: ego and soul…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 20: Exploring our human individuality and our divine individuality: ego and soul.

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Interviews Podcast: Richard Rosen Transcript Part 1

Today’s podcast interview is with Richard Rosen and he began his study of yoga in 1980…

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Today’s podcast interview is with Richard Rosen and he began his study of yoga in 1980, trained for several years in the early 1980s at the B.K.S. Iyengar Institute in San Francisco, CA. In 1987 Richard co-founded the Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland, CA which existed for nearly 28 years. It recently closed its doors in 2015. Richard still teaches seven weekly classes in Oakland and in the Berkeley areas. He’s a contributing editor for Yoga Journal Magazine and President of the Board of a non-profit organization that we are going to talk about, which is a wonderful organization. Richard has written three books published by Shambhala, The Yoga of Breath, Pranayama, and Original Yoga and he’s also working on a fourth book which we are also going to touch base on today. Richard lives in a cottage built in 1906 in Berkeley, California, and Richard, I assume you’re talking to us from your cottage.

Richard: I’m talking to you from the office that is outside my cottage.

Sujantra: Oh the office outside your cottage, wonderful! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us.

Richard: I’m really happy to be here. Thanks.

PYO

Coming to the Practice of Yoga

Sujantra: My first question, Richard, is what brought you to the practice of yoga?

Richard: Well, I moved down to the Bay Area in 1979 to finish up a Master’s Degree at Cal and things weren’t going too well and I was sitting around this little apartment I lived in at the time, trying to figure out what to do with my life, and I thought of a book I’d read a few years earlier and had no idea what the guy was talking about. Then all of a sudden, a little bell went off in the back of my mind and I got up, got the book and it was like a 180 degree turnaround and I could all of a sudden understand what the man was talking about. The man’s name was Krishnamurti. It started me off looking around for other sources that might help me figure out what to do with myself. Eventually I found a book that said yoga was the best exercise there was or had ever been invented, so I just happened to also find a local newspaper at the time that directed me to the Yoga Room in Berkeley. I started yoga to help myself try and figure out what to do.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Sujantra: What was it about Krishnamurti or his writings that woke up something inside of you?

Richard: I don’t remember exactly which book it was but it was very inspiring and it gave me insight into how and why I was feeling the way I was feeling. It moved me that there were other sources and books like that because before that I had never had this feeling whatsoever. It just really woke me up to the possibilities. I was recently teaching in Ojai and a place called the Yoga Crib and I actually stayed in the room where Krishnamurti had written so many years ago.

Sujantra: Wow, the big circle of life keeps going. That’s beautiful. You turned to yoga in 1979 for your own growth and years later you’re writing books for Shambhala and people around the world are learning yoga from you. Is there a specific moment when you felt that transition from a student of yoga to not just a student but also a teacher of yoga?

Richard: (Chuckles.) Sometimes I find it hard to believe I am a teacher. I still consider myself very much a student. I’ve been very fortunate being allowed to write those books and I really appreciate everything Shambhala has done for me. I still consider myself a beginner and a student, so thank you for calling me a teacher but I will pass on that for a while.

Inspiration to Teach

Nikole YTT

Sujantra: Well, here at our studio in San Diego we train a lot of people who want to be yoga teachers. What do you say to someone who’s inspired to teach to give them confidence and courage to take that big step?

Richard: Well, it is a big step and it’s a big responsibility. You have to think about it really hard before you decide to become a teacher and of course it requires a lot of training and you want to get the best training possible. It’s important to, in the old days, the yogis dedicated their life to the practice and we can’t quite do that nowadays, but we have to still make a huge effort if we want to become a teacher. We have to read the old books and the new books that are available to give us insight into the old books. We have to practice and it’s important to get out there and find some people you can teach, make your mistakes, learn from them and keep plugging away. It’s not a straight-line progress to become a teacher. Just how your practice waxes and wanes like the moon I think that’s the way your teaching career progresses as well.

The Yoga of Breath

Sujantra: One of the things I liked right away about the book of yours that I read, “The Yoga of Breath,” is that right away you come across quotes from the Upanishads and great teachers so you obviously revere and give a lot of importance to those source teachings.

Richard: I think tradition is important. Nowadays, the younger yogis and teachers I don’t know how much they know about tradition and that’s fine. I’m not sure how important it is in certain contexts but I do think that it’s important to have a little bit of knowledge about the old yoga texts. There were generations and generations of old yogis who were out there doing their practice and the wisdom they came up with is very important to know about.

Sujantra: Right, and the great teachers that have come to the West, they go right to those source teachings. I’m thinking of Vivekenanda, Aurobindo, and yogis like that. They are honoring the past and I think it’s important for contemporary teachers to do the same.

Richard: Exactly. I think it’s important. I don’t know how much you want to do that, depending on what school you’re teaching from, but you should know at least a little bit about the background.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease

Sujantra: And you mention the importance of teachers practicing and I am wondering after 35 years of your own yoga journey, what does your daily practice look like?

Richard: Well, I might let you know that I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about thirteen or fourteen years ago. I don’t know if you know much about Parkinson’s but it’s a neuromuscular condition that makes you stiffer, weaker and less balanced which is pretty much the reverse of everything I had been working on for the first twenty years. My practice has changed because of that. First of all, I’ve been very fortunate with this condition. People that I know can progress very rapidly to the point where after just two or three years they are in pretty bad condition. I’m very fortunate. It’s very difficult to tell sometimes that I have anything like Parkinson’s. My practice still has changed to accommodate some of the shortcomings. My balance is a little bit off and I’m not as strong as I used to be. I use a lot of props. I go a lot slower than I used to do.

Pranayama and Meditation

Sujantra: Is your practice mostly an asana practice or do you incorporate pranayama and meditation?

Richard: Breathing over the years has become a lot more interesting to me than the asana. The asana is supported, using chairs and blocks and straps, but I spend a lot more time than I used to on breathing. I’m not doing anything special. For the most part, I am simply watching my breath. It’s very important to have a breathing practice as part of your yoga practice. Most classes nowadays are solely asana classes.

Sujantra: I read an article recently about Rodney Yee and he said if he only had ten minutes to practice he would do pranayama.

Richard: My good friend, Rodney Yee.

Sujantra: Oh good, he’s right up there, right? In that area?

Richard: He was but he’s living in New York now. He’s the co-founder of Piedmont Yoga.

Sujantra: Oh the two of you founded it together.

Richard: I’ve known Rodney forever. The two of us went to the B.K.S. Iyengar school together. We’ve known each other for about 35-36 years.

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Philosophy Podcast E19: The Banishment Of Sita [Ramayana]

Queen Sita is banished by King Rama for a wrong she never committed…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 19: Queen Sita is banished by King Rama for a wrong she never committed…

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THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT: Part 8 Hope

My maternal grandfather spent his last days in a nursing home…

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HOPE

 

My maternal grandfather spent his last days in a nursing home. It was a very nice place, comparatively. (Years ago I went to one run by the Social Services of the City of New York where you had to be buzzed in through a metal gate and on my way out a desperate old crone grabbed me around the leg and started pleading, “Get me out of here!”) Still, unless you have totally lost it, you know that when you do finally get to leave one of those types of establishments, it will be feet-first. And when I said good-bye to my grandfather, on what would turn out to be our final visit, I said, “Just take it one day at a time, Pop-Pop,” and his eyes suddenly lit up and with a wry smile he replied, “Yes, two days at a time in a place like this could kill you.” Then we had a good laugh; a nice way to end.

If there is such a thing as a last bastion of hope, it can often be found in institutions like these where I have also sometimes seen some old geezer, with a fierce look of determination on his face but no particular place to go, furiously lurching his walker down the hall. It’s inspiring but at the same time heartbreaking. (I’m sure that if you tried something like that in that New York City nursing home they’d make you watch as they smashed it to bits. Or better yet, would make you destroy it yourself, while they stood around and laughed.)
 

The Persistence of Hope

 
Even survivors of the death camps during the Nazi’s Holocaust, the closest thing to Dante’s “Abandon all hope all ye who enter here” Inferno that mankind has ever deliberately devised, report on the persistence of hope. I once read the recollections of a prisoner who said that the guards used to wrap their overstuffed sandwiches in pages of the Torah and as they ate their lunch in front of the starving inmates, tear them up and throw the fragments of parchment to the ground. But the Jews would sneak out of their confinements at night and collect and reassemble the pieces as best they could and by reading out what they could, kept their hope alive.

The great American poet Emily Dickinson had some truly insightful things to say—as she often does on a variety of subjects—about hope, especially its tenacious nature:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune—without the words,
And never stops at all, . . .
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest Sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

While we can only pretend to know another’s impetuses, can for the most part only project our own, I’ve always imagined the “nun of Amherst”—who had more or less abandoned the idea of ever being published (she pursued it only once or twice during her entire life and without success) along with its attendant enterprise, self-promotion (“how public like a frog”)—wondering why it was that she could not overcome the hope that she, or her work anyway, might be more widely known; that though she did not feed it “a crumb,” this hunger for some morsel of recognition lived on in her with such vigor. (Along with, I imagine, other longings as well: for love, for God’s Grace, even for the return of the bees.)

Out of this World

 
Emily seems to have had a very active inner life. In its advanced stage this is a mystical condition where one is in a constant state of contemplation to the degree that they are often very content to be by themselves, not only because they do not need anyone else, but even if they occasionally do, they know that others will misjudge and misunderstand them and they really can’t (or don’t want to have to) explain themselves (they could write immortal poetry, I suppose). There is an expression, “out of this world,” which describes this condition or “in the world but not of it,” which describes it more accurately. And it is the “in the world” part that seems to vex even those who are quite happy, even overjoyed, to be left alone. For it seems that as long as you live here on Earth you will hope for something more, yearn for some greater influence or even affluence. It’s in the atmosphere; you breathe it in.

Along these lines, we could even ask ourselves why God, assuming He is infinite, immortal, and eternal, would need a universe? Why would He, too, not be content with what He has but still need more? And by extension, why would a human being who was living in a state of perfect bliss, even one who was God-conscious, not be satisfied? And I believe it comes down to this: There is always another possibility not only for us but especially for the Infinite.
 

Lamborghini

By No machine-readable author provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public Domain.

We could think of this in terms of our own lives—of the way we’re not satisfied with a modest, comfortable home or a functional car but still want a mansion and/or a Maserati, except that these are material needs and we are now wondering what would happen if we were free from all worldly wants. Would we still yearn for something more?

The Creator has now authored a nearly infinite number of galaxies, each of which has hundreds of millions of stars and planets and other celestial bodies (and presumably, trillions upon trillions of life-forms) scattered about. This is quite an accomplishment. Yet, He seems interested that His creation might also become conscious; not only self-aware but God-aware. Indeed, He seems to have this as a further, perhaps even ultimate aim.
 

God is Peace, Love, and Joy

 
Therefore, we might imagine that even if we had managed to transcend our present, limited consciousness, to have drilled down to our blissful essence and wanted for nothing, the universe might ask us to share our discoveries with the rest of humanity. That spreading the news that God is peace, love, and joy might be in keeping with the Creator’s own goals, making so-called self-promotion for someone who has attained this state, cosmically condoned; divinely hoped for.

In other words, Emily, if you have something good, uplifting and inspiring to tell the world, there is no reason to beat yourself up about it; no reason to consider it egotistical if you want to share something wonderful with the rest of us for it may not be your personal ambition that is urging you on, but divine unrest: God’s own hope within you.

