Friday, March 23, 2012

What is Karma?

How often have you heard the phrase "good or bad karma?" Just what do you think that really means? I never knew. Here is what I learned today in Vedanta Advaita Philosophy class with Swami Bramananda.

Swami Bramananda teaching TTC the Philosophy of Vedanta Advaita

Karma means "action" in sanskrit. Yogis understand action as occurring at three levels: deed, word and thought. Thought is actually the most powerful expression of karma. The thought, or what is happening in the intention of mind and heart, behind the action or word is what creates the "seed" of new karma. Something to keep in mind!

Simply, the Law of Karma is that for every action there is a reaction. On the subtle level, karma states that even the most minute action (thought word or deed) insures that the same action in thought word or deed will come back to you 10 fold. Yes, ten fold, not in an equal amount. When considering actions like giving away ice cream or money you can see that this is a very good thing. Now think about the effect of wishing ill on someone through angry thoughts, or angry words, or harmful action. Ten fold will come back to you.

It is said that there are no accidents and that every one we meet is there on our path for a reason. With that is mind, it makes sense to wonder about certain people put on your path, not in judgment of them or yourself or even the path, just to notice, look for patterns, analyze, enquire and see what there is to be learned.

From each of the people here, as well as all of the experiences, I am learning about myself and the True Self or what could be called the Highest Good. The task as I see it, is to love each person and myself and what happens, even when it is less than pleasant. And we all know that many things in life are less than pleasant. Well worth the effort though when considering the effects of karma.

Here are some snapshots of some of the good karma I have experienced:

Geshe Michael's smile and laugher

Sita's compassionate countenance

Divine music from Anupama Bhagwat, sitar & Shyam Kane, tabla
Having experienced these moments of joy, I am ever grateful. That thought of gratitude is a karmic seed that has been put in motion and will yield 10 fold more feelings of gratitude. To have experienced the joy of Geshe Michael, the compassion of Sita and the diving music of Anupama and Shyam, I had to have given the same to others at some point in the past--this life or another, as is the Law of Karma.

Here's to happy thoughts creating more happy thoughts, kind words creating more kind works and compassionate deeds bring much more compassion into your world.

Om shanti

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Teachings on Space: Discipline and the Sivananda Yoga Teaching Training

For yogis there are two states of being: sukha and dukha. Often translated as happiness and suffering, the actual meaning as translated from Sanskrit comes from the root words:

Kha = space
Su  = good
Du = bad
Sukha--such good space!
Dukha--for the person who shovels!

Here in the ashram, and particularly as a Karma yogi and a teacher trainee, there is much discomfort for many people with regard to the daily schedule (5:30 rise, bed only after 10 PM every day, no day off for good behavior or just to sleep in). Role is checked going into and out of every class and each required event for the teacher trainees. This morning someone was sent around to rouse staff and karma yogis out of their tents around 6:45 AM when they were missing from the morning satsang. (You might wonder how I know this. After checking into satang this morning, during the meditation period, I left. I needed to attend to my aching mind which was full of thoughts and lacking caffeine! I did return to hear the end of the lecture and chant the final prayers. I felt 100% better after taking this bit of time for myself. No dukha, only regained sukha.)

Another difficult aspect in the teacher training is the amount of information that is disseminated and the short amount of time in which it is offered. The month long yoga teacher training is really a year-long course squeezed into 28 days.

Both the daily schedule and the classes leave very little room for one's self. This can bring a feeling of being in a very tight box--especially when you also live in a 9X9 tent!

In the asana class the Sivananda sequence of postures is very specific and very inward. In the flowing section of poses called Surya Namaskar, all of the upward arm movements are from the front of the body, not the side, which keeps the space of the body quite contained. The idea is that such physical containment keeps the Prana or life force within the body, increasing well-being--eventually.

Crow pose done easily by Vishnu--dukha for me!
What I am learning:

Space is an inside job.

•Not having much time to myself every day makes the occasional 10 minutes from getting out of satsang or class early, feel like infinity. 

•Not being given time to process the information (mental and physical) is teaching me to be in the moment without holding onto it--giving me freedom and space to breath and be. Such a schedule keeps me moving. 

•From the many returns to the Savasana pose in the Sivananda yoga asana sequence, the lesson learned is that you can find deep relaxation in the midst of much doing.

Who knew this was what discipline was all about?

