She’s best known as Thich Nhat Hanh’s invaluable collaborator, but Sister Chan Khong is also a dedicated activist and gifted teacher in her own right. Andrea Miller tells her extraordinary story.
Death permeated the whole trip. The flood victims that the volunteer relief workers had come to help were either on the verge of death — starving, shivering, and homeless — or else they were dead, bloated and rotting. The volunteers themselves were also in danger. They knew that at any moment they could be killed in the crossfire.
This was Vietnam, 1964. The country was at war and now it was slammed by disaster, this flood. The people in the conflict areas were the hardest hit, yet no one dared to go to them with supplies. No one except this one small team of volunteers, including Cao Ngoc Phu- ong, better known today as Sister Chan Khong, and her teacher, the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
Over a period of five days, the volunteers gave away the food in their seven loaded-down boats. Then, when they went to leave the area, young mothers followed them, begging them to take their babies because they saw no other hope for their children. To this day, Chan Khong remembers crying—her heart breaking for the mothers, for the babies. She could not take them with her.
Later Chan Khong organized other trips in which she and groups of students, monks, and nuns would travel to remote, impoverished areas and distribute rice, beans, clothing, cooking utensils, and medical supplies. Once, in a village where the fighting was particularly brutal, the volunteers were settling in for a night of sleep on their boat when suddenly they heard shots and screaming. Many of the young volunteers panicked and a few of them even attempted to avoid the bullets by leaping into the river. But Chan Khong stood her ground — breathing deeply in and out to find calm. This eased the panic in the others and then the whole group came together. On that dark night in the midst of war, they chanted the Heart Sutra.
It can even be said that her life itself is a teaching.
Today, sister Chan Khong can count more than fifty years of working closely with Thich Nhat Hanh. He is now a bestselling author and has centers and students across the globe, and she is recognized as being a major force that has helped him to grow his community. But Sister Chan Khong is an accomplished teacher in her own right and it can even be said that her life itself is a teaching.
In her community, Chan Khong is well known for leading the practice of beginning anew. A four-step process, it is an opportunity to look deeply and honestly at ourselves and to work on our relationships through mindful communication. The first step is to express appreciation for the person we’re speaking to; the second is to acknowledge any unskillful action we’ve committed against him or her; the third is to reveal how he or she has hurt us; and the fourth is to share a difficulty that we’re having and to ask for support. At Plum Village, the practice center in France where Chan Khong resides, beginning anew is practiced collectively every two weeks and practiced individually as often as necessary. Chan Khong urges lay people to practice it at home.
“Begin anew to refresh your relationship with your children,” she says. “Even when they’re five years old, children feel pain,” and frequently parents are unaware of the ways in which they hurt their children. For example, says Chan Khong, maybe a mother has hurt her son’s feelings by saying that she won’t buy him the toy he wants. If, through beginning anew, she gives her son an opportunity to express his hurt, the mother will know to explain to him why she can’t afford the toy. Then the boy will understand and resentment will not build between them.
In romantic relationships, beginning anew can be invaluable. Frequently, says Chan Khong, people are disappointed in their partners. At the beginning of the relationship, a woman might see that her mate has many wonderful qualities and so she presumes that he has various other qualities that she finds desirable.
But as time goes on, she notices all the ways in which he is not her ideal. “It doesn’t mean that he’s not good,” says Chan Khong. “Maybe she presumed that he was a magnolia and would behave as one. But he is actually a lotus. He is still beautiful in his way.” “When you ask your partner kindly, he will reveal his wounds, and as he reveals them more and more, you will accept him as he is—with his education, his culture, his way of being—and he will accept you more, too,” she says. “You will grow closer and suddenly you will not be two, but one. You will have entered the world of each other. So beginning anew is a way to make your relationship good with your partner, your children, your parents.”
Touching the Earth and Total Relaxation
Brother Phap Hai, an Australian monk in the Plum Village tradition, says that in addition to beginning anew, “total relaxation” and “touching the earth” are important dharma doors for Sister Chan Khong. Total relaxation is practiced sitting or lying down and is an opportunity to rest the body and mind. Touching the earth, a series of meditations that Thich Nhat Hanh developed, is based on traditional Buddhist prostration practice.
“All dharma teachers,” says Phap Hai, “learn the basic practices, the basic framework. Then we’re encouraged to make the dharma our own—to allow the dharma to express itself through us. And Sister Chan Khong does that beautifully. One example is her beautiful singing voice, which she offers in total relaxation. She also has a great skill for improvisation. In touching the earth or total relaxation, she’ll pick up on energy in the room or something that’s been going on, and she’ll address that. Sister Chan Khong’s touching the earth and total relaxation are not scripted. She’s giving a living dharma talk. That’s the way that she expresses her caring.”
Phap Hai says Chan Khong never says no when somebody asks her for something. “I’ve never seen her close down her heart,” he says. “For me, that is one of the qualities that I admire most in Sister Chan Khong, and one that I want to develop in myself too. Sometimes I feel tired and even though I might not say no to a request there’s still an energy of no. But Sister Chan Khong is always there for people, and in such a loving way.”
Sister Chan Khong’s Early Life in Vietnam
Sister Chan Khong was born in 1938 in a village in the Mekong River Delta, a lush land of rice fields and coconut groves. Her parents were, in her words, like oak trees that sheltered twenty-two “birds” — nine children of their own, plus twelve nieces and nephews and one girl from a poor family. “Mother and Father cared for all of us equally,” Chan Khong wrote in her memoir Learning True Love. “Feeding twenty-two mouths was a strain, but we were taught to be satisfied with and share whatever we had.”
Her father rented plots of land to various farmers. Yet whenever there was a drought or flood he waived the rent. He also helped farmers to buy their own land and he sometimes gave farmers money to support their children. Chan Khong’s mother was similarly generous. She gave loans to the poor to set up their own businesses and only if they were successful did she ask for repayment.
In her early teens, Chan Khong caught a little boy trying to pick her pockets. He told her he had no other choice. His mother beat him whenever he came home empty-handed. “Where is your father?” Chan Khong asked, but the boy said he had no father. Then, following him to his house in the slums, she asked about his studies. “We don’t have enough to eat,” he told her. “How could I go to school?”
Chan Khong decided to find a way to help poor families such as the little boy’s. But since her own family was — as she says — “not so rich, not so poor,” she didn’t ask her parents for money. Instead, being gifted academically, she raised funds by tutoring wealthy students who were struggling in math. Then, after enrolling at the University of Saigon, she branched out in her humanitarian efforts.
Chan Khong has written, “I knew that if I went to the slums as a middle-class young woman, the people there would know I did not belong to their world, and they would not trust me. They might even try to con me. So, I always went wearing a frayed dress, pretending that I had a relative living there: ‘Do you know my Uncle Ba, the bicycle rickshaw driver?’ Then I would sit and listen to people talk about their hardships and think of ways to help them.”
“You have a good heart,” Chan Khong’s first Buddhist teacher told her. “With all the generous work that you do, you will be reborn into a wealthy family. Perhaps you will be a princess.” But Chan Khong wasn’t concerned about her next life, much less the possibility of a royal pedigree. Her focus was the present moment: the hungry need food, the sick need medicine, and they need it right now.
“You need to study scriptures more and work to become enlightened,” continued her teacher. “After you are enlightened, you will be able to save countless beings.” The idea was that if she practiced Buddhism diligently, she would be reborn as a man in her next life; then she might become a bodhisattva, and later still a buddha with miraculous powers. But again Chan Khong felt alienated by these goals. She didn’t want miraculous powers or to be a man, and to her this enlightenment smacked of both sexism and irrelevance.
Meeting Thich Nhat Hanh
In the autumn of 1959, Chan Khong had a conversation with a prominent Buddhist monk during which she asked many questions about the dharma. But he didn’t answer any of them. Instead, for each question he took out a book by Thich Nhat Hanh — a monk who Chan Khong had never heard of — and said, “The answer to your question is in here.” Chan Khong would have preferred talking to the monk in front of her, but she agreed to read the material when she had time. Then a month later, Chan Khong attended a course Nhat Hanh was teaching in Saigon. Impressed from the first lecture, she felt she’d never before heard anyone speak so beautifully and profoundly.
The following year, Chan Khong began corresponding with Nhat Hanh. In his first note, he wrote in his impeccable script about the mountain monastery where he lived—the wet wood he cooked with and the cold, singing wind outside. In later notes he addressed Chan Khong’s concern that most Buddhists didn’t seem to care about the poor and that they viewed social work as mere merit work.
According to Nhat Hanh, it was possible to find enlightenment helping those in need—or doing any other activity—as long as it was done mindfully. He believed that Buddhism had a great deal to contribute to society, and he promised to support Chan Khong in her efforts. He planned to bring together people with the same vision and to establish villages to serve as models for development, as well as founding training centers for workers in education, agriculture, and health care.
Thich Nhat Hanh was the teacher she had been looking for.
Inspired by his teachings and encouragement, Chan Khong organized seventy friends to help her in Saigon’s slums, and they did such work as taking the sick to hospital, establishing adult literacy classes, and on special occasions treating underprivileged children to new clothes, a meal at a restaurant, and a trip to the zoo. At the same time, Chan Khong continued to study the dharma with Nhat Hanh. From May to September 1961, she and a dozen others took a class with him and they became the “thirteen cedars,” a sangha devoted to social change.
Meanwhile, the Ngo Dinh Diem regime in South Vietnam was warming up for a religious crackdown in which they’d try to squelch Buddhism and convert the population to Catholicism. The situation came to a head when the regime forbade displaying the Buddhist flag and celebrating Wesak, the Buddha’s birthday. Peaceful protests sprang up and were met with a violent backlash. The authorities ordered tanks to advance on demonstrators, and tortured suspected protest instigators.
In the face of this oppression, a monk named Thich Quang Due made a powerful plea for religious freedom; on June 11, 1963 he immolated himself. “No one had informed me that he was going to do this,” writes Chan Khong in Learning True Love, “but just at the moment he set himself on fire, I happened to be driving by the corner of Phan Dinh Phung and Le Van Duyet Streets on my motorbike, and I witnessed him sitting bravely and peacefully, enveloped in flames. He was completely still, while those of us around him were crying and prostrating ourselves on the sidewalk. At that moment, a deep vow sprang forth in me: I too would do something for the respect of human rights in as beautiful and gentle a way as Thay Quang Due.”
A year later, Chan Khong threw herself into working on the experimental villages that she and Nhat Hanh had envisioned. While she had been completing her biology degree, Nhat Hanh had begun training social workers to help bring about nonviolent social change and had spearheaded the founding of the first village. For the second, he asked Chan Khong to take the lead, and Thao Dien — eight muddy kilometers from Saigon — was the chosen location. In July 1964, Chan Khong and a team of other young social workers held a meeting with the villagers to propose building a school.
The government would have funded the construction if there were at least two hundred children who would attend, but in Thao Dien there were only seventy-seven children. To Chan Khong’s delight, the villagers agreed to collaborate with the social workers and construct the school themselves. Some even donated building materials — palm leaves for the roof and bamboo thicket. Because the villagers were involved with this school from the ground up, they were proud of it and took good care of it. In contrast, government-built schools in Vietnam often required guards to prevent vandalism.
In the experimental villages, Chan Khong and the other social workers also tackled medical care, horticulture, and child care. These projects also were successful, with the social workers respecting the villagers’ points of view and involving them in solutions. Saigon’s intellectuals took notice of the successes and, as a result, when Nhat Hanh announced the founding of the School of Youth for Social Service (SYSS), more than 1,000 people applied for training. Chan Khong and five others became its leaders.
