Wa Yo Yogi

Leanne Kitteridge's adventures in Yoga

Be Here Now 40th Anniversary- Part Two October 18, 2010

” I am loving awareness” – Ram Dass

Day Two of the weekend workshop started with John Friend talking about the significance of numbers, rhythm, patterns and how they are all connected. I was scribbling down notes as fast as I could but to be honest as I try to read them back they are hard to decipher. You see my linguistic tendencies also came out of a need to avoid all algebra and stats classes….Japanese no problem…numbers……hmmm not so good….

I will try to find the highlights that were new to me and that don’t need deep mathematical understanding…

Today was 10/10/ 10. John took the number ten and explained as two 5’s. The flower of Shakti or the goddess’ is the red hibiscus..it has 5 petals. In the vibratory world, the highest vibration is white ( Shiva) and the slowest is red ( Shakti). I have no idea what flower is Shiva’s! So basically the number 5 is the number of life.

The idea was first there is 2, for example Sun and Moon. The energy between these contrary compliments is 3. The number 4 represents the stability that holds them in relation and 5 is the spiral….is the activation of the expansion and contraction of the relationship.

The number 10 is a 1 and 0. It is the creation of the binary rhythm of all life. There was something in there about the binary system creating wave patterns and that things like crystal and silica can resonate these wave patterns and that is why they are used in computers. The 0 also represents in Sanskrit “shunyata” – the void. But that which appears to be empty is completely full. The 1 then represents the sperm and the 0 the egg and from that all creation is born. Something to look up and research yourself when you are surfing the net.

We had a super juicy hip opener practice in which my leg was behind my head and I rolled down and back up but was too scared to stand up- that was pretty far for me already!  That may have been one of the deepest I have ever been in that pose. It also helps we warmed up for an hour towards it!

Ram Dass came back in the afternoon for satsang. Today he told the story of the Hanuman murti ( holy statue) that is currently housed in Taos, New Mexico. Maharaji’s devotee’s would build temples for him all over India. So Ram dass decided as a devotee that they should build a temple in America. The temple would need a murti so he went to Jaipur to the families that been making murtis for generations and found the family that specialized in Hanuman. Now usually Hanuman murtis are with Hanuman kneeling or Hanuman standing.  Ram Dass, recalling the story of Hanuman flying across the ocean to Lanka in the Ramayana carrying Ram’s ring to Sita, decided, since America was across the ocean, the murti should be of a flying Hanuman. Well, the family just looked at Ram Dass in astonishment. No one had ever made a flying Hanuman- how would he stay up? No, they didn’t want to do it.

I am not sure how Ram Dass persuaded them but somehow they agreed to make a marble Hanuman and created a large cape for him to hide the post which supports him in his flying pose. Hanuman then travelled from India to San Francisco where the devotees debated where he should be housed. One of the devotee’s had a farm near Taos so that is where Hanuman came to rest. That location, over the next few years, developed into what is today the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram in Taos, New Mexico.

One of the funny asides that Ram Dass told us is that to bless the murti- to breathe life into it- there must be a ceremony. He laughed as he told us their were two factions: one that  wanted Brahmans and a proper Hindu ceremony and the the others that were stoned and just wanted to climb naked into the crate with Hanuman. I never did find out which faction won out…..

Ram Dass then gave us all a great insight to his personal practice- his “sadana”. He explained he was a Bhakti yogi-a yogi who finds oneness through the path of devotion- and he said ” sadana, in my game- is who you think you are..and who you think you are is mostly based on fear- identifying with the individual “I”.”

He explained this further by saying he thought he was Dr. Richard Albert, he was a Harvard prof, he was a Freudian, he was a ..etc etc…all the titles and labels the individual “I” wants to hold on to. He said the real “I”  is not in the mind but in the heart and in the heart you are awareness.  ” I am loving awareness” – he whispered.” I am loving awareness”.

“You will never find your awareness”, he said,  “you ARE awareness”. “You stay there in your heart”, he explained, “and you stop identifying with all the thoughts.”

“I am loving awareness” is a thought but it is a thought that takes you to a subject not an object. You can’t focus on it because it is no thing, nothing…..it’s cool”.

” Everything I am aware of I love”, Ram Dass said. He talked about loving the wall, loving the room – it was quite funny. He then told a story about how one of his friends called him on it. It went something like this.

“So are you telling me, Ram Dass, that you love everything?”

” Yes”

“You love me?”

“Yes”

“You love that rug?”

“Yes- I love the rug”

“Hmm…”

His friend used to phone him and say, “This is your rug calling….” I just about rolled over laughing!

