Changing River

Just like the river...... you can never read the same book twice.

I purchased The Way of Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tzu) for a friend and thought back to the first time that I read that book, at about the age of twelve. Though I had no experience with Daoism or religious thought, observing 'how things are' and the natural flow that seems to exist within all life systems has always fascinated me, even before I knew how to describe or understand what I was seeing. Through the years, as I reread Zhuang Zi, different aspects stood out or fell into the shadows as life experience, insight, and the stages of life cast their light on the book. My life moved by like a river, and reading Zhuang Zi, so full of multiple layers of meaning, one layer would sprout, hiding another, coming back years later, like an micro-ecosystem. I realize now that a book is not a static learning tool but a living, teaching part of this world that moves with the stream. None of us can ever read the same book as each other, and none of us can ever read the same book twice. This is what makes like so beautiful and grand......change.



The Whole Universe Has it as Its Self

Hubble photo:Nasa

This portion of the Chandogya Upanisad from the Sama Veda details the character of atman or Being. I have always enjoyed reading this work and thought I would share small portions here, though there will be no original amendment, for the words of Svetaketu's father stand on their own.

[Once upon a time] there lived [a man called] Svetaketu Aruneya. To him his father said: "Svetaketu, you should [now] live the life of a chaste student of sacred knowledge. No one in our family, my dear boy, is uneducated, a [mere] hanger on, as you might say, of the Brahman class."
So at the age of twelve he went to [a master], and when, at the age of twenty-four, he had studied all the Vedas, he returned, conceited, priding himself on his learning, and obdurate.
Then his father said to him: "Svetaketu, my boy, since you are now conceited and obdurate, and pride yourself on your learning, did you also ask about that teaching by which had [hitherto] not been heard, is heard; what had [hitherto] not been known, is known?"
"Now, sir, what manner of teaching is that?"
"My dear boy, just as all that is made up of clay can be known by one lump of clay- its modifications are verbilizations, [mere] names- the reality is just 'clay-ness.'
"And dear boy, just as all that is made of copper can be known by one copper ornament-its modifications are veribilizations, [mere] names-the reality is just copper.......- so dear boy, is that teaching."
"Now, I am sure those venerable gentleman did not know this; for it they had known it why should they not have told me? Do you, sir, then, tell me."
"My dear boy, I will", said he.....

"As bees, dear boy, make honey by collecting the juices of many trees and reduce the juice to a unity, yet [those juices] cannot percieve any distinction there [so that any of them might know;] 'I am the juice of this tree', or "I am the juice of that tree', [so too], my dearest boy all these creatures [here], once they have merged into Being do not know that they have merged into Being.
"Whatever they are in this world, whether tiger or lion, wolf or boar, worm or moth, gnat or fly, that they become again.
"This finest essence- the whole universe has it as its Self: That is the Real: That is the Self: That you are, Svetaketu!"
"Good, sir, will you kindly instruct me further?"
"I will, my dear child" said he.

"[Look at] this great tree, my dear. If you were to strike at its root, it would bleed but live on; if you were to strike it in the middle, it would bleed but live on; if you were to strike it at the top, it would bleed but live on. Strengthened by the living Self, it still stands, drinking in the moisture and exulting.
"If life leaves one of its branches, it dries up; if it leaves a second, that too dries up; if it leaves a third, that too dries up. If it leaves the whole [tree], the whole [tree] dries up. This, my dear boy, is how you ought to understand it," said he.
"When the life has gone out of it, this [body] dies; [but] the life does not die.
"The finest essence - the whole universe has it as its Self: That is the Real: That is the Self: That you are, Svetaketu!"
"Good sir, will you kindly instruct me further?"
"I will, my dear child," said he.

"Just as a bird, tied to a string, will fly around in all directions and finding no resting-place anywhere else, will resort to the very [string] that keeps it captive, so too, my dear, the mind will fly around in all directions and, finding no resting-place anywhere else, will come to rest in the breath of life; for, my child, the mind is the captive of the breath of life."

