Saturday 4 July 2009

Student Essays Teacher Training 2009 author Tatiana

Buddhism and Yoga
The power of the mind

I have been practicing Buddhism for 9 years now and since the beginning of the Yoga Teacher Training, I have been astonished at the similarities with the Buddhist philosophy. I originally wanted to do my last essay on the Power of Imagination/Mind in Yoga and realized that there was another field in which I experimented each day the power of the mind: in Buddhism. So I thought why not draw the similarities between both of these philosophies! "As we think so we are". Both Yoga and Buddhism teaches us what the mind is truly made of and how to use it in order to create our lives based on faith, devotion, assiduous practise, studies and a new relationship to our True Self, our True Nature, One that is in all of us and in everything. In Buddhism, the mind/spirit and the heart are the same word and "we must be the master of our hearts and not let the heart be the master".

Buddhism was founded by who is known as Shakyamuni Siddhartha. He was the son of a very rich and noble man in India who wanted at any cost to protect his son from the miseries of the world. Therefore he grew up in a palace surrounded by beauty, luxury and abundant private tutors. At the age of 18, he managed to escape from the palace and left through the East door, he saw a very old woman and witnessed aging for the first time. At the South door, he saw a woman giving birth and the pain she was going through. At the West door, he witnessed a sick man. At the North door he saw a man dying. From there sprang what would become his life quest: what are the causes of the sufferings of birth, sickness, aging and death. He left his palace and started his journey. He first decided to be an ascetic and left all worldly possessions behind, meditated, fasted and lived with only a piece of cloth around his waist. In the forests he discovered the mysteries of the spirit, how to control his body, how to quiet his mind. A lot of his first teachings were based on this first part of his life. Then he realized that it was a bit selfish to feel great all by himself so he decided to go back into the world to teach others to find peace and happiness.
"The challenge is to practice Yoga and still live in society. This would be reflected in the Hinayana and Mahayana schools of Buddhism, the first of which preached salvation for the self alone, and the second which denounced this as fundamentally selfish, and espoused delaying your self-liberation and working for the people around you, to give back and pass on some of your good fortune." The Seer and the Self

His teachings are recorded under a numerous amount of Sutras. From those different Sutras sprang many different Buddhisms. As there are many branches in Yoga, so are there many branches of Buddhism. The one I practice is based on the Lotus Sutra, his last teaching, and belongs to the Mahayana schools of Buddhism. The first sentence of the Lotus Sutra is "Then the Thus Come One awakened form his Samadhi and addressed his audience…" Samadhi is the last of the 8 limbs of Yoga and the aim of the Yogi: total communion with All that is, Oneness with all creation. Already  Yoga and Buddhism are associated from the very beginning of the Lotus Sutra! In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni says that what he has to expose now is his essential teaching and that it will be very difficult to understand. He basically announces that everybody regards him as The Buddha, but that everyone is a Buddha! Buddha means "the awakened one", the "Thus Come one" "the enlightened one", but awakened to what? Enlightened to what? Become one with what?! He says to all the bodhisattvas and to all the Buddha's from the Ten Directions that they think that he is a Buddha here and now but in fact he has been here many lives ago and has been a Buddha since the beginning of time. That everyone has the state of Buddhahood inherent in his life and that the difference between them and him is that he knows that and they don't. The only difference between a Buddha and a mortal is the knowledge of Being a Buddha! Some people in the audience were outraged. At that time some had more privilege than others and the idea that all were equals disturbed them, and so they left. Shakyamuni was glad for he said there was no room for the arrogant. What he exposed in this Sutra was a revolutionary idea and very hard to understand indeed! He said, "We are all Buddhas". He wanted everyome to understand the impermanence of all phenomena and liberate people from the sufferings linked to egotistical attachments to things that are by nature transitory. In the Yoga Sutras, Sutra 1:3 "Then the Seer abides in his own nature", "Then" meaning at the time of meditation, "the Seer" is the True You, the True Self, the Knower, The One that Sees, "abides in his own nature" meaning to dwell in his True Self, which in the end means that we are the Seer. We are that infinite being inside. We are not our body or mind, but we are the Self which permeates in everything. And that concept is the same as being a Buddha ourselves.