The Wars Outside and Inside
It seemed like real change was possible, and then the bombs fell — the Vietnam War was in full and violent swing. Tra Loc, a new experimental village, was heavily damaged. The SYSS helped the villagers to rebuild each house, the medical center, the agricultural center, the school. But again the village was bombed. This happened over and over—the village was bombed and rebuilt, bombed and rebuilt. Frustration tempted the workers to take up arms. Meditation, however, kept them calm.
“People think that engaged Buddhism is only social work, only stopping the war,” Chan Khong says. “But, in fact, at the same time you stop the war outside, you have to stop the war inside yourself.”
Over her lifetime, Sister Chan Khong has learned the importance of not making peace, but rather being peace, being understanding, being love—and to embody this way of being twenty- four hours a day. The key, she tells Lion’s Roar, is to practice mindfulness. “When your body and mind are not one, you do not see deeply,” she says. “You are in front of your brother, but your mind is on many other things, so you don’t really see your brother. Maybe he is having some trouble, but you don’t see it, not even when you share the same room. But mindfulness brings you there, to the present, and then you see. Train yourself all day long to bring your mind to your body and to be present with your food, your friends, your work, everything, because the more you concentrate, the deeper you will see.”
That said, says Chan Khong, don’t expect that insight will come all at once. “Maybe you want to help your young brother who is drawn away by drugs, but you cannot communicate with him easily. You try to be present with him in the moment but still you don’t see how to help him.” That’s okay, says Chan Khong. “If you train yourself to drive your car in the present moment, to walk in the present moment, to prepare your dinner in the present moment, eventually — perhaps while chopping vegetables— you will have deep insight into the way that you can handle the situation with your brother in a skillful way. You will know how to touch what is wonderful in him.”
The precepts for monastics were formulated in another age — more than two millennia ago — and Thich Nhat Hanh saw they needed to be revised. He crafted fourteen new precepts, which he felt were both true to the deepest teachings of the Buddha and appropriate for the modern world. Then he invited Chan Khong and the five other leaders of the SYSS to receive them. This ordination made these six the first members of what Nhat Hanh termed the Order of Interbeing, a community committed to service and mindfulness. But it did not make them formal monks and nuns with shaved heads. Nhat Hanh gave each member of this new order the option to either live like a monastic committed to celibacy, or to live as a lay Buddhist with the freedom to marry. The three women all chose celibacy, while the three men chose marriage.
Nhat Chi Mai, a close friend of Chan Khong’s, was one of the original six members of the Order of Interbeing. She was the protected, youngest child of a well-off family, and she feared the consequences of political activity. Nonetheless — like Chan Khong — she undertook the dangerous task of spreading the word of peace. Chi Mai hid copies of Nhat Hanh’s book Lotus in a Sea of Fire in her Volkswagen and delivered them to schools. Then, just one year after taking the fourteen precepts, Chi Mai placed two statues in front of her—one of the Virgin Mary and the other of Avalokitesvara — and she set herself on fire. Chi Mai’s poems and letters urged Catholics and Buddhists to work together for peace and after her death they were widely read, inspiring many people. Still, for Chan Khong, losing Chi Mai was one of the greatest sorrows of her life.
It was not, however, the only loss Chan Khong faced in 1967. A monk friend of hers was abducted that year from Binh Phuoc Village, along with seven other social workers. Though their bodies were never found, it is presumed they were killed; working for the poor was considered a communist activity and the social workers had many enemies. Only luck prevented Chan Khong from not being made the ninth victim. She had been in Binh Phuoc Village but had left that night to visit her mother.
When Chan Khong boarded a flight to Hong Kong, she planned to be gone for five days. She never imagined it would be almost forty years before she again set foot in her homeland.
In 1966, two years prior to Chan Khong’s departure, Nhat Hanh had also left Vietnam believing he would only be gone for a short while. But at a conference in Washington, he presented a proposal urging Americans to stop bombing and to offer reconstruction aid free of political or ideological strings. The South Vietnamese nationalist government declared him a traitor, making it too dangerous for him to go home, so he moved to Paris. By 1968, however, he wanted to know whether his friends and colleagues in Vietnam needed him to risk returning. Was it more important for him to be on the ground in Vietnam or to be in the West promoting peace? This was not something that could be addressed freely in letters entering and leaving his country — they were too heavily monitored by the government. So Nhat Hanh asked Chan Khong to meet him in Hong Kong.
There, over cups of oolong tea, she told him that she’d met privately with various Buddhist leaders in Vietnam and that they’d unanimously agreed. Nhat Hanh should not return; his skill in communicating with the West was too valuable. Nhat Hanh decided that to more effectively spread the word about what was going on in Vietnam, he needed an assistant. Would Chan Khong be willing to take on that role? At first, she said no—she had responsibilities in Vietnam. But after reflecting further, she decided Nhat Hanh was right. She would be able to effect more change in her homeland while living abroad.
In January 1969, Chan Khong joined her teacher in France, and they got involved with organizing a conference to present the views of Vietnam’s voiceless majority — those people who were neither communist nor anticommunist, who just wanted peace. Out of this conference, came the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation, and Nhat Hanh was nominated to be the chair. For her part, Chan Khong was to help with the administration, and she both lived and worked out of the delegation’s modest office, a rental in a poor Parisian neighborhood. The projects that they took on were varied and included raising money for orphans in Vietnam and producing a newsletter in French, English, and Vietnamese. Chan Khong traveled throughout Europe and the United States speaking to audiences about the need for an immediate ceasefire.
Finally, on April 30, 1975, the war came to an end. The suffering, however, did not. Terrified of communist rule, refugees began risking everything to flee Vietnam. If the government caught them trying to escape, they were either imprisoned or shot. If they succeeded in making it to sea, they were prey to pirates. And if they reached a foreign shore, they were often turned away—their rickety boats pushed back out into the water.
On the seas, I was fearless, even when faced by pirates, and I was even joyful because I knew I was going in the direction of beauty.
Chan Khong’s despair was intense. There seemed to be nothing she could do to save her compatriots from the raping and robbing and killing. After months of meditation, however, she determined her path of action and initiated a rescue project. Chan Khong rented a fishing boat in Thailand, dressed up like a fisherman, and went out to sea to “fish” the boat people. Every time she and her team came across a refugee boat, they gave them food, fuel, and directions to the nearest refugee camp. In an interview with Alan Senauke and Susan Moon, which appeared in Turning Wheel, Chan Khong said: “Meditation allowed me to transform the garbage, the suffering, in me into a mercy fishing boat. On the seas, I was fearless, even when faced by pirates, and I was even joyful because I knew I was going in the direction of beauty.”
In 1988, Chan Khong formally ordained as a nun. “Shaving the head, all attachments are cut off,” Thich Nhat Hanh said as he snipped her hair.
A Nun in the West
Of being a monastic in the West, Chan Khong has written: “I do not carry undernourished babies in my arms, but teenagers and adults do cry silently as they share the stories of their childhoods of sadness and abuse. By listening attentively to their pain and helping them renew themselves, I am able to help heal many of these wounded ‘children,’ and this is very close to my ideal of holding the village children in my arms. I am grateful to be able to help in this way.” As a nun in the West, Chan Khong has played a key role in developing Thich Nhat Hanh’s international community. In 1982, they moved to what is now known as Plum Village, two bucolic parcels of farmland in France. For the center’s first retreat, the 107 attendees used wooden planks as beds and sleeping bags for blankets, and they did not have a sufficient number of restrooms. In a dharma talk published in the book I Have Arrived, I Am Home, Chan Khong said: “There was only one restroom for the entire Lower Hamlet, one for both showering and using the toilets! It was the same at the Upper Hamlet. Seeing the situation, the male retreatants took up shovels and dug two ‘combat’ latrines.”
Yet attendees were not put off by the conditions, and at subsequent retreats the numbers grew exponentially. Today Plum Village is less rustic, but still simple, and people from all over the world go there to practice. They also go to other centers in the Plum Village tradition: Deer Park Monastery in California, Blue Cliff Monastery in New York State, and the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Germany.
In 2005, the Vietnamese government permitted Sister Chan Khong and Thich Nhat Hanh to visit their homeland for the first time since the sixties. While there, they traveled the country accompanied by members of their sangha and made connections with the Vietnamese people, especially the young. Two more visits were permitted — one in 2007 and the other in 2008. Since then, however, they have not been welcome. The Vietnamese government felt threatened by the large number of educated youth drawn to Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings.
According to Nhat Hanh, Chan Khong came to him as a student but she also has been a teacher for him. When the Vietnam War was raging, Nhat Hanh was so preoccupied with how to stop the fighting that it became difficult for him to eat. One day, Chan Khong was preparing herbs to serve with rice noodles, when she asked Nhat Hanh if he could identify them. “Looking at her displaying the herbs with care and beauty on a large plate, I became enlightened,” he has written. “She had the ability to keep her attention on the herbs, and I realized I had to stop dwelling only on the war and learn to concentrate on the fine herbs also.” They spent ten minutes talking about the herbs of Vietnam, and that encounter took Nhat Hanh’s mind off the war, allowing him to recover the balance he needed.
“A single person is capable of helping many living beings,” Nhat Hanh said in his book, Be Free Where You Are. “My colleague Sister Chan Khong has been working with poor people, orphans, and the hungry for many years. She has helped thousands and thousands of people, and because of her work these people suffer less. This brings her a lot of joy and gives her life meaning. This can be true for all of us anytime, anywhere.”
original version by Andrea Miller here
BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD
yad-yad ācarati śreṣṭhas / tad-tadevetaro janaḥ / sa yat pramāṇaḿ kurute / lokas-tad-anuvartate
A great person leads by example, setting standards that are followed by others all over the world.
The streets of Calcutta were dangerous and dirty. Thousands were infected with leprosy, cholera, and other contagious diseases. At overcrowded hospitals, nurses were forced to turn away dying patients onto the cockroach-infested streets. A group of activists, led by Mother Teresa, risked their own health to treat the sick and poor, even though most could not be saved. Why would Mother Teresa dedicate her life to working in the most unsettling conditions for people who did not have anything to give in return? She responded by saying, “I see the divine in every human being. When I wash a leper’s wounds, I feel I am nursing the Lord himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?”
The great leaders of the world – Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, the Dalai Lama, Malala Yousafzai – all share certain characteristics. They are clear communicators as well as great listeners. They have a firm and steady grounding that reflects an unwavering commitment to their cause. They inspire and empower. They are also confident, honest, and discerning. There is another quality each great leader has, that perhaps outshines all the others – humility.
Business philosopher Jim Rohn says, “Humility is almost a God-like word. A sense of awe. A sense of wonder. An awareness of the human soul and spirit. Humility is the grasp of the distance between us and the stars, yet having the feeling that we are part of the stars.” In other words, humility is seeing yourself in others; it is seeing all life as holy.
The word humility is derived from the Latin humilis, which is translated as “grounded” or “from the Earth.” The Chandogya Upanishad teaches tat twam asi or “you are that.” This mahavakya, or great saying, relates to the idea that everything is Brahman, that the supreme Self and the individual self are one and the same. If you are Brahman, and the tree is Brahman, then you and the tree are one. The yogi has the humility to understand they are the same as all that exists on Earth. Its natural resources support life, so it is our responsibility to support the Earth just as much.
According to Vedic scripture, we are currently living in the Kali Yuga – an era of conflict and struggle – and great leaders are especially needed. If we want to see peace and happiness in the world, then we must live the kind of life we want to see. There was a point in time when humanity lived in harmony with nature. We only took from the Earth what was necessary to survive. Now, each year, humans kill billions of animals and destroy millions of acres of land. We are fighting wars over natural resources and the Earth can no longer sustain us. The business of taking all the earthly resources we want was once thought of as progress. We have instead regressed, causing billions of humans, animals, and plants unhappiness.