 

 

Look for the next topic, INTUITION, next time! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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Philosophy Podcast E18: Dasaratha Promises Kaikeyi [Ramayana]

Sujantra shares the story of how the great king made a promise that ended up being his demise…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 18: Sujantra shares the story of how the great king made a promise that ended up being his demise.

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THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT Part 7: Gratitude

GRATITUDE   Expressions of gratitude, things like thank-you notes, are considered signs of good breeding. I think I may have written one, maybe two, during my entire life. They also seem to be more of an activity for the leisure class and a girl thing, too. (I’m sure that if I were married my wife […]

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GRATITUDE

 
Expressions of gratitude, things like thank-you notes, are considered signs of good breeding. I think I may have written one, maybe two, during my entire life. They also seem to be more of an activity for the leisure class and a girl thing, too. (I’m sure that if I were married my wife would make me write them. Or would write them and make me sign them.) And in this regard we can imagine a Grand Duchess in some costume drama seated at her secrétaire in her silk and gold embroidered housecoat, penning proper little perfumed notes in her exquisite cursive and handing them off to her lady’s maid while the Grand Duke is off being rugged, chasing around a helpless little fox with a pack of wild dogs and an arsenal of WMD, while a crew of hundreds of dirty little men, red faced and on the verge of collapse, runs along behind trying to keep up. But who, these days, has the time or especially the resources for any of this?
 

A Hilarious Southern Comedian

 
I saw an interview the other day with Larry the Cable Guy, a hilarious Southern comedian whom I must confess I really enjoy—though being a Northerner (and his jokes being about things like fat people and farts) supposedly I should not—during which he was asked how he now likes playing big arenas and making $100,000 per night as opposed to the few hundred dollars a week he used to make working dives. A ridiculous question of course, and at first Larry was like, “A-duh, what do you think?” but then, “I feel really thankful, of course,” and I felt a sense of relief. He was not just a lowlife, I thought, and I could feel less guilty about watching his performances. Though I can’t promise you I could have stopped myself, regardless.

That we consider thankfulness (gratitude) an elevated condition is interesting; that an ungrateful person would be considered boorish, from the Dutch word for peasant, while a grateful one would be thought to be gracious (according to Oxford, “to exhibit high social status”) would seem to suggest a commonly held belief that to experience, and especially express, gratitude is something noble.

There is a popular quote, “There but for the grace of God go I,” attributed to one John Bradford, a Protestant, imprisoned in 1554 by Queen Mary Tudor of England—also known as “Bloody Mary” (a Roman Catholic who, though she would only reign for five years, thank God, still managed to burn close to three hundred “nonbelievers” at the stake). And reportedly uttered through the bars of his jail cell while watching one of his fellow heretics being led off to their own custom-designed rotisserie. Then, just a few months later, in January 1555, he was also barbecued.

Thanksgiving Ingredients

via Pixabay.com


 

Thank God I Wasn’t On That Plane

 
And this is the kind of gratitude we can all relate to: the “thank God I wasn’t on that plane” type. (I felt that way after 9/11 as I used to service the pianos at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center, where all perished that day.) It is also similar, though perhaps to a less graphic degree, to the sentiment that we express each year at Thanksgiving (or are supposed to since that’s what the occasion is about—not, believe it or not, stampedes at shopping malls): “Thank God that, unlike most of the rest of the world, those of us gathered here today are not starving to death.”

Many so-called primitive cultures not only offer gratitude to God before their meals in this same way but also to the spirits of the creatures or even the plants that they are about to consume. I’m sure that if you asked for permission to say a prayer along those lines at your next family Thanksgiving you’d be quite the topic of conversation, especially as everyone traveled back home: “What the hell was that?! ‘The soul of the unwitting turkey.’ Well, there was more than one turkey in the room this year! It was so embarrassing! We can’t let that happen again! No more prayers, ever!”

Gratitude Otter

 

A Higher State of Awareness

 
Gratitude is essentially a higher state of awareness. At its most basic level it takes the form of a Thanksgiving-style recognition of what the world has given us in order that we might live; understands that other living things have sacrificed, suffered, or even died on our behalf. Then beyond this there is a level of thankfulness called unconditional gratitude to God, whether material blessings have come our way or not, or in the extreme, despite the fact that we have suffered or are suffering unbearably.

This work is subtitled, “A mystical primer” (which means an introduction) so we will leave that category alone for now. For it would require an entire other volume to explain in a convincing way how a saint, especially, could endure unremitting torment and yet be overflowing, almost to the point of bursting, with gratitude to God.

“You fool,” others (like Queen Mary, for example) might say, “how can you be grateful to a God who would do this to you?”(Of course, she is the one actually doing this to you!).
 
 
Look for the next topic, Hope, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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Philosophy Podcast E17: Yoga Sutras I: 8 – 10

Sujantra shares more of his insights into the Yoga Sutras; exploring the fluctuations of mind…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 17: Sujantra shares more of his insights into the Yoga Sutras; exploring the fluctuations of mind…

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Philosophy Podcast E16: Yoga Sutras I 4 – 9

Sujantra expounds on the The Yoga Sutras 4-9. Explore the ways our minds meander…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 16: Sujantra expounds on the The Yoga Sutras 4-9. Explore the ways our minds meander…

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THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT Week 06: FAITH

As long as the good times stay that way, we don’t even think about asking God for help…

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FAITH

 
As long as the good times stay that way, we don’t even think about asking God for help, since we are doing fine on our own. Then, when we hit the inevitable rough patch, the best prayer we can muster is: “Lord, I don’t know if You are real or not and even if You are real, I don’t know if You can hear me or not. And even if You can hear me, I know that You probably have a lot of other, more important things to do than to listen to me, especially since I haven’t talked to You, even thought of You, since Granny went overboard in that shuffleboard accident. And, being upset, I may have taken your name in vain, as they say, and more than just once or twice and naturally I still feel really, really bad about it. But if You are real and can hear me and can spare a couple of minutes and be a man about what happened there in the heat of the moment (Did you have to send the freakin’ sharks?!!) I need to tell you that I’m in a horrible mess. Okay, it’s my own fault, which I already know so I don’t need a big lecture, but what I really do need and pronto is some major help . . .”

Not exactly a Psalm of David.

David-Icon

By 18 century icon painter – Iconostasis of Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia, Public Domain. (Via Wikipedia)

When our problems miraculously solve themselves and practically overnight, at least we do the right thing and give credit where credit is due, offering thanks to our own awesome cleverness.
 

Life Here on Earth

 
Because life here on Earth almost seems to favor godlessness, with multitudes of nonbelievers doing fabulously well; there seems to be no urgency to decide whether or not to have spiritual faith, to believe in God. Then when life’s seemingly insurmountable problems like death, the Big One, start knocking on our door, we are forced to reconsider the issue. But it doesn’t have to be so worrisome, as Pascal’s Wager, the famous philosophical argument, illustrates: “Better to believe in God,” it postulates, “for if you are wrong and there is no God, then no harm, whereas if you do not believe, and there is a God, then you could be cruisin’ for a bruisin’.”

PYO

(I paraphrase, of course.)

Much of life is unknown. In fact, you could say that practically all of life is unknown. We sometimes say of someone, “They don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” which is certainly the case for 99.9 percent of the natural world and billions of our fellow human beings as well. And even when we do know, even when there’s food in the fridge and money in the bank, many dangers still lurk about menacingly. So understandably, we would like to believe that we are not alone in our struggles, that someone else or something else is as concerned about our wellbeing as we are. And this is where faith, as it is most commonly practiced, enters the picture.
 

Faith Enters the Picture

 
Yes, faith in this form is the belief that someone watches over us, loves us and cares that we do well; that something in the universe is on our side, assisting us in our struggle.
 
Screenshot from IMAX® 3D movie Hidden Universe showing the Helix Nebula in infrared
 
Animals know that they must be proactive, even ruthlessly so, in order to survive. That they must not only fight and kill to eat but even fight and kill preemptively, simply to avoid being eaten. They are not, like us, thinking that if they behave virtuously, if they are good and kind, then some higher power will be pleased enough with them to see that they are well taken care of. An exception, perhaps, being the family dog who—though he should by now trust that his bowl will be filled every night; should have some faith that his master still cares enough about him to take care of him—can never be absolutely sure and so remains fearful that his next meal may be his last; that the caring may stop. And should his master show any displeasure, he becomes very anxious that he will be put out; be made to suffer and perhaps perish.

Because our fundamental problem is also survival and survival always tries to avoid suffering—not only because it is uncomfortable but also is often a prelude to our demise—we, too, look to a higher power to save us, especially in times when our wellbeing is threatened. And much like the character at the beginning of this essay, we make impulsive appeals to a higher power when we find that our own resources, even those potentially available to us (the rich brother-in-law, for example) have become exhausted or are now simply sick and tired of us.
 

Struggling to Survive

 
I’m not saying that all believers, all those who have faith that there is a higher, benevolent power lovingly watching over them, are dogs, but rather that because life is in an epic struggle against death, it naturally seeks every survival advantage and will pray to a higher power if it believes (has faith) it is in a position to help. And in our human case, will further believe that the higher power it appeals to is the Ultimate One, is the immortal Creator of life itself, and therefore if pleased with us (okay, like the dog’s master) will grant us an eternally blissful life. (Or if displeased, will condemn us to suffer, also eternally, it is believed.)
 
jetski-655554_1280
 
Every cell in us, indeed, every atom, is struggling to survive and notwithstanding the fact that everything in the physical universe is mortal (even the photon, the building block of light itself, born at the beginning and as old as the universe itself, will ultimately perish in creation’s final act), all kinds of notions are entertained and to the degree that they appeal to our survival instincts, are more likely to be believed. Even to the extent that if someone is certain that his God has given him, and him exclusively, eternal life, and someone else comes along who is certain that his God has given him, and him exclusively, eternal life, both will feel they have the divine right to fight, even to slay their adversary. That’s how powerful and potentially aggressive this survival instinct is!
 

One Immortal Life

 
So while religious faith, the way it’s most commonly practiced, is often nothing more than the belief that our beliefs and only our beliefs will give us a more fortunate life as well as bestow upon us a unique immortality, there is another type of faith: the simple belief that life, or the Life, is conscious, loving, and aspires in and through us to goals which are good. And further, that It will assist us in our struggle because we are in a position to assist It in Its Struggle.

That there is only one immortal Life in the universe and all are part and parcel of this one Life and our struggle is therefore Its Struggle, is the tenet at the heart of this type of faith.

 

Look for the next topic, Gratitude, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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Philosophy Podcast E15: Yoga Sutras 1- 4

Learn the essence of yoga philosophy by studying the ancient Patanjali text, The Yoga Sutras…

2

Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 15: Learn the essence of yoga philosophy by studying the ancient Patanjali text, The Yoga Sutras.

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Philosophy Podcast E14: Valmiki Acts [Ramayana]

One way to deal with the world is to renounce and become a hermit. Another way is to accept your current surroundings as Divine and act upon those…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 14: Valmiki Acts – One way to deal with the world is to renounce and become a hermit. Another way is to accept your current surroundings as Divine and act upon those.

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The Pilgrimage of the Heart Interviews Podcast E05

Explore yoga, asana, meditation, mythology and brahmacharya with renowned instructor, Alanna Kalvalya…

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Enjoy interviews with inspiring and uplifting guests who share their insights into yoga, personal improvement and world transformation. We feature yogis, writers, musicians, teachers and visionaries from many fields who are reaching for the highest in human potential. The program is hosted by Sujantra McKeever, founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, CA.

