Braja Raja – “The Dust of Braja”


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courtesy of the Shyamdas Foundation

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

Radhe, Radhe!

Jeanine

The birth of the Christ


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.

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Last night, I could not sleep when I went to bed. Totally overwhelmed by thoughts and gratitude.  It is indeed a merry time for those us who feel loved, warm and safe, with more than enough to eat.
But who doesn’t know somebody who is ill this holiday season? Very dear friends of mine are grieving over the loss of their father. Last Thursday, a student shared the story of A., his family is trapped in Syria. That story stayed with me. Christmas can be the hardest time of year for those who are struggling financially, those who are lonely, especially those estranged from close family. And at this one time of year when most human beings are determined to be happy; for millions of animals, Christmas celebrations are the cause of considerable cruelty.
CHRISTMAS is literally “the mass for Christ”, the celebration of the birth of Christ.
It is an awakening, a birthing of the Christ Consciousness  from inside of ourselves.
  • 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!

Jeanine

Further reading:

Yoga and Christ by Sharon Gannon

The Need to love by Thich Nhat Hanh

We need you!


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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.

http://azaharfoundation.org

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OM love

 

Jeanine

On becoming vegan…


 

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Fantastic 2012 « Kwita Izina » poster in the streets of Kigali – Rwanda

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 .

FullSizeRender-2Playing in Nyungwe, Rwanda; Headstand, sirsasana, 2016

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[1]” 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.

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Urunana, Swiss-Rwandan Ballet, 2015

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[2]

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[3] (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[4] identified livestock as the leading human contributing cause of climate change. Studies[5] 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.

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Louis’ Chocolate Nirvana

For my husband, it was important to find tasty meat substitutes. And all I can tell you is that the spicy tempeh[6] 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.

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little me and mom, circa 1980/81

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[7]). 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

  1. Earthlings -The Full Documentary Unedited
  2. TEDx Talk:  Toward Rational, Authentic Food Choice

Environmental documentary: Cowspiracy – http://www.cowspiracy.com/

Books:

  1. The China Study, Dr. T. Colin Campbell
  2. The World peace diet, Dr Will Tuttle

Websites:

  1. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: http://www.pcrm.org
  2. One green planet: http://www.onegreenplanet.org
  3. Easy vegan recipes: https://lisasprojectvegan.com

References

[1] Yoga and Vegetarianism, The Diet of Enlightenment by Sharon Gannon

[2] This is the title of a major book by Jim Mason: An Unnatural Order, The Roots of Our Destruction of Nature

[3] Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World by David Brion Davis

[4]United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”,

[5] From the World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/06/why-eating-less-meat-is-the-best-way-to-tackle-climate-change/

[6] Spicey tempeh recipe https://nook.barnesandnoble.com/products/9780698170117/sample?sourceEan=9780698170117

[7] http://7dayvegan.com

 

Ruth Lauer-Manenti in Geneva — Jivamukti Yoga with Joanna & Jeanine


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

via Ruth Lauer-Manenti in Geneva — Jivamukti Yoga with Joanna & Jeanine

Happy Birthday David Life


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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,

Your devotee,

Jeanine