A great yogi offers strength to others so that they too can learn to be steady and joyful. Humility allows the yogi to be the change they want to see in the world. We can consider progressing in a different way, one that would help us rediscover our higher consciousness and realize that we are the same as the stars and shine just as bright. We can also lead by example, setting standards that are followed by others all over the world.
nimittam aprayojakaṁ prakṛtīnāṁ varaṇa-bhedas tu tataḥ kṣetrikavat
Causes do not put nature, Prakrti, into motion. They only remove the obstacles and coverings, like a farmer breaking down the barriers to let water flow in the field. The hindrances removed by the causes, Nature impenetrates by herself.
Many people think a yoga practice is about acquiring something, a certain skill or the ability to do an asana. What you are really doing is eliminating the obstacle that prevents you from getting there. You’re stripping away all the excess. It is the restrictive thought, the narrowing of possibilities that disallows the flow of energy or prana. We want these doorways to be open. Yogis are very practical, so to do that, we must investigate how they became closed.
Most often, an asana practice is associated with the physical body. That body is called Anamaya kosha or the food body. Kosha means sheath or covering. But what is moving the physical body? You may think, well, I am. But what actually moves your body is your vitality. Pranamaya kosha is the vital body where prana flows through energy channels called nadis. Now, you can’t dissect a human body and find the nadis. They aren’t visible, but they exist and you can feel them. You can tell when you have abundant energy or when energy is lacking. The koshas are sheaths that cover who we really are. That is whatever you want to call it – spirit, a creation of the Divine, a magical appearance, free, happy, unlimited. That’s your true nature.
You have five koshas or bodies. They may not be visible either, but they all interact with each other. In an asana practice, you could have emotional things going on, you could have intellectual things going on, you could have blissful things going on, and you certainly have physical things going on. But, in the end, what we’re trying to affect is our vitality, the flow of energy. We want to remove barriers that prevent the energy from moving a beneficial way.
Ksetrika is the Sanskrit word for farmer. In India, rice is farmed in paddies. The way it works is the farmer builds a little earth mound around the rice paddy to protect it from a nearby source of flowing water. An expert farmer knows exactly when to take the mound away so the paddy gets flooded at just the right time. The farmer must know how long to leave the field flooded before replacing the mound and stopping the flow. Just because someone has good soil, good seeds and available water, that doesn’t mean they are going to have a good rice crop. It takes a special intelligence to understand what the rice needs to grow. It takes a special wisdom to know the right time of the season, and so forth. All those elements work together to support growth. That is what Patanjali describes in the yoga sutra.
What you do acquire in a yoga practice is that excellent wisdom, that special intellect that allows you to open the gate and let prana flow to places that have become closed off. You gain it by feeling the restrictions in how you can articulate the physical body with your energy. You may want to do an asana, but somehow you can’t get the energy flowing into the back of your leg. The knee is shaky and the foot is bumbling. But, through practice and diligence, you gradually learn to allow the energy to flow freely into the leg. You know how to open and close the gates, like the good farmer.
More than the physical position, your task is to be free while you’re there. Study body language and you can see arrogance, defensiveness or fear in subtle expressions of the body. Are you mainly worried about yourself and your asana? Did you forget why you are doing it? Low self-esteem shows in the physical body’s inability to move with freedom, openness and joy. It is a result of thoughts toward yourself and others. It’s a result of selfish actions taken in the past. This is what closes doors and disallows the flow of prana that would promote growth. If unkind actions close doorways in our lives, then what we’re looking for are kind and virtuous actions.
You are not losing anything by giving away your kindness to others. In fact, you are filled with more vitality. You’ve experienced this at times when you are low on energy, and just really don’t have anything left, but then someone close to you needs your understanding. They need your compassion and support, and you really love them. You love them so much that your own fatigue goes on the back burner. You’re there for them out of a sense of identification with them, out of a love for them. We want that complete freedom, so that wherever you go, you are fully alive and have the ability to surprise everyone with your openness.
~ David Life
hānan eṣāṁ kleśavad uktam
The greatest obstacle to the practice of yoga is one’s own prejudices based on one’s own preferences.
Once upon a time, the strong, wise, out-of-this-world God of Transformation Lord Shiva was sitting with his companion, the great Goddess Parvati. He was telling her about the methods of yoga he had just discovered. He talked for a very long time, not noticing Parvati was bored. After all, it was she who had designed the whole system of yoga in the first place and hardly needed to be lectured on it! As Shiva continued to talk, Parvati dipped her hand in the river and started to gracefully caress the water, making subtle ripples which went on to become waves. One fish recognized that something interesting was coming from the riverbank and swam over to check it out. That fish, whose name was Matsya, listened to Lord Shiva’s teachings with rapt attention. When Matsya asked him to repeat them again from the beginning, Shiva immediately agreed, not surprised in the least that Matsya was a fish. Shiva treats all souls with equal respect. He determines a person’s eligibility by their sincere desire to know the Truth, not by their age, religion, gender or species.
Shiva renamed Matsya, Matsyendranath or “Lord of the Fishes” (Matsya coincidentally means fish in Sanskrit and Indra means Lord). He instructed him to go on and teach others about Hatha Yoga. That’s how it works. The teacher gives the teachings to the student, and the student’s job is to then become the teacher. And so Matsya was the first student who went on to become Matsyendranath, passing on the teachings to others. Yoga is transmitted from teacher to student in an unbroken lineage that remains today. All of us who consider ourselves teachers of Hatha Yoga are descendants of that Fish, Matsya.
At the beginning of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the author, Swatmarama, acknowledges the lineage as being passed from Adinath (Shiva) to Matsyendranath. Yet most people have trouble believing that the first yoga student was an actual fish! How could that be? A fish could never do eka pada shirshasana or even padmasana! The automatic assumption is that Matsya was a man. At most they suppose he may have had wide-set eyes, scaly skin, or some other characteristic that earned him a fish-sounding name. In India, you can see images of Matsyendranath and he appears to be a strong, long-haired, bearded man with two legs instead of a fish tail.
Why is it inconceivable to us that a fish could have received teachings directly from God and gone on to become a yoga guru? It is because of deep rooted prejudice. We human beings arrogantly assume that we are the only species on the planet endowed with consciousness, intelligence, language and a soul. We think it has always been this way, when in fact, all living beings possess these qualities. Scientists today agree that there was life on this planet before human beings appeared. There was a time when aquatic beings outnumbered all other forms of life on this Earth. The Vedas speak of Lord Vishnu’s ten incarnations, and the first avatar was a fish!
I once heard someone tell the story of Matsyendranath and relate it to the biblical story of Jonah and the whale in an attempt to rationalize the “fish” issue. “Jonah,” the teacher said, “was a man swallowed by a whale. He’s inside the whale, which is sort of a big fish. Jonah was a wise and important person in the Bible. Matsyendranath was kind of like Jonah — a man inside a fish’s body. When you see Matsyendranath’s name at the beginning of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, you don’t think of it as referring to a real fish.” This teacher was adamant and to drive home the point and said, “Matsyendranath was a man, a person.” When I heard that, I wondered, are they saying that he was a person inside a fish’s body? And if so, don’t all fish have people inside of them? Isn’t every fish a person, truly, inside? Aren’t all living beings persons? If we define a person as someone with a soul — someone who can feel and think, who cares about their life, cares about their children, cares about their parents, cares about and feels things — then yes, a fish is a person.
The Vedantic teachings declare that all is Brahman—there is nothing in this universe but God. God resides in all beings concealed inside their outward form. But nonetheless, the essential nature of all souls is divine. The outer form of any being or thing is not their true eternal identity. I think the teacher who didn’t want us to think that Matsyendranath might have been a “real fish” was not prepared to think that way. Prejudice based on species can prevent us from embracing this idea. I hope the time will soon come when we do not look upon other animals as inferior and that, as teachers, we won’t be ashamed to teach that great gurus might not always appear in human form.
My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.
You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.
I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.
Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.
In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.
We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.
Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.
There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.
The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.
American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian psychoanalyst, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves.
Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund trackers report that elderly and historic mountain gorilla silverback Cantsbee, who disappeared from his group on Oct. 10, and could not be found despite weeks of massive searching, was seen in his group on Jan. 4. Although the group was at some distance from the trackers and would not allow them to approach, a closer look on Jan. 5 provided evidence that the gorilla was indeed the missing Cantsbee!
Due to his advanced age (now 38 years old and beyond the statistical life expectancy for a mountain gorilla), the Fossey Fund had earlier presumed that he must have fallen ill, been left behind and subsequently died, since intensive searching over a month long period did not find any traces of him.
On their regular monitoring of Cantsbee’s former group on Jan. 4, Fossey Fund trackers were shocked to notice, from a distance of about 10 meters, that an “extra” silverback was in the group, which is now led by Cantsbee’s son, Gicurasi. They returned the next day determined to get conclusive evidence, including a closer look and photographs, and to determine the condition of the gorilla.
More surprises on the second day
Trackers reached the group later than usual on Jan. 5, due to the rough, steep terrain, full of ravines and dense foliage, as well as the distant location of the group. The group was split in two subgroups and our trackers first encountered one of these, led by young silverback Kureba. When they found the second subgroup, it was involved in an intense interaction with another group. But there was no doubt: elderly Cantsbee and silverback Gicurasi were leading the action and Cantsbee appeared to be in fine shape, running, displaying and smashing vegetation as a show of strength.
After about an hour, the whole group started to move away from the action, led by Cantsbee, with the females and youngsters following him, just like they used to in the past. Gicurasi and the younger silverbacks stayed behind, to continue facing off the intruding silverback, who was still following them. His name is Iyambere and he is a young silverback who just formed his group in 2015. Interestingly, he’s also another son of Cantsbee!
Field staff are amazed
“It’s hard to believe and to explain what has happened,” says Veronica Vecellio, Fossey Fund gorilla program manager in Rwanda. “We don’t know why Cantsbee left the group, where he went, whether he’s back to stay, and how he will work things out with Gicurasi’ dominance. But we are overjoyed to have him back so we can continue to monitor the oldest known silverback, who has been followed since birth and has such a remarkable story!”
“Cantsbee was named by Dian Fossey because she thought his mother was a male and so when she gave birth she said ‘it can’t be’. And now he has earned his name for a second time,” says Fossey Fund president and CEO/chief scientific officer Dr. Tara Stoinski.
“There are cases where younger males go off and return, usually as they try to establish their own future groups or status, but we have not seen a situation like Cantsbee’s return before. This shows that even after 50 years of close study, the gorillas can and will still surprise us and that there is always more to learn!”
Story reposted from http://rwandaupdates.com/longtime-missing-and-declared-dead-rwanda-n-silverback-gorilla-cantsbee-38-found-alive-leading-his-group/
Interested in yoga and gorilla trekking with me in 2017?
Email me or leave a comment in the comment section.
LOVE & A BLESSED 2017!
Focus Of The Month – January, 2017
You know the story of the student who says to the teacher, “I studied eight years with so-and-so and two years with so-and-so, and I know all about this and that and the other.” As he is speaking the teacher is pouring a cup of tea. The student is going on about all his credentials and why the teacher should teach him. The teacher is still pouring the tea, which is now pouring out of the cup, all over the table and dripping on the student. “What are you doing?” the student asks. “Are you crazy? Why’d you do that?” The teacher laughs and says “You’re like the cup. You’re already full, and I can’t teach you. It would be like trying to put more tea in the cup; it’s not going to happen.”
