Wa Yo Yogi

Leanne Kitteridge's adventures in Yoga

Kyoto Day Two: The Bhagavad Gita April 1, 2010

While it was day two of training in Kyoto, it was actually day one for me as I am a day late. For those that followed the last post- yes I did make it.

I arrived to the dark side streets of Kyoto to my friend Mark’s home which he graciously lent me while he was away. His beautiful home brought back so many memories of the years I spent living in Japan. I realized the only thing I did not miss was lack of central heating. It is so cold in Kyoto that it snowed a few days ago- unbelieveable!

I started the morning off early- welcome to the time change- and went on a mission for toast and coffee. I never eat white bread at home but in Japan it just calls to me.  As I wandered with a with map in hand and very little idea of where I was going, I noticed that I always seem to be “unlost” in Japan. I have always managed to find my way around here and that is not easy in a country with little old streets and not a ton of signage.

In my wandering I found no coffee at first but a wonderful assortment of temples and shrines. In Kyoto every neighbourhood seems to have an amazing shrine and it is such a treat. My first temple I stumbled upon was Shakuzoji Temple just off Senbondori. The amount of colour in the temple was so lively with bright red lanterns hung tightly together and the jizo statues all adorned with little bibs.  For such a small temple it had a really deep visual impact and I loved it!

The next shrine was closer to the venue and was called Daishogun Hachijinja. More sedate in colour, the large old trees on the property took you right off the modern street and straight back 300 years. I swear it was so quiet there you forgot you were 50 feet off a main street.

After more wandering I finally found a perfect little coffee shop with not too much smoke, and settle in to a delicious cup of coffee brewed the turkish way with fat toast oozing with butter and a boiled egg. Feeling renewed I thought I would wander towards the venue of Ryuhonji temple and wouldn’t you know it one of the larger shrines in Kyoto was right in front of me – Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. Talk about the shakti guiding you!

This temple is famous for plum blossoms (ume) and there was one tree in perfect fullness. The colour is deeper pink than the sakura ( cherry) and fuller in the amount of petals. The man hall of the temple has the traditional offering box and gong but there was a plum shaped mirror up above the gong. I realized that if you went to ring the gong you could see yourself in the mirror. There was even another mirror further into the recess of the prayer hall that was reflecting images back. I am not sure what the history was behind it but it was certainly a rare and curious thing. I will have to follow up with more research.

I looked at my watch and realized I had actually very little time left to get to the venue so my wandering ended and in 10 minutes I was at the venue. A wonderful traditional temple, Ryuhonji is not open to the public for touring. The hall we used was surrounded by gardens and a small covered walkway to another hall. The grounds were full of weeping cherries and one of the girls snapped a shot of me in the cherry blossom shower- so delicate. The weather in Kyoto was unusually cold and the hall was unheated so though ” hot or cold should not affect the yogi”  it was challenging.

I was interested to see how John would present the material because, really, the Gita in a day??? He started  the day with a question from one of the students which was ” om namah shivaya guruve” , the Shivaya part- how do I really describe that? I understand but I have no adequate words.  John explained that we are trying to describe something beyond words. We are trying to use words from the relative world to describe something that is beyond the relative. Yes- it can feel inadequate. He gave an example how when one says ” good” to describe shiva that our mind thinks “good and bad” we think difference, opposites, contrast- but in the absolute it is beyond opposites and duality.

John managed to flow this entry point into an introduction of the Gita. He explained that Krishna is having the same problem with Arjuna and is trying to get him to have an experience of Shiva but that words are not adequate for Arjuna’s understanding. ( This is why you get the shock and awe of Chapter 11…) In the Gita, the characters represent parts of all of us: Krishna is shiva- the teacher within, Arjuna is the individual soul “jiva”, the chariot is the body, the horses are the senses, the reins are the mind, and finally the battlefield is the relative world.

John went on to say that you need three things to understand this key scripture.

1) a deep desire to awaken to your own goodness. You need to read many different translations, study and meditate on the text.

2) a teacher. The book is small but the text is very deep- condensed knowledge- and a teacher will help you unfold the layers and reveal the deeper teachings.

3) Grace. Spirit will allow you to understand this text. You must have blessings. In this way the understanding comes from the inside not from your intellect.

