Tag Archives: Hinduism

Happy Dussehra!

Today is an auspicious day in the Hindu calendar as it marks goddess Durga’s victory over the demon Mahishasura after nine nights and one day of battle. My wife and I were not born into Hindu faith, but we have been observing Navratri for the past two years of the festival. I believe it has helped us withstand the demands we have faced over the past two years with her father’s passing and new caregiving duties of her mother-in-law.

I like how Navratri makes you focus on each aspect of Durga’s shakti. She comes in many forms and all have a distinctly feminine power. She is giving, forbearing, fierce, forgiving, bestowing, and patient among other qualities.

The nice thing about this holiday is it celebrates the feminine as a greater power than masculine. Given the above qualities of Durga’s shakti, this is really true. There are “masculine” mantras and there are “feminine” mantras one can chant. For example the “masculine” ones to Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu are great for a bhakti practice sustained for a long period of time, but the “feminine” mantras contain the shakti that gets things done with quickness and precision. Very much like my wife and me. I like to sit and think about things, but when the decisive action needs to be made, like Durga, my wife gets it done while I’m just watching with a dropped jaw. I think many men would not admit this, but know it’s true about their female partners.

The last manifestation of Durga during Navratri is Siddhidatri, or the one who bestows the eight powers mentioned in the third Pada of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. She is said to have even given Shiva his powers. If one is ardent in one’s practice, siddhi-s are bestowed upon the practitioner.

I find that these festivals and rituals give deep meaning to my yoga practice as they have done for others for centuries. Even simply reading about them ties up a lot of loose ends one may find in studying the Yoga Sutras or Bhagavad Gita. Yoga has such a rich and deep history, to not recognize these other parts of it aside from asana practice limits one’s ability to make these connections. And only practicing one limb gives only one flavor to a practice that is supposed to contain all the flavors of the cornucopia.

Happy Dessehra/Vijayadashami!

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The Yamas and Niyamas of Śāṇḍilya Upanishad

upanishad

If you give any depth of study to Patanjali, you will find he is often quoted as a “codifier” of Yoga. He was a journalist of the highest order writing down all the practices at his time and also referencing practices of the past. He was quite diplomatic in the Yoga Sutra-s giving a nod to all the different practices. And he put all the practices in terse format, so it would be easier to memorize for generations through the millennia.

One of the references that Patanjali may have drawn from come from the Śāṇḍilya Upanishad, an Atharvavedaic text dating back between 1000-1500 BCE (Patanjali existed around the second century BCE). This is a short treatise that mentions eight limbs of Yoga. It begins with a teaching between Arthavan and Śāṇḍilya:

Śāṇḍilya: “Please tell me about the eight angas of Yoga which is the means of attaining Atman.”

Artharvan: “The eight Agnas are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Of these, Yama is of ten kinds and so is Niyama. There are eight Asanas. Pranayama is of three kinds. Pratyahara is of five kinds; so also is Dharana. Dhyana is of two kind and Samadhi is of one kind only.”

The ten Yamas of this Upanishad are:

Ahimsa (not causing pain of anyone both physically and mentally)

Satya (Truthfulness)

Asteya (Not coveting)

Bhramacharya (Celebacy)

Daya (Kindliness)

Arjava (equanimity of mind in actions)

Kshama (Patience)

Dhriti (Preserving firmness of mind in periods of gain or loss)

Mitahara (Taking of only oily or sweet food leaving one fourth of the stomach empty)

Saucha (Both internal and external cleanliness)

There are also ten Niyamas:

Tapas (Empanciation from the body through penance)

Santosha (Contentment)

Astika (Belief in merits or demerits of actions set forth in the Vedas)

Dana (Charity)

Isvarapujana (Worship of God with a pure heart)

Siddhanta-Srivara (Inquiry of the significance of Vedanta)

Hrih (Shame when straying from actions set forth in the Vedas)

Mati (Faith in the paths laid out in the Vedas)

Japa (practicing the Mantras)

Vrata (Regular observance of Vedic actions, and non observance of actions that are not in the Vedas).

The text then expounds on Asanas and Pranayamas. Perhaps that will be another blog post. The scholar/historian in me is fascinated by this text. I find it comforting and reaffirming that these practices have been around for thousand and thousands of years. The fact that we can still access this text in 2015 shows that it is true enough to stand the test of time.

 

Appreciating Yoga’s relationship to Hinduism (instead of fearing it)

hanuman

People seem deathly afraid of Hinduism cropping up in the West for some strange reason. Just this week, two state legislators in Idaho protested when a Hindu prayer was said before the start of a session. One of the big debates of late is whether Yoga is a Hindu practice. There seems to even be legal rulings on whether or not Yoga should be considered a religion or a workout. In the same vein, why are we not afraid that Sufism is rooted in Islam, or that Qabbala is rooted in Judaism?

