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Posts Tagged ‘Buddism’

Last night I was watching a TV show on the story of The Buddha.   There was a part in the story where, “Siddhartha saw a man lying on the ground and moaning. Out of compassion, he rushed over to the man. Channa warned him that the man was sick and that everyone, even noble people like Siddhartha or the king could get sick.” Later, “Siddhartha lost all interest in watching the dancing girls and other such pleasures.  He kept on thinking instead about how to free himself and others from sickness, ageing and death.”

When Siddhartha looked at the beautiful young dancers, he saw them as old, dying women and felt empathy for the suffering they would endure in their lives.

This part of the story reminded me of the way mass marketeers often use sexuality to market yoga, and the backlash it creates.   I thought that this moment in Siddhartha’s life really captured the “true” spirit of yoga/Buddhism – in stark contrast to so many slick, sexy advertisements.  Yoga and meditation – while enjoyed by many young and beautiful people – provides something deeper – a path to cope with the painful, frightening and inexorable loss one’s health, (outer) beauty, memory and breath.

I’d be a hypocrite to say I’m averse to the “sex sells” media, but Siddhartha’s insight is one to keep in mind – and heart.

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Nehru gandhi
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As much as I might fantasize, I know I’ll never attain the lofty state of Samadhi or enlightenment that purportedly comes with a lifetime of dedicated practice to yoga.  For one thing, my life presently revolves around raising my 2 children – meals, homework, sports practices, camps, yoga lessons etc. – leaving just a small amount of time to write and practice yoga.  This is, of course, far from the ideal ascetic life of a yogi on a mountaintop – even though the thought of all that peace and quiet seems, itself, rather divine.

Alas, I’m all too aware that to attain the “great inward awareness”, one must withdraw from the typical everyday routine and sequester to a place of solitude.  Mircea Eliade remarks in his book, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom (p.45):

The resistance that the subconscious opposes to every act of renunciation and asceticism, to every act that could result in the emancipation of the Self, is, as it were, the token of the fear that the subconscious feels at the mere idea that the mass of as yet unmanifested latentcies could fail of their destiny, could be destroyed before having time to manifest and actualize themselves.

To me, this very dilemma – to step out of, or to renounce the world vs. to live and partake in it – is one that seems at the core of any aspiring yogi’s spiritual journey.  Eliade continues:

This thirst for actualization on the part of the vasanas is nevertheless interpenetrated by the thirst for extinction, for “repose”, that occurs at all levels of the cosmos.

Its a deep personal conflict for all of us.  The desire to focus oneself and seek simplicity and perfection vs. the desire to embrace the diverse workaday world with family, friends and always lots of fun stuff to do.  The conflict may even bubble up into discussions of national identity where some political leaders advocate a quiet, withdrawn, simple life (ie. Mohandas Gandhi) while others advocate an embrace of modernity and internationalism (ie. Jawaharlal Nehru).  Indeed, almost every country copes with some type of internal conflicts of religion vs. secularism – perhaps just a macroscopic side-effect of this deep personal conflict.

Of course, I’m not qualified to offer advice on these BIG questions, but much enjoyed a blog post by Mark Eckhardt’s Zen Bite column over at This Emotional Life.  He makes the case that attainment of “enlightenment” might not be THE final endpoint and that ascending the mountain is only HALF the journey.

Integrating your enlightenment is where the work really begins — this is “Descending the Mountain.” Doing so is humbling, often turbulent and requires that you face some tough realities. By this I mean that you accept the impact of your thoughts and actions on yourself and others.

Through regular practice, greater awareness, understanding and acceptance of ourselves develops. As this happens, the ability to detect a wider spectrum of emotional and psychological states makes it possible to take advantage of the small gap between thought and action.  In fact, neuroscience researchers have discovered that this is approximately 2/10 of a second — more than enough time to take or prevent action that otherwise would be unheard of. In Zen we refer to this as pausing and growing thoughtful, and it is the gateway to improved relationships, courage, inspiration and satisfaction.

So, it seems that I should try and climb the spiritual mountain (like Gandhi), and then come back into the world (like Nehru) and use the benefits – to live – rather than withdraw.  Perhaps just a little bit each day.