The Buddhism I practise was founded by Nichiren Daishonin. A Japanese priest in the 13th century, He was a simple fisherman's son. He decided at the age of 12 that he would be enlightened and proceed to become a monk. He studied his whole life and discovered that the Lotus Sutra revealed the ultimate truth that we are all Buddhas. The Lotus Sutra is also the only Sutra saying that women are equals with men. The Lotus Sutra says that embracing "even a single phrase" or the title of the Lotus Sutra would bring out its entire meaning and lead people to enlightenment. Nichiren then practiced himself reciting his devotion to the Lotus Sutra in the mantra "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo". Which means Nam= Namaste "I devote myself to", Myoho means the Mystic Law, the eternity of Life, Renge the Lotus and it also means Cause and Effect  (in reference to the Lotus flower growing in the mud and as it is blooming sending seeds in the water for another flower to grow), and Kyo means Sutra or chanting or a thread. So it means "I devote myself to the mystic Law of cause and effect of the Sutra by chanting" and is also the title of the Lotus Sutra with Nam in front of it, so " I devote myself to the Lotus Sutra". And so this mantra was passed on since the 13th century by priests and later by layman. The belief is that by reciting this mantra you recite the entire Sutra and reveal Buddhahood inherent in your Self. It means that the divine is in everything and that there is nothing more precious than life and that each life (sentient or insentient beings) is owed utmost respect. It is about the inseparability of the self and it's environment, which are one. It is about not looking for happiness (or unhappiness) outside ourselves. We are entirely responsible for our life, our happiness and understanding the True Nature of All Phenomenon. According to Buddhism, the True Nature of all Phenomenons is divine and eternal. If we understand that life is divine and eternal and life is in us, we are life, therefore we are divine and eternal. There is no separation between life and death; it's the eternity of life with its cycles of creation and destruction and creation again. Therefore there shouldn't be any attachment for all that passes which keeps on living.

Shakyamuni said, " We are born to be Happy and Free and help others do the same". This is the goal of the practice. The goal is peace in the world and the happiness of all living beings, including plants, animals, and rocks. We cannot be satisfied with our own happiness alone since we are connected to all. So we need to work towards the happiness of others to be free. In any way that we want, by doing something we are happy to do, by fulfilling our Dharma (duty, what we are here to do), by being selfless and thinking of the greatest good of all. Serving others is like serving our higher self. In Yoga, the true goal is also about serving humanity or God. Total self-surrender. Samadhi Siddhir Isvara Pranidhanat (Sutra 2:45) "By total surrender to God, Samadhi is attained". Isvara Pranidhanam is a life of dedication, of offering everything to the Lord or Humanity. It is not about our well being only. It is about understanding our minds and how it gets in the way of seeing our true Divine Nature and helping others discover it, though "Self Mastery".

In my practise, reciting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo also helps focus the mind and sees it's ever-changing nature and how this is not who we are. Who we are is a Buddha, the Seer, the Knower, and the "Thus Come One". It is about accessing the eternal life inside. It is about transformation, as we get closer to knowing our Self. Just as in Yoga, it is about self-reformation. In the yoga Sutra 1:4, the commentaries say "By changing our minds we change everything […] By correcting our vision we correct everything […] That's why Yoga is based on self-reformation, self-control and self-adjustment" It is about our actions. It is about Karma. Karma means action. With every action, word and thought we plant a seed that will have an effect so we are responsible for what we plant. Just as in Yoga we can change everything NOW. Sutra 1:1, 4:9, 4:10 and 4:11 explain that the only way to change our Samskara, or "habits of the mind" is by choosing to change it now, it not, they will always be there since there is no beginning and no end, the only way to change is to do it NOW. And so how great it is to be here?!  We can change our ways of seeing the world around and inside of us. By changing inside, we can even see the world change around us. In Buddhism, there is another revolutionary concept, which is called ishinen sanzen. It means "3000 worlds in one moment" which really means that one doesn't have to wait life after life on order to become a Buddha, but one can be a Buddha in one instant Just by realizing it. By choosing. By changing the cause now, the effect can also happen in the now!