Letting go, or the release, of a restricted way of moving is essential to being filled back up. That emptying out process is a surrender. Surrender has a negative connotation to us. It usually means that we have lost. But in this case it allows us to let go of the way things have been and embrace newness as it appears in each moment. We are able to find a new range of motion with new possibilities and thoughts coming into our minds.
We can see how we’ve been indoctrinated by our culture in the ways that we move. In some places we shake hands, while in others that’s not considered a good thing to do. There are differences in how women and men move, and how people signal and interact with one another. We learn these ways of being. As we grow older, we become more attached to our own set of prohibitions and possibilities. They become narrower and less available if you are only walking down the same path every day.
A new way of approaching the future is expanding what is possible rather than limiting it. There are actually a thousand different ways you can get to work instead of taking the same route each day. The key is not clinging to how we’ve always lived our lives. Most of our decisions are made according to how we’ve been programmed instead of spontaneity, creativity and originality. If you were raised with writers, musicians or dancers you might be more likely to tap into the universal consciousness and conduct real creativity instead of the same old ideas.
We would all like to know how to step forward in a way that doesn’t hurt others. It is good for us and good for the Earth. We want to orient our self to the Earth in all kinds of ways so that we get different points of view; upside down, right-side up, half-way turned around. Those are very potent things to do with your body. They can deprogram you, opening up the list of possible ways of being. We all have certain prejudices about what we are capable of. For example, the thought “I have very little upper body strength.” That’s not a fact. That’s an idea. It’s not a matter of lifting weights. It’s a matter of what you already decided the possibilities were. “A world without war? No way!” As long as you have that thought, then you’re going to live in a world where there is no way of living without war.
Look at the hip socket. The possible range of movement is big, but if all you do in your life is sit at a desk and barely walk around, then you see the range as small. The joint is unable to find its full potential. That limited range of movement is also in your brain and nervous system. Your ability to understand, comprehend and accept new ways of being are also limited in the same way. The body’s limitation is a reflection of the mind’s limitation.
Usually what happens is the mind, because of its limitation, creates an action. The Sanskrit word for action is karma, which means any action: word, thought or step. The law of karma says that any action will continue on, reverberate and come back to you eventually. If you’ve ever thrown a pebble on a pond it sends out these waves. As soon as they hit the border of the pond they start to come back to the original spot. So every action we’ve done in this life and past lives are inside this body. The results are the restrictions, the tightness, the closed mind. The inability to be creative, spontaneous and to invent new possibilities is because of those past actions. The yoga practice allows you to bring those past actions to completion. Get them out of there!
~ David Life
When I was a child growing up Africa, we called all friends of our parents ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’ (in french ‘tantine’ or ‘‘tonton’) which was an honorific and considered respectful. And among the aunties and uncles, there were those you wanted to be related to: Too cool not to be yours. And they actually didn’t care for honorifics. Heartbreaks, delights, anything: you could call them and they would always be there for you. You would never feel uncomfortable around them.
Shyamdas – affectionately and respectfully called Shyamdasji – belongs to that category, as a spiritual teacher. He had dedicated his life to the music, literature, and people of Braj. He spoke Sanskrit, Hindi, Gujarati, and Brajbhasha. He was a scholar who insightfully translated and commented many of the songs and writings of saints from the Pushti Marg tradition (Shri Vallabhacharya, Govinda Svami, Raskhan, Surdas and others). His immense knowledge was only surpassed by his joy – ananda.
Shyamdasji lived in the bhav, mad in love with God and in service. He left his body in January of 2013.
Regular students of my classes are familiar with his voice … and his laughter!
Today, I’d like to share Braj Raja with you.
All these sacred and ancient teachings are preserved and distributed through the wonderful work of the Shyamdas Foundation.
As Shyamdasji would say: “It’s all Hari’s grace”
December is a special month in our family. I was born in that month and our son’s birthday is only a few days apart from mine. Then Christmas celebrations.
- Christ must be lived to be known. In all good actions, in every material and spiritual service, and in the manger of meditation, the immortal Cosmic Christ is born anew. – Paramanhansa Yogananda
- The Christ Consciousness is revealed in us as compassion. – Sharon Gannon
When we allow our own light of love to radiate into the world around us, it is Christmas. Christmas is not some grand event happening on December 25th. It is not depending on external circumstances. The word « light » in English, conveys a sense of not heavy and also illumination, bright. Giving and forgiving makes us (literally) light. Eating a plant-based diet too. Just like meditation unclutters the mind, chanting makes us beam. Yoga practices provide the sincere spiritual seeker with practical means for Self-Realization.
Christ Consciousness refers to the Light, that we are. It is the Self (with capital S), the Atman, it is our Buddha nature- It is Krishna Consciousness.
As the gentle swami Nirmalananda said: Love alone can dispel present madness of hate. Let your light (of love) so shine before all, as Christ asks us, that there may be ever more bright and radiating light which hatred cannot overshadow. When the heart rules the mind, life has altogether a different quality and dimension.
Let the Love that you are shine and Merry Christmas!
Shine on and Merry Christmas!
Yoga and Christ by Sharon Gannon
The Need to love by Thich Nhat Hanh
Dear Friends, yogis, book lovers,
A year ago, I decided to empty my shelves of books I no longer needed (this process deserves a specific blogpost).
And this morning, I just started a new experiment: an instagram serie of posts about books, for the love of books.
Most probably because I’m too inconsistent a blogger and an avid reader.
Here’s the hashtag.
Feel free to join in.
You don’t have to write a lengthy review; or even a review at all. Share something about a book you love, two books or more.
To join in if you’re on IG, just use the hashtag. If you’re not, email me. I’ll share it.
Let’s see how it goes… thank you.
With love always.
Dearest yogi(ni)s, friends, 2016 brought us mOMents to remember but this is a story for another time (or blog) .. We both feel there’s never been a better time to gather with like-minded souls, to practice yoga together, to share a delicious meal or a cup of tea and simply enjoy each other’s company. Here is our offer: FRIDAY […]
This is a project that is very dear to my heart.
Next Saturday, Yogeswari and myself will teach a special yoga class to benefit our projects in Rwanda, in Cambodia and soon to start Ivory Coast.
If you are around please, please join the Yogathon in Geneva.
The smallest donation can make the biggest impact.
WHAT IS A PERSON? (THE WORLD IN WHICH THE KESTREL MOVES)
sarva-bhūtastham ātmānam / sarva-bhūtāni cātmani
īkshate yogayuktātmā / sarvatra samadarśanah
Through the practice of yoga, the yogini and yogi sees the Divine Self in all beings and at all times.
This sloka from The Bhagavad Gita asks us to reflect on the divinity, the holy nature, of all beings, which is omnipresent. The idea of “all beings” might be a little intangible— and inaccessible for many of us. It’s an overwhelming concept! How can we wrap our heads around it? One way is to start thinking of the beings we know and love, the ones we are close to—our friends, family, and companion animals. We might then extend our circle of divinity to our communities and beyond.
The Bhagavad Gita tells us that divine beings exist all around us in the form of fairies and elemental beings. We might also ask, Is a tree included? Or the ocean? And if we assume that people are, what makes a person a person? Steve Wise, a New York lawyer, has asked questions about personhood and concluded that sentiency plays a critical role in what makes a person a person. He founded a movement called the Nonhuman Rights Project, thanks to which he and a team of legal experts are campaigning to have chimpanzees (with plans to expand to other animals) legally declared persons with certain fundamental rights. The crux of their argument is that chimpanzees have the ability to self-reflect and to perceive and understand past, present, and future, and as such it is a violation of their constitutional right to freedom for them to be imprisoned in cages under human control. In other words, chimpanzees are people too and should be afforded the same basic rights that human people enjoy.
Sharon Gannon pioneered nonhuman rights when she titled one of her books Cats and Dogs are People Too! In this book Sharon deeply considers the often-subconscious attitudes we have toward our companion animals, which deems them less important than human family members or somehow inferior.
Corporate law and culture has a very different perspective on the concept of personhood. Under corporate law in most liberal democracies a corporation such as Coca-Cola or McDonalds enjoys the rights of personhood. So, in our topsy-turvy world, corporations (which exist by definition as having the primary motive of making money) have more rights than chimpanzees, elephants, or dolphins.
The Whanganui River, in New Zealand, is sacred to the indigenous people and has been afforded the right of personhood by the government; it therefore enjoys protection from pollution and development. In India, the holy book of the Sikh faith, Guru Granth Sahib, has been granted personhood by the government and is protected as such.
When we broaden our perspective of what a “person” is, our circle of compassion expands. This sloka from The Bhagavad Gita invites us to do just that, to remember that an ant is a person just as much as a bird or a human being. Furthermore, it gives us information on how we might remember this: through the practices of Yoga. The techniques of Yoga will help us to see the divinity in all “people.”
Philosopher Mary Midgley has dedicated her life’s work to the study of human and animal relationships. Mary is a retired university professor now (she’s 97 years old!), but has written extensively about animal rights and specifically about the issue of personhood. Mary suggests that we will extend our ability to be compassionate toward all beings if we respect and honor the differences in our own abilities and those of others. As Mary has written: “The world in which the kestrel moves, the world that it sees, is, and always will be, entirely beyond us. That there are such worlds all around us is an essential feature of our world.”
As yogis we are fortunate to have a direct method for accessing this world of the kestrel. Through the practice of asana we become the eagle, the snake, and the cow. We become the tree and the mountain. And in doing so we embody the people that those holy beings are and resonate more deeply with them. We extend our own experiences of being and might begin to see the Divine Self in all beings. In this way asana is a tool for enlightenment—the realization that we are all One.
As Sharon Gannon has said: “We are all in this together. We are all this together.”
Peter Singer and Karen Dawn
To animal protection advocates, a pledge to eat less meat is good news. Even a small step like Meatless Mondays is generally better than nothing. All too often, however, aspiring ethical eaters choose a favored animal or two to exclude from their diet, without actually reducing their total animal consumption. Despite good intentions, they may end up increasing animal suffering.
Many people, for example, swear off pigs and cows but continue to eat chickens and fish. Perhaps they categorize animals into those they eat and those they keep as pets; mammals, with their fur and their “windows to the soul” framed in long lashes, may seem more like the latter.
Replacing pigs and cows with birds and fish, though, usually leads to the slaughter of many more animals, because, with a few exceptions, birds and fish are smaller. If you were to eat a pound of beef a day — say a huge steak or four beef patties — you might take a year to consume a single animal. If you were instead to eat a daily pound of chicken or salmon, you might eat hundreds of animals per year.
Birds and fish are not demonstrably less sentient than mammals. People who have rescued turkeys report that when treated as pets they respond as such; they enjoy attention, affection and mental stimulation. Anybody who has spent real time with backyard hens knows that they have individual personalities. And while many of us were taught that fish have memories of only a few seconds, scientific experiments have shown that they can remember the location of a hole in a net many months after first learning about it. They can also recognize faces — one another’s and ours. Divers tell stories about, and have filmed themselves petting, friendly Groupers who swim up to them.
Few people are aware of the level of suffering experienced by a single bird or fish killed for human consumption, which is shocking even before that suffering is multiplied by the hundreds a person might eat in place of a cow or pig over the course of a year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture interprets the Federal Humane Slaughter Act as not covering birds. That means that 95% of land animals slaughtered for food in this country are excluded. They may have coverage under individual state laws, but that is far from sufficient. They are commonly thrown around, stuffed into shackles, and have their throats slit while conscious. When killing blades miss their necks, they are tossed alive into the scalding water of defeathering tanks. A recent Washington Post article reported that approximately 1 million turkeys and chickens are boiled to death every year.
