Posts tagged ‘bhagavad gita’

Spiritual Teachings of Yoga

 

After the success of The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius, Hodder and Stoughton  commissioned me to write 4 more books on philosophy and spirituality. After writing a book on Seneca, my then partner Jo Manuel suggested I write a book on Yoga philosophy. This was a subject that I had never found easy to penetrate, partly because of so many Sanskrit terms, and partly because of the alien (to the western mind) nature of the philosophy’s expression and ideas. . But Jo, a yoga therapist,  said she would work with me on the book. So we plowed ahead and the book was published in 2003.  It has been in constant publication since then, and is especially popular with yoga student teachers, who often need to study yoga philosophy but find it as difficult to understand as I did. The book is a readable, accessible and sometimes surprising account of yoga philosophy, touching on practice as well as some history. The book also includes the Yoga Sutras, some Upanishads and a section of the Bhagavad Gita.

Looking recently at the book’s listing on Amazon.com I was heartened by a number of reviews of the book. Here are a few:

First of all, I did not need to be practicing physical yoga in order to find this book enlightening. (I have had yoga classes but mainly focus on one position each day that relieves a cranky back.) The focus is on living the spiritual life. I am currently reading the selections from the Upanishads that are a part of this book. They touch my heart and my soul and teach me what living and loving are truly about, and the unimportance of material things. While reading and meditating on Yoga Masters, “earth’s vain shadows flee”, and I am reminded of the oneness of all things. Starting each morning with this book has truly added richness and meaning to my daily life.

This book ROCKS! I totally agree with the reviewer before me. This is a great book for someone who has done some yoga and loves it and is ready to move into the spiritual side of yoga. Truly amazing and has completely changed my life. The writers have written this book with perfect simplicity and grace. A very easy read, yet encompasses everything quickly and neatly.

My favorite yoga instructor loaned me this and one other (Heart of Yoga) when I expressed an interest in learning more about the “whole picture” vs. just asanas. Am purchasing my own copy after spending time letting the various texts sink in. If you are looking for a deeper, readable resource try this one.

I can’t believe no one else has reviewed this yet! Despite the cheesy title, this is a bona fide invaluable resource, especially for those who do postures, but are unfamiliar with Hindu philosophy. The first half of the book is a basic introduction to yoga philosophy. The second half, believe it or not, consists of ample selections from the Upanishads, as well as the entire texts of the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, all translated into contemporary English with no complicated sanskrit terms—all in this tight little compact paperback. For such a small price, don’t pass up this bargain!

 

It’s a lovely feeling to know that a book we created 15 years ago has touched and helped so many readers.

 

 

 

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June 1, 2018 at 9:23 am Leave a comment

A Spiritual Almanack – June: Radiance

Hexagram 30: Brightness

Fire

over

Fire

The sun illuminates the sky while our inner illumination is the radiance of self-awareness, spreading thoughts and feelings from our deep heart’s core to the endless expanse of the universe.

The projects we start in spring begin to develop and blossom in summer. How can we nurture them so that they continue growing and do not fail prematurely? What we mustn’t do is to give way to doubts and anxiety and try too hard to help things grow. What we mustn’t do is to give way to doubts and anxiety and try too hard to help things grow, like the story of the famous Chinese farmer,

When the family sat down to dinner, the grandfather was missing, and his grandson reported that he was in the fields ‘helping the rice to grow’.

When the family rushed out to the paddies they saw how the old man was helping the rice to grow: by pulling on the rice stalks, tearing out their roots.

The Taoist way of acting is to act without acting, and this is called wu-wei. It means not interfering, and has been translated as non-striving, not trying, or doing nothing. It is a principle of the Tao, as the Tao Te Ching says,

The Tao does nothing

And yet nothing is left undone.

How can things get done when there is no doing? Wu wei does not mean literally doing nothing, but it implies not forcing things, being willing to sit back and watch as things develop naturally by themselves before making a move, rather than jumping in nervously and disturbing them. We must give up the sense that we can control things; all we can do is what needs to be done, and to let go at that point, trusting in the power of nature and the universe.

Vanda Scaravelli teaches that we can practise yoga with action in non-action, doing the asanas without the slightest effort.

Movement is the song of the body. Yes, the body has its own song from which the movement of dancing arises spontaneously.. In other words the liberation of the upper part of the body produced by the acceptance of gravity in the lower part of the body is the origin of lightness and dancing is its expression. This song, if you care to listen to it, is beauty. We could say that it is part of nature. We sing when we are happy and the body goes with it like waves in the sea.

We often believe that someone must be sitting in silence in the middle of a mountain retreat before we can say he or she is practising non-action. But taking no action does not mean folding one’s arms and closing one’s mouth. If we are simply content to let everything act by itself, then all things will be contented with their own nature and develop on their own. If we only embrace Tao and cherish simplicity, and allow everything to run its maximum course, then the world will naturally be contented with itself.