Ram Dass told us when he is looking at the world from his soul he finds the world beautiful and lovable. When you love the whole world, including yourself, you merge into a sea of love. There is no action, he explained, love isn’t action, it’s just merging. You don’t have to act. He then took a moment and looked around the room and smiled, ” this room is full of love”.

He then went back to the previous days talk of “being” and “doing”. He explained the difference between the Atman and the Jiva-atman- the One and the embodied soul. Maharaji was the Atman, on that plane, and Ram Dass was the jiva-atman. Seeing Oneness and being Oneness is a difference of spiritual planes of existence, he explained, and it takes Grace to get over that hump. He said that was interesting because people say they feel so loved when I am with him but he didn’t do anything. Wow- he thought- Grace is here- I got some of that. You get pure enough, he said, and then you wait for Grace.

John had a beautiful offering when he said that Ramakrishna had a saying about preparing your boat the best you can and then waiting for the winds of Grace. ” The waves will take you to the shore” John said quoting Rumi.

Feeling small, Ram Dass said, is a thought. Insecurity is a thought. Atman is so big- I am so small. The ego tells you that you cannot be him ( Maharaji). It’s still a thought- it’s who you think you are. You gotta be somebody before you’re nobody……

We seem, to me, that we have to shed the layers all over again to get back to that one original Atman…and  that is a part of the game- the sadana as Ram Dass put it- that we all have.

We then had a Q and A session with some interesting stuff coming up. We had the typical psychedelic questions- every time I am with Ram Dass this comes up- and he was good natured about it. He really nailed it when someone asked about getting to that plane of the Atman through drugs and Ram Dass said- ” it get’s you into the room but you can’t stay. All those guys [that took psychedelics] were nothing like Maharaji. He could stay in the room.” I then asked about Maharaji’s lineage as many teachers came from lineages ( ie. Nityananda, Baba Muktananda, Gurumai…) Apparently Maharaji was from a village near Agra but his beginnings are not well known. He was actually married with three children which I found surprising. According to his children he was a very good father- made all the marriage arrangements for his daughters etc. Then we had the most shocking thing occur- John started asking Ram Dass about his family. Family?? I thought….

Well,  apparently a man in his 50’s contacted Ram Dass because he looked so much like him and guess what…it was Ram Dass’ biological son! They just found each other this spring and this man has children so Ram Dass is actually a grandfather. When John said “How wonderful!” Ram Dass looked at him and said ” Why is it wonderful?” It really was one of the first times I saw John kind of at a loss for a moment. Ram Dass was really just making a point that love goes beyond blood and genealogy and that in the heart it doesn’t really change anything. I think he does secretly find it wonderful though! Wow-  I really didn’t see my question going in that direction. Quite the unexpected revelation!

John asked Ram Dass if he wanted to leave the young teachers with a message and this is what he responded:

” God is within you. We have to go inside rather than outside…what you want is what you already have.”


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Be Here Now- 40th Anniversary Part One October 10, 2010

 

John Friend and Ram Dass Oct/09/2010

 

We are on Maui at a very special time. This weekend workshop with John Friend coordinated with the 40th Anniversary of the book “Be Here Now” by Ram Dass. At the end of each day of asana practice, we get the privilege of sitting with Ram Dass to hear his story.

John had started our asana practice with a talk about positioning ourselves to receive Grace. That nothing is random, he said, but maybe we just can’t see the beginning and the end because it is across such a long thread of time. Think about the last ten years…what were the highlights? What were the things that gave you big openings? What brought you here today to be on this mat in Maui? It was really crazy to think about.

I thought about how ten years ago my dad died. I was barely doing yoga. I started doing yoga from money he left me. I started in Ashtanga and then almost stopped practising all together until I met Christina Sell.That was significant. I met John 4 years ago in Maui- here I am 4 years later , in the certification process, with my mat in front of him in the front row. Wow- I have come a long way…….. I can see the thread very distinctly now. Nothing seems crazy or random- it just seems…well...right. Like the right in that deepest knowing inside of yourself – my soul knows what my mind can barely conceive. How wonderful!

Of course, to top this all off,  John dropped me back into a backbend. There is no way 4 years ago it would have looked anything like what it looked like today. It just felt so good and so right- no fear, no discomfort – just the deep knowing that I am where I am supposed to be...right here….right now.

When we started satsang with Ram Dass in the afternoon it was wonderful to see the love between the two of them. Ram Dass speaks slowly because of his stroke but John creates such a beautiful space for Ram Dass to take his time and chose his words.

Ram Dass asked us I we were all Shavaites ( followers of Shiva) , he said he had been a Buddhist when he met Maharaji ( Neem Karoli Baba) who was a Vishnuvite ( follower of Vishnu) but he said the most important thing was that we could all come together as lovers of God. “God is Krishna, God is Buddha, God is Us.” I will never forget that quote.