Ep 05: Explore yoga, asana, meditation, mythology and brahmacharya with renowned instructor, Alanna Kalvaiya.

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The Pilgrimage of the Heart Philosophy Podcast E13

After being banished from the kingdom, Rama is now wandering through the forest when he meets up with a lovely character named Guha…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 13: After being banished from the kingdom, Rama is now wandering through the forest when he meets up with a lovely character named Guha…

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The Pilgrimage of the Heart Philosophy Podcast E12

Rama meets up with up with Father Time in this episode of Sujantra’s readings from the Ramayana…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 12: Rama meets up with up with Father Time in this episode of Sujantra’s readings from the Ramayana.

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Yoga Sutras – Om

When I meditate I always begin and end my practice by chanting Om…

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When I meditate I always begin and end my practice by chanting Om. It’s like stepping through a portal. I usually chant it several times until I really feel a strong connection/punctuation… I chant it externally. Then I chant it internally. The vibration in my throat stops but the vibration in my heart-universe continues.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, expounded upon by Swami Vivekananda (also see) in his book, Raja-Yoga, particularly addresses the use of the syllable Om in aphorism 27 (The word that manifests Him is Om.) and 28 (The repetition of this (Om) and meditating on its meaning [is the way]).

Tom on Harmonium

What is God’s name?

I find it interesting that try as we might, it is impossible to put a definitive name to ‘God.’ Every thought in the mind has a corresponding word, a symbol. Thought and word are inseparable. If the symbol (word) corresponds to the thing signified then we are assured that there is a valid relationship: the symbol can then conger the thought. However, many symbols, many words can represent the same thought.

Vivekananda posits that there might be hundreds of words for ‘God’ across the globe. But there must be some underlying generalization that can be distilled from all these names. There must be some common ground in all these names. That common name would then best represent them all.

Patanjali suggests the common ground is Om.

Notice a variety of ‘God’-names: God, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, Brahma, Shiva, Buddha… notice that each name contains the syllable, ‘Ah,’ closely corresponding to the first part of the pronunciation of the syllable Om (or AUM, Ahh-Ooo-Mmm). Speculating that someone from England might not recognize the Pakistani or Japanese word for ‘God,’ for example, never-the-less both might be familiar with Om and would recognize the underlying thought. It’s interesting to note that many ‘God’-names are preceded by adjectives to qualify them, like Personal God, Absolute God, Christian God, etc., limiters. Yet Om requires no qualifiers, having around it all significances.

PYO

Repetition of Om and Meditation on its Meaning

Whether vocalized or silent, repetition of Om creates vibrational energy in our bodies, minds and in the universe. As we have already determined Om to be divine, Vivekananda equates chanting Om to be, “…keeping good company with the mind.” And he suggest that, “One moment of company with the holy builds a ship to cross this ocean of life: such is the power of association.” So we repeat Om and meditate on its meaning. Om is the foundational expression for ‘God’ in this context. It is an utterance without qualification. The more it is repeated, the more it is considered, the greater the association and, “Thus light will come to you; the Self will become manifest.”

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda (Image via Wikipedia)

Vivekananda really pushes the idea of keeping good company, specifically, good company with the purity of ‘God’ by virtue of repetition and meditation. We all have the old scars and wounds. We each have within us the potential for the greatest good or the greatest evil. Keeping evil company (thought, word, deed, associations, etc.) is like picking an open wound. It will manifest as a festering lesion. Repetition and meditation on the meaning of Om will bring to the surface those perhaps latent good impressions and qualities and build a strong foundation for introspection and the destruction of obstacles, those negative qualities which hinder our spiritual growth.

Chanting Om is as foundational as is breath. Ujjayi breathing is simply chanting Om using only the breath, foregoing vibrating the vocal chords.

When I first began my yoga life I truly thought the breath work was kind of trivial and silly; such a simple, almost inconsequential thing. I really didn’t see any real practicality about it. Most studios I frequented rarely chanted Om at the beginning and ending of a class. It was only that I was a singer that it finally dawned on me that breath control was so vital a part of the practice. My ‘home’ studio, Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga Studio in San Diego, CA (my  employer) has always chanted Om at the beginning and ending of each class, one of several practices that endeared me to the studio.

Make the practice of chanting Om a daily endeavor.

Consider it’s meaning. Om is the unqualified expression of the divine. Let it spring forth from your heart as the first, the only and the last vibration… Be Om.

 

 

Featured image by MAMJODH, license.

 

 

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The Pilgrimage of the Heart Philosophy Podcast E11

King Dasaratha keeps his promise to Kaikaya, but must banish Rama…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 11: King Dasaratha keeps his promise to Kaikaya, but must banish Rama.

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The Pilgrimage of the Heart Philosophy Podcast E10

Exploring dimensions of love through this ancient story…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 10: Exploring dimensions of love through this ancient story.

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The Pilgrimage of the Heart Philosophy Podcast E09

Sujantra reads from the Ramayana about when Lakshmana leaves the body and its spiritual implications…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 09: Sujantra reads from the Ramayana about when Lakshmana leaves the body and its spiritual implications.

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THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT Week 3: CONSCIOUSNESS

Just about everything humans use today had to be invented or at the very least, as in the case of something that was already there…

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CONSCIOUSNESS

Just about everything humans use today had to be invented or at the very least, as in the case of something that was already there, like fire, “discovered,” or that’s the term we use anyway. Which is still a stretch, especially in the case of said fire, as it is not only ubiquitous but dangerous, burning your ass if you don’t move quickly enough to get out of its way!

The Wheel

Though it took 143,500 years (accepting the notion that modern man first appeared 150,000 years ago) to come up with the somewhat obvious innovation called the wheel, it would seem to qualify as an invention that, according to the archeologists, was originally cobbled together around 4500 BC by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq.

A log had been used as a roller for millennia, and when the load came off, was simply picked up and replaced at the front in order to proceed (I guess before that you just dragged things around on your sled). Later two logs were used and the load merely balanced during this reconfiguring procedure. Sometime later that process, too, was refined by three, four, or even many, many more logs; in that way the pyramids were built. Then one day some proto-insurgent decided to forget the whole get-a-thousand-slaves-and-whip-them-to-within-an-inch-of-their-lives- until-they-carried-these-humongous-rollers-back-up-a-very-steep-incline thing and made an axle. The rest, as they say, is history.

Meditation

Meditation, too, had to be invented, or more correctly (since it could also be argued that the idea of sitting quietly in self-observation was already sort of there), discovered. Amazingly, this occurred around 3000 BC, only fifteen hundred years or so after the invention of the wheel and by a group that today we call the Vedic seers or Rishis (Sanskrit for “saints”) who lived in the Indus Valley, in what is modern-day northwest India.

These Rishis also had a problem to solve and not just how to keep their captives alive long enough to finish the tomb for the glorious Pharaoh, but to find out, “Who am I?” and meditation was their solution. Yes, they reasoned that if they could take all the unnecessary noise out of themselves; if they could make their minds really calm and quiet, even thoughtless, they might be better able to observe their inner nature. (“Duh,” but we still don’t get it!)

The World’s Very First Book

For hundreds of years their discoveries formed an oral tradition or Shruti (“that which is heard”) that was passed down by the gurus (“teachers”) to their wannabe guru disciples until eventually they were collected into books called Vedas (“knowledge”). The very first of these, the Rig Veda, because it was written in the Indus script, can be fairly accurately dated to around 1700 BC, making it the world’s very first book. Earlier writings on papyrus (invented 2500 BC) or even earlier glyphs on animal skins have been found, but so far nothing before this time meets The United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture’s (UNESCO) definition of the book as “a non-periodical printed publication of at least 49 pages excluding covers,” which at 1028 mantras (“hymns”) in ten chapters called mandalas (“cycles”), the Rig Veda easily does.

The first Rig Veda (there are four Vedas) also contains the most sacred of mantras, the Gayatri Mantra, which is still widely recited throughout the world, especially by Hindus. The following translation is by Sri Chinmoy:

We meditate on the transcendental glory of the Deity Supreme,
who is inside the heart of the earth, inside the life of the sky, and
inside the soul of the heavens. May He stimulate and illumine our minds.

One “Deity Supreme”

Back in elementary school we were taught that the Hindus were polytheists (bad) and that the Christians and Jews were monotheists (awesome, and second best, respectively). And that around 1500 BC Abraham first discovered that there was only one God and this really freaked out everybody since they were all idolaters and pagans. The Gayatri Mantra, composed at least 200 years earlier, with its reference to the one “Deity Supreme,” would seem to dispute this. (And doesn’t Christianity also have angels and saints and prophets and a mother and a son and an entire heavenly pantheon that it claims surrounds its one highest God?)

Anyway, one unarguable thing—if there will ever be an unarguable thing— that we learn from the Vedas is that a formalized system of self-inquiry was methodized in the East at least 5000 years ago. And since we already know that psychoanalysis, the most familiar form of this here in the West, was established by Sigmund Freud about 100 years ago, this implies that we might have some catching up to do. Oh, and one more thing. While Freud said that our inner world was comprised of the repressed impulses of our subconscious minds that could be best understood through our dreams, the Rishis said that by practicing meditation we could come face to face with the One Supreme Being who dwells within all. Which, at long last, brings us to our essay topic: Consciousness.

oregon_sunset

Oregon Sunset by Malcom Carlaw

Consciousness

Here in the West, consciousness is generally understood to mean “the state of not being unconscious.” In the East, it describes what an individual is conscious of at a particular moment and since they believe that someone can potentially be conscious of everything, including this One Supreme Being, it covers a very wide range of things.

They also say that someone can be in a high state of consciousness or a low state of consciousness or even, I suppose, a so-so state of consciousness. And what they mean is that a person can be aware of his higher nature—his infinite peace, light and bliss—or can merely be, almost by default, aware only of his lower nature—his aggressive impulses and animalistic appetites—or can simply be staring vacantly ahead with flies buzzing in and out of his gaping maw.

How does anyone make that kind of judgment? (Excepting the fly thing, which is pretty obvious.) How do they know what is going on inside someone else? Are they presumptuous, even bumptious? (A great word; look it up.) The answers are probably they don’t and they are, unless they are a genuine Guru or Master, that is, for whom states of consciousness are their stock and trade. Zen Buddhism with its koans is a great way to illustrate this.

monk

via Wikipedia

Koans

Koans are questions given by Zen Masters to their students that can only be solved by intuition, such as the famous, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” In this practice the student contemplates his problem during his meditation and then after some time reappears before the Master with his solution. If the Master is satisfied, then he will give the student another more difficult koan and the procedure will be repeated. If not satisfied, the Master will send the student back to try again. This is done in private and to discuss of one’s assignment, especially with other students, is strictly forbidden.

Still, humans being humans, the rest of the monks, according to a friend of mine anyway, take great pleasure—of the malicious variety, of course—in finding out where everyone else is at: “Have you heard? Toyo is still on MU, and for more than one year! Shhh, here he comes.” Mu, by the way is “Has a dog the Buddha nature?”

