Monthly Archives: August 2013

yoga and buddhism

image

Yoga and Buddhism are sister traditions which evolved in the same spiritual culture of ancient India. They use many of the same terms and follow many of the same principles and practices. For this reason it is not surprising that many of us born in the West, particularly after an initial exposure, are apt to regard Yoga and Buddhist teachings as almost identical.

However, the tendency to find commonality between these two great spiritual traditions is not limited to the West. Swami Vivekananda, the first great figure to bring Yoga to the West, examined the Buddhist Mahayana scriptures (Sutras) and found their key teachings and those of Vedanta that he followed to be ultimately in harmony. In recent years with the influx of Tibetan refugees into India, including the Dalai Lama, there has been a new dialogue between the two traditions that is bringing about greater respect between them. Tibetan Buddhists often appear at Hindu religious gatherings and partake in all manner of discussions.

Nor is the attempt to connect the two traditions limited to modern times. Various synthetic Hindu-Buddhist teachings have existed through history. Buddha himself was born a Hindu and some scholars have argued that Buddhism as a religion apart from Hinduism did not arise until long after the Buddha had passed away. A Shiva-Buddha teaching existed in Indonesia in medieval times, and for many Tantric Yogis it is difficult to tell whether they were Hindus or Buddhists. Buddha became accepted as an avatar of Vishnu for the Hindus during the medieval period, and most Hindus still consider that we live in the age of the Buddha-avatar. Most Hindus accept Buddha as a great teacher, even if they do not accept all Buddhist teachings.

Yet, similarities and connections aside, the two traditions have had their differences, which have not always been minor. Such synthetic trends did not exclude disagreements and debates between the two traditions. Nor did they ever succeed in fully uniting them. Their traditions and lineages remain separate to the present day. Generally the Hindu Yoga tradition sought to absorb Buddhism into itself by reinterpreting Buddha in a Vedantic light. Buddhism however strove to maintain its separate identity by stressing its disagreements with Vedic theism or the Vedic recognition of a higher Self. Most Hindu and Buddhist teachers, including those of the different Yoga schools of Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhists, have found it necessary to discriminate their doctrines, particularly on subtle levels of practice and insight. Refutations of Buddhist teachings are common in yogic texts and refutations of yogic and Vedantic teachings are common in Buddhist texts. So while we can honor the connections between these two systems, we cannot overlook their differences either.

Excerpt From American Institute Of Vedic Studies Article, Yoga And Buddhism: Similarities And Differences, By David Frawley


how yoga came to america

image

For decades before Vivekananda’s arrival here, the yoga teachings of India had been percolating in the minds of many influential Western writers and spiritual figures. Their first contact with India’s scriptures came through the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita, considered by historians the world’s oldest surviving holy books. Around 1815, a friend and fellow scholar gave the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer translations of these two sacred texts. Schopenhauer was intrigued. He incorporated his understanding of these yoga teachings into his groundbreaking philosophical treatise, The World as Will and Idea. In the preface, he wrote, “’I believe that the influence of the Sanskrit literature will penetrate not less deeply than did the revival of Greek literature in the fifteenth century.” He made the startling prediction that the scriptures of India “… are destined sooner or later to become the faith of the people.” The influence of Schopenhauer among Western intellectuals was vast. Through him, philosophers, writers, and composers such as Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Tolstoy, Mann, Wagner, and Jung were introduced to Indian philosophy.

Among the first Americans to embrace Indian philosophy with its “supreme task of transformation” were Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, the co-founders of American Transcendentalism. In 1836, Emerson wrote an essay that probably included the first reference to the Bhagavad-Gita in a book published in America. In 1854, Thoreau, in Walden, one of the most beloved of all American essays, wrote, “In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Gita, in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial.” Through the efforts of Emerson, Thoreau and others, the fertile ground of American soil had been well tilled and fertilized in preparation for the arrival of the first yogis in the West. Among this group was Swami Rama Tirtha, a student of Vivekananda’s, who, following the advice of his teacher, was the next yogi to land in America. He arrived in San Francisco in 1902-1903, and lived and lectured there for about 18 months before returning to India.