While the differences between the nervous systems of fish and other animals has long been used as the basis for the argument that fish do not feel pain, recent experiments have left no doubt that they do. Fish who have irritants injected into their lips will rub their lips incessantly against their tank walls — unless those irritants are accompanied by pain relievers. So when a fish spends three days on a hook attached to the mile long line of a fishing vessel, that fish is probably spending three days in agony — and that’s before the fish is hauled onto a deck to die slowly of suffocation.
Marine mammal admirers may not know that dolphins, sea turtles and whales are killed by those fishing lines and caught in fishing nets. Further, the crisis of overfishing that depletes our oceans robs fish-eating animals of their food. Dead penguins wash up on coastlines, their bellies empty. When the fish are gone, the animals who depend on them cannot order tofu instead.
Crueler still than a diet that simply kills animals is one that also causes them egregious daily torment. In the U.S., most laying hens are still kept in battery cages, each hen crammed with four or five others in a space so small she is unable to stand up straight or spread her wings. She will live for at least a year in conditions worse than those that most of us find hard to handle on a five-hour flight across the country.
Though conditions are slightly better for hens in California, where traditional battery cages have been banned, the law does not require that hens be released from cages, only that the cages give them enough room to stand up and spread their wings. They may still live in stacks, showered by the excrement of the hens above them, and deprived of the ability to fulfill their natural instincts — to sunbathe, dustbathe and raise their young.
Even cage-free eggs generally come from hens who live in massive barns, choked by ammonia fumes. Though hens raised on pasture, the highest welfare standard, enjoy better conditions, they produce a negligible percentage of eggs in the United States. As there are no federal laws regulating their slaughter, their lives can end in horror. “Spent hens” may be thrown live into ditches and buried by bulldozers.
We recognize that people may avoid red meat on environmental grounds. Research suggests that pound for pound chicken is responsible for less environmental degradation than beef. Though some people may snicker about the impact of methane, or “cow farts,” the warming potential of methane is 30 times that of carbon dioxide. Nevertheless, a diet that is responsible for hundreds of times more suffering is not made ethical by producing a lower level of greenhouse gas emissions.
Anybody who gives up red meat on environmental grounds should also consider the methane emissions of dairy, as well as its local pollution. California’s San Joaquin Valley, responsible for a fifth of the nation’s milk production, has some of the worst air quality in the country. And dairy has built-in suffering. Mammals do not give milk until they give birth. People who work in the dairy industry report that mother cows will bellow for days for calves who have been carted off to veal crates. Veal calves are the waste product of the dairy industry.
We understand that most people are not yet ready to eschew all animal products and embrace a vegan lifestyle. But while substituting one meat or animal product for another may do more harm than good, making half of your meals plant-based is a superb half-measure. It’s not hard. We aren’t the only ones who think that Just Mayo’s plant-based mayonnaise tastes just as good as Hellman’s regular. And last year, when Whole Foods mistakenly sold plant-based “chick’n” in its regular chicken salad, not a single customer complained.
Peter Singer is professor of bioethics at Princeton University and the author of “Animal Liberation.” A selection of his short essays “Ethics in the Real World,” is out this month. Karen Dawn runs DawnWatch.com and is the author of “Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals.”
We hope to see many of you!
A blessed “black moon” and Blesssed Navaratri everyone
On this very auspicious day, the very knowledgeable Manorama shared this blog
Today the Durgā festival known as Navarātrí starts. This Fall, the festival dates are from Oct 10 to Oct 11.
This is a special time as it reflects the shift from a more outward movement of energy to a more inward movement. So take this time in your practice to start to pull in and feel more on an inner level.
Navaratri is a festival devoted to the goddess in all her aspects, especial Durgā Mātā. The goddess represents protection, benevolence and support and much more. When we sing her praises through chanting mantras, or when we meditate on her, we draw that protection, light and goodness into our lives.
If you feel drawn to participate this year here is a simple Durgā Pūjā you can do each day during the festival.
A Luminous Soul
Simple Goddess Pūjā
1. Purchase fresh flowers (red or white)
2. Purchase a fresh piece of fruit that you’ll make as an offering.
3. Clean your altar or sacred space.
4. If you have a Durgā murti (statue)
you can bathe her in buttermilk and fresh water. (Vegan option: Use coconut milk and fresh water).
5. Place fresh flowers in a vase and place near the murti.
6. Place your offering of fresh fruit near the murti.
7. Say this mantra 9 x’s:
OM DŪM DURGĀYAI NAMAH
I offer my respect to the goddess Durga, who is the force of protection, beneficence and luminous light.
8. Place a fresh tea light in a holder. Light the candle and place it in your right hand. Wave the candle clockwise 3 x’s around the image or murti of Durgā. (If you don’t have either a picture or statue of Durgā you can then wave the light in the same manner symbolically).
9. Sit quietly for 9 minutes and feel
the light within you.
*Note: in Pūjās everything that you offer or work with during the ceremony should not touch the floor, so be mindful of that.
Also do not use your cell phone at this time or become interrupted (unless there is a emergency to attend to). It is a quiet focused time where you are paying respect to the energy of the goddess and feeling her support and light.
Happy Blessed Navaratri Everyone!
May it be a time of healing and deepening into connectivity with the goddess and with your soul.
Love & Light,
The beautiful artwork is made by Nitya Pat Collom.
Copyright 2016 Manorama, Sanskrit Studies
This is a unique opportunity to study with my guru, Sharon Gannon, the co-founder the jivamukti Yoga method. And Berlin (the most vegan friendly place in the world) is just next door.
I’ll be there, will you?
1.) Fri. 07.10.2016 11:15-13:45 @ Jivamukti Yoga Kreuzberg, Oranienstr. 25
2 hour JIVAMUKTI OPEN XL CLASS with Sharon Gannon followed by ca. 1/2 hour Satsang/Q+A
2.) Fri. 07.10.2016, 19:30-22:30 @ UCI KINOWELT Colosseum, Schönhauser Allee 123
“What is Real? The Story of Jivamukti Yoga” European and German Red Carpet Film Premiere Reception & Screening with vegan apéritifs, finger food by The JiVamukti Canteen and followed by Q&A with Sharon Gannon, Jules Febre + film director Jay Mac present
3.) Sat. 08.10.2016, 12:00-18:00 @ DELIGHT RENTAL STUDIOS, Saarbrücker Str. 37
JIVAMUKTI YOGA WORKSHOP DAY with Sharon Gannon + Jules Febre (includes approx. 1 hour break at ca. 14:30).
4.) Sun. 09.10.2016, 17:00-19:00+19:30-20:30 @ JIVAMUKTI YOGA BERLIN (Mitte), Brunnenstr. 29
JIVAMUKTI OPEN XL CLASS with Jules Febre followed by Satsang also with Jules
WORKSHOP LANGUAGE: English. Participants should have a basic understanding of English as there will be no translation.
YOGA JOURNAL magazine has called her an innovator in yoga. VANITY FAIR gives her credit for making yoga cool and hip in the West. FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE praised her for having made yoga, for the first time ever, presentable to Western urban dwellers:
Jivamukti Yoga Berlin feels so blessed to have Jivamukti co-founder Sharon Gannon back again so soon for a very special Jivamukti Yoga workshop weekend on occassion of the German and European premiere event of the new Jivamukti documentary “What is Real? The Story of Jivamukti Yoga”. These events are not to be missed and, as in the past when Sharon came to Berlin, we do expect a good amount of people from all over Europe for a very special celebration of the Jivamukti community here in Berlin.
WHAT TO EXPECT?
On Friday morning, you can enjoy a rare chance to take a classic (yet slightly extended to 2 hours) Jivamukti Open XL class taught by the co-founder of the method. So we guess this could be called a Master class (not meaning it is only for masters, but just taught by a master in her field and still open for all). A rare chance to experience how a Jivamukti Open class is taught right from the source. After the asana practice, there will be a ca. 1 hour Satsang & Q+A.
For Friday evening, you have the chance to still get tickets for the European and German red carpet premiere of the new Jivamukti movie “What is real? The Story of Jivamukti Yoga” with Sharon Gannon, Jules Febre and the director Jay Mac present. For more information on this great movie check http://www.whatisrealmovie.com
On Saturday, a Jivamukti Yoga workshop day from 12:00 until 18:00 with Sharon Gannon and Jules Febre will leave you blissed out and charged up with new knowledge. Expect new inspiring input on yoga asana taught the Jivamukti way but also new insights on the main philosophical aspects and yogic scriptures that Jivamukti Yoga is based on. But most of all, expect a vigorous asana practice as only Jivamukti Yoga can be. All of this direct from the source, the co-founder and main force behind Jivamukti Yoga: Sharon Gannon, accompanied by Jivamukti master teacher Jules Febre.
On Sunday, Sharon Gannon is off to Munich and Moscow, but we are extremely happy that Jules Febre will teach the 5pm Jivamukti Open XL class as well as the 7:30pm Satsang at our studio in Mitte to phase out the weekend nicely.
This is undoubtedly THE highlight of 2016 for all European Jivamukti Yoga practitioners and teachers (and those interested in becoming such) as well as yogis and teachers of all other styles and backgrounds of yoga. A very special opportunity to celebrate Jivamukti history on occasion of the movie premiere with the international European Jivamukti Yoga satsang. And a great chance to deepen your Asana practice, detoxify your body, heart and spirit, and to obtain a profound spiritual experience with the founder of this internationally recognized and practiced method of Hatha yoga.
Ready to sign up? Here (scroll down) http://jivamuktiberlin.de/events.html
Focus Of The Month – September, 2016
shariram surupam tatha va kalatram yashashcharu chitram dhanam merutulyam
manashchenna lagnam guroranghri-padme tatah kim tatah kim tatah kim tatah kim
Even if you have good looks, a beautiful lover, great fame and mountains of money, if you are unable to bow at your teacher’s lotus feet—What is the use? What is the use? What is the use? What is the use?
Thousands of years ago, as a way to encourage his students to realize how precious their lives were, the Buddha invited them to imagine a vast and deep ocean with a golden life preserver floating on its surface. The Buddha then asked, “How rare would it be for a turtle living at the bottom of the ocean to peek her head for a breath through the middle of the golden life preserver just at the right moment?” In unison, the students answered, “Indeed, it would be very rare.”
Life is that rare and precious. It is so rare and precious that we wouldn’t want to waste it. This invitation to not let our lives go to waste is what this verse from the “Guru Ashtakam” is calling for. When chanting this verse, we embrace worldly life and the desires that accompany our human birth: a healthy body, a loving partner, heaps of money to cover our rent or mortgage and do the things we enjoy, a successful career, respect in our social circles, knowledge that is not only book-based but experience-based as well. This prayer gives us the permission to recognize and accept all of that without judgment or harshness, but it also comes with a warning.
If we always keep ourselves busy, acquiring and attaining all that comes and goes without being genuinely open to learn, to practice and to transform ourselves, what is the use of all we have acquired? Without our minds intent on “uplifting the lives of others,” as my dear teacher Sharon Gannon would say, and without allowing ourselves to be overcome with humility, devotion and a feeling of being part of something greater than ourselves—a lineage or a community to cherish and celebrate—then what is the use of all we have attained? What is the use—tatah kim?
We all lead very hectic lives. It can often feel like we are wandering aimlessly without a focus or purpose. The Sanskrit word samsara describes this feeling. It means “same agitation” lifetime after lifetime (sam means “same,” sara “agitation”). It’s a feeling of being stuck at the bottom of the ocean, in the lower realms of existence, not being able to see where we’re going. It is said that humility and devotion are like the two oars of the boat of sadhana (conscious spiritual practice) that takes the student across the ocean of samsara.