While books like The Sound of the One Hand: 281 Zen Koans with Answers (CliffsNotesTM for Monks?!) do exist, to think that the Master, if he is a legitimate one, would ever fall for such a ploy is absurd (unless for his own clever reasons he wanted to pretend that he was taken in by this trickery, that is). This is because there is not actually one true answer to any koan and the sensei is not examining the factual correctness of his student’s response but rather his student’s inner condition, his consciousness. He is judging if his student’s meditation has been fruitful; if he has increased his intuitive capacity and is becoming more conscious of the deeper and higher realities within himself or has merely spent the last few weeks, or months, or even years daydreaming or, as is more often the case, catnapping.

A Genuine God-Man

Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven (or ‘God’) is within you,” and, as you know, he was a spiritual master with a dozen or so direct disciples. And this pronouncement is perfectly in keeping with the entire message and direction of Eastern spiritual thought for millennia. Now without getting into the rancor of who was a real prophet and who was false, of who was God’s only son and who was just some distant, even estranged relation, I believe that we can state, hopefully without injury to our person, that Jesus was not just bringing this up as an interesting fact but was hoping that his disciples would also seek this same Kingdom within themselves; that he was sharing this wisdom in order to inspire them to expand their consciousness. And further, as a genuine God-man, he was already conscious of this inner Kingdom within himself and had the capacity to look within his disciples to see how close they were to realizing this reality for themselves and then, out of his love and concern for them, would try and guide them toward this ultimate knowledge in the same way a Zen Master might do. But a million, gazillion times more legitimately, of course. Phew!
Look for the next topic, Death, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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The Pilgrimage of the Heart Philosophy Podcast E08

In this episode Sujantra reads from the Ramayana about fear of loss and the hope of gain…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 08: In this episode Sujantra reads from the Ramayana about fear of loss and the hope of gain.

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The Pilgrimage of the Heart Interviews Podcast E03 – Sally Kempton & Celibacy

Sujantra interviews meditation teacher and author Sally Kempton. Listen as they discuss mystical awareness meditation, the spiritual heart and brahmacharya: celibacy…

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Enjoy interviews with inspiring and uplifting guests who share their insights into yoga, personal improvement and world transformation. We feature yogis, writers, musicians,teachers and visionaries from many fields who are reaching for the highest in human potential. The program is hosted by Sujantra McKeever, founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, CA.

Ep 03: Sujantra interviews meditation teacher and author Sally Kempton. Listen as they discuss mystical awareness meditation, the spiritual heart and brahmacharya: celibacy.

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THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT Week 2: BEAUTY

When you are born the doctors give you a spank of welcome, count your fingers and toes, and proclaim to your mother…

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BEAUTY

When you are born the doctors give you a spank of welcome, count your fingers and toes, and proclaim to your mother, “You have a beautiful baby boy/girl!” or so I’m told—I don’t remember too much about it. Or know, for that matter, what they say if your count comes up short. A decade or so later you want to kill yourself because your ears stick out. That I do remember! So what happened? Did I have bad work done?

No, socialization happened. The elite at my school were forming and I wasn’t yet a member; wasn’t invited to any of their exclusive get-togethers and would never be, I was certain, because of my curse: my big jug ears.

PYO

Appearance the First Criterion for Being Culled

People sometimes wistfully say, “Oh, to be young again.” Well they must have amnesia or at the very least, early dementia. For the world of youth, especially the preteen years, makes the Serengeti look civilized; and down at my own savanna in suburban Connecticut, the Central Grammar School, the taunting, branding, mental and even physical abuse, the fight to determine the alpha males and alpha females was full-on; and appearance, an obvious, perhaps the most obvious attribute, was the first criterion for being culled.

This is why the happiest day of my early life came about six months into my twelfth year—while riding bikes in the parking lot of the local shopping center and doing some harebrained things to impress the members of the A-team—when the leader of the pack decided that I was crazy enough to be invited to a party. Ears and all!

Boys are lucky. They can attain higher social status simply by acting insane. Girls are not so lucky. Beauty often outweighs all other methods whereby they are earmarked.

abstract-19079_1920

Face to Face with the One in a Million

I used to have an office in Manhattan one floor below the Click Modeling Agency, one of New York City’s most prestigious. So, very often, I would have to share an elevator with these creatures from another planet and if you had any illusions about how beautiful you were, you could throw them right down the shaft, for you were now face to face with the one in a million or even one in a hundred million that met all the world’s criteria for being beautiful. And it didn’t even seem to matter whether these Venuses paid any attention to what they wore or to their hair or makeup or whatever. In fact, an imperfection like Cindy Crawford’s mole or Lauren Hutton’s gap tooth or even Gia’s “heroin-chic/just woke up from a weeklong drug binge” appearance only seemed to help differentiate them from the few hundred or so others who inhabited their world.

On Thursday afternoons this same agency would hold an open house where any member of the public who felt they were an undiscovered supermodel could drop by for a free appraisal; get put up on the lift, so to speak. And the saddest thing on those days were the mothers with their darling daughters in tow who, believing that their little girl was the most beautiful on Earth, as by all rights they should, had gone to a lot of expense and trouble to make them up and dress them up to look like the queen of the prom. And while certainly attractive by most reckoning, with all their parts accounted for and affixed in all the proper places— good enough to play out of town, let us say—these girls were not six-plus feet tall, bone thin, with doe eyes, porcelain skin, and legs up to their chins.

Artistic Beauty

Later, when you saw these supplicants on their way back down, silent and crestfallen, you could easily think—if you didn’t know where they had been—that they had just received news of a terminal illness. It’s so crazy! All right, they were never going to be statuesque enough to walk the catwalk for the House of Dior or marry Donald Trump. But this begs the question: Who in their right mind would want to? (Marry The Donald, anyway.)

Where We Fit In

I once saw a photo of the Hunt brothers, a family of Texan oilmen, with their wives. All the women looked like mannequins and the latest models, too. (I’m sure the old ones had been traded in or warehoused.) While the brothers, to the man, looked like the kind of trolls one would find locking up fair maidens in impregnable towers or lurking around under bridges in children’s stories.
Now if we were alone in the world, all this wouldn’t matter; we wouldn’t care how comparatively beautiful we were (whom would we compare ourselves to?). But as soon as we form any kind of group we seem to immediately need to establish hierarchies, and especially to try to ascertain where we might fit in.

I ride a lot of subways in New York City on an almost daily basis. As soon as the door closes I look around at the little collective now being formed and try to determine if I’m in any kind of danger; if I’m going to have to fight for my life (flight being now temporarily off the table, at least until the next stop). Once I feel that I’m relatively safe I begin to attempt to establish my place in this new, albeit very temporary world-order. Who’s older, younger (sadly, fewer of the former these days), shorter, taller, richer, poorer. Even who’s fatter, skinnier (also sadly fewer of the former these days). And after I have sorted these things out, the oddest part of my survey now begins: who is the most beautiful? Being male (though I recognize that this “opposites attract” paradigm is no longer the hard-and-fast rule) I concern myself mostly with the females.

Framed in Hair

The Oddest Part of My Survey

I say “oddest” because the motivation for this does not seem to be to establish an emergency plan; a who-gets-to-eat-first pecking order should we suddenly find ourselves in a struggle to survive. And I’m not even sure if it is entirely based upon our next level of instincts, our reproductive urges, either, although this certainly does seem to try and worm itself in there. Just yesterday, in fact, a fellow seated some distance away from me was staring at someone standing near me and making what he believed was a most compelling advertisement of himself. Yes, he was attempting to force a kind of electronic crawl to march across his forehead that read: “I have the capacity to make such beautiful love to you, my darling” (à la Pepé Le Pew, the cartoon character/rapist). I then traced his sight line back to a very attractive, even model-caliber young girl standing near me who, while keeping her eyes fixed squarely ahead and purposefully at no one, still seemed aware that she was being singled out in this manner and was exhibiting both a kind of pleasure that she might garner such attention and a certain trepidation, as she could not really be sure whether this fellow might follow her out as she exited; might try and bother, even molest her.

Both myself and this very attractive one (but not the libidinous Don Juan, thank God) got off at the same stop and went in the same direction (not by design, mind you! I’m not a perv!), so I was able to observe from a few paces behind the attention-getting nature of beauty as it went about its normal business. The men (or most of them, anyway) were systematically rendered helpless, stunned, while the women—intuitively sensing a disturbance in the force—quickly averted their gaze. Why remind yourself of your inadequacies?

I am a mystical man by trade (though admittedly a normal man by default), so I am able to dispassionately observe things as they ebb and flow within myself and to some extent even marshal some semblance of self-control over certain of my impulses, and when I do this in a case like this, and drill down to the level where I might objectively observe the thing called “beauty,” what I note is something miraculous: earthly beings who have evolved heavenly attributes.

There is a famous poem by William Blake, “The Tyger,” in which he writes: “What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?” If we edit out the word fearful (forgive me, Bill), I think we can begin our contemplation of beauty in earnest.

Beautiful Smile

Something Beautiful Hidden Deep Within

For while the beautiful woman, or even man (although again, I’m not an expert in that field), did not create themselves, there is something beautiful hidden deep within the universe that is expressing more and more of its superlative qualities through its creations and especially its latest effort, the human being. Just consider hair. Why does it frame the human face so? (It certainly does not do this in any of our animal cohabitants, from whom we only recently parted ways.) In the Asian woman, for example, why is it often so extraordinarily silken, so amazingly black and flowing?

Yes, if we can manage to remove ourselves from our instinctual responses and especially our default mode of relentless competition, beauty then becomes a door to another world. But when we approach beauty in our everyday way, rather than simply accepting it or even marveling at it, we covet its ability to provide higher social status and/or pursue it as emblematic thereof, the way the wealthy man (okay, like “The Donald” or even the regular guy, I suppose), is convinced that to possess something that others want is proof of his superiority (think: trophy wife). This is why—given humanity’s current stage of development—beauty is on a strange and sometimes even precarious path, especially for its possessor.

As I read somewhere years ago but never forgot: “Only beautiful birds are imprisoned, crows are never caged.”

Featured pic Spiral Love Rose by Nicolas Raymond, License

Look for the next topic, Consciousness, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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The Pilgrimage of the Heart Philosophy Podcast E07

In this episode Sujantra reads from the Ramayana about Brahma creating the world with his mind, including Ravana’s birth…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 07: In this episode Sujantra reads from the Ramayana about Brahma creating the world with his mind, including Ravana’s birth.

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THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT Week 1: ART

Please enjoy this first weekly installment from The ABCs of Enlightment by Jeffery Baker….

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ART

Human beings have been creating art for 50,000 to 75,000 years, if various regional claims can be settled; the Europeans with their beautiful cave drawings at Lascaux, France, being especially dismissive of the rough petroglyphs of the Africans and Australian Aboriginals, as you might expect. They have a good shot at the record for music, however, with a bear thighbone flute recently discovered in a Slovenian cave and dated to 50,000 BC.

Anthropologists call primitive art “the dawn of superfluous beauty” and so by extension we could certainly call this earliest music “the dawn of superfluous noise,” as we have concrete proof that this is what it has become today. Bothersome Muzak now plays everywhere, even in parking lots.

Not An Exclusively Human Endeavor

Until the 1960s when an English chimp (or one living in England, anyway) named Congo (1954–1964) created more than four hundred paintings, art was considered an exclusively human endeavor. Recently, one of Congo’s untitled canvases set an auction record for nonhuman art at $25,000 (posthumously, of course). And while there are elephants throughout Asia that paint and even one named Nellie in Los Angeles whose works include “Serengeti Passion” and “Kenyan Skies”—yes, not just some loud trumpeting sound—what set Congo apart was his passion.