From here we journeyed to the setting of the Gita, the story of the Mahabarata, and we learned the three paths or “marga” of the Gita. Each path is like an upward spiral or circle. The first 6 chapters focus on Karma yoga, the following 6 on Jnana yoga and the last 6 on Bhakti yoga. John went on to say that we can live the book as a synthesis of all three paths- it doesn’t just have to be one.

From here we delved into one of the main teachings of the Gita which is Dharma. In a way, I think the Japanese get this better than westerners. Dharma and swadharma ( individual dharma) are still more active in Japan. John explained you have an individual dharma because of your own karma and you need to act a certain way in your life. You were born into this life for a reason. He emphasised that when he says ” do fully” , you do fully for you– you don’t do it like someone else. Everyone has a talent. “What is your talent?” he asked us- that will help you find your swadharma.

We came back in the afternoon to discuss the difference in viewpoints between classical yoga- from which the Gita is written- and the Tantric viewpoint. The classical viewpoint sees the world as two separate things: purusha( spirit) and prakriti ( matter- which also includes emotions and imagination, mind stuff). Classical yoga’s goal was to separate the two so that spirit could reunite with itself after being entangled and misidentified with matter which was considered inferior to spirit. ( ie body bad, ego bad, got to get out of that to get to spirit) This is called a dualistic perspective. In the Gita, specifically chapter 13,  this is called the “knower” ( purusha) and the “field” (prakriti).

 In Tantra, prakriti is just seen has a heavier, slower vibration of spirit. It is not inferior; it is all one energy. This is called a non-dual perspective.

I realized why John went over this when we got to the discussion of the gunas. The gunas: Sattva, Rajas, Tamas, are seen very differently in the Gita’s classical perspective than in the Tantric philosophy that informs Anusara Yoga. In classical yoga Sattva is good, Rajas is bad and Tamas..well is just plain awful.

 In Tantra, sattva is the place of the middle- the middle vibrations, rajas is more active- a higher vibration and tamas is dense- the slowest of the vibrations. You need all three:  for example rajas is great in the morning when you have to get things done. You want energy and movement. Tamas is wonderful at night when you want it dark and quiet , heavy so the body can rest. We actually did a practice felling the gunas in the body: back leg in the standing poses tends to be more tamasic so you need to make it more active more rajas ( inner spiral and muscular energy) to bring sattva ( balanced action). I really liked how smoothly John weaved that and how much sense it made in the body. John said even the master gets out of balance but we don’t see it because the know how the balance the gunas more skillfully.

We ended the day finding our talents- going back to the discussion of the morning. I really have trouble with this. I always ask myself, “why am I here?” ” Am I doing the right thing?” I am good at a lot of things but not brilliant at any of them..my talent is being a jack of all trades I think! As I sat with this a little longer I looked at my small list and something else popped out. My talent- I think- is sharing. That is why I love to write, that is why I love to teach, that is why I love to travel. I want everyone to share my experience- to see what I have seen, to taste what I have tasted. Even my flying is sharing- I am constantly chatting with the passengers and asking them to share their experiences, giving them helpful information for their travels. This was a big revelation for me. For those that know me maybe you can comment on this- do you think we got it right?

I ended the night with a tofu dinner at the local mom and pop place and a soak in the local onsen ( hot spring)  around the corner from Mark’s home. It was a full day of discovery on so many levels. Off to Tokyo tomorrow- wonder what else will be revealed……


Day One- Ram Dass and John Friend on The Bhagavad Gita September 24, 2009

The puja

The puja

What are you a disciple to?

This was really the first question of the day. I am still puzzling as I write this what I am a disciple to. The problem is really that the logical mind wants to make the decision for you but I think the whole purpose of this intensive is that the heart is really what needs to decide.

John started the day by contextualizing the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita is part of a larger text called the Mahabharata which consists of 18 volumes…and the Gita is 18 chapters. The Gita is then divided into three 6 chapter sections. Each becoming more detailed in their teachings. One of the most important things that both Ram Dass and John reiterated is that the Gita is a living text- it not “just a book”. It is Krishna. That will make me think twice about resting my coffee mug on it so I don’t make a ring on the table.