Humility requires accepting that everything is in flux, that the things we acquire and attain come and go. Hence, humility allows us to embrace impermanence and to remain open to the inevitability of change. Humility cuts through our resistance and our crazy urge to remain in a protected bubble where we get only what we want, where life unfolds only on our terms. Humility softens us to the point where we can move with fluidity and show up for life and its unpredictability. Humility grants us the openness and courage to move in a direction that feels purposeful.
Moving in a purposeful direction, we inevitably begin to feel a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves. The English word humility is derived from the Latin humus, which means “earth, ground, soil.” When we place our forehead on the earth, on the floor in front of an altar, at the feet of a teacher, when we bow to the circumstances of our life, we humbly offer something of ourselves and acknowledge our longing “to be”—to be an instrument, to be of use, to be part of a community of men and women who honor the earth, celebrate life and have devoted their lives to practice and share methods that will stop us from wandering aimlessly in search of things that will never feel like enough—the perfect body, the perfect lover, the perfect career, the perfect house, the perfect investment.
A guru is anything that removes (ru in Sanskrit) this common misunderstanding (gualso translates as “misknowing” or “ignorance”). When we devote ourselves to recognizing that our life experiences—the birth of a child, the loss of a job—can clear away our confusion, can be our guru, we become struck by the poignant clarity of how precious and rare the life we share with every sentient being is.
The practices of Yoga are designed to nurture humility by encouraging us to cultivate kindness, compassion, connection and receptivity no matter what is going on in our lives. Through practice, our devotion to all that is guiding us to stay on course and to remain open will naturally arise from within, reinforcing our understanding that a life well lived is a life that puts us in touch with something larger than ourselves and allows us to get out of our own way. This very notion can shatter the limited and fixed view of ourselves, of others and of the world. Such a life is rare and precious. Such a life will indeed never feel wasted.
—Rima Rani Rabbath
Early life memories, Yoga and Vegetarianism
As children, my sister Jeanette and I would regularly entertain our friends wrapping our legs behind ours ears, though at the time, the word “yoga” was completely unknown to me. We very much liked to mimic Michael Jackson’s mesmerizing moves as well (remember the break-dance?). It was only when, in 2000, I was pregnant that I attended a yoga class for mums-to-be. I found the class boring, New Age kind of a thing, and never went back to that center. A few years later, I attended a more vigorous yoga class. It was a revelation, I felt like I was six years old again; not as flexible as I had been then, but still as blissfully happy. The practice made me high, I was in love! A few months into the class, I noticed that my chronic lower back pain had disappeared .
I am an avid reader, so whenever I come across something that triggers my passion to learn more about it, I raid libraries and bookstores. Amazon says that the book “Yoga and Vegetarianism” by Sharon Gannon was first delivered the first week of September 2009 (31 August – 9 September).
As a child, I had never taken any pleasure in eating animals and drinking milk. A story runs in my family about how my sister and I refused to eat fish saying that that whole grilled fish was “dead and staring at us”. I cannot myself remember ever saying that, but I do recall how I always loved observing ants and being fearful that I might kill them inadvertently while walking. And so, it is perhaps not all that surprising that reading “Yoga and Vegetarianism” turned me vegan overnight.
Both my paternal grandparents were lifelong vegetarian centenarians. My grandmother – who we affectionately called Jjajja (‘grandma’ in Luganda, one of Uganda’s main languages) – was the smartest and most generous woman I’ve ever known. She used to claim she could identify meat-eaters from a distance. Jjajja despised fat people and above all lazy people. And she adored her grandchildren, who she found absolutely perfect, even – or especially – the picky eater little me.
I guess it is because of her and our special relationship that my not eating meat as a child was never a problem in our family. But, from their perspective, the most difficult to accept was my disgust with and refusal to drink milk. Worse, still, my sense of smell was very strong and my gag reflex was overwhelming at times; I could never stand the smell of fresh cooking milk (done as a way of pasteurizing it) invading the whole house whenever fresh milk arrived straight from the farm. My sister could blackmail me into doing almost anything she wanted by threatening to dip her buttered toast into her morning tea. My mother too devised all manner of diplomatic excuses beforehand for my anticipated refusal to drink the milk I was offered wherever we went (almost everywhere), while at home she did her best to keep butter out of my food.
All Rwandans, particularly the Tutsi pastoralists, consider cows to be sacred and their milk the most perfect nourishment on earth, especially for kids. But the culture around cows goes well beyond their practical benefit. People are given cows’ names; telling a woman that she has a calf’s eyes is the highest form of complimenting her on how beautiful her eyes are. Similarly, the shades of human skin colour are often described in analogy with cows’ skin-colours, and traditional dances mimic cows’ gait, with women’s arms raised to look like and to move gracefully – like cows’ horns, as feet stamp rhythmically to drums and song. Traditionally, a cow has always been regarded as the most generous of gifts, offered only on special occasions, or as the highest mark of gratitude and friendship. Thus, in this cultural context, not liking milk let alone rejecting it outright, and worse, openly saying so, was considered a severe anomaly.
Nevertheless, over the years, as a teenager and a young adult, I ended up eating certain sorts of cheese (those without the buttery smell), chicken and fish. But “my side stories” about the private lives of ants and the dead people on my plate were there; ready to resurface at any moment. Even when I had given up on chicken, I was an on-and-off unhappy vegetarian. Reading “Yoga and Vegetarianism” was such a relief and a validation from the first words of the book. Sharon Gannon dedicated her book to:
«To those who want to be free
To those who do not want to be hurt by others
To those who do not want to be lied to, who want to be listened to
To those who do not want to live in poverty
To those who are sick but want to get well
To those who want to know the purpose of their lives.»
The clarity of Sharon Gannon’s message literally brought me back together and opened me to greater compassion for all beings (but first brought me greater awareness of my own prior ignorance).
An unnatural order
According to the psychologist Melanie Joy “In one week, more farmed animals are killed than the total number of people killed in all wars throughout history.” But how did it all begin? Why does this total insanity continue? Why does it not make the world’s headlines?
I did ask myself these very same questions in 1994, when my people were being slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands in broad daylight in Rwanda; even as the overwhelming rest of the world went on with its business in total indifference. I concluded then, that human beings are simply the most violent animals on the planet, and that compassion is, perhaps, one of the rarest qualities of our species.
Many researchers agree that the advent of agriculture and the domestication of animals was a terrible moment in history. This is what Jeffrey Masson writes about it: “The domestication of plants was accompanied by the domestication of animals. They happened more or less simultaneously. Except for dogs, who were domesticated much earlier, the earliest animals to be domesticated were sheep, goats, pigs, and cows (from around 9000 B.C.E.). Obviously, the original point of animal domestication had to do with food. And of course, to eat animals, humans had to exclude the recognition that they had feelings and could suffer in much the same way we do.” He continues: “People in early indigenous cultures (Inuit, Aboriginal, Amerindian, Maori, and so on) asked forgiveness of an animal before they hunted it down and killed it. Killing may have been necessary, but it was not casual.”
It is worth noting that the terms, “stock market” and “capital” all derive from this herding culture where wealth was in livestock. The Latin root word for capital is capita, which means the head of a cow, goat, or sheep (the first animals to be domesticated). The exploitation of animals seems to have served as a template for capitalism as we know it today. Tracing slavery back to its beginnings, David Brion Davis (one of the world’s most prominent slavery historian) links it to the domestication of wild animals
So where do we start?
Whether we agree with Masson and Davis or not, we live in a time of global crisis.
In 2006, a UN report identified livestock as the leading human contributing cause of climate change. Studies and reports abound on the imperative to cut down animal products in order to mitigate climate change. As a species, we are collectively slowly facing the truth about animal industries – a topic that is generally hidden from our view.
The website http://www.killedsofar.com counts how many animals worldwide are killed for food. By the time I put the final point to this article, it counts 35 billions so far this year and 629 billions if we include marine life.
Many things have informed my views about food, animals and humans. I became vegan for ethical reasons and reflecting on my own relationship to other beings (not just other human beings) is a work in progress.
Eating a plant-based diet is the easiest, cheapest, and smartest thing that we, human beings, can do for our health, the planet, and the other animals.
Everyone, I believe, is trying to do his or her best. Among the many hats I wear, I am a yoga teacher as well as the mother of a thriving 14-year-old who has been a vegetarian since his birth. In the first capacity, my role is to provide education so that people will be more informed and make their own choices from a basis of knowledge rather than ignorance.
Over the years, I have seen a growing number of people becoming more interested in knowing exactly what was in their food; how everything in it was produced, and the impact of such eating choices on our living environment. My husband comes from a family of hunters, and for him, giving up on red meat and dairy products was a personal milestone. He has watched and recorded dozens of documentaries on animal rights and our vital environment. Thanks to his deep understanding of the stakes, our home is a vegan household.
With my son, we pride ourselves on making the most delicious vegan chocolate cake and pancakes.
For my husband, it was important to find tasty meat substitutes. And all I can tell you is that the spicy tempeh has never failed as a crowd-pleaser. Did I mention my mom was an incredible cook and a true foodie? Any cooking skills I have are from years of assisting her and being spoiled by my auntie who always sent me cookbooks for my birthday.
Learning how to veganize your favorite dish and/or to find a good substitute to dairy products if you’re hooked on them is a game changer.
Genuine knowledge originates in direct experience. If you are already considering becoming vegetarian or vegan, you only need to get started*. Don’t delay action, don’t overthink it. Some people prefer to set up meat-free days or to take a vegan pledge for a week or a month (there are many online support groups). Make sure you set doable goals and even better idea, get a friend to do it with you. The more, the merrier!
I can’t wait to hear from you.
Peace, love and veggies,
Jeanine (I insta food pics too )
*A short list of resources
Must Watch Documentaries on Youtube
Environmental documentary: Cowspiracy – http://www.cowspiracy.com/
- The China Study, Dr. T. Colin Campbell
- The World peace diet, Dr Will Tuttle
- The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: http://www.pcrm.org
- One green planet: http://www.onegreenplanet.org
- Easy vegan recipes: https://lisasprojectvegan.com
 Yoga and Vegetarianism, The Diet of Enlightenment by Sharon Gannon
 This is the title of a major book by Jim Mason: An Unnatural Order, The Roots of Our Destruction of Nature
 Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World by David Brion Davis
 From the World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/06/why-eating-less-meat-is-the-best-way-to-tackle-climate-change/
 Spicey tempeh recipe https://nook.barnesandnoble.com/products/9780698170117/sample?sourceEan=9780698170117
KRISHNA, BUDDHA AND WHAT IS UNIVERSAL COMPASSION?
Shri Krishnah sharanam mama
I take refuge in the all-attractive Lord who is the true identity of all being.
Sharanam means refuge. This beautiful initiation mantra from the Pushtimarg tradition in India invites us to seek refuge, particularly when we are driven by strong emotions. Anger, hate and fear close us off to love and compassion. Seeking refuge means having the capacity to step back and to use particular tools or techniques—in this case, the repetition of mantra—to protect us from reacting immediately. Instead, we engage the mind with something calming, which buys us time and gets us back in touch with our true essence: boundless love and compassion, Krishna. Resolving a situation from this place yields much more constructive results. It means responding instead of reacting. It gives us the ability to stop cycles of violence and the escalation of conflict. Even if the other party refuses to cooperate or feels threatened, taking refuge in the mantra cleanses our heart and spirit, and moves us from separateness toward oneness.