For while the pachyderms don’t seem to care if they pick up a paintbrush or a mahogany log, Congo, if not allowed to paint, would go berserk; and if his canvas was removed before he felt it was finished, would go completely bananas. Yes, he seemed an artist in every sense—his hygiene was already quite characteristically poor.

The idea that a chimp’s creative output could be considered art upset many religious scholars; for they held that true art was a function of the soul expressing a divine urge and since only humans, in their opinion, had souls, Congo the chimp could not be expressing a divine urge and thereby creating art.

Paintball Art

by Lori Ho – license

According to Mysticism

Mysticism has no such problem with Congo or with the divinity of any of our other simian brothers and sisters. In fact, if mysticism has a problem, it’s trying to figure out what doesn’t have a soul: A dog? A bee? A house? A tree? And what doesn’t embody a divine urge, since according to mysticism the entire creation is the direct result of The Divine Urge which is nothing more than the Creator’s own inspiration to self-expression, the Universe and all its inhabitants being, in essence, God’s art.

So for mysticism the degree to which an organism can create art, can express a divine urge, is not a function of whether or not it has a soul, since most everything has one, but the degree to which that particular soul can express itself through that organism. The higher, more evolved organisms, such as ourselves, having the capacity to be more conscious of their inner realities, therefore becoming better candidates for soulful, artistic, self-expression. This is also why we are not completely surprised when a chimpanzee, our species’ closest relation (we share 99 percent of the same DNA), albeit an exceptionally “gifted” one named Congo, not only wants to paint but is as obsessed as was van Gogh.

Art From the Soul

Recently I was invited to a friend’s art exhibit, the final part of his master of fine arts degree from a famous New York City art college. He specializes in “installations”—not paintings or sculpture, per se, although it could include those—but created environments. The show was held in a loft in Greenwich Village that had been hastily cleaned out and included many other installations as well. My biggest problem that day was trying to figure out what were the works of art and what was intended for the dumpster, the only clue being the little signs with titles and attributions next to each exhibit, making those placards found near the piles of leftover construction materials, the janitor’s closets, or especially the restrooms, particularly daunting.

I bring this up not to be smug but to say that even if we side with the religious scholars and say that only humans have souls and thereby can create art, it is still a stretch to say that whatever is expressed by us comes directly from our souls. Though recognizing what does is no simple matter.

Michelangelo

via Michelangelo via Wikipedia

Openness; That Artistic Genius

Michelangelo, arguably the finest sculptor ever, said that creating art for him was simply a matter of chipping away all that wasn’t part of his statues; Mozart, considered by many the greatest composer, just a matter of transcribing the music that he already heard fully formed inside his head. The power, beauty, and fecundity of their output (Mozart lived only thirty-five years and had nearly seven hundred symphonic, choral, chamber, and operatic masterworks) tells us that creativity and especially creative abundance is not cunning but openness; that artistic genius, in the artists’ own words, is not contrivance but revelation; is, what is called in New Age parlance, “channeling.” And this is exactly what we would expect if we became aware of the infinite in us; if we became conscious of our soul. There is no better example of this than my own mentor, Sri Chinmoy, who created more than two hundred thousand paintings, fifteen million drawings, and composed more than twenty thousand songs.

Art of Sri Chinmoy

Sri Chinmoy with one of his Jharna-Kalas.

When Mozart was twelve and visiting the Sistine Chapel in Rome he heard Gregorio Allegri’s famous Miserere—a complicated work for nine-part choir, which distribution or publication of was punishable by excommunication. That night, back in his hotel room, the young prodigy wrote the entire thing down from memory, perfectly, note for note. (At that age I was sitting with a record player and a guitar trying to figure out the chords for Beatles songs and getting them mostly wrong.) When Michelangelo was fourteen he was already hard at work on commissions from Italy’s greatest patrons, the Medicis.

Soulful, Profound and Prolific Self-Expression

So, is soulful, profound and prolific self-expression only for these few and a handful of other super-gifted persons throughout human history? The answer is no. (Does life distribute talent fairly? I’d rather not say.) Could any of the rest of us ever sculpt the Pieta or pen Eine Kleine Nachtmusik? The answer is also probably no, since it was these individuals’ unique combination of extraordinary abilities that could have done that. Could a person of “normal” abilities, such as the one who created a sculpture at my friend’s exhibit with a screw gun and a bunch of leftover pieces of two-by-fours—which looked for all the world like late the night before she had cobbled together whatever hadn’t yet been thrown out—be expressing her soul and creating art in this mystical sense? The answer, believe it or not, is possibly. How could one tell? It is a matter of “consciousness,” a spiritual term that has its own essay below (coming week 3!) but can be presently defined as “what one is conscious of.”

Fractal

Look at Art Inwardly Not Outwardly

If I were fully aware of my soul, whatever I touched would be imbued with soulfulness and therefore I would be creating art in this mystical sense. Let’s look at it another way.

Jesus was the son of Joseph, a carpenter. And while we don’t actually know if he ever took up the trade, I think we can safely assume, given that occupations in those days remained almost exclusively with their respective families, that he might have tried his hand at it once or twice, especially during his “Lost Years.” Now for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that he was the worst carpenter ever, producing things that did not even remotely qualify as furniture or whatever else it was that the family normally made (let’s hope they didn’t make crosses!). Would it matter? Wouldn’t anything from his hand, because of the inner reality, the consciousness, of its creator, be considered by millions the most precious thing ever created and thereby more treasured than any art by anyone else, including Michelangelo or even Mozart?

Of course, you could make the argument that we are no longer talking about art at all but about relics (someone once said that you could build an arc with all the “authentic” pieces of the cross found in Christian churches), but I think a strong case can be made that this is what modern art is already asking us to do: to look at art inwardly not outwardly; at its energy, its resonance. At the inner state of the artist himself as opposed to the outer appearance of the work itself; at its consciousness.

Humans are “Clever Monkeys”

Humans are “clever monkeys”—as a friend of mine is fond of saying—and can create things for any reason they want: to soothe or to shock; to comfort or to confront; to be as beautiful as possible or as horrific; to defy convention in an attempt to prove that art has no meaning at all, is merely superfluous, as was previously stated, though this last task is not so easily accomplished.

For I think you will find that most people are eager to hear or see or even read something that will speak to them on some deeper level; will reconnect them with their souls, the living portion of God within. And even if we beat them over the head, telling them not to expect anything beautiful, powerful, illumining, epiphanic, revelatory, or in any way meaningful, dilettantes and philistines that they are, they just can’t help themselves; can’t stop from hoping.

 

Look for the next topic, Beauty, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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The Pilgrimage of the Heart Philosophy Podcast E06

In this episode Sujantra reads about Vishvakarma from the Ramayana…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 06: In this episode Sujantra reads about Vishvakarma from the Ramayana.

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An Interview with Vamadeva David Frawley

We must change our value systems from an outer view of life as enjoyment to an inner view of life as an adventure in consciousness…

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Vamadeva David Frawley Interview

With Sujantra, founder Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga

 

Sujantra: We are honored to have Vamadeva David Frawley here with us today. He is the author of over thirty books on Indian philosophy and Vedic studies. He is the founder and director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has been instrumental in bringing Eastern teachings to the West though his life and writings. His books have helped me innumerable times to unravel many of the mysteries of Indian thought. We caught up with him while he was journeying through India.

VamadevaThank you for joining us!

Vamadeva: It is my honor to be with you and to have a sharing of the teachings with your important audience. There is much we can learn from the dharmic traditions of the East, if we take them as our own and discover them as part of our own deeper awareness.

 

Eastern Teachings Impact on the West

Sujantra: You have authored and lectured on Indian philosophy around the world and written over 30 books. Are you optimistic about Eastern teachings having a significant impact here in the West?

Vamadeva: Eastern teachings have had a significant impact in the West for many decades now, though sometimes from behind the scenes. Many of the most important new insights in healing and spirituality have been rooted in eastern dharmic traditions. Insights in ecology, physics and biology have occurred as well. Millions have adopted eastern practices such as asana, pranayama, mantra and meditation.

“We must change our value systems from an outer view of life
as enjoyment to an inner view of life as an adventure in consciousness.”

Yet we in the West are still overall too caught up in the outer world, personal fulfillment and the pursuit of desire. Our culture as a whole remains alienated from statuesuch dharmic approaches to life. This needs to be rectified. We must change our value systems from an outer view of life as enjoyment to an inner view of life as an adventure in consciousness. Then such teachings will become even more relevant and transformative for us. This is bound to happen over time.

Sujantra: You have written on all aspects of Indian philosophy. What do you think is the most accessible aspect to people in America?

Vamadeva: Most important for us is to understand the world of nature as a manifestation of universal consciousness, and our own individual minds as reflections of the cosmic mind. It is not an issue of a foreign philosophy, culture or ideology, but of Self-knowledge and understanding the nature of existence. For this we should forget about being Americans, Westerners or anything else, and learn to experience our own lives and minds more directly. We can begin with honoring ecology. We must recognize that there are powers of consciousness in all of nature that can guide us to a higher truth. Our country has wonderful landscapes that can help us in this process and Native American traditions that are aware of these.

Yoga

The Explosion of Yoga Asana in the West

Sujantra: Based on your knowledge of the various aspects of the individual’s spiritual journey, how do you explain the explosion of Yoga asana in the West?

Vamadeva: Yoga has many dimensions and is essentially a tradition designed to draw us into deep meditation as our way of life. The physical side of Yoga is clearly the most accessible for those of us in the western world, as we are very physically minded. But it can lead the student to the deeper dimensions of Yoga if the student is receptive and uses the asana as part of introspection, as originally intended in classical Yoga.

We need to approach all the other limbs of Yoga with the same energy and interest as we are doing with asana today. I believe that will happen in the decades to come, but such cultural changes take time. Let us remember that asana is part of a sacred and spiritual practice for developing higher awareness; then our asana practice can lead us to the transcendent, but not otherwise. Deeper yoga practice is a way of meditation on an individual level, not an en masse class. We should not forget this either.

goddess

Sri Aurobindo’s Offering and the Flowering of Eastern Philosophy in the West

Sujantra: You discovered the Vedas through the writings of Sri Aurobindo. My teacher, Sri Chinmoy, studied at the Sri Aurobindo ashram from 1944-1964. How would you describe the relationship between Sri Aurobindo’s offering and the flowering of Eastern philosophy in the West?

Vamadeva: Sri Aurobindo was a spiritual and intellectual giant of the highest order. It will take decades for the world to properly appreciate his work. He could understand the most ancient Vedic teachings and at the same time had an unparalleled vision of the future evolution of humanity at the level of consciousness, which modern science still has only the most vague intimation of. If you try to read his books, his sentences are longer than most paragraphs, his paragraphs go on for pages, and he discusses all sides of a topic before coming to a comprehensive understanding and way forward. You need a strong dharana or power of concentration to connect with him, which is rare today in the era of quick information bites.

Aurobindo pioneered the whole concept of Integral Yoga, brought out the importance of life as Yoga, and created a Yoga for the modern world that we can incorporate into our work and daily lives. Simultaneously his Yoga has deep dimensions linking us beyond time and space to the very fountains of creation. It is hard to put this many-side vision into words.