"Bring me a fig from other there."
"Here you are, sir."
"Cut it open."
"[There it is,] cut open, sir."
"What do you see there?"
"These rather small seeds, sir."
"Would you, please, cut one of them up?"
"[Here is one,] cut up, sir."
"What do you see there?"
"Nothing at all, sir."
Then he said to him: "My dear boy, it is true that you cannot perceive this finest essence, but it is equally true that this huge fig tree grows up from this same finest essence.
"My dear child, have faith.
"This finest essence- the whole universe has it as its Self: That is the Real: That is the Self: That you are Svetaketu!"
"Good sir, will you kindly instruct me further?"
"I will, my dear child," said he.
Upanisad taken from:
Heehs, Peter Indian Religions: A Historical Reader of Spiritual Expression and Experience New York: New York University Press, 2002



Organic Opera

One Saturday a month I drive out to the organic grocery store to purchase a few hard-to-find vegetarian items. I had always imagined the organic grocery store as a peaceful sanctuary full of yoga practitioners, new-agers, Western Buddhists, massage therapists, and other spiritual followers, gathering together to buy wholesome foods and other items with a peaceful mind outside of the normal rush and chaos of the outside world. Surprise! The normal rush and chaos of the outside world would be scared of the frantic rush, agitated shoppers, menacing shopping baskets, assaulting shopping carts, angry glares, rude comments, impatient prances, and other similar behavior. The organic grocery store of Aventura, Florida could double as a zoo, where shoppers revert to primal behavior, wanting only to feed at all costs.
Today I was struck with at least two carts as I waited patiently for people to rush by and push me out of the way or reach around me or open the freezer door that stood directly in front of me. I was reminded that one should never have expectations, for the expectations will surely be broken, opening the door for suffering. Knowing this lesson well, this sort of behavior brings out no anger or impatience in me anymore, though that was not always the case. Careful to avoid as many bruises as possible, I gathered my groceries and asked, "What went wrong?"
In India, one will witness a very high level of devotion. One can imagine the millions of people who have chanted the same mantra and devoted themselves to the same images and worshipped at the same shrines. There is an insignificant nature to the individual aspect of religious pursuit when compared to the grand history. The wheel will turn when we leave.
In my opinion, the fundamental problem is the selfish nature in which the West approaches the spiritual path. While the mind thinks it is engaged in the true practice of a path, the seeds of that mind think, "how can I digest this religion or philosophy?" "When do I get to meet the Guru?"
At a recent mandala event, a woman arrived at the end of the four day event after the ceremonies had ended, glanced quickly at the surroundings, then asked the person at the desk, "how can I be blessed by the Rinpoche?"
This practice is much like the practice of hunting. While one man only sees the full majesty and beauty of the elephant while it walks, sleeps, and feeds in nature, the other man, the Western man, must impress himself upon the elephant. He shoots the elephant and puts the head upon his wall. He then feels that he has impressed himself upon this beauty. We know this is not true because before long he will feel empty and must find a new head for his wall, and no amount of heads will ever suffice.
Thus it is the same in the spiritual world. No amount of I will ever suffice. Collect all of the blessings, signatures of holy men, beads, books, pictures, relics, philosophies, rings, and theories, but all you will be left with is a room of lifeless heads. You will need new things to keep I satisfied. In Buddhist thought, there is the concept of the hungry ghost, constantly hungry but with a throat too small for food and water. Fill up the mouth with food, but the belly is always empty. I have great compassion for the hungry ghosts of Aventura, who strike out in anger and delusion only because of their hunger. Knowing this I take the bruises with a smile and hope that in kindness their throats might widen, their eyes might open, and wisdom might illuminate their souls.



Yoga In Our Age: Yoga Sutra of Patanjali

The word Yoga now invites images of soccer moms rushing to the local fitness center to catch a class in 'Power Yoga' in designer yoga clothes, on a designer yoga mat, with a celebrity yoga teacher. Every year, the number of Americans celebrating the power and effect of yoga grows (15 million accoring to Yoga Journal in 1994). Alas, poor Patanjali, writer of the Yoga sutras in the 3rd century CE would not recognize his yoga nor would he credit these active stretchers as yogis.