Mantra transcends the calculating intellect and awakens a feeling of love and sweetness, gradually melting away the hard walls we have built around our hearts. The vibration of the Sanskrit language has a profound, transformative effect on a cellular level. Yogi Bhajan describes how chanting mantra affects our electromagnetic field and brain patterns, the master glands and even the stability of the blood. Mantra can totally remake our psyche. Asana and meditation practices have similar effects, inducing a mental focus and an energetic shift that become stronger than habitual, conditioned, reactive behavior.
Every major spiritual tradition agrees that love and compassion are the most important qualities for sustaining and protecting life. Each tradition has a figure who embodies perfection in love and compassion. In the Hindu/yogic tradition it is Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, the preserver of the universe. He is often depicted as a child whose disarming qualities inspire us to love without inhibition. In Buddhism it is the supreme bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, who made a great vow to assist sentient beings in times of difficulty, and to postpone his own Buddhahood until he has helped every one of them achieve nirvana. His mantra is Om mani padme hum, meaning that, in the same way that the lotus flower grows out of the mud, compassion is often deeply understood through great suffering and huge spiritual challenges. In Christianity the iconic figure is Jesus, whose story holds many parallels to Krishna’s. Krishna was born in a prison, Jesus in a stable, and both had to spend much of their lives in exile. Through the practice of sincerely contemplating these divine, enlightened beings, we do our very best to awaken their luminosity inside us, and to tailor our lives according to their examples.
Sister Chan Khong, a Buddhist nun ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh, endured unimaginable suffering during the war in Vietnam and has become one of the most outstanding living embodiments of compassion in our times. Although she had a degree in biology, her main mission was always to feed the hungry and the poor. What makes her service even more powerful is that she has had to serve anonymously, under a false identity, so as not to put the recipients of her aid in danger. Many times she risked her own life, dodging bullets and bombs while riding her bike through the streets of Saigon. One day, after a bombing, the streets were littered with dead bodies, and the government did not clean them up. The community of monks, nuns and peace workers took it upon themselves to remove the bodies and give them a proper burial. They could accomplish this extremely difficult task only by seeking refuge in the breath and in mantra. When boat people started drifting ashore in neighboring Southeast Asian countries, those governments ordered them pushed back out to sea, where they would eventually drown. For Chan Khong the first priority was saving lives, and in order to circumvent senseless rules and inhumane practices, disguises had to be used, laws had to be challenged in nonviolent ways and violations of human rights had to be reported to the international press. She was exiled from Vietnam, separated from family and friends and expelled from countries that did not want their cruelty exposed to the world. Sometimes she would be overwhelmed by strong emotions and start sobbing uncontrollably, until she remembered to take refuge in her breath. She and her sangha practiced walking meditation to learn the art of calming their feelings before taking action. From this practice came the ability to understand and have compassion for the people committing atrocities.
Compassion is a big word that is often trivialized. Most of us have been conditioned to be selective about our compassion. We may be able to express some degree of compassion to our family and friends but are unconcerned about those who live on the other side of the world, don’t look like us, or speak a different language. Chan Khong describes returning to Paris after being expelled from Singapore and being appalled to see people eating, drinking, laughing and enjoying life in cafes. Did they not know that their fellow human beings were drowning at sea? Through the practices of Yoga we learn that compassion does not discriminate. As PeTA founder Ingrid Newkirk says, “Some people seem to think that our compassion is a limited commodity, like a cake with only a few slices. » –
Dear yogi(nis), friends, Our beloved teacher and Jeanine’s mentor, the one and only Lady Ruth is in town next week. It is a rare opportunity to study with a very experienced teacher and rare human being. Make sure to book your spot https://www.asphere.ch/events With love and love always J&J
Tuesday, July 19th 2016 is the full moon of the guru, also known as Guru Purnima
Manorama explains that: « This celebration is marked in July because in India the rainy season happens at that time. It is said that teachers and students can’t easily move when the heavy rains come so the opportunity to bond and set a good course of study together is present during this time of year. It is for this reason that July has become known as the month of the guru »
In the Jivamukti lineage as well, the July Focus of the month essay is about the Guru Mantra.
Yesterday, the open class I taught was dedicated to all the great teachers in our lineage and I read a story from the Jivamukti Yoga book. The whole chapter is worth reading thoroughly. Here is a excerpt from it:
A month later [after Shri Brahmananda Saraswati’s passing] we returned to Ananda Ashram. After midnight, as Sharon was heading to her room to go to bed, she decided to meditate for a few minutes in the main room where Shri Brahmananda often sat to teach. His simple seat was still there, as he had left it. All the lights were out; just one candle was burning. Again, Sharon felt that longing to be close to her guru. She rested her head on his seat and once again, those mysterious sounds rushed in. She picked up her head, thinking perhaps she was hearing water running through the pipes in the house. She heard nothing. When she put her head down on the seat again, she heard exactly the same sounds that she had heard emanating from his body. Shri Brahmananda was once again giving her his timeless message that we are all beyond the body and mind; we are the vibration of the I-AM.
We close every Jivamukti Yoga class with this chant acknowledging the guru:
Om Bolo Sat Guru Bhagavan Ki Jai Victory to God, the only real teacher.
God and Guru are the same. When we experience God in a teacher, the devotion we feel is transformational. Guru can remind us of God. We are thus reminded of our own divine nature.
Regularly, I play Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati’s CD « Chanting sanskrit » and especially the guided meditation that closes each CD. His OM always shakes me. Through his powerful voice, I feel the potency of his being, beyond physical form. But sometimes, I forget these precious gems.
Last February, I caught a very bad cold. I was coughing so hard I couldn’t sleep. Sitting was relatively comfortable so I propped myself up with as many pillows as I could find and played the meditation very loudly. For the whole 7 minutes it lasted, I did not cough. Then I thought, it was just a coincidence. I repeated the experiment three times. My cough had stopped. And I was finally able to sleep through the night (after three sleepless nights in a row). The February Focus of the Month was about the healing sound of yoga. At the end of the essay, Jules Febre (who wrote it) asked the question: « Why do so many yoga classes start and end with Om? Why is it considered a healing sound? Truly the best way to find out is to start chanting Om, because as Sharon Gannon says, “ through repetition the magic is forced to arise.” »
From other worlds, Shri Brahmananda Saraswati gave me an answer and manifested a miracle. It took me a bad cough and a certain hopelessness to not being able to sleep, to remember the teachings. Why was I so blind? I could only laugh at myself.
Yogic teachings honor the biological mother, as the first guru; guru literally means, dispeller of darkness. Not only did my mom give me life but her departure (she abruptly left us on August 30th 2010) was an invaluable life teaching. We truly never know when and how death will occur. The journey of the loss and the gain can be a deep cycle of growth. May we all learn from it. The yogi strives to live an impeccable life, always ready for “he whose date and time of arrival we do not know”. For the realized yogi, the time of death is a conscious departure. In sanskrit Mahāsamādhi, literally means the great merger.
Shymdasji took his Mahāsamādhi reciting mantra and dedicated his life to the teachings of the path of Grace. He had me fall in love for the Pushti Marg’s sacred texts and sounds. I am forever indebted and grateful to him.
I honor and respect Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati , the gentle swami Nirmalananda, the great Sri K.Pattabhi Jois;
Deep pranams and love at the feet of Radhanath Swami Maharaj. His last book « The journey within » is a treasure for every seeker, irrespective of her or his faith.
I feel so fortunate to have found teachers I can trust. They have and are still affecting my life very positively:
Lady Ruth, my adored mentor;
My teacher Yogeswari, a force of goodness in this world;
Our precious teachers Padma (Sharon Gannon) and David Life, I look at them and my heart is filled with awe and love.
Yes, it all comes back to love. The Love of God. It is the true ground of being.
Aside from my home altar, I carry with me always my prayer beads, a book, a recording, a small gift, all those are little reminders of love. We have embarked on a sacred journey, the journey of remembering our eternal, divine souls. May we never miss an opportunity to say « Thank you » to these high beings and saints who have touched our hearts.
As we rise in love, may our know-it-all-ness, our fears, our doubts and our lack of faith gradually melt.
To all of my teachers, I bow and say: Thank you for being in my life and for the many miracles of your love.
In gratitude always.
Photography: Sarah Keough; from the wonderful book ©Yoga at Home by Linda Sparrowe
What is the reason we’re here?
I hope the hell it’s not to be the same, not just to be the same (…)
My worst dilemma in life is: Why after all this time, can’t human beings stop killing each other?
I mean, you and me, we would sit down and we would agree.
We could even take a vow not kill each other, between us, since we know each other and yet…
It seems so simple but it’s just not a simple thing (…)
Human beings identify so much with their bodies, and their chachkas and their property; and they would defend them to the death.
And therein lies the problem.
– David Life (August 10th, 2014)
Happy Continuation Day beloved Davidji
You make this world a better place to live in.
With love and gratitude beyond words,
Here is a glimpse of what we have been doing in Rwanda.
With love and deep gratitude to all of you supporting the work of Azahar Foundation
I will continue to plant until my last breath…cut me before you cut my trees – Jadav Payeng
Narayani Namo’Stu Te
With my head resting at your feet Ma,
I offer you, my sincerest love and respect.
Saturated in the lap of the devi, the divine mother. Held close to her bosom, her heartbeat, your heartbeat, syncing together… into the veil you pursue and find the blessed rhythm. Lift your courage and glimpse the lost art of yielding, of receptivity, of deep listening awakening to its time, through you, in you. The time of the mother is here.
The Divine Mother Goddess
Listen in silence to the cave of your heart, you’ll hear the sweet jingle of feminine ankle bells that conjure images of swaying feminine form with curving lines. Enter her abode, it’s nature in all of her glory. Here you will find you have entered the sacred hall of the mother goddess.
When called, through chant, that goddess enters the temple. She comes for adoration, for recognition, for receiving the offering. The mother will tell you that this recognition we extend, is not for her, and she is right. Through it we receive the blessing, the force of protection of glorious union with pure energy that resides within us all.
Origins of Manifestation
The devi was realized as light that sparked, cracked and sprang forth from the wish of each god. Through their sacred wish, she rose and lit the sky manifesting for us, in us, through us. Through lore we learn that the gods unified their light together in one form, and that became known as the devi. She is the collection of luminous rays manifested from each god. Brahma, Visnu, Shiva and the other gods wanted to appease their suffering devotees of demons so they brought their light together for supreme protection. The gods gave some light from their form, light of their thigh, light of their eyes, light of their arms, light of their weapons, light of their knowledge, light of their feet and the great goddess manifested as the collection of the gods’ brilliance. The gods’ sent her forth to resolve ignorance in us, and so that we could once again feel oneness.
Root of ‘Devi’
In Sanskrit, the root Div means to shine, or light. Devi derives from this root and symbolizes compassion, protection, yielding, gentleness, fierce slayer. As form, she is woman. As embodiment, she is all emotion, raw, and receptive, messy, fierce, protectress, curving, weaver of the maya and all that is measurable. To move about with ease in this world, we must make offerings to her.
Growing up with Guru ji, I was ever immersed in teachings surrounding the cosmic mother. Was it tantric? Not so much. It was more that Guru ji was a devotee of Durga Ma and wanted to share his discoveries. The story goes that during some very difficult time in his life, he turned to Durga Ma for mercy and support and through his singular puja and respect, she granted him blessings and helped him through that turbulent time.
Since then he was deeply devoted to her. In Guru ji’s private apartment rests a small altar that invokes the mother goddess. She is surrounded by rock formations of power along with the vibration of endless sacred chants which were invoked just for her.
Who is the Devi?