Aurobindo also wrote directly in the English language, explaining the higher teachings in concepts we can grasp today, so no translation is required. In addition he wrote on philosophy, psychology, poetry, art, politics and all aspects of life and culture, so each one of us can find some angle of access to his work.

One Book for World Leaders

Sujantra: If there was one book you could get the leaders of the world to read what would it be?

Vamadeva: Reading is not enough: the mind can filter anything according to its conditioning, biases and opinions. It would be better if world leaders could go out into nature and enter into a state of deep silence and peace and surrender to the unknown powers of existence and the cosmic mind. For this they would have to give up their concepts of being leaders or even being in the world, and embrace infinite space as their true identity. We need to empty our minds first and go back to our core consciousness in the heart. Then we can truly benefit from great books, for which I would recommend the Upanishads, particularly the shorter texts like Katha, Kena, Mundaka, Mandukya, Svetasvatara, Isha or Taittiriya.

Ramana Maharshi

Ramana Maharshi

Sujantra: Ramana Maharshi had a profound influence on my life. His writings cleared up many of my misconceptions and his photographs touched something deep in my heart. How is that possible? I never personally knew him yet he changed my life?

Vamadeva: The great gurus exist beyond time and space. They have transcended the human mind to the deeper dimension of consciousness that is behind our own state of deep sleep and forms our core awareness. We can always contact them within, if we know how to look within. Our true identity is in consciousness. Mind and body are but shadows. Ramana Maharshi reflects our own true Self-nature that is one with all. You can see that in his eyes, if you meditate upon his pictures. Through his picture you can contact the immortal self in all.

A Last Bit of Advice

Sujantra: Finally, what one bit of advice would you like to offer our readers?

Vamadeva: Develop patience, introspection and turn within. The world in any case will not disappear if you forget about it for a while and contact your timeless Self. Do not be a slave to your body, mind or senses. Stand up for the eternal within you and stop running after fleeting desires. Before sleep shut off the media, let go of the world and dive deep into the ocean of the heart. The outer world is but the shadow of an unlimited divine light and delight.

Sujantra: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and inspiration with us!

 

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The Pilgrimage of the Heart Philosophy Podcast E05

On this episode Sujantra reads about Vishwamitra’s visit with King Dasaratha because Vishwamitra’s spiritual endeavors are being thwarted by outside forces…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 05: On this episode Sujantra reads about Vishwamitra’s visit with King Dasaratha because Vishwamitra’s spiritual endeavors are being thwarted by outside forces.

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The Pilgrimage of the Heart Philosophy Podcast E04

In this episode Sujantra reads from the Ramayana about Indra’s return to Earth to appease king Dasharatha’s desires. In this incarnation, Indra realizes that feelings of defeat are fleeting…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 04: In this episode Sujantra reads from the Ramayana about Indra’s return to Earth to appease king Dasharatha’s desires. In this incarnation, Indra realizes that feelings of defeat are fleeting.

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Pilgrimage of the Heart Philosophy Podcast E03

In this episode Sujantra reads how Indra is defeated by Ravana and so goes to visit Brahma. Brahma reveals much about Indra’s foe Ravana…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 03: In this episode Sujantra reads how Indra is defeated by Ravana and so goes to visit Brahma. Brahma reveals much about Indra’s foe Ravana.

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Pilgrimage of the Heart Philosophy Podcast E02

Sujantra reads from the Ramayana about when Valmiki decides to embark on his journey. Sujantra emphasizes the importance of starting the journey…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of five books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 2: Sujantra reads from the Ramayana about when Valmiki decides to embark on his journey. Sujantra emphasizes the importance of starting the journey. Meditation can help a person explore their options, gain clarity and focus.

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Pilgrimage of the Heart Philosophy Podcast E01

On this episode of the Pilgrimage of the Heart podcast Sujantra reads from the Ramayana about when Valmiki agrees…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of five books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard.

Ep 1: On this episode of the Pilgrimage of the Heart podcast Sujantra reads from the Ramayana about when Valmiki agrees to come out of his epic meditation and help the earthly world. Sujantra then relates Valmiki’s lesson to everyone’s inner guiding voice.

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Find Your Female Warrior Goddess

HeatherAsh Amara coaches women to reclaim the Warrior Goddess energy that they have lost by undergoing physical, spiritual and emotional training…

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Women often put their partners, friends, family, and children before themselves. While they can move mountains to accomplish things for their loved ones, there can be an emotional emptiness left where they once held their own Warrior Goddess power.Warrior-Goddess-Cover-Final-662x1024

Warrior Goddess Energy

In her book, HeatherAsh Amara coaches women to find and reclaim the Warrior Goddess energy that they have lost by undergoing physical, spiritual and emotional training to unchain the inner strength inherent in every woman.

 

  • Transcend the set traditions and agendas to find what inspires you within
  • Overcome fear and doubt with resilience and mindfulness
  • Reclaim your power and energy focusing within and letting go of the idea that that you need things outside of yourself to feel complete (partner, children, career etc.)
  • Show personal strength with compassion and love.

 

Buddhist and Toltec Wisdom

HeatherAsh’s approach draws on Buddhism and Toltec wisdom, as well as ancient earth-based goddess spirituality.  As a long-time student of don Miguel Ruiz and a world-traveler, HeatherAsh trained in many different philosophies, which allows her to weave intricate threads of each of these spiritual traditions into a beautiful, cohesive tapestry.

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Begin Your Journey

Her teachings, interlaced with personal stories, rituals and exercises for Warrior-Goddesses-In-Training, encourage women to begin their own journey towards unleashing the power of their inner Warrior Goddess.

How are you finding your Goddess within?

Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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The dance of the cobra ~ Bhujangasana   

As a small child, I was often haunted by snakes. I remember running wildly through the rugged terrain near my home in the Los Angeles hills…

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by Teresa Austin

Childhood Snakes

As a small child, I was often haunted by snakes. I remember running wildly through the rugged terrain near my home in the Los Angeles hills with the raw anticipation of what I might encounter in my daily adventures. In the fraction of a second, though, my childhood glee would be halted and my breath stopped. A snake and I would meet. My spine would tingle in fear and anticipation as to what this mysterious creature would do. Would it see me? Would it strike? Not only was I suspended in fear, but truly hypnotized by its powerful energy.

Little did I know that years later, I would come back to my childhood snakes, but this time in the form of yoga, in the great pose bhujangasana – cobra pose, and that my spine would be awakened once again in wonder.

Pilgrimage Yoga Online

It is no wonder that snakes have had an important role in India for thousands of years. From the magical snake charmer seducing the venomous cobra out of its basket, to the mythical 1,000 headed serpent, Shesha Naga, India has long held serpents to be sacred. The mysterious animals were thought to be relatives to the Naga people, the ancient warrior tribe, which is believed to have dispersed throughout India around the time of the epic Mahabharata.

Cobra

The Celebration of the Snake, Nag Panchami

Animal worship has played an important role in India’s national culture for thousands of years. The celebration of the snake, Nag Panchami, is a festival that celebrates the snake, and all it represents: death, rebirth, and immortality. Devotees sprinkle turmeric, vermillion and flowers on snakes to honor their role in nature.

Some Hindu gods like Shiva, the god of destruction and transformation, and Vishnu, the god of preservation, are pictured with the cobra enfolded around them. Even Buddha is often represented cradled within the great snake. Vishnu is often seen reclining on one of the folds of the great serpent Shesha, who weaves throughout the celestial waters of the Milky Ocean. With the symbolic role that snakes have played in Indian culture, it is no surprise, that Patanjali, the great compiler of the yoga sutras and the forefather of modern yoga, is believed to have been an avatar of Shesha.

Kundalini energy is believed to reside in the realm of the great sleeping serpent who is coiled along the base of the spine, and once awakened through devout meditation, slithers up the spine toward the pineal gland and through the crown chakra ultimately moving one into divine Selfhood.

 

Cosmic God

 

The Practice

Like the snake that sheds its skin over and over again, we too shed our skin, over and over again, each time we come to our yoga practice. In each shedding, an energetic rebirth has the potential to take place.

Of course it is important to keep our spines supple and strong like the great serpent. For it is our beloved spine that holds us up and allows us to continue to move throughout life.

In elegant bhujangasana, or cobra pose, we get to know our spine. It is along the lines of the spine that we channel our inner cobra. Cobra not only provides back strength, but also massages our precious digestive organs, stimulating the swadhisthana and manipura chakras

In its full fruition, before it is ready to dance into attack, the cobra raises its great hood, just as we do, as we inhale our hearts forward. The snake also moves between the light of day and the darkness of the underground. Inhaling, we lift our cobra-hoods towards the light (joy); exhaling, we drop our hearts back down towards the earth into darkness (contemplation).

Cobra Pose

Snakes also teach us that we too should we be more in tune with our “gut instincts” as snakes are aware of their surroundings through their bellies as they feel the reverberations of the earth around them.

Let our breath then, our mystical snake charmer, seduce the energy of our snake spines to emerge vibrant and alive! And just like the mystical snake charmers who were thought to have strong ties to the gods due to their magical ways with cobras, we too can energetically tap into that divine space that resides along the lines of our beloved spine through the power of the ever graceful and strong bhujangasana.

 

Teresa AustinTeresa Austin is the creator of Myth Asana®, a progressive yoga practice that infuses mythology and symbolism within the beauty and strength of yoga. She has been a practitioner of yoga for over 20 years and a teacher for 10 years. Teresa was a world mythology teacher for many years and currently is finishing up her 1000 hour yoga therapy certification specializing in the power of symbolism and storytelling in a therapeutic setting. Her dvd is available at www.mythasana.com .

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OM – A Mantra for Every Moment

A mantra is a sound or vibration that you can use to journey into the realm of meditation or find calm inside any moment. A mantra represents…

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A mantra is a sound or vibration that you can use to journey into the realm of meditation or find calm inside any moment. A mantra represents an aspect of the Highest, and each mantra has a special significance and inner power.

Vibrational Harmony

OM (AUM)  is said to be the soundless sound of the universe. Chanting OM helps us get into a vibrational harmony with the universe so it’s the ideal way to start and finish one’s yoga practice or meditation session. Om is also the perfect antidote to finding calm inside any stressful situation at home or work.

Sign-up for membership

 

Repeat A Mantra Every Day

“If you want quick results in your inner spiritual life, you should repeat a mantra every day without fail, for a least half an hour: fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the evening,” says spiritual yogi Sri Chinmoy.  “There can be no mantra more powerful than the mother of all mantras, AUM.”

If you want to get the best results, repeat OM every day. To learn more about the power of mantras, watch our De-Stress with Mantra video.

Chant: “Ommmmmmmmmm”.

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Ramayana Series – Turning Within

In these explorations of the Ramayana I hope to help you deepen your spiritual growth and understanding…

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In these explorations of the Ramayana I hope to help you deepen your spiritual growth and understanding.

Ramayana—“Rama” is the name of the hero and the heroine, his wife, is Sita. . “Yana” means the tale of, or the journey of. The Ramayana is the story, tale or journey of Rama.

“Listen my friend, I love this Ramayana. We now live in the third age of time and Rama lived in the second age of the world. Ramayana has long been standing above all other stories. You must look up to find it. Valmiki put the deeds of Rama into musical verse. He clothed them in the sound of singing. Before Ramayana there was no poetry on earth.”1

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Valmiki is our first character. He is the one who writes the Ramayana. “As a young man, Valmiki searched through the world seeking open friendship and happiness and hope. And finding none of these, he went alone into the empty forest where no man lived to a spot where the Tamsa River flows into the river Ganga. There he sat for years without moving. So still that white ants built an anthill over him. There Valmiki sat inside that anthill for thousands of years with only his eyes showing out trying to find the true, his hands folded and his mind lost in contemplation.”