In Buddhism, there are 3 poisons, which cloud the human being: they are ignorance, anger and greed. Ignorance means ignoring our Buddha nature or true self, anger is considered to be a way of putting all the causes of our unhappiness outside ourselves, and greed, well, is quite self-explanatory!  But greed is also about not taking too much because then you take away from others. In Yoga there are 5 afflictions: Ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred and clinging to bodily life. They are the same! Ignorance is ignorance of the true Self. Egoism comes from only thinking about ourselves (not understanding that we and others are One (Self), attachment comes from being attached to the ego's selfish pleasure, hatred comes when people try to take away what we are attached to and then we become afraid of losing our body (we are attached to it).  We become afraid of death- the ultimate attachment. In Buddhism, we learn that if we understand death then we understand everything. This is not an easy concept to grasp! Buddhism teaches that life and death are part of Life. Life is like a big ocean. Our life is a wave rising and in death the wave goes back into the ocean, the big Ocean of Life is eternal. But it doesn't mean "oh so we can do whatever we want if we keep coming back over and over..."  On the contrary, Buddhism teaches also that we choose to come back, for it is only through our body, though being alive that we can grow, evolve and reach Buddhahood. Therefore life is the most precious thing. Nam Myoho Renge Kyo really means Life. And to me is an invocation to Life. In Yoga also, it is through the body, though our practise that we can touch that place connecting us to our True Self, to our Divine nature. The body then is sacred for it is the means through which we can be enlightened.
The most powerful concept for me when I first started to practise was that we CREATE our life. Entirely. The "good" and the "bad", everything we create is to make us grow, to show us our strength, our innate wisdom, our courage to overcome obstacles. When I first started chanting, I was very much a victim of my circumstances. When I first recited the mantra, I felt inside like I was "home". And I didn't even know what I was saying. I just went for it and my life started to change radically, in ALL aspects. Fist of all, it started to change from the outside but then slowly a revolution was happening inside! And of course with it came a LOT of resistance. Because we are attached to our stories and shortcomings and pain, I had to slowly peal myself like an onion and the layers were tough and it hurt a lot. But I thought hurt for hurt I might as well hurt towards a more truthful life. In Sutra 1:30, the yoga sutra talks about the obstacles in the way of the yogi and the comments say "Yoga practise is like an obstacle race; many obstructions are purposely put on the way for us to pass through. They are there to make us understand and express our own capacity. We seem to be challenged in order to understand our own capacities. That is the natural law."  The very same concept is in Buddhism. Actually we are taught to THANK our obstacles. To be grateful for challenges because they are there to make us evolve! And so I kept chanting.

Then came the studying. In Buddhism, just as in Yoga, Faith, Practice and Study cannot exist one without the other. They are inseparable. With the studying came the understanding. The 3 roles of a Buddhist are to be a Parent, Teacher and Sovereign for Peace and Happiness of all. Which translates today  meaning: being a Parent doesn't mean to have a child but to consider every person as if they were like your children, caring and loving them with the same love you would have for your own child, with the same desire to pass on, educate and lead them towards their happiness; Teacher means what to teach what you know with all your heart, just as in Yoga. Teaching requires an incredible amount of humility, courage and selfless attitude. Being a Sovereign means to be the King and Queen of our own lives, not expecting anyone to change anything around us not to expect a president or a boss or anyone to change the world for us or our job, environment or anything because WE can change it.  Like Gandhi said "Be the change you want to see".  Buddhism teaches that if we change, so will our environment. That is a key concept. I think sometimes we are also afraid to change because somehow we know our lives will change and that might mean "losing" someone, something or even an idea we had of what succeeding in life means. And so our resistance to change comes also from the fear to lose. And so comes also the fear to succeed. And I know what I am talking about!  I am very afraid to lose. Actually this is unconsciously my biggest fear. I always thought I would be homeless one day… As one of my teachers said to me "you really are afraid to succeed".  And for the first time in my life I dare to say that I want to succeed. But not in the sense of "succeeding" like a social standing, but as in no longer being afraid. And I am ever so grateful for that insight!