' This is teaching of Yoga.
Yoga is the cessation of the turning of thought.
When thought ceases, the spirit stands in its true identity as observer to the world.
Otherwise, the observer identifies with the turnings of thought...
Cessation of the turning of thought comes through practice and dispassion.
Practice is the effort to maintain the cessation of thought.'
-Yoga Sutra of Patanjali

Based within the philosophical system of Samkhya, the Yoga of Patanjali (to which little is known) emphasizes separating the connection from the phenomenon world, bringing an end to cittavrttis (turning of thought). Suffering (duhkha) is brought about by the connection between observer (purusa) with the observed (prakrti). Isolation from this connection, or kaivalya, leads to moksa, which is the yogic term for liberation.
The Astanga Yoga, or "Eight-limbed" Yoga of Patanjali leads the practitioners through eight successive stages, ending in liberation. The pervading conscious self must be separated from unconscious matter.

The Eighfold Path
1) Yama - Moral Principles



abjuration of stealing


absence of greed
We see in the very first limb that our fitness center yoga has not prepared us for the Yoga us Patanjali. How many of use practice nonviolent speech, thought and action? How many of us speak the truth at all times? Many studies suggest that most Americans lie to 1 in 3 people in a day. 1 in 3! Stealing does not mean breaking into a bank and stealing the money. Stealing is taking something that does not belong to us. If we go to work and our boss is not there, we might like to sit around and enjoy the time, speaking with our friends and surfing the internet (hopefully not this site!) . When we receive our paycheck, we have stolen money. We made a promise to work and we did not. As soon as our boss turned his back, we took the time to rest and play. This is taking something that does not belong to us. Celibacy is usually redefined as the avoidance of sexual misconduct in most modern religious practices. Greed is to fulfil our desire; to complete our attachment. Many go to a yoga studio to "tone" their bodies or "lose a few pounds." Life is an endless sinking and rising of our sea life to be a showcase for the world, as we begin starvation diets, swallow green tea in pills instead of taking the time to brew it, hate ourselves for failing to measure up to a social standard that is an illusion and that is meant to keep the mind engaged. There can be no appeasement to the god of greed. His fire always burns.

2) Niyama- Observances

Most of these are outside of the experience of the West. They include: Bodily purification, contentment [no more listening to, "Oh Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz"], ascetic practice, study of sacred lore, and dedication to Lord of Yoga (not Baron Baptiste)

3) Asana- Postures

Asana are not mindless stretching exercises. We can say that we are adapting "Yoga to the West" but when we take the mind out of the practice, we take the yoga out as well. A local Miami paper printed an ad for a stitching/sewing company with a line: "It's yoga for the mind." There is little wonder that most will gravitate towards their bodies in the practice of yoga, especially in the west, where the colorful media convince us that self-oriented attachment, making ourselves a showcase for others desire, is the highest virtue. We must always remember the goal of yoga is to separate the conscious self from the unconscious matter, not engage ourselves in the mirror and admire our contours or admonish our faults. We should choose not to play this foolish game.

4) Pranayama- breath control

Pranayama and asana go hand in hand and the above apply here.

5) Pratyahara- Withdrawal of the senses

When our senses come in contact with an object, there is a response. If we desire further contact with that object, the internal neural and chemical process grows stronger. In time, this process is like the well worn tracks of the donkey cart that have etched into the mud for miles and this track must be used with little choice. The only real hope is to withdrawal the senses and stop this neural and chemical response from occurring, rebuild the system, and when the system is ready, it can return to the world without as much risk of harm or attachment.

6) Dharana - Concentration

Thought is narrowed to a single-point.

7) Dyhana - Meditation

Here the idea is the focus the mind onto one wave of thought, unifying mind and body, and preventing all outside and other inside influences from providing distraction.

8) Samadhi - Pure Contemplation

At the highest level we realize that we cannot use thought to realize thought, for another thought is needed. Pure awareness must be used at this stage. When pure awareness is realized, moksa can be gained.

"Since thought is an object of perception, it cannot illuminate itself.
Nor can both thought and its objects be comprehended simultaneously.
If a thought is the object of another thought, there is an infinite regression from intelligence to intelligence, and a confusion of memory.
Awareness of its own intelligence occurs when thought assumes the form of the spirit through consciousness that leaves no trace...
One who sees the distinction between the lucid quality of nature and the observer ceases the cultivate a personal reality."