Valmiki, our first character and author of the Ramayana, is a young man searching throughout the world for happiness and true friendship. He holds these ideals in his heart and searches the world and can’t find them. I think that is something we can all relate to, in that we look at life and it’s filled with a lot of painful experiences, even though in your heart you hold this feeling or hope that there can be true friendship or true love. What we meet in the experience of life is often so painful.

Valmiki can’t find any of these so he decides to retreat in, deep contemplation and meditation. In a sense you can say that’s what you do in the daily practice of meditation. The world is full of challenges and your daily meditation is your ability to pull away from the world and free your mind. You turn your mind inward and allow it to sink back into perfection or into itself. Indian philosophy asserts that our consciousness has perfection in it. Our minds spread out into the world and take everything in and create our multifaceted experiences that can be really challenging. With meditation you’re able to turn your mind inward and trace back to that pure essence.

Mountain Lake

The Ripple Effect

“His mind lost in contemplation, then one cloudy winter’s day at noon the heavenly sage Narada, the inventor of music, born from Brahma’s mind flew from heaven down to earth. He knelt in front of Valmiki and said, ‘Come out. Help me.’ ‘ It’s too cold’, replied Valmiki. ‘Away with the worlds where a little pleasure costs a lot of pain. Don’t make trouble for me.’ ‘ Would I ever?’ said Narada? ‘See how life goes by with every creature doing what follow his nature’. Narada knelt and looked deep into Valmiki’s eyes. ‘Master, what can I say to inspire you to action’? Valmiki said, ‘Just name me one honest man and then I will move’. Rama said, ‘Narada. Now, come out of there.’”1

The Ramayana is multidimensional. Valmiki is on earth and Narada, who comes down from the heavens and seeks Valmiki’s help. We are told he’s the inventor of music and born of Brahma’s mind. In Indian philosophy, there are three main aspects of existence: Creation, Preservation and Transformation. Those are personified in Brahma, the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Transformer. Brahma is the creator and Narada is born from his mind. Normally when we think about birth, we think birth from a body. Here’s a more subtle birth, born from Brahma’s mind. We bear things from our minds. We create a poem from our mind or we conceive of plans and then we act them out.

“Who is Rama?” said Valmiki. Narada answered, ‘Rama rules as king in Ayodhya. He is born of the solar race and is a descendent of the sun. He is brave and gentle and firm in fight. By Rama’s command his adorable queen Sita is being brought here in the forest in a chariot and though she suspects nothing yet, here she will be abandoned. Unless you comfort her, she will drown herself in the river Ganga. And kill as well her two unborn sons by Rama’. ‘What did she do wrong?’ asked Valmiki. ‘Nothing’, answered Narada, ‘Sita is innocent and blameless. She has lived as Rama’s queen for nearly 10,000 years. Before that, Rama saved her from great danger by wondrous and incredible deeds. And now behold one of the terrors of kingship that Rama must let her go and banish her because his people talk against her. Get up and save her life and let her live here with you and your companions and make and measure words the song of Rama and teach it to her two sons.1

Rama is born of the solar race, a descendent of the sun. This is also seen in Greek mythology a lot. Mortals mate with great energies, with the sun or the wind and give rise to some of the great heroes, like Hercules. We are interconnected with these great energies. We are human but we also have that great spirit inside of us.

Sita’s been banished by Rama and she’s going to be abandoned and starts to hear the Ganga, the river, murmuring to her, “jump in, jump in, take rest, find peace.” In the order of the universe, this can’t happen. Narada has come down to convince Valmiki to do something, to take action. Valmiki listens to this, and Narada implores Valmiki to let Sita live with him and his companions and to make and measure words the song of Rama (which is the Ramayana) and teach it to her two sons.

“’I have no companions here’, said Valmiki. ‘You have now. Coming here I sang a friend gathering song. Valmiki I’ve seen other skies than these, other worlds and other friends. People are counting on you and I can hear the chariot from Ayodhya with Sita approaching the Ganga.’ Valmiki said,’ I have no skill in any craft, even in words.’ Narada was silent then he spoke. ‘There, listen. I hear the chariot stopping. Right now, here they come across Ganga in a boat. Or will you also forsake Sita from fear of other people? Look she has discovered she is lost and the boat is launched back without her. Hurry, there the sunlight comes behind the dark clouds. There, the river goddess begins to whisper unseen bells over Sita and makes her swift flowing waters seem a warm, safe home. Act now, Valmiki. Call out and the rest will follow.’”1

It’s a beautiful idea: the friend gathering song. A beautiful hermitage pops up around him because of Narada’s song. Narada says, “I’ve seen other skies, and I’ve seen other worlds. People are depending on you.” In our own lives, our actions, our thoughts, our meditations effect a lot more than what we perceive in that moment. Every decision we make, every action we take, creates a whole interconnected chain of events. The more consciously we can take our actions and make our decisions, then that affect rolls out further and further down the road. The ability to see that our actions affect more than ourselves in that moment creates an expansion of awareness. Valmiki can’t see it, even though he’s the hero and has to take these actions and perform heroic deeds. He’s the one being called to action but the one calling him can see the bigger picture. 

Mountain Trail

We Are Our Own Hero

We are the hero of our own lives, we are the ones who have to step forward and take the heroic action. If you look at your own life, what do you have inspiring, guiding or motivating your actions and decisions? If it is television, the newspaper or things that aren’t that expansive of consciousness, then your decisions are going to be influenced by those things. You can energize or inspire yourself by the books you read, by meditating, and focusing on your spiritual journey. You can inspire yourself and bring into your own life the characters that help you see the bigger picture and inspire you towards action.

A good way to look at it is through the laws of attraction and manifestation. What you keep clearest in your heart, for example in meditation you’re bringing in a certain quality, holding that quality in your heart, that intention, that energy you hold in your heart is going to bring into your life the things that are connected to that. Again, spending time in meditation or good spiritual reading will keep your mind in that space and draw that to you. One of the teachings from the Indian philosophy is when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. In the same way, when you bring yourself to a certain level, when you get yourself ready, then the teacher you need in that moment is going to come into your life. The more refined you can make your energetic output; the more you accelerate your growth because you’re clear and focused.

  1. Buck, William. Ramayana. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Print.
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Wisdom: Prana — The Life-Force

One of the great secrets of yoga is that breath, body, mind and emotions are all intertwined. Pranayama literally means…

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One of the great secrets of yoga is that breath, body, mind and emotions are all intertwined. Pranayama literally means breath-control. By controlling your breath you will strengthen your body, find peace of mind and gain clarity in your emotions. In just minutes a day you can gain incredible results.

by Sujantra McKeever

To achieve a complete understanding of the forces at work in our existence let us begin with the primary life-force of the universe—prana. Prana is the great vital energy breathing and circulating through all of existence. Breathing, the most basic and fundamental function of the living organism, involves the intake and regulation of prana. Review our Pranayama online classes.

Primary Life-Force

Prana is the life-force of the nervous system upon which we depend for existence. Once we become aware of the power of prana and the significance of each breath we take, we gain an immediate insight into the underlying principles upon which various Eastern disciplines are based. These include the martial arts, Chinese medicine, Indian medicine, Hatha Yoga (a branch of yoga which seeks to gain illumination beginning with a perfection of the body through various physical poses, or asanas), breath control—pranayama (prana = life force, yama = control). These and other practices stress an awareness of prana and control of life-force, via breathing. Without this life-force coursing through our system, we will quickly die. All that we do—move, think, feel—is dependent upon prana.

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Five Categories

The life-breath, prana, when thought of as sustaining life in the human body, is classified into five main categories according to the various functions performed by the energy. The five categories into which life-force is classified are: apana, which moves in the region of the lower abdomen and trunk and presides over the lower functions; samana, which maintains the equilibrium of the vital forces and stokes the gastric fire and digestion; vyana, which distributes the vital energies derived from food and breath throughout the entire body; prana (here the word is used to note a particular aspect) which dwells in the upper part of the body and controls the heart and respiration, in effect, bringing the universal force into the physical system; and finally udana, which moves upward from the body to the crown of the head and controls the intake of food as well as channels the communication between the physical life and the greater life of the spirit.

Three Principle Channels

There are three principle channels, or nadis, through which life energy flows throughout the human organism. These channels are ida, pingala, and sushumna. Ida carries prana from the left nostril through the left side of the body and down to the base of the spine. Pingala carries prana from the right nostril through the right side of the body and down to the base of the spine. Ida is the nadi of the mood and Mercury and is felt in mildness, calmness and coolness; pingala is the nadi of the sun and Mars and is felt in power and heat. Our “health”—both emotional and physical—is based upon the balancing of these different aspects of our being: masculine-feminine, yin-yang, power-calm, heat-cool. This essential balance can be maintained and regulated through constant awareness of our breathing patterns and their regulation when necessary. This practice is known by the Sanskrit word pranayama.

Bring Balance

The regulation of breathing which occurs naturally is an excellent way to regulate prana and bring vigor and balance to our system these include times of deep, relaxed breathing such as the regulation of our breathing during and after exercise and developing a keen awareness of our breathing. Physical exercise brings peace, calmness and a natural balance to our system. Any further regulation of prana should only be done under the careful guidance of a knowledgeable yoga teacher.

Author Sujantra McKeever founded Pilgrimage of the Heart studio in 2006. He began exploring yoga and pranayama at the age of 12. Sujantra has authored five books on eastern philosophy, success motivation and meditation. Since 1987 he has delivered over 1000 lectures on meditation and yoga in over 30 countries. Sujantra studied meditation with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy.

 

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Is Brahmacharya a Life without Sex?

Brahmacharya is one of the key elements of yoga. Some think of Brahmacharya as a life without sex. Others see it as…

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Brahmacharya is one of the key elements of yoga.

Some think of Brahmacharya as a life without sex. Others see it as a general attitude towards life. Lets begin by exploring Brahmacharya as an aspect of yoga.

The path of yoga was codified over 2000 years ago by the yogi and scholar Patanjali. He expressed yoga as having eight yoga, aspects or limbs, like the branches of a tree. I think it is helpful to conceptualize organically, where different aspects are integrated simultaneously. Neither yoga nor life moves in a purely linear fashion.

The first two limbs of the tree of yoga are known as the yamas and niyamas. I would define the yamas as “moral & ethicalethical principles,” and the niyamas as disciplines and conduct.

Brahmacharya is one of the 5 yamas. Literally speaking Brahmacharya means ‘the conduct ‘ (charya) that leads to Brahma, which is, in yoga philosophy, the experience of the Ultimate Reality. Buddhism would call this highest reality Nirvana; Christianity uses the term: the ‘Kingdom of Heaven within.’ Different names for the same river.

The question we each must ask is “what actions and experiences of mine will move me closer to this ultimate reality and what actions and experiences will move me further away.” It is deep in our spiritual hearts and conscience that we each find the answers for ourselves.

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Brahmacharya and sexual relations

Historically speaking, in the ancient indian texts brahmacharya refers to one of the four stages of life. This first stage—brahmacharya–is the ‘student’ life. This is the period just before puberty and up until marriage. It is characterized by spiritual and secular study and strict adherence to the yamas: non-violence, truthfulness, not-stealing; not-receiving gifts and strict celibacy. In the yamas this celibacy is also referred to as brahmacharya. So the word brahmacharya refers to both a stage of life and sexual abstinence.