Another common point is about desires, which involves non-attachment. In Buddhism, we learn that desire leads to enlightenment. Because we cannot not have desires! Because we have desires, we also dig deeply inside of ourselves to find ways to get what we want. And when we do that, we sometimes realize that what we wanted was not good for us, we let it go, and often realize that when we want something much greater than our wants, than everything starts harmonizing to help us get there! In Yoga Sutra 1:15, which talks about the mastery of craving for objects seen or heard about, the commentaries say " is it possible to be desireless? No. Actually it is not possible. But the secret is that any desire without any personal or selfish motive will never bind you. Why? Because the pure, selfless desire has no expectation whatsoever, so it knows no disappointment no matter what the result. […} The more you serve, the more happiness you enjoy. Such a person knows the secret of life."

In Yoga Sutra 1:32, the commentaries explain that what is important behind any idea or mantram is the Goal. The mantram is a symbol but what is important is the goal behind. So if the goal is Oneness with all, that is happiness of the self and others, peace, then that is the goal of my practice, both in Yoga and Buddhism. Ultimately it is for every single person to realize his true Self, his true nature, and his own self-mastery toward his own happiness. The goal in Buddhism is also not to sit in one's corner enjoying our self-realization but to never separate daily life from spirituality. Which means that everything we do, we do in order to pursue our goal. There is no separation. We need to apply respect for life, dialogue, perseverance, remembering our responsibility in everything happening and continue striving for happiness and serving others every single minute of the day. Whether at work, at home, in the streets. In Yoga also, the practice goes beyond doing the asanas, applying the ethical principles of yoga, it is about living it every day, in everything we do, serving God, Humanity, our True Self which is everything.

 I have found in both Yoga and Buddhism the perfect union of Ying and Yang inside of me. Buddhism alone is so strict that it played the role of a father in my life.  Yoga plays the role of the mother for me as it fills me with spiritual softness. I wanted to find my Dharma when I started this training. I don't know if I could say for sure what it is, but I know for sure that I want to serve. I want to serve so that others can find their true Self, that Divine eternal nature existing in all things and all beings. With a higher consciousness of that, how can there ever be any war? How can you hurt yourself or others if you know we are all One? How can we not love and serve each other for the greatest good if we understand that? It is my goal and I will humbly accept the tasks that come with it. Yoga is one of them, to do everything with that in mind. And keep learning always.

"Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, At all the times you can, to all the souls you can, As long as ever you can."  -John Wesley

May your troubles be less, your fortune more, and may nothing but happiness, come through your door. -Joy Sanchez

Only the heart truly matters. -Nichiren Daishonin


The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Sri Swami Satchidananda
The Lotus Sutra translated by Burton Watson
The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin
The Seer and the Self by A.Nangia

Student Essays Teacher Training author Maria

Let's twist!

''This sadhana is not something esoteric or mysterious. It is simply a way of awakening knowledge about ourselves.''*

I never really liked twists. And I did not know why and did not ask myself why. When I heard the instruction 'twist /turn to your right/left' during a yoga class, I got blocked. Twisting was a torture for me.

Twists are first and foremost about the spine. If you are 'blessed' with a disc injury, like myself, you are certainly  forced to pay more attention to your spine. Now I consider myself lucky to have that injury because from mere pain it transformed itself to a learning process. I had to learn about my relation to my body, to pain and to my practice. And I also had to learn about twists because they are considered to be the 'cure for lower back pains, lumbago and they help to have a healthy spine in general'.

Why are we afraid of performing certain asanas? Why are we afraid of performing anything at all in life? I think, first of all, we are afraid of the unknown and of finding out about our own limitations. This applies to our life in general and also to yoga. Regular practice and yoga studies have taught me that knowing more about asanas helps us to understand more about ourselves too. The relation between practitioner and yoga definitely profits form a regular practice. When we learn more about an asana or certain type of asanas (like forward bend, back bends or twists) our fear slowly diminishes and in the long run we even get to like them. The more you taste it, the more you like it!