During this time, Rama Tirtha gained a sizeable local following and started several yoga societies. Not until 1919, when Yogendra Mastanami arrived in New York, did another sage of India come to America. Mastanami stayed for three years, and taught his system of yoga postures to Benedict Lust, the founder of naturopathy. Lust, in turn, was among the first to champion this early version of hatha yoga as an alternative healing technique, rather than a purely spiritual science, as it was originally conceived by the rishis, or ancient yoga masters of India. The visits to American shores by Vivekananda, Rama Tirtha, and Mastanami were true historic events; yet they stayed here for only brief periods. None expressed that their primary mission was to live and teach in the West. That remained the destiny of one who is arguably the most honored and influential of all Yoga masters to arrive here before or since.

In 1920, a young yoga master born at the foot of the Himalayas received an invitation from the American Unitarian Association to serve as India’s delegate to the International Congress of Religious Liberals meeting that year in Boston. A disciple of the legendary Sri Yukteswar, and ordained in the 1,200-year-old swami order founded by Shankara himself in the ninth century, he was given the name Paramhansa Yogananda. In Sanskrit param is defined as “highest,” and hansa as “swan.” The sacred white swan is a symbol of spiritual discrimination. Yogananda means literally, “One who achieves bliss (ananda) through the practice of yoga.” Yogananda arrived in Boston, in August of 1920, and on the sixth of October, presented his first speech in America as planned. He later told of an intense inward vision “which contained a vast panorama of Western faces,” and wrote: “I am going forth to discover America, like Columbus. He thought he had discovered India – surely there must be a karmic link between our two lands.”

Excerpt From Ananda Los Angeles Website, How Yoga Science Came To America


yamas and niyamas

Yamas, and its complement, Niyamas, represent a series of “right living” or ethical rules within Hinduism and Yoga. These are a form of moral imperatives, commandments, rules or goals. Every religion has a code of conduct, or series of “do’s and don’ts”, and the Yamas represent one of the “don’t” lists within Hinduism, and specifically, rāja yoga.

Yama (Sanskrit) यम, means self-restraint, self-control and discipline. The yamas comprise the “shall-not” in our dealings with the external world as the niyamas comprise the “shall-do” in our dealings with the inner world.

Ten yamas are codified as “the restraints” and ten niyamas are codified as set of prescribed actions (observances, requirements, obligations) in numerous scriptures including the Shandilya and Varaha Upanishads, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Gorakshanatha, and the Tirumantiram of Tirumular.  Patañjali lists only five yamas and five niyamas in his Yoga Sūtras.


shadow yoga

Zhander, one of a few names that he goes by, was first introduced to Yoga and the bandhas by his father, at the age of six when living in his native Hungary. The family later moved to Australia. From this new home base Zhander continued his lifetime investigation of yogic traditions – Iyengar being a considerable influence – as well as dance, Japanese sword fighting and the natural order of the world.

Shadow Yoga consists of three preludes, all designed to prepare the body for asana: Balakrama or Stepping into Strength, a bone strengthening form which engages the center (navel region), hands, feet and breath, while introducing uddiyana bandha; Chaya Yoddha Sancalanam or Churning of the Shadow Warrior, a warrior form that circulates the pranic winds (vayus) which flow through the body’s energetic channels (nadis); and Karttikeya Mandala or Garland of Light, an advanced warrior form that consists of stances and waist work which move the pranic force even deeper, eventually dissolving obstructions and allowing prana to flow freely.

Zhander Remete

Zhander Remete

A distillation of his studies yielded Shadow Yoga, a Hatha Yoga discipline that encompasses the principles of asana (posture), martial arts and dance, as well as the fundamentals of Ayurveda and Marmasthana, the Indian system of the 108 vital points of the body. Water, earth, wind, fire and ether – the five basic elements – as well as the planets and signs of the Zodiac and their influence on the human system, also factor significantly into the design and execution of the practice.

As for where the actual name originated, Zhander writes, “According to one of the forefathers of Hatha Yoga, Allama Prabudeva, ‘The appearance of this body is nothing but layers of frozen shadows.’ By investigating the shadow and its source we come to light. By coming to understand them we can dissolve them.”