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The 14th Dalai Lama, a renowned Tibetan Buddhi...
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In this essay, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama addresses the question, “What possible benefit could there be for a scientific discipline such as neuroscience in engaging in dialogue with Buddhist contemplative tradition?”

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Mood Broadcasting
Image by jurvetson via Flickr

Like many folks, I generally feel better ever since I started practicing yoga.  Outwardly, my body is (slowly) growing stronger and more flexible and perhaps (hopefully) soon, I’ll even lose a few pounds.  However, even if I was to convince myself that looked slimmer (skinny mirrors?), the only way to really know if I’ve lost weight, is to stand on a scale and record my weight each day (darn! no fatness lost so far).

That takes care of the body right – but what about the inner, emotional improvements I might be experiencing?  How to measure these?

Here are some mobile- and web-based tools to help one track one’s emotions.  Most of these websites, like Moodstats, Track Your Happiness, MoodJam, MoodMill, Finding Optimism and MoodLog seem to function as online diaries which keep a running tab on aspects of ones moods and emotions.  Perhaps such tools – if used over long durations – would enable one to verify a shift toward a less anxious and more contented inner feeling?  I don’t know.

Perhaps the real proof of “inner” progress would be that I had closed my computer and put away my mobile device and, rather, was outside enjoying the sights and sounds of nature.  Perhaps best to avoid mixing yoga and digital distractions.

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Samadhi Statue
Image by koolb via Flickr

In some ways, the 8 limbs of yoga described in the yoga sutras, seem a bit like a ladder, rather than a concentric set of outreached arms or spokes on a wheel.  It seems like I’m working toward something.  But what?  I certainly feel healthier, and also enjoy the satisfaction of getting slightly more able (ever so slightly) to shift into new postures – so am quite motivated to continue the pursuit.  Perhaps this is how yoga got started eons ago?   Just a pursuit that – by trial and error – left its practitioners feeling more healthy, relaxed and more in touch with their outer and inner worlds?  But where does this path lead, if anywhere?

I was intrigued by a report published in 1973 by an 8-day study carried out on the grounds of the Ravindra Nath Tagore Medical College and Hospital, Udaipur, India and subsequent letter, “The Yogic claim of voluntary control over the heart beat: an unusual demonstration” published in the American Heart Journal, Volume 86 Number 2.  Apparently, a local yogi named Yogi Satyamurti:

Yogi Satyamurti, a sparsely built man of about 60 years of age, remained confined in a small underground pit for 8 days in what according to him was a state of “Samadhi,” or deep meditation, with all bodily activity cut down to the barest minimum.

The medical researchers had the yogi’s heart and other physiological functions under constant watch via electrical recording leads, and watched as the yogi’s heart slowed down (their equipment registered a flatline) a remained so for several days.  Upon opening up the pit, the researchers found:

The Yogi was found sitting in the same posture. One of us immediately went in to examine him. He was in a stuporous condition and was very cold (oral temperature was 34.8O C) [the same temperature as the earth around him].

After a few hours, the yogi had recovered from the experience and displayed normal physiological and behavioral function – despite 8 days underground (air supposedly seeped in from the sides of the pit) with no food or human contact!

An amazing feat indeed – one that has some scientists wondering about the psychology and physiology that occurs when advanced meditators sink into (very deep) states.  John Ding-E Young and Eugene Taylor explored this in an article entitled, “Meditation as a Voluntary Hypometabolic State of Biological Estivation” published in News Physiol. Sci., Volume 13, June 1998.   They  suggest that humans have a kind of latent capacity to enter a kind of dormant or  hibernation-like state that is similar to other mammals and even certain primates.

Meditation, a wakeful hypometabolic state of parasympathetic dominance, is compared with other hypometabolic conditions, such as sleep, hypnosis, and the torpor of hibernation. We conclude that there are many analogies between the physiology of long-term meditators and hibernators across the phylogenetic scale. These analogies further reinforce the idea that plasticity of consciousness remains a key factor in successful biological adaptation.

Practice, practice, practice – towards an ability to engage a latent evolutionary adaptation? Sounds hokey, but certainly an interesting idea worth exploring more in the future.

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