Many of the texts and concepts in Yoga are shared with people who practice Hinduism. The Bhagavad Gita (Song of God) being a good example. It the dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna on a battlefield where Arjuna is in the middle. On one side are his teachers, and the other side are his family members. Arjuna is in an awful dilemma. Krishna advises him to use Yoga to conquer the dilemma and to do his dharma as a warrior.

Other Hindu elements crop of in the names of Yoga Asanas. Bharadvaja, Vashistha, Marchi, and Hanuman just to name a few were figures in the Mahabharata. Of course in Western Yoga classes, these poses are renamed based on their body movements like “the splits” and “twists.”

My view may not be a popular one, but instead of watering down the names and concepts of Yoga that come from Hinduism, why not embrace them? I am not asking you to drop your faith and become Hindu. But I am asking that Yoga practitioners in the West more deeply explore the relationship between Yoga and Hinduism, rather than just using the parts that are convenient for them to present to a judge who will rule and decide if Yoga is considered a religion or a workout.

When you study the Yoga Sutras and read about Siddhis  (superpowers that come from Yoga practice), it is helpful to read about Hanuman who displays his mastery of all the Siddhis in his efforts to reunite Sita and Rama. These stories show how powers cultivated in Yoga can be used properly and for the good of mankind. Not to say that anyone actually will attain Siddhis in their practice, but If you woke up one day and were able to float on air, wouldn’t it be nice to have a guideline on how to use this power?

Being a New Mexico native, then moving to Hawai’i, I have seen the recurrent theme of having a rich culture be exploited by people who first try to make money off the unique attributes of the culture, then completely water it down until there is no culture left to market. They just built a Target store in my hometown of Kailua, transforming a charming beach community into Anywhere Else, USA full of traffic. I see the same thing happening in Yoga. Look no further than the Wanderlust Facebook page to see what I mean.

So my challenge to practitioners of Yoga in the West is to read some of these texts like The Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana. Try to understand the concepts of reincarnation even though  that may not be your belief system. And minimally, use the Sanskrit terms of the Asana names instead of just calling them things like “updog.” As a deeper practice, go 30 days without buying things from those who commercialize and exploit Yoga, like the Lululemon store. Your Yoga practice will only get richer as a result.

 

Religious pundits bash Yoga, confusing it with Hinduism

Pat v

I always find it amusing when other religions’ pundits bash Yoga. This week we are hearing from a televangelist who says Yoga “tricks” people into praying to Hindu deities, and a Catholic priest who says practicing Yoga is “Satanic.”

Pat Robertson said this week on The 700 Club said “stretching exercise is cool, praying to a Hindu deity is not too cool.” He was answering a woman’s questions who had concerns about her daughter’s interest in new ageism.

Meanwhile in Derry Ireland, Catholic Priest Father Roland Colhoun said while people may decide to take up yoga with good intentions, they could set themselves on a path towards “the bad spiritual domain” and even “Satan and The Fallen Angels”. This is stemming from statements from the Vatican’s chief exorcist that Yoga leads to a belief in Hinduism, and that “all eastern religions are based on false belief in reincarnation”.

Before offering a rebuttal to these statements, the larger picture is that many who are practicing “yoga” in the West are not doing so because they are seeking spirituality. Most are doing it because it is a trendy fitness regimen. Yoga in the West has become so far removed from the original purpose of the practice, that it should not be called yoga anymore, but more accurately crossfitized asana-like selfie posturing.

How many people who pack the yoga class at 24 Hour Fitness whose teacher has the “killer playlist” are there to dial down their mind chatter? Furthermore, how many people at the Wanderlust Festival are there to merge Purusha with Ishavara? Many will actually say they are, but they are really just trying to be part of the yoga rock star “in crowd.”

Yoga  in the true sense is beyond religion. It has many “religious” elements, but it is a practice whose purpose is to sublimate the mind chatter until the practitioner, undisturbed by viewing his/herself in the context of the revolving universe, starts to see the true self and grow from the fruits of that experience.

Now back to Pat and Father Roland. Viewing Yoga from an orthodox Christian lens it is easy to unleash the dogma that says you shall have no other gods before Me and you shall not make idols onto Hinduism. How come in the same vein an orthodox Hindu can’t say, “you can’t worship The idol of the Virgin Mary” or in Robertson’s case “you can’t worship the idol of power and political influence?” I am not saying this to offend those of Christian faith. But practicing Yoga is not practicing Hinduism as these two commenters are led to believe.

We are more alike than we are different. I wrote a blog post that displays the Ten Commandments next to Yamas and Niyamas. They are shockingly similar. So rather than fearfully criticizing other people’s faith from around the world, first seek to understand the commonalities and then work from that place.

On a side note, Pat Robertson would benefit from Setu Bandha to address his slouch.