Monasticism

In monastic traditions, both Eastern and Western, celibacy, or abstinence from sexual relations is considered one of the foundations of the spiritual life. While this is often a life-long practice limited periods of abstinence are also an integral part of many spiritual traditions.

The basic idea of sexual-abstinence is that the same energy that fuels our sexuality, including our sexual thoughts, also fuels our spiritual quest. This energy is the creative force of the universe. Each of us needs to decide how and when we will utilize abstinence in our own lives and how and when to express our sexuality.

–Sujantra

Sujantra speaks more on brahmacharya in his video Brahmacharya.

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Anandamayi Ma

Anandamayi Ma – There is no easier way to feel God than through another human being.
A genuine spiritual Master resonates…

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Anandamayi Ma

There is no easier way to feel God than through another human being.
A genuine spiritual Master resonates the energy of the Infinite through their very glance. For some seekers, the picture of Anandamayi Ma will offer an inner thrill, a feeling that the bliss that spiritual awakening is real and attainable.

Sri Chinmoy

My teacher, Sri Chinmoy, wrote: “…Anandamayi Ma happens to be one of the absolutely sincere spiritual Masters who has really realized God…and who can speak on God with authority.” *

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Yogic Concentration

The power of a spiritual Masters consciousness is such that it can be transmitted through a glance and by applying your yogic concentration to the picture of a spiritual Master you can make an inner connection with that teacher. You can feel if that teacher can guide you to your spiritual awakening. That inner connection, once established, then serves as the pole-star, the inner guidance, as you navigate your inner dimensions.

The consciousness of a spiritual Master is not diminished when they leave the body. Anandamayi Ma passed away on August 27, 1982. Of God she wrote: “He is without beginning and without end. He is the whole and also the part.
The whole and part together make up real Perfection.”

*The Journey of Silver Dreams by Sri Chinmoy, 1974, p38

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The Roots of Yoga of Patanjali

Ancient Philosophy – Yoga is a great way to make your body and nervous system strong, balanced and flexible…

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Ancient Philosophy

Yoga is a great way to make your body and nervous system strong, balanced and flexible. Yoga is also an ancient Indian philosophical system through which you can experience uplifting and mystical states of awareness. Yoga mean ‘to yoke, to bring together.’ Through yoga you can experience the unity, the oneness of the individual and the universal. In the yoga philosophy this is called “Samadhi.” It is an awareness of the “heaven within” or nirvana. This spiritual ecstacy and the joy it brings to life is the goal of yoga.

Yoga is one of the six ancient philosophies of India. The other areas of study were: grammar, mathematics, ethics, astronomy and metaphysics. From these emerged sciences such as astrology, ayurveda, hatha yoga and modern mathematics.

The Yoga Sutras and Vivekananda

The codification of yoga was done over 2000 years ago by the sage Patanjal and is known as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The writing is composed of 196 concise statements, most no more than a sentence or two. Various commentators, both ancient and modern, have elaborated these sutras. My favorite translation was written at the beginning of the 19th century by Swami Vivekananda, one of the first yogis to bring Indian philosophy to the West at the Parliament of Religions in 1893. His book is entitled Raja Yoga.

The yoga sutras are divided into 4 chapters which describe the basic principles of yoga, the actual practices of yoga, the powers that arise through yoga and an elaboration on the higher states of consciousness attained through yoga.

It is interesting to note that only 2 or 3 actual postures—asanas—, are described in the writing and both are related to asanas for meditation and pranayama. Patanjali says the postures should be “firm but pleasant” in order to free the mind from bodily awareness.

The Yamas and More

Most relevant to modern Western yogis are the sutras in chapters 2 and 3 which describes yoga as being composed or 8 limbs or aspects. It is in these sutras that Patanjali talks about the Yamas—moral injunctions; the Niyamas—daily observances; Asana—the postures with which we are so familiar in the west, Pranayama—breath control, Pratyahara—the inward turning of the senses; Dharana—concentration; Dhayana—meditation and the ultimate Samadhi—the liberation of consciousness.

Learn more about the specifics of the yoga sutras through our videos and writings. Namaste.

Sujantra

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Bharadvajasana – Finding the source of your joy

Bharadvaja was a dedicated student of the Vedas, the most ancient spiritual and philosophical texts of Hinduism…

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Bharadvaja was a dedicated student of the Vedas, the most ancient spiritual and philosophical texts of Hinduism. He devoted three entire lifetimes to intense study of these writings. He read them, wrote them down, memorized them and then did it all over again, hoping it would bring him closer to a higher power and liberate him from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Shiva Appears to Bharadvaja

At the end of his third lifetime, Shiva appeared to Bharadvaja upon his deathbed and gave him some rather disappointing news. Shiva informed Bharadvaja that despite his unparalleled knowledge of the Vedas, he would not be accompanying Shiva to heaven because he had not learned the true meaning of the Vedas. He hadn’t shared the beauty and grace of them with others.

Bharadvaja’s Fourth Life

In his fourth life, Bharadvaja taught the philosophy of the Vedas, to those near and far and in every caste, with wisdom and compassion. During this life, he realized that wisdom is not contained in the knowing of a subject, but the living and sharing of that wisdom.

Find the Source of Your Joy

Bharadvaja’s story inspires each of us to find the source of our own personal joy and to then live it and share it with others. When we dance in the light of our heart’s fire, we inspire others to find their own joy. When we find our life’s true passion, it is fully expressed when we begin to share it with others.

What is your heart and soul’s passion? How do you share it with others?

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Aparigraha: Don’t be Beholden

Freedom is the goal of yoga. This freedom is liberation from the bondage of egotism and desire. To be free is to be conscious…

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Freedom is the goal of yoga. This freedom is liberation from the bondage of egotism and desire. To be free is to be conscious and grateful for being part of the unconditional joy and brilliance of existence.

Through our interactions with others we often ensnare ourselves in unnecessary and unsatisfying obligations and expectations. This does not free us – it binds us. One of the yamas: aparigraha directly speaks to this.

Expectation

One of the ways that we bind ourselves is by accepting things from others knowing that in their giving there are also expectations. They might expect certain reactions from us or expect specific things in return. Think of the politician who accepts donations knowing he will be called on to do the bidding of the donor.

At times, people do things for you with the expectation that you will do something for them. They come to your party and expect you to go to theirs. They feel a certain way and expect you to feel the same. Unconditional love and giving is a wonderful thing in life. It liberates us. Conditional love and giving ensnares us.

Vivekananda

For this reason aparigraha can be thought of as the “non-receiving of gifts.”* Isn’t the joy and beauty of life found in giving and receiving? Yes, but not when by receiving we enter the world of expectation. In those cases it is better not to take or give but to remain out of the situation. Won’t we just end up isolated and alone in life? Far from it! By identifying unhealthy situations and circumstances you also learn to identity healthy ones. Moving into realms of pure and unconditional emotion will lift you into the blissful freedom of yogic living.

*Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

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The Ahimsa (non-violence) Dilemma, #1

The yogic journey begins with 5 moral injunctions—the yamas(Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha)

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The yogic journey begins with 5 moral injunctions—the yamas(Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha)—, which create harmony and balance in ones actions and thoughts. By bringing these ethical principles into one’s own life we create the fertile soil for personal growth.

The Yamas

The first, and I think foundation of all the yamas is called ahimsa, which can be translated as non-violence (ultimately in thought, word and deed!) Bringing these principles into one’s life is a very personal and subjective act; hence we will be faced with challenges and dilemmas when it comes to applying these principles.

Dilemma #1: Non-violence and Yoga

If someone is about to strike me should I let him or her strike me (therefore I am not being violent) or should I strike him or her first to prevent him or her from striking me? For a visual reference, think of Martin Luther King and his non-violent marchers getting brutalized by police with fire hoses, batons and police dogs.

If I follow yogic non-violence literally I will not strike back (hence, I am not being violent) but I am allowing violence to occur (me being hit.) Is there a difference between performing the violent act and allowing it to happen? Also, if I allow another to be violent am I allowing more violence to occur in the universe than if I simply stayed home and meditated?

Well, what do you think?

–Sujantra

 

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Namaste and its Meaning

You’ve undoubtedly heard your yoga instructor greet you with, “Namaste.” As you’re guided through the practice you’ll hear Sanskrit…

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You’ve undoubtedly heard your yoga instructor greet you with, “Namaste.” As you’re guided through the practice you’ll hear Sanskrit words mixed in amongst our shared English language. Years of practice may go by before you begin to pay attention to the Sanskrit words and wonder about their meaning. Naturally, new yogis are more focused on the getting into and out of the poses with proper alignment and less interested in the foreign terms being used in class. Then, one day when you’ve gotten in and out of Warrior II with ease and grace, a word you’ve heard tens of times before, like Namaste, suddenly becomes your focus and you wonder, for the first time about it’s meaning.

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Two Parts to Namaste

Namaste is broken down into two parts. Nama means ‘to bow’ and te means ‘to you.’ Usually Namaste is said while hands are in Anjali Mudra, otherwise known as Prayer Pose or Salutation Seal. The palms are pressed lightly together at heart center, thumbs resting on or above the chest near the heart, head bows. It’s a respectful way to salute another person.

When I say Namaste to students I use the gesture to silently communicate, “I see you and the light within you. I see me in you and I see that we are one.” It’s a way to connect with another person, bow with respect to all that they are and all that they have been though in this life. It’s a way to unite with each other, at the same level and recognize we are all one.

What sanskrit words are you hearing in class? Let me know in a comment below.

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How you can set an intention for your yoga practice

What does setting an intention mean? – You may have heard your yoga instructor invite you to “set an intention” at the beginning of class…

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What does setting an intention mean?

You may have heard your yoga instructor invite you to “set an intention” at the beginning of class. Setting an intention isn’t an ancient practice. It’s not one of the 8 limbs of yoga. You won’t find it in the Bhagavad Gita. So why does your teacher mention this in class? What does it mean to set an intention?

Set Out Into Life with an Intention

Setting an intention is a reminder that what you do for an hour on the mat is preparing you for the 23 other hours of the day when you’re off the mat. Most of the day you are dealing with life – work, school, relationships, money, traffic, parking, the list is endless. When you head out into your life without an intention, things can get fraught with difficulties.

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If you set out into life with an intention, such as: peace, love, acceptance, or patience, the incidences of your day are seen through a sort of intention filter. Like a pair of sunglasses that you put on and it changes the way you see things. If you can’t find parking and you’re running 5 minutes late for an appointment, the whole situation looks and feels differently if you have the intention of acceptance and patience.

Other People’s Experience

 Other people’s experience of you will be colored by your intention as well. Rather than being stressed and angry after arriving 5 minutes late, your intention has you focused and calm. Nothing has changed, life didn’t suddenly get easier, but your intention allows you to cruise through the big and small battlefields of life with less resistance and more ease.

Begin Your Day with an Intention

Try setting an intention at the beginning of your next yoga practice. Something that you would like to cultivate more of in your life off the mat. As you breath in, image that you can draw into your lungs and body the essential qualities needed to create that intention in your life. As you exhale, breath those qualities out into the room, the people around you, into your city and ultimately into the world.

What intention are you setting for your life while on the mat? How is it changing your life off the mat? Let me know in a comment below. 

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