What certainly counts in liking an asana is doing it well. To do it well does not mean that we have to do it perfectly but to do it with concentration (ekagrata) and with breath. If you allow your own breath (prana) to penetrate your body during a posture, it creates space and you can almost 'float' into that pose. Movement becomes easier, it happens naturally with the rhythm of your breath.

In twists, it is extremely important to create space in the spine to allow to twist it. Space is created in the vertebrae by elongating the spine before and by deep breaths during the twist. This perhaps seems obvious but we do not always follow attentively our teacher's instructions. Sometimes it is the obvious which is not heard because we are more occupied by other thoughts… But then we really miss out on something  because without the elongation we cannot twist much and we become stiff. We also have to anchor our hips to have a solid base for the twisting spine (both, in seated and standing twists).

If we set ourselves up so with a mindful alignment, we are ready to twist. (Of course we could talk more about alignment; the relationship between head and shoulders and shoulders and hips, for example.) The immediate benefit we feel with twist is that they are really relaxing because they effect the parasympathetic nervous system. By compressing the abdominal organs, in the long run, we benefit from a detoxification of the body without any strain. Furthermore, they are definitely beneficial in the process of curing  back problems (lumbago, slipped discs) and helping to keep the spine healthy.

Twists have other then physiological benefits. I have pointed out these so far, because I think they are more felt by most people at first. When I started feeling the benefits of twists on my own body I started liking them. The more I incorporated them in my daily practice, the more I liked them.

Twists effect the vayus, the animating force of prana. They touch the Apana (pelvic floor), Samana (navel, abdominal area), Prana (heart area) and Udana (collar bones and throat area) regions in the body along with the Svadisthtana (base of the spine), Manipura (navel, solar plexus), Anahata (heart) and Vishuddha (throat) chakras. (I have to mention, that the Prana Vayus** have several different interpretation in yoga literature, regarding their place in the body and their functions.  Here, I'm using one of them.) Of course, these can vary from asana to asana. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika defines one of the aims of yoga to draw Prana (+energy) and Apana (- energy) together in the Samana (neutral) region and merge the energy of these two vayus. When they are brought together in the Manipura Chakra (Samana region) '' there is an explosion of energy and the energy forces its way through the Shushumna Nadi '' (p. 84). That's what can happen in Matsyendrasana according the HYP. When the 'vital capacity of Manipura' is increased, Kundalini wakes up and can rise up in the Shushumna Nadi***.

If one can experience the physiological benefits of an asana, one may experience the spiritual benefits also. However, the spirituality of an asana is probably less obvious than its physical aspects. In my personal experience, all asanas have a certain spirituality or rather emotional or mental effects. However, at this stage of my practice, I have to truly admit, that I have experienced little spirituality of an asana (here, twists) and this does not happen all the time. Nonetheless, during a twist practice, I feel more centred and more close to 'True Self' or 'Purusha', if you like, and this is one of the  spiritual aspects of twists. I am content with what  twisting practices have given me so far and I am patiently waiting for more. If twists will help me with untying 'the knots and problems of life', they are welcome. If they simply cure my back problem, that's fine too. Recalling the beginning, if "it is simply a way of awakening knowledge about ourselves'" that is great.

The beauty of yoga is that is a continuous learning process which includes welcoming new experiences and letting go of attachments, pains, Samskaras****.  I am not scared any more of twists and I am not afraid of snakes either, though I have not yet tamed them. Kundalini? It may arise one day.       


*the quotation is from Coulter, H. David: Anatomy of Hatha Yoga;
Tapasvi Baba, from a lecture given at the Himalayan Institute 
Prana Vayus**:  Current pranic air. Prana: smallest unit of energy; vayu: force or wind. 
Shushumna Nadi***: Main energy channel in the body along the spine between Muhladara and Ajna chakras. Ida Nadi on the left, Pingala Nadi on its right cross the Shushumna Nadi.
Samskaras**** : Memories, habits, emotions stored, imprinted in body and mind. 

Iyengar, B.KS., Light On Yoga; Schocken Books, 1966
Hatha Yoga Pradipika, commentary by Swami Muktibodhananda; Bihar School of Yoga, 1998
TT of Yoga du Marais handout on twist