In the end, the world will be what it is of our own choosing. It can be discouraging to see how far off the path Western Yoga has fallen. However, we may learn the asana in our local yoga class, all the while adhering to all eight limbs of Patanjali's yoga. When we press our hands onto the mat there must be an attempt to unify breath and body. At the later stages we seek to separate the observer from the observed. There will not be a time when the true or false nature of another path will enter our minds, and if it does, we will let it go. The path is inward until there is no path to be found.

In the Miami area, I am aware of a studio in which all of the instructors must study the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, a Sanskrit scholar is on staff, and the classes are said to be of the highest quality. I have never been to one of these classes nor do I have any affiliation with the studio but will provide a link due to the relevance to the above post.
Heeds, Peter Indian Religions: A Historical Reader of Spiritual Expression and Experience New York: New York University Press, 2002



One Finger from the Fishbowl

'O Thou Divine Sankara,
Thou art the Subject,
That has Knowledge
Of Subject and object.
Let the subject in me be destroyed
as subject and object.
For thus in my mind arises
The Light as the Single Siva.'
-Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharishi

How strange that many people spend an entire lifetime contemplating which t.v. actor is dating which movie star and which phone has Bluetooth (whatever that is), or which pair of jeans make them look fat, but spend not a second on questions such as, "What happens between material cause and material effect" or "Where is my mind?" I asked a bilingual co-worker, half-joking, if she sneezed in Spanish or English. Realizing that a thing as simple as a sneeze lies outside of the Subject-Object mind of language, it can actually be the first taste of what lies beyond the curtains we have put over our true minds, a taste of the ineffable. From where do thoughts arise? An easy way to see how the mind fools us is with the movement of the finger. We all know that the impulse to move the finger comes from the mind.
Being that simple, use your mind to bend your finger.... Sounds simple enough. I don't ask you to simply bend your finger. That impulse appears to occur within the finger itself. I ask you to use a thought and make your finger move. It is, after all, YOUR finger. When you are thinking words and thoughts to yourself, you will find that the thinking seems to come from the inside the skull, and that is where the thought to move the finger should originate. It is your mind, and noone else's. If you can't control your finger, what can you control?
There is a very good reason why the thought to move the finger does not originate with a conscious thought such as "Hey, finger... get moving!" Imagine that we rest our hand on a red-hot stovetop burner. If the hand must wait for the conscious thought- "This burner is quite hot. I must remove my hand now," -to move, we would all walk around with toasted hands. Nature has decided that it is best for us not to control everything consciously, but let some things run from the more primitive, mammalian, instinctive brain- a brain that might just save your life with quick instinct and reaction.
The problem is that this "routing" that takes place for the finger and that simplifies things is that it also has a large effect on our cognitive mind, therefore on how we see the world and frame our reality. [I hope to gradually introduce more cognitive science as a way to understand the difficulties of the spiritual path from the Western perspective]
We all have formed a very silly view of the world, with a "reality" far from anything close to true logic. We always run the chance that the cognitive brain will "misfire" when we trust in it. Logic can be seen as the fish in the fishbowl, declaring that the earth is round and only holds about 2 gallons of water. When the mind is defiled, any sight or sound, cognized thought or theory, will also be defiled. Our skull is a fishbowl.
The method of cognition is what we must restructure to break this fishbowl, one neural network at a time. Do not be concerned with the mechanism or processes too greatly for this only serves to further bind the mind to the illusions of form, feeling, and mental volitions that have been secured. The path out of this maze was found long ago.
What is truly amazing is that the ascetics of many of the world's traditions understood the illusory nature of conventional reality and found a way to awaken the mind to the ultimate nature without understanding the quantum world or neuroscience. Even today, where science remains in the field of the observer, the ascetic stands alone. As an observer, duality is always present and theory can never unify with being. The scientist himself can be the great new discovery as man learns how to explore newfound knowledge within the power of the mind. While I enjoy reading papers by Einstein, Schrodinger, and Heisenberg, there was another man who spoke of the relativity of time that I prefer to spend more time with, who can not only speak of theory, but help to "crack the bowl." His name: Nagarjuna (no Nobel Prize)