Excerpt From LA Yoga Magazine Article, Meeting The Man Behind The Shadow, by Amy Wong


code of honor

studio yoga 6

The Spiritual Warrior is a person who challenges the dreams of fear, lies, false beliefs, and judgments that create suffering and unhappiness in his or her life. It is a war that takes place in the heart and mind of a man or woman. The quest of the Spiritual Warrior is the same for spiritual seekers around the world. The Spiritual Warrior faces this challenge with the clarity and awareness that this war is fought within himself and that Truth and unconditional love are on the other side of these battles. This is what the Toltecs refer to as Personal Freedom. You can find this referenced in the book The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz.

The Four Agreements are:

1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.


yin yoga

Yin Yoga is based on the Taoist concept of yin and yang, opposing yet complementary forces that can characterize any phenomenon. Yin can be described as stable, immobile, feminine, passive, cold, and downward moving. Yang is depicted as changing, mobile, masculine, active, hot, and upward moving. In nature, a mountain could be described as yin; the ocean, as yang. Within the body, the relatively stiff connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, fascia) is yin, while the pliant and mobile muscles and blood are yang. Applied to yoga, a passive practice is yin, whereas most of today’s hatha yoga practices are yang: They actively engage the muscles and build heat in the body.

When you take a Yin Yoga class, you’ll do mostly seated, supine, or prone poses, and you’ll hold them, with your muscles relaxed, for long periods of time—up to 5 minutes or more. The theory behind this approach (proposed by Zink) is that staying muscularly passive for long periods of time gently stretches connective tissue, which gets stiff and immobile with age. The asanas focus mainly on the lower back and hips because the abundance of dense connective tissue around those joints requires extra care and attention.

When you stop striving and tune in to what’s happening, you begin to truly feel the sensations in your body and mind as they arise. Once you accept that you will feel many things during a Yin practice—discomfort, boredom, anxiety—and learn to stay with the chorus of thoughts and feelings, your relationship to them will begin to change. You will learn that you have the inner strength to stay in situations you previously thought you couldn’t handle. You will see the impermanent nature of thoughts and feelings as you watch them arise and then pass on their own. And when you stop resisting what’s happening around you, you’ll gain a sense of liberation and trust in life.

Excerpts From Yoga Journal Article, Soothe Yourself, By Lisa Maria, Sequence by Sarah Powers


pratyahara

Pratyahara is situated directly in the middle of the eight limbs, its central position indicates that it is the point where the outer can become inner (and also the reverse). Pratyahara is the bridge limb that shows you how to use asana and pranayama to find dhyana and samadhi, how to use your postures for concentrating your mind, for accurately tuning in, for reading, and responding to your mental states.

Thus you can cultivate a more intimate relationship to your experience of sensation as a way inward towards concentration, towards buddhi, mental clarity, and thus towards self or individuation. Using your body and your breathing to change your relationship to the sensory information you receive helps you bring more mind, more psychology, more honesty and authenticity to your awareness and your self-reflection. You use these new dimensions, this new inner directed consciousness to find more accurate physical alignment that brings deeper significance, more beauty and more grounded weight to your postures and movement.

Lastly, one final unexpected gift from the fifth limb emerges from another less common translation of the word pratyahara: to recover the senses. To recover the senses as opposed to withdrawing them conveys a different flavor to pratyahara by suggesting that the senses are “lost” or somehow need to be re-found or reclaimed…

Sensual could then be an integral part of pratyahara, to cultivate your sensuality could mean to thoroughly apprehend and appreciate what you, your whole body, your nose, eyes, ears, heart, loins, and viscera takes in from the world as means of accurately reflecting soul in your depths and spirit in your aspirations. In fact purusa or spirit, the highest conception of samkhya yoga is also known as The Enjoyer. Who better than purusa to be essentially sensual, to consummately know and appreciate the myriad forms of creation by adopting the ultimate asana, the seat or the perspective of the supreme enjoyer, the one who takes it all in pure, bold, unashamed and unblemished enjoyment.

Excerpt From Elephant Journal Article, Pratyahara: Withdrawing The Senses And Truly Enjoying Your Yoga, By David Garrigues