He then introduced his talk by saying, ” So how did “Be Here Now” get here now?” For those of you that have not met Ram Dass, he has an incredible sense of humour. He had us laughing a few times during the talk.

Ram Dass told us of his journey to India and how he finally wound up meeting Maharaji ( I will leave you to read that in the intro of Be Here Now).  What was new to me is how he explained he wrote the book during his “miracle stage”, the stage where he was still entranced with Maharaji’s ability to read his mind and know his secrets.  He said he missed, at first, the real power of Maharaji, which was his unconditional love.

From there, he told us the story of the book. You see Ram Dass didn’t plan on writing a book. His teacher, Hari Dass , told him that Maharaji had given Ram Dass his ” asherbad” ( blessing) for his book. ” What book??” thought Ram Dass. ” I guess I am supposed to write a book….” So upon his return to New York, Ram Dass wrote a book on travelling in India. No publishers would take it. Hmmm, he thought, guess that must not be “the” book!

Shortly after that, in New York, one of the group who had always gathered to hear him lecture gave him a stack of papers. “What is this?” he asked.

“It’s your words. ” the woman said. She was a stenographer and she had been writing notes of every lecture. Ram Dass threw the notes into a box in the back of his car and drove out to see friends. When he got to his friend John’s place, John was getting his suitcase out for him and saw the box.

” What’s that?” he asked.

” It’s my words.” said Ram Dass.

” Can I see it?” he asked.

” Sure- go ahead.”

So John took the words and when Ram Dass left he handed them back saying ,

” I have marked all the relevant stuff”.

Ram Dass then threw them back in the trunk of the car and drove to a commune called the Lama Foundation near Taos. While helping him with his bags, another friend, Steve, saw the box.

” What’s that?” he asked.

” Oh- it’s my words, ” said Ram Dass.

“Can I see it?” Steve asked.

“Sure” said Ram Dass.

Well at the Lama Foundation there was very little money but lots of creative people. As they sat with “the words” , five artists there decide to make pictures with the words. Slowly and surely, ” What’s that??” was becoming a book. A book with Maharaji’s blessing in it.

The group of them were then trying to figure out who would want such a book about spirituality and Oneness etc. Not maybe such a hot topic in 1970, so they decided that everyone who came to Ram Dass’ lectures would receive, for their $1 entry fee ( seriously? A buck???), the lecture and the book. But at that time the book was actually a paper box. The box contained: a book called “our story” now the intro to Be Here Now, a cookbook (!), a record, a large paper with quotes you could cut out and ” put on your fridge” as Ram Dass put it, another large paper with pictures of the Gods and Saints, and of course- the book-made of brown paper that looked like grocery bags and hand bound. Ram Dass jokingly called it “ the do it yourself kit”.

Ram Dass brought a bag up on his lap and John Friend, assisting him with much reverence, pulled out one of the original boxes containing Be Here Now. It was so amazing. Apparently 1000 copies were made. I have no idea how many are still  in existence. Out came all the little books and posters and quotes you could cut up and post- John held them up and we all marvelled at the humble beginnings of a book that has now sold  2 million copies.

 

Ram Dass with the orginal box of Be Here Now

 

In 1970, Ram Dass presented what was to be the book, as we now know it, to Maharaji. While looking at it Maharaji exclaimed ” Mistake! Mistake!” Ram Dass tried to explain to Maharaji that the second printing was about to start and the amount of money involved and they couldn’t stop the printing now and Maharaji said. ” Money and truth have no business with each other!”

Ram Dass ran off  to telegram Steve in Taos to stop the printing and fix the error. Steve said that the printing was already on the press- it was too late.

Ram Dass went back and explained to that it was too late. Maharaji asked him about he letter, ” Did you get the letter? What did it say?”

” What letter?” asked Ram Dass. ( thinking, ” if you know I got a letter then you already know what it says!!! “)

Going back to the hotel there was a letter for Ram Dass from Steve. One of the printing blocks was missing- they were missing a whole page of the book and couldn’t even locate the original. They could not print the book…..

They fixed the mistake and the book went into it’s second printing.

 

John holding up one of the posters with the gods and saints

 

We ended the day by Ram Dass talking about the miracle stage and the love stage. For Maharaji’s greatest power was his ability to unconditionally love. Ram Dass explained in the West we identify with our “roles” and in the Himalayas they identified with their “souls”. In Anusara, all of us have a “soul role”. Those two words sunk so deep, and rung with such truth, that it could become my mantra.

In honour of that unconditional love and 40 years later being able to see the greater message, Ram Dass pulled from his bag his brand new book, not even yet released, ” Be Love Now”. In front of all of us , John Friend became a recipient of one of the first copies. The official release will be November 2, 2010. Ram Dass left us with a last thought to ponder.