Om shanti

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training--Karma Yoga for Life or Why Meditate?

When I came here to do three months of karma yoga I did not intend to do the teacher training. I had already done one teacher training in 2009 and had begun to teach yoga last year. The intention I had in coming here to do karma yoga was to learn better how to be of service. Being actively involved in 12 Step programs for the past year and a half --and not having a job-- I had been experiencing the concept of selfless service. That service was changing me: my attitudes, my relationships with the people in my life, my feeling about myself. The seed planted in doing this service, the karma, led me to Sivananda

Another intention I had was to live in the Bahamas, and to do so without paying rent or having to buy food! It has been my karma, though, to spend all of the money I might have spent on food and lodging at the Boutique where I have been doing my karma yoga job here, as well as at other shops in Atlantis and Nassau. I would like to stop spending money needlessly on clothing, jewelry and other items, so I am very interested in how I can transcend my karma! And the teachings at Sivananda seem to offer a way out.

The Sivananda Teacher Training Course offers much more than working on yoga postures. I am learning about the four paths of yoga, of which karma yoga is the very beginning. Just think about it, all great spiritual teachers are karma yogis, serving others.

Here is a bit of a one of the daily philosophy lectures with Swami Brahmananda on karma yoga:

In addition to lessons from the Sivananda tradition we get teachings from other traditions. 

Geshe Michael Roach
Geshe Michael Roach is the first westerner in the 600-year history of Sera Mey Tibetan Monastery to be awarded the title of Geshe, or Master of Buddhism, after more than 20 years of study. He is the author of the international bestseller, The Diamond Cutter, translated into over 20 languages and has written 30 other books and translations.
From the Sivananda bahamas web site

Geshe Michael told us the story of ice cream: the more you give it away, the more you will eat--whether or not you want to! Even the smallest action, good or bad will come back to you 10 fold. That is Karma. We are born with a certain amount in the bank account of karma. Whatever we do in life increases that karma. Actually, the thoughts behind our actions increase our karma. Think about that for a minute.

Our most recent speaker here was :
Swami Shantananda
Swami Shantananda has dedicated his life to mission work and Vedantic teachings. He is presently the resident Acharya of Chinmaya Mission centers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. His lectures are filled with wonderful insights into life. People respond instantly to his wisdom and affectionate nature. From the Sivananda bahamas web site
He taught us about :
Drig-drishya-Viveka literally means the wisdom of discrimination (viveka) between the seer (drig) and the seen (drishya). In his scripture of the same title, Adi Shankaracharya takes us through an inquiry into our own essential nature by discriminating between the seer, which is the pure consciousness, and the seen – the field of enquiry. From the Sivananda bahamas web site

At one point in his lectures, Swami Shantananda spoke directly of the "exhaustion of karma" as being possible with "direct knowledge". Direct knowledge of what, I hear you ask. Direct knowledge of the Ultimate Reality I answer. Ultimate Reality, what the heck is that you say. That is what Vedanta Advaita --the philosophical foundation of Sivananda Ashram --is all about: the seer and the seen are truly One and the Same. Think quantum physics. It is said that the Rishis (great sages and yogis) in India 5000 years ago experienced this "Ultimate Reality" receiving the knowledge directly through meditation. They also calculated the distance of the planets, knew the earth was a sphere and developed many other sciences long before telescopes, computers and Columbus, all through meditation.

What I have experienced directly at this point consists of a lot of joy at doing the teacher training studying asana (yoga poses), pranayama (breathing exercises), chants, the Bhagavad Gita and Vedanta Advaita philosophy. Not sure where it will lead, but having a great and very thoughtful time. What a gift to have time to contemplate the true meaning of life and enquire into the ultimate question of existence, "Who am I, really?"

Today was a day off (still had to go to 6 AM and 8 PM satsang and do an hour of karma yoga in the Boutique). Otherwise I was on the beach, alone and with other TTCers, marveling at the beauty of it all: the ocean and sky as well as the teachings we are receiving. Om shanti

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Finding Peace in Routine and Discipline

For many years I have felt that if I could just be disciplined enough I would be happy. People who knew me would always be surprised and respond, but you have so much discipline! And in some ways that was true. To be an artist, to be a classical musician and sing opera, I had to study a lot and master many things which took rigor and a certain type of discipline. Then the work I did in art education with Lincoln Center in particular, had a very demanding intellectual rigor associated with it's methodology and was quite broad in it's educational scope. (I taught ages pre-K to post graduate, working in tough urban environments as well as private schools, and universities, nationally and internationally.) Yet I was never content and felt very much distracted most of the time with the thought that "there must be something else to life."