The Gita describes three paths or margas to God- aka Krishna- which are Body , Mind and Heart. In Sanskrit we know them as Karma, Jnana and Bhakti. John has the room set up as a mandir or temple so we enter the room with certain gestures and rituals and we observe silence in the room. His idea is that rather than teaching the margas separately that we blend them all together in the teachings so that no marga is more superior to the other.

This was emphasised when we hit the morning practice and we would do a full backbend and then pick up our books and read a quote. Then backbend again and read a quote. I mentioned to Sjanie how much we like to stay in the body when we are in the body ( asana) and how we want to stay in the mind when we are in the mind(studying) and how John’s approach really rocked the boat in a way. Really at its essence that is Anusara and our method because as teachers we are trying to teach all 3 margas at the same time…we chose to call them the 3 A’s ( Attitude ( bhakti) Alignment ( Jnana) and Action( Karma) ).

We did a writing exercise today as well that I liked. Rather than hastily scribbling in your note book your intention( sankalpa) you made it matrika ( words holding power or shakti) by incasing your writing with symbols and words. I used little om signs and the word “shanti” above mine but it could be anything. I am wondering if that is why “Be Here Now” by Ram Dass is so powerful- it is matrika- all the pictures are not just a trippy hippy experience but really something much more. They are the imbedded shakti of Maharaji ( Neem Karoli Baba) delivered through Ram Dass.

The next thing that John talked about was the use of tapasya or austerities to clean the mirror so to speak. During the three day period we will be performing purification and restrictions. I have given up coffee and sugar for the intensive, committed to a 9 pm bedtime and a 5 am wake up ( which is killer without coffee) and to eat only non-processed food. Thank God Sjanie is here because she is doing the cooking so that is easy! The last one is “to tell the truth”. This is an internal restraint and I liberally stole it from Ram Dass’ experience with Maharaji but it works for me. That means I have to tell myself the truth too….not always easy.

John Friend and Ram Dass

John Friend and Ram Dass

We spent a lot of time talking about dharma. How do you find your dharma? Ram Dass had  a great point where he said you know you are in your dharma when it feels intuitively right. John said that whatever expands the light is dharmic and when the dharma goes up so does the karma- the responsibility goes up. Karma are actions that keep us in the web. For example if you give someone a gift and you are waiting for thanks for something in return that is karma- it makes impressions in the web. If you are dharmic you just give for the delight of it; no expectations of thanks or something in return- just give.

Karma is the very basic of all action, it creates ripples and patterns on the web. The Gita is telling us that the Divine- Krishna in this living text- is acting but making no ripples. That action is called kriya. So the idea is to keep acting but to become more dharmic and move from karma to kriya. We never stop acting, doing our work so to speak, but we offer it all as a gift to the Divine. It is much harder to be in and of the world and hold this mindset which is part of Arjuna’s problem and therefore our problem. How do we live life fully and effect change if we stop acting? If we stop fighting? We cannot just leave the battlefield, though some have I suppose by leaving society, but we cannot fight blindly either. We fight from a place of deep wisdom, from the depth of our heart where the seeker is the witness. Arjuna fights from the place where he is Krishna- we act from the place where we are Krishna. This is how the karma becomes kriya I think.

I believe that is what Ram Dass was getting at when he said the jivatman– the soul inside of us- needs to be where we act from. He said, ” When you identify with your soul you see other people as souls. Be one to see one.” He said we get very tied up in our roles: ie. mother, father, flight attendant, teacher, friend, etc. but they are not who we are. That dosen’t mean we can stop being them. I mean I can’t stop being a mother; that is my dharma. But there is something deeper there that I can act from, something that could make my “role” more dharmic. This is a thought that needs further contemplation but hopefully you get the drift.

It was so special to once again sit with Ram Dass and hear his teachings. The same beautiful Hanuman banner was up that I remembered from satsang and the only thing missing was my husband who so loved being there with Ram Dass. I hope that he gets the chance to do satsang again next time we are on the island. I silently thanked him and my children for making it possible for me to be present for these teachings and I felt the responsibility of being there.

 “You are the next generation, you are the custodians of the lineage.” John said this to us with such sincerity and intensity. Maharaji and Mukatananda are gone and Gurumai is in retreat and Ram Dass’ health is precarious. I might be one the teachers that says “Yes- I was with Ram Dass and John Friend on Maui in 2009” and that will be something significant. I am not sure. It doesn’t really matter. It is significant to me.

Hare Krishna~