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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Yoga & Buddhism Issue

The March issue of Shambhala Sun has as it's title "Yoga Body Buddha Mind." It's sub-title goes on to say, "Why yoga and Buddhist meditation make the perfect mind-body combination." Now, "Yoga Body, Buddha Mind" is the catchy title of Cyndee Lee's book, and the workshop that she and David Nichtern co-teach, and the main article is indeed written by them. While I have tremendous respect for their work, and really love her teaching, the title, which I admit is a nifty little sound-bite, continues to perpetuate the notion that Buddhism is not yoga, and that yoga is merely the practice of asana!

First of all, for most of its history, before the development of hatha-yoga, the practice of yoga revolved around the cultivation of a meditative state of awareness and an ethical life. This was done through actual meditation (raja-yoga), contemplation (jnana-yoga), devotion (bhakti-yoga) or self-less service (karma-yoga). The practice of hatha-yoga arose out of the Tantric movement, and from the beginning is was warned that if the postures and movements of hatha-yoga were done without meditative awareness, the asanas themselves could become obstacles to liberation.

What this means is that without the cultivation of meditative awareness, the practice of asana could lead to an even deeper attachment and identification with the body. Such mis-identification could lead to pride or dejection, depending on one's perceived abilities. Without mindfulness, one could also injure oneself.

The Buddha was a yogi. His teaching of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path is essentially a model of yogic practice and theory. Meditation being the essence of yoga, it makes no sense to talk about "Buddhist meditation and yoga" as if they were two different things!

Besides, when we sit in meditation, the first and most significant thing we end up dealing with is the body and how we relate to it. Small and large discomforts, from itches to pain arise. Various sensations arise, change and pass away. Mindfully relating to the body brings a loosening of our identification with it as "self." When we practice the asanas of hatha-yoga, what we often find ourselves doing is grappling with the mind! Our mental reactivity to what our bodies are experiencing, the mental formations arising in response to what we feel is the essence of our experience of asana practice. So how can we talk about "Yoga Body Buddha Mind?"

To promugate this notion is to perpetuate the rampant and destructive idea that yoga is about the body and meditation is about the mind! If we never did one Sun Salutation in our life, but sat daily, we are yogis. I am not arguing that practicing Buddhist meditation and hatha-yogasana doesn't make a lot of sense. But why artificially separate the two and then teach or practice them as complementary? Why not, instead, practice the movements and postures of hatha-yoga AS meditation? This more integrated approach bypasses the false idea that yoga is about the postures and meditation is about the mind.

That the rich and varied tradition of yoga has been reduced to the postures and movements of hatha-yoga in the public's mind is a sad commentary. But that teachers continue to perpetuate this mis-understanding is perhaps even sadder. It's probably a mis-understanding too deeply entrenched to change, but as teachers I think we should still make the effort.

Whatever practice one engages with, to be yoga it must be liberating, and based upon a firm ethical foundation. These are two "universals" that hold for all forms of yoga. Without these two principles, we cannot even begin to speak of yoga.

metta,
frank jude

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 10:48 PM


The Yoga & Buddhism Issue

The March issue of Shambhala Sun has as it's title "Yoga Body Buddha Mind." It's sub-title goes on to say, "Why yoga and Buddhist meditation make the perfect mind-body combination." Now, "Yoga Body, Buddha Mind" is the catchy title of Cyndee Lee's book, and the workshop that she and David Nichtern co-teach, and the main article is indeed written by them. While I have tremendous respect for their work, and really love her teaching, the title, which I admit is a nifty little sound-bite, continues to perpetuate the notion that Buddhism is not yoga, and that yoga is merely the practice of asana!

First of all, for most of its history, before the development of hatha-yoga, the practice of yoga revolved around the cultivation of a meditative state of awareness and an ethical life. This was done through actual meditation (raja-yoga), contemplation (jnana-yoga), devotion (bhakti-yoga) or self-less service (karma-yoga). The practice of hatha-yoga arose out of the Tantric movement, and from the beginning is was warned that if the postures and movements of hatha-yoga were done without meditative awareness, the asanas themselves could become obstacles to liberation.

What this means is that without the cultivation of meditative awareness, the practice of asana could lead to an even deeper attachment and identification with the body. Such mis-identification could lead to pride or dejection, depending on one's perceived abilities. Without mindfulness, one could also injure oneself.

The Buddha was a yogi. His teaching of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path is essentially a model of yogic practice and theory. Meditation being the essence of yoga, it makes no sense to talk about "Buddhist meditation and yoga" as if they were two different things!

Besides, when we sit in meditation, the first and most significant thing we end up dealing with is the body and how we relate to it. Small and large discomforts, from itches to pain arise. Various sensations arise, change and pass away. Mindfully relating to the body brings a loosening of our identification with it as "self." When we practice the asanas of hatha-yoga, what we often find ourselves doing is grappling with the mind! Our mental reactivity to what our bodies are experiencing, the mental formations arising in response to what we feel is the essence of our experience of asana practice. So how can we talk about "Yoga Body Buddha Mind?"

To promugate this notion is to perpetuate the rampant and destructive idea that yoga is about the body and meditation is about the mind! If we never did one Sun Salutation in our life, but sat daily, we are yogis. I am not arguing that practicing Buddhist meditation and hatha-yogasana doesn't make a lot of sense. But why artificially separate the two and then teach or practice them as complementary? Why not, instead, practice the movements and postures of hatha-yoga AS meditation? This more integrated approach bypasses the false idea that yoga is about the postures and meditation is about the mind.

That the rich and varied tradition of yoga has been reduced to the postures and movements of hatha-yoga in the public's mind is a sad commentary. But that teachers continue to perpetuate this mis-understanding is perhaps even sadder. It's probably a mis-understanding too deeply entrenched to change, but as teachers I think we should still make the effort.

Whatever practice one engages with, to be yoga it must be liberating, and based upon a firm ethical foundation. These are two "universals" that hold for all forms of yoga. Without these two principles, we cannot even begin to speak of yoga.

metta,
frank jude

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 10:48 PM


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