Now I understand that feeling of discontent and distraction in the context of what I am learning here in the Bahamas at the Sivananda Vedanta Yoga Center. The lessons are not completely new, as I have been exploring the yoga and Buddhism path for a while now. Yet, now the teachings are crystal clear.

1) The distraction comes from my mind which is constantly seeking satisfaction from things that lie outside of myself. All satisfaction sought from things outside of myself are temporary and thus only continue to keep me distracted, always seeking something more.

2) All happiness lies actually within my true self which is already eternally happy.

I will be writing more about these two tenants of yoga philosophy each week as I move more deeply in to my practice of yoga.

Namaste (not me, you)

Photos of the Initiation Ceremony at the beginning of the Teacher Training that I am now participating:

During Kirtan chant to Sivananda, Vishnudevananda and Krsna (sanskrit spelling of the name):

 Teachers of the Training being initiated by the Temple Priest
The Altar in the Temple, the Hindu aspect of God known as Ganesha, the elephant headed diety prominently behind

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Beach Portraits--B efore T eacher T raining

A beautiful day to be here on the beach. Swam back and forth the shore line with goggles looking at the sandy bottom. Swimming is very good pranayama!  Tomorrow I begin my new life here as a student. I will be getting up at 5 AM to do a new morning routine that will include 20 minutes of raag practice on the beach.

Reflecting the good life
Wondering who makes the shadow

 Less known than before

 Some memories are worth keeping and some should not be seen

How to be serious while having fun

Friday, March 2, 2012

Karma Yogi Becomes Yoga Teacher Trainee

 Yoga on the beach platform at 8 AM and 4 PM
8 AM staff meeting every day for karma yogis

Starting this Monday I will be in the Yoga Teacher Training Course. Less free time in each day but one day off a week--except for an hour of Karma yoga--versus the 6-7 hours I do now, every day. I am excited at the prospect of yoga asana twice daily and learning more about the philosophy of Vedanta Advaita which forms the basis of the Sivananda Ashrams

The new daily schedule is:
  • 05:30 am       Wake up
  • 06:00 am       Meditation, chanting and lecture or silent walk
  • 08:00 am       Asana and Pranayama class (your own practice)
  • 10:00 am       Brunch
  • 11:00 am       Karma yoga 
  • 12:00 pm       Bhagavad Gita/ chanting class
  • 02:00 pm       Main Lecture
  • 04:00 pm       Asana and Pranayama (teaching) 
  • 06:00 pm       Dinner
  • 08:00 pm       Satsang  
There will be one weekly day off. During the day off students are required to attend morning and evening satsangs and to perform their karma yoga only.
When I first started meditating I connected into Vedanta Advaita which is a non-dual understanding of reality.* There are many different philosophical systems in ancient India.  The current lectures here are on the Srimad Bhagavata Purana, literally ‘the Beautiful Legend of God,’ by Edwin Bryant, PhD. What he is teaching is not the same philosophy as followed by Sivananda. Bryant is a professor of Indic languages and cultures and teaches Hinduism at Rutgers University. He has published six books on Vedic history, yoga, and the Krishna tradition among which is his translation of and commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


The Srimad Bhagavata Purana is dedicated exclusively to the various modes of bhakti, the path of devotion. It portrays the accounts of Lord Vishnu’s incarnations and activities, and the lives and practices of the most famous yogi exemplars. All the teachings of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras and Bhagavad Gita are to be found in these narratives, along with so much more, embodied in the form of charming and delightful tales that capture the heart and mind. Join us for a celebration of devotion and inspiring stories which will take you into the realms of bliss, and learn the main practices of devotion - devotional meditation, kirtan chanting and puja as well as the main philosophy associated with the path of devotion.
At some point in the past few years as I have been on a "yoga path", I had a strong sense that the specific yogic path for me would be Bhakti, or a path of devotion. Ever since this insight I have been looking to find a suitable object/idea/person to be devoted to.

Still looking but the path is coalescing toward Vedanta Advaita. Maybe the path will be more clear after  the completion of the training.

Om shanti
* For a description of non-dual experiences referenced earlier in the blog, go to;postID=2168103096674472217