She is Durga, Sharada, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kali, Parvati, Lalita, Ambika, She is Vidya, Bhavani, Nirmala, Dark and misty like the moon she is Gauri, White creativity, knowledge itself, she is Saraswati.
As alignment and beauty she is Shri, Lakshmi. As protectress and loving mother whose battle cry is the sweet breath and rhythm of mantra she is Durga. Wild, she rides with skulls clanking as a necklace around her neck and hands spread out swords at the ready, she is Kali. Pure without any lack of clarity, she is Nirmala. As knowledge of all, she is Vidya. As Parvati, she reflects devotion and singular focus to her lord.
Compassionate Lalita granting soothing glances to all who are lucky enough to come under her vision. As the mother of the world and consort to Bhava, she is Bhavani. Becoming embodied in the world as Sita. She is the determiner of the great Lila, the play of the entire universe that all must pass through. The winding ganga river that nourishes civilization is her gift to the world. She is kundalini rising in us reaching its union within. She is you. She reflects the purpose of your life, embodied. She is the bridge between the manifest and unmanifest. She is the tenderest part of your being.
There’s nothing like feeling the auspicious protection of Mother…
Wearing a delicate reminder of Cosmic Love is the perfect gift this Mother’s Day. Choose the Ma pendant from Surya Jewels with hand-written Sanskrit, embossed in silver.
*All references to Guru ji, refer to Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati in this article.
**Devi means Mother, Goddess, Light.
***Murti means form, statue.
****Maya: illusion, manifestation, enchantment, force of love.
© 2016 Luminous Soul/Sanskrit Studies & Manorama
original article http://ayurvedanextdoor.com/devi-divine-mother-goddess/
On April 21st 2016, the artist known as…. has left this world.
Prince is best known for hits like “Purple Rain,” “Raspberry Beret,” and “When Doves Cry.” But his songs were about more than partying. Prince was a long-serving vegan and a strong advocate of the abolition of the abattoirs. His song « Animal Kingdom » from the album «The Truth» is very poignant. Please read Karen Dawn’s beautiful tribute
Prince was an activist and a secret philanthropist. If we may say, Prince was an example of a real karma yogi. Doing good, serving goodness, just for the sake of it.
Few individuals live up to their name, but Prince actually did. He was better at being human than most of us are.
These days I can only listen to his songs in repeat mode. I am so grateful for the soundtrack of my teen years… Not only because indeed « Sometimes it snows in April » but mostly, because Prince’s massive life lesson was you better live now (Excerpt from « let’s go crazy » )
We’re all excited
But we don’t know why
Maybe it’s ’cause
We’re all gonna die
And when we do
What’s it all for?
You better live now
Before the grim reaper come knocking on your doors
On June 7th, 1958, a legend was born. His parents named him Prince Rogers Nelson
We remember the musical genius, the humble and compassionate human being.
And now Ancestor. May his homegoing be peaceful and full of music
Focus of the Month
A Mother’s love
Om sarva mangala-mangalye shive-sarvartha-sadhike sharanye tryambake gauri Narayani namo’stu te
I salute the three-eyed Divine Mother, Narayani, who brings total auspiciousness and who fulfills the desire for liberation. Realization arises with her blessing. She is the world itself. Only through the experiences of life can the soul be perfected. Honor this gift, your life, bow to mother Nature.
Durga Saptashati, chapter 11
According to Hindu and yogic philosophy your first teacher and guru is your mother—the creation of your life is that guru. Each of us has a different relationship with our biological mother. We probably experienced conflicts, disagreements and misunderstandings with our parents or guardians from childhood on, and some of these conflicts may not even be resolved to this day. Teachers come to us in many ways and in many areas of our life. This first teacher was our mother by birth as the Earth is our mother by creation. To appreciate the power of creation is to see all life as valuable, not just human life, but also the life force that flows through all living beings.
The planet Earth itself in Hindu philosophy is referred to as the Mother, Divine Mother or Ma—she is the creative aspect providing the air, food and water for the survival of all the beings who inhabit her. If we look at our current relationship with the Mother we may see similarities in our relationship with our birth mother. There are times whenwe clash, times when we ignore her and times when we do things that we know will upset her. However, through both our birth mother and the Divine Mother we are undeniably linked to the source of our life. In Hinduism the Goddess has many incarnations. The embodiment of the Goddess is the link between the role of the mother and the Divine Feminine, or Shakti.
The love of a mother is unconditional. She knows that by virtue of our existence we will cause harm to her—yet she continues to nourish and support us with all her heart. Each year thousands of forests are being cut down, oceans, rivers and lakes are polluted and giant holes are mined into Her. But it is not only the Earth herself who is exploited; itis also her nonhuman inhabitants. For example, human consumption of dairy products necessitates the forced impregnation of dairy cows, whose babies are taken away from them soon after birth; then those cows are impregnated again so as to continually produce milk. The resulting milk, which was meant for their babies, is stolen by humans and sold for profit to other humans. The exploitation caused by the dairy industry stems from the belief that the Earth and her nonhuman inhabitants are commodities and not divine beings and are valued by their potential monetary worth instead of valued for the connection to that force that flows through each and every one of us. We can agree that life is sacred, yet many of us still tend to value some lives more than others, human lives more than nonhuman lives.
What is needed to change this sense of ownership that is occurring with the Divine Mother—and return to a place of harmony with our true creative aspect—is to accept, acknowledge and honor all life, all aspects of the Mother, in whatever form She takes, whether human or nonhuman animal, plant or spirit. The yogi strives for a mutually beneficial relationship with all of existence, with all those who share in the experience of living on this planet as wellas throughout the entire universe. Honoring and respecting the power of the Mother, seeing Her as a living being—as a goddess—is to move away from separation and closer toward union with the source of our creation.Jai Ma!
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My practice is something I do for God. Period. In my life, I want to live for God and so I have to make that real. I have to toughen up. I have to discipline myself to do things that I might not feel like doing every day to just get over me. (What do I want to do? What feels good to me?) After sixty-three years, I don’t want to keep that attitude going on. I want to move away from it, at least ease up on it. In bhaktiyoga, everything you do you try to think of God before you do it. As soon as I’m conscious of being awake, I’ve trained myself to remember and talk to God. Make me an instrument of thy will. Allow me to be your servant. Use me today so that I can bring happiness to others; so that I can enhance this world, not just be a selfish taker; so that I can increase your bliss. If God is sat chit, mostly ananda, I’m into increasing that ananda, God’s bliss. That’s what I want to do, that’s what I’m devoted to doing. I have my own personal way of making my offerings to God every morning.
I do asana in the afternoon. Asana is the way to deal with our karmas. Our bodies are made of our karmas. I have to be comfortable in this body in order to be able to let go of my fascination with me as this mortal personality, this ego being. I have to first of all feel at ease with me. Asanas help us to do that. But the body is a conglomerate of the residue of all of our past relationships. So it’s therapy. When I sit in the morning and do my eight rounds of japa (mantra) meditation, I don’t want to be distracted by thoughts about other people and issues that I am dealing with here or there. So doing a short asana practice, some kriyas and pranayama, helps to clear all that out first. And then I can meditate quite directly and keep my mind on God. Why do I do that practice every morning? Because it feels good. When I don’t do it, I don’t feel good and I don’t like to not feel good!
I have to be comfortable in this body in order to be able to let go of my fascination with me as this mortal personality, this ego being.
If I’m rushed for time, I do my practice mentally. If I’ve got to get on an airplane and I’ve overslept and a car is waiting for me and I haven’t done all those pujas (offerings to the deity), I’ll sit in the back of the cab and I’ll do the whole thing in my mind. That’s when you know that the practice has borne fruit. You know exactly what comes next. You don’t really think about it. It’s become part of you. Okay, I wasn’t able to do those eight rounds of japa, so I’ll do it walking down the street, in the subway, in a cab. I have found a way to do that. I can do my magic 10-asana sequence (see below) in about seven minutes! You can find time.
You cannot practice without love. It’s got to have love in it, romance in it. It has to turn you on. It would be stale and boring to me if I were doing it only for myself. I’m doing it for God, for my teachers; the prayers in the practice are integrated with the names of my teachers. There’s magic in the name, in God’s name. When I say the names of my teachers, they are instantly with me and suddenly I’m not just me by myself doing a routine. I’m checking in with those other beings. All the love that I have is rekindled, every single day. From other worlds. Simultaneously. I do a full 90-minute asana practice in the afternoon and I always, always do it with music. The sequence that I do, and have been doing for years, doesn’t vary. Sometimes I’ll spend a longer time in some poses on some days, and other poses on other days, but it’s basically the same.
Sharon’s Practice Advice
You have to want to practice at home, and you have to want to make the practice part of your life wherever you are. You’re not always going to be able to go to your favorite neighborhood yoga studio, so you need to be able to take yoga home with you. Start small! Meditation is daunting to people when they hear that someone meditates for an hour. Oh my! Do I have to do that? No. Just sit, for one minute. Close your eyes, let go. Breathe in, breathe out. Do that for a week. Set a timer. And then the next week, do it for two minutes. The point is, just do it. The key word is doable. Home practice shouldn’t be a huge, goal-oriented thing. Pick something that’s within your means.
Sharon’s Magic 10-Asana Sequence
I’m on the go so much that I needed a practice that was doable, one that could also prepare me for a longer practice, like my meditation practice. I’ve been doing it for about fifteen years now. There are ten pretty simple asanas that anyone can do—in ten minutes or less. Of course, you can modify if you need to.
1. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
2. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
3. Malasana (Garland Pose)
4. Teepee Twist
5 breaths each side
5. Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)
5 breaths each side
6. Ardha Purvottanasana (Half Upward Plank Pose)
7. Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)
8. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) variation
9. Parsva Urdhva Hastasana (Side-Bending Upward Salute)
1 breath each side 4 times
10. Spinal Rolls
12 to 16 breaths
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You may also wish to discover the two organizations we work with in Rwanda:
They rock. They are changing the world, one young person, one boss lady at a time.
With love and gratitude,
“ Where you stop helping others and where you stop growing is the same. If you have an idea of how to help someone, even if it is a small thing…carry it through”. – Lady Ruth (Ruth Lauer-Manenti)
This will put a smile on your face
I had a very similar experience recently ..
Thank you Jen!
be good, do good !
I could listen to Shyamdasji all day long.
There is a single essence that permeates everything … To taste that essence that exists everywhere and is also within every heart, is what the Bhakti Yoga experience is about. Everyone who understands it will love it. Because Bhakti promotes in you, the thing that is most important, which is the joy of your own soul. – Shyamdas-ji (1953 – January 20th, 2013)
.. however a blessed soul may be, she is definitely accepted. Within the Path of Grace, Hari does not judge the actions of the soul; she is uplifted through the power of grace. The soul’s spiritual dharma is to take Hari’s refuge. Shri Mahaprabhuji says in his “Krishna Ashraya”,
“I pray to Shri Krishna. He uplifts everyone who takes His shelter.”
In the Path of Grace, the main thing is Krishna’s grace and not the worthiness of the soul. Those who take refuge receive grace – Excerpt from 252 Vaishnavas, translated by Shyamdas-ji
For introducing me to the practice of Āśraya, refuge; for the gift of mantra, for his contagious love of God, for his eternal teachings … I am forever grateful to Shyamdasji. Shyamdas was a great bhakta. He was the embodiment of Hanuman. He was a saint. He showered love on Earth.
Through the practice of deep looking, we can identify the positive seeds that we want to water every day, and train ourselves not to water the negative ones. ~
Thich Nhat Hanh
“An Odd Couple” taken by Roger Stonehouse in Bagan, Mandalay, Burma. January 4, 2012.