The idea that all things are accomplished without our control is described in the Bhagavad Gita when Krishna tells of the three gunas, or forces of nature,

The forces of nature are three: sattva, the light, clear, and serene harmony of pure intelligence and goodness; rajas, the fiery restless energy of anger, hatred, greed and lust; and tamas, the darkness of dullness and inertia.

Although the harmonious force of sattva is pure, giving light and health without obstructions, it still binds your mind through an attachment to happiness and knowledge. The restless active force of rajas is of the nature of passion, creating a thirst for acquiring worldly things and thus leading to the bondage of selfish attachment and compulsive behaviour. The dark lethargic force of tamas arises out of ignorance and deludes all creatures, binding them to sleepy dullness, carelessness and laziness.

Sattva binds you to happiness, rajas binds you to incessant activity, while tamas leads to confused thinking and bad judgement. The light harmonious Sattva is dominant when the light of wisdom shines from all the gates of the body. When the fiery Rajas is dominant, we see greedy behaviour, busy activity, restlessness, discontentment and desire. When the dark Tamas is dominant, there is a disinclination to act, ignorance, laziness, delusion and confusion.

The yogis who understand that the forces of nature are only the actors in the drama of life and can transcend Nature, attain the Supreme. When a yogi goes beyond the three forces of nature which constitute her mortal body, she enters into immortality, free from the cycles of birth and death. She is aware that the forces of Nature are merely playing their part, so she is able to be unperturbed by changing conditions, remaining steady and unmoved. She dwells in her inner Self, viewing pain and pleasure alike, seeing stones or gold or earth as one and the same, maintaining equanimity in the midst of pleasure and pain. She is beyond praise and blame and keeps a steady and quiet mind. For her honour or disgrace is the same; and she has the same love for her enemies as for her friends. Surrendering all selfish actions, she has gone beyond the three forces of Nature.

We need to find a way of inner silence and peace that will allow us to trust the universe enough to let it dictate what happens, and not to force the world to fulfil our demands. This is what the Tao Te Ching means when it says,

Attaining utter emptiness,

maintaining single-minded stillness,

as things act together,

I thereby watch their return.

By maintaining stillness and emptiness, we trust that the world will support and sustain us. This kind of stillness transforms our striving mind into a perfect mirror, which reflects life perfectly, but doesn’t attempt to grasp anything. It becomes like a still lake high up in the mountains on a clear day, its surface unruffled by wind or rain.

Chuang Tzu explains:

Heaven does nothing, and so maintains its serenity.

Earth does nothing, and so it has its peace.

By the union of these two non-ac­tive forces, everything is produced.

How vast and imperceptible is this process!

Things seem to come from nowhere!

How imperceptible and vast!

We can’t begin to see it!

All things in all their variety grow from this inaction.

Hence the saying, “Heaven and Earth do nothing, and yet there is nothing that remains undone.”

But can we find anyone who trusts the universe enough to live according to “doing nothing”?

June 1, 2016 at 10:38 am Leave a comment

A Spiritual Almanack- May: Flourishing

Hexagram 46: Growing Upward

 

Earth over Wood.

Wood grows up from the earth,

An image of flourishing.

In correspondence with this,

The superior person cultivates his virtue,

Accomplishes small things

And evolves to a higher level.

 

Karma is a mysterious path.

May 1st – Mayday- used to be the day created by the workers to celebrate their unity and solidarity. But now that almost all of us are workers (or self employed), we no longer feel there is anything to celebrate. For many of us work has become a drudgery, a form of indentured slavery that we must perform to make money to pay for our daily needs; a kind of curse, without joy, without pleasure, without satisfaction, without meaning. It is rarely performed as an end in itself, but as a means to an end.

The Bhagavad Gita presents a yogic view of work that is radically different than our contemporary view. The yogic view of work is called karma yoga, and is a transforming vision of how to live. If we could follow its teachings we would create a revolution in the way we think of ourselves, our actions, our relationship to others, and to the world, and this would reinvest our lives with deep meaning and purpose. The Gita shows us how to transform work from a mundane and deadening activity to a form of spiritual teaching and inner evolution.

In the Gita Krishna, a God who is the incarnation of the Hindu Trinity – the gods Brahma the creator, Siva the destroyer and Vishnu the preserver – teaches the warrior Arjuna about spiritual duty and the search for spiritual freedom. In this dialogue Krishna makes the clearest statement about karma yoga, the yoga of selfless action,

Do your work, but don’t go looking for any benefits from the results. Don’t be motivated by the fruits of your actions, but you must never become inactive either. Do your work in the peace of Yoga, free from selfish desires, not moved by success or failure. Yoga is evenness of the mind, a peace that is always steady.

