Thursday, March 28, 2013

One truth, many paths Part 2 of 2

Image compliments of  Philosophy and Psychology
The Egyptian god Khnum is forming the future king with his right hand along with his spirit-twin, 
the Ka, with his left hand
If you haven't read part 1... you can find it here.

From about 500 BC (or earlier) to 1500 AD, cultures around the world turned inward.  Rather than continuing to look outward to nature and anthropomorphized deities of all kinds, multiple cultures came up with processes to help people understand their inner experiences and to help them change what they want to change in those experiences.  In other words, humanity began to see mastering the mind as the means for operating in an uncertain world. 
Julian James - Author of
The Origin of Consciousness
in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
image compliments of

Suffering is a universal struggle and has been for ages.  Around the world, the struggle inspired many different spiritual paths, but they all lead to the desire for freedom from suffering, whether it’s referred to as awakening, salvation, or freedom, just to name a few examples.  This includes the secularist struggle for and with meaning (see my Dad’s wonderful blog:  Hallowed Secularism).  From the Chinese philosophy of Lao Tzu to Jewish mysticism in the Kaballah, from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali to the teachings of Buddha, the mystery of the mind came to the forefront of spiritual inquiry.  Remarkably, this happened cross-culturally around the world (learn more about “God-Consciousness” and the Bicameral Brain here.)

image compliments of

The yoga sutras of Patanjali, which we learned about and chanted in Sanskrit, were rejected by Hinduism, because they were non-theological.  That means they do not discuss religion, or “God” as a distinct defined entity.  The text examines the human phenomenon of seeking relief from suffering – and discusses how to find the knowledge that alleviates suffering.  I have been influenced by the clarity of this ancient text, and its insights that are applicable to my everyday life.  I have meditated on a Sutra (or short aphorism) that translates to: Deep meditation burns the seeds of suffering (dhyana heyah tat vrittayah). At the training, I crafted my own asana (posture) practice, followed by an alternate nostril breath practice (nadi shodhana), and finally about twenty minutes of meditation.  The physical and breath preparation allowed me to drop in to a comfortable meditation, where I felt no fear around what arose naturally in my mind.

As a yoga practitioner new to the art of meditation, I recognized something in the countenances of both Pope Francis and His Holiness the Dalai Lama (see One Truth, many paths part 1One truth, many paths part 1).  With my limited experience in meditation, I have found that looking inward grants me sense of true relaxation and self-confidence in the face of self-doubt.  You might call this cultivating a sense of okay-ness within the craziness of the world.  This feeling comes when I connect with myself, below the level of my thoughts, feelings, and actions, as the source of unconditional awareness.   

Pope Francis I, intruduction
image compliments of
H. H. the Dalai Lama compliments of
This act of looking inward is not easy or natural (for me, at least.)   I noticed a quality in these world religious leaders that I hope to cultivate in myself – a sense of allowing the mystery of the world.  To me, looking inward is not just a single action to be performed – it is comprised of three steps:  
  •          The willingness to turn inward
  •           The humility to ask
  •           The patience to listen

To quote The Aristos, by John Fowles:
                … below the surface, we do not know; we shall never know why; we shall never know tomorrow; we shall never know a god or if there is a god; we shall never even know ourselves.  This mysterious wall around our world and our perception of it is not there to frustrate us but to train us back to the now, to life, to our time being.
You can tell these world religious leaders (Pope Francis I and H.H. the Dalai Lama) have spent a lifetime cultivating a relationship with Mystery.  I have barely touched it but can’t wait to continue this path.  I aspire to be humble enough to stand in relationship to the mystery of this life and to all of the unanswerable questions.  I don’t know how this grants me a sense of existential relaxation, but I’m willing to practice more in order to experience it.
image compliments of

One truth, many paths Part 1 of 2

Introduction of Papa Francis I (image compliments of

After two weeks at a yoga training on a mountain top in Virginia, I finally viewed the introduction of the new Pope of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis.  Tears gathered at the corners of my eyes as I watched Bergoglio in plain trappings, including his wooden cross.  The formal vestments of previous Popes had been left by the wayside.   Most striking were the smiles (even grins) of the cardinals surrounding Pope Francis.  As opposed to the grim looks, pomp, and circumstance usually marking these proceedings, the new Pope held a space of joy – contagious joy, if you will.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama (image compliments of

He seemed to carry himself with quiet confidence and a gentle radiance which I have only seen once before – when I was fortunate enough to attend a talk by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in college, at University of California, Berkeley.  H.H. the Dalai Lama seemed to radiate this quiet, and contagious, confidence and I wondered what it was that these holy leaders of different spiritual traditions might have in common. What is it about them that makes others feel joyful in their presence?
I was particularly moved to inquiry after spending two weeks studying with Gary Kraftsow, founder and director of the American Viniyoga Institute, which marked the third session of our Viniyoga Foundations for Teaching and Yoga Therapy Program.  During the final days of our training, after our intense study of meditation and of the teaching principles of pranayama, we discussed the commonalities between the world’s religious traditions.  We walked the fine line between religious teachings and phenomenology, the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view.  (This definition and more on Phenomenology can be found here.)  
Our study took place at Yogaville, the beautiful community founded by Sri Swami Satchidananda.  Though this community primarily supports yoga trainings and retreats, the interfaith mission of Swami Satchidananda lives on.  The Yantra (or symbol, left) of the community and its mission shows the immense commitment to the phrase “Truth is One, Paths are Many.”  See Sri Swami Satchidananda’s interfaith teachings on Truth is One and Paths are Many.  Look closely at the many religions honored in the outside edges of the Yantra.  

LOTUS shrine - image compliments of

This symbol can be found everywhere one looks at Yogaville, and it hung over Gary’s head as he shared his take on the study of comparative religions with regards to the non-sectarian study of the mind.
There is even a celebration of these many faiths in the Interfaith room at the LOTUS shrine (right), which is quite a sight to behold if you are in the middle of nowhere in Virginia.  Satchidananda's mission was to bring people of many faiths together, in dialogue and support of the human condition.

Stay tuned for part 2... here.