Work done for reward is much lower than work done through the Yoga of wisdom. Take refuge in wisdom, because those who are motivated by the rewards of their work are to be pitied. With this wisdom and stillness of mind, we can go beyond good and evil. So practise yoga, for yoga is perfection in action.

Looked at in this way, work can be an evolutionary process by which a human being progresses towards a state of being which is at one with a greater purpose, which we call the divine, or God, or Tao, or the Spirit. This aspect of the divine is not a stranger to us, as it lives within our inmost core as our deepest self, and the aim of yoga is to allow it to emerge and flourish so that it can inform our very consciousness. Karma yoga is a process of spiritual evolution.

Karma yoga calls on us to perform the ordinary activities of life, but to remain detached from their fruits or results. It asks us to concentrate only on the act itself, operating solely in the moment, considering each act as an end in itself, and not motivated by future results.

If a person’s reason is unwavering, and she is free from the desire for the results of action, she is liberated from the limiting aspects of actions performed while being attached to the objects of sense.

The unenlightened do things with attachment to results. The enlightened, however, do things with the same energy but without attachment, and so guide others on the path of selfless action.

The modern view of karma yoga is of selfless action undertaken for the good of others. But this is not the way the ancient Gita sees it. To be truly selfless does not mean to be altruistic, since actions undertaken for ends, even good ends, are still attachments and are less perfect than acts undertaken exclusively for themselves.

Krishna says that the wise, aware that there is no escape from the duties of life, fulfil their duties and submit to their work in a spirit of joy. However mean the work, they do it well, but without attachment or selfish desire. Work undertaken like this can perfect the soul, so the type of work does not really matter. As Swami Satchidananda says,

Once you are free of selfish desire

You work for the joy of it

And all your actions are as play

People worry that if they give up their ego-driven focus of work, nothing will get done. Without desire won’t we just vegetate and stagnate? Krishna explains,

The forces of nature accomplish everything. But when our minds are clouded with ego, we think that we have made things happen. Arjuna, the person who understands the relationship between the forces of Nature and actions, and sees how the forces of Nature work together with other forces of Nature to make things happen, does not become their slave. If we are deluded about these forces of Nature then we become attached to nature’s functions.

It is the forces of Nature (The Three Gunas) that really make things happen, but we delude ourselves into thinking that it is our will that has actually accomplished something, and so our ego and pride inflate, taking us further away from reality.

Once we understand that it is the potent energy of the universe that makes things happen we can stand back and let go, and this letting go allows us to function freely and easily in the world, and through this playful freedom we are able to effect the healthy flourishing of body, mind and spirit.

May 2, 2016 at 12:30 pm Leave a comment

The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga

Yoga Kindle Cover

I finally managed to produce my first e-book, The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga , which I wrote with my former wife Jo Manuel in 2002. The book has sold consistently in print, and in the past few years has become a resource for yoga teachers in training.

Many yoga courses include some philosophy into the mix, so that the root of yoga is not forgotten. Yoga philosophy is difficult to penetrate, and if it’s not taught well can be very confusing and off-putting. Jo and I wanted to write a book that presented the philosophy in as clear and accessible a way as we could, without simplifying it or dumbing it down.  This collaboration seemed to work. I wrote the exposition of the book (with input from Jo) and she tackled the writing of the 3 classic Yoga texts (with some editing from me).

I had a 4 book deal with Hodder and it was at Jo’s suggestion that I proposed the yoga book. Unfortunately I had always had a difficult time getting into Indian philosophy texts, although I felt very at home with Chinese ones. What held me back was both the strangeness of some of the ideas and the Sanskrit in which these ideas were expressed. Some Sanskrit words- like yoga and karma – are quite well know, but nama and niyama for example have less profile. Jo thought that having to study these yoga texts would force me to persevere and get a handle on them.  Once I understood them I could communicate that understanding to others in a language they could appreciate.

So when wannabe teachers have to read the Bhagavad Gita, or the Yoga Sutras, or the Upanishads, they can turn first to the chapters in our book that give them background and explanation.   After this, it’s easier for them to gain entry to the texts themselves, and hopefully to understand what they are saying.

The book also has some really fascinating material on the history of yoga. I know an author shouldn’t be saying his work is fascinating, but when I was making the e-version I had to revisit the book, and it just struck me that there are some very rare sections of interesting material. This was the result of my months of preparation and reading. There is a mountain to read in yoga, but my guiding principle in writing was that I needed to research until I became expert enough to convey the ideas in an interesting way. I wanted to be able to see the field and the trees at the same time. Many experts who know far more than me have perhaps lost site of the field and are only seeing the trees, while those who have not penetrated far enough are only seeing the field and missing the trees.

I wish the book the best of digital success.  If you read it or have read it, a review on Amazon or Goodreads always helps

 

 

June 30, 2013 at 1:15 am 3 comments


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