He said, ” I am trying to do unconditional love, I try but still…..I am doing. Maharaji didn’t “do” it, he “be’ed” it . Maybe for you as yogi’s , one day you will “be” the asana.”

 

The Dharma of Teaching September 8, 2010

I have been considering the role of the teacher lately. What does the teacher help us do? I think we can all agree on a little list that says something like…helps us learn new information, keeps us accountable to someone, directs our learning. But what does a great teacher do?

Think back to all the teachers you have had in your life- school teachers, sports coaches, relatives, friends- the role of the teacher comes manifested in many forms. Now think back to the ones that really stick out in your mind and bring a fondness of memory- what made these teachers different from all the others? What made them so significant in your memory? I know for me they are the ones that inspired me- that literally breathed life into my realm of imagination and animated new possibilities.  Even to have one teacher like that in our lives is a blessing; I have been blessed with more than one.

Sometimes when I am teaching I have had students approach me after class and tell me things like how ” the class spoke exactly to what I needed to hear” and ” how did you know what I was thinking?” I had one student even say that my classes have changed her life. I have to be honest with you and say my first reaction wasn’t ” Hey- cool!” it was more like” NO- I don’t want that responsibility!”.  I had to ground a little and remind myself that what was happening was good and natural- that as students started opening they would look to me as the agent of that change. But thankfully, because of one of my teachers John Friend, I know more clearly what is happening. For a great teacher is just a conduit of light, a beautiful pure light that allows the students to see more clearly in an often dark place. The teacher becomes the mirror merely reflecting back the realm of possibility inside the student and the student starts to see what has always been there- their own power.

This sounds simple but to be a conduit is not easy- you must be strong inside and out. The conduit carries the light but must not confuse itself by identifying as the light. When teachers identify as the light, as the transformative power itself, than their ego becomes misaligned. They become ego driven and then all sorts of ugliness arises: jealousy, fear, narcissism, and greed. The teacher must always remember the source of their power and realize that it is the students Grace- chali-kripa in Sanskrit-  that allows them to take the seat of the teacher. When the teacher holds that remembrance they can be dynamic and successful but always humble. In yoga, teachers prepare through meditation and asana to be the conduit but I have had many great teachers that were not yogi’s- how does that happen? If they do not meditate and do asana how do they become such amazing conduits?

I think the answer is Love. All my teachers that were great loved what they did and loved their students. I often think to Ram Dass speaking of his teacher Maharaji ( Neem Karoli Baba) and saying that his power was the ability to love everybody. When we love someone unconditionally we give them the confidence and support to go inside. Love comes from the heart, it is not tempered by the ego, and therefore the teacher that teaches from love is always aligned. I believe that mediation and asana can help the love get stronger but the love must be there first- the love of sharing, the love of empowering others, the love of seeing someone grow into who they are in their heart.

Some teachers are only with us for a short time. They see us in a only a small fraction of our life and then they are left wondering if their students did realize their potential- did the teacher make a difference? We are human, and though we really shouldn’t be seeking out affirmation, I thought about how as the student I should be telling my great teachers that they were great- that they had made a difference in my life. For this is the dharma of the teacher- to affect change in a positive way. So I have began to seek them out one by one…

I had coffee with my Grade 2 teacher last week- I hadn’t seen her in over 30 years. I sent her a letter a few months ago to tell her what an influence she was in my life and how her business trip to Japan with her husband in 1977 changed my life. She had come back full of enthusiasm with wonderful photos and kimono’s for us to touch and rice crackers for us to taste and a beautiful doll in a glass case for us to gaze upon. Her love of sharing greatly affected me and to her shock and amazement her small influence changed my life. I have a University degree in Japanese Studies, lived in Japan for many years and speak fluent Japanese. My connection with Japan brings such happiness to me that it is hard to imagine that door may have never opened if it not been for her. She was so amazed  to get my letter and she said it was every teacher’s dream that they had a student tell them that they made a difference. We plan on meeting for coffee a lot more often now!

Every time we teach we have the opportunity to awaken something in the student. I like to think that rather than focusing on that if we simply focus on becoming the best conduit that we can be- full of love, enthusiasm and gratitude – the awakenings will naturally happen…for both the students and the teacher.

And go find an old teacher and tell them how great they were and why…..

Neem Karoli Baba

 

Book Review: Paths To God- Living the Bhagavad Gita by Ram Dass October 7, 2009

When I signed on for the Maui Intensive on the Gita with John Friend and Ram Dass this book was listed on the recommended reading. I had never heard of it before but, being the keener I am, I picked it up on one of my many trips to Banyan Books. I didn’t realize at the time what an influential little book it would become.

Ram Dass

Ram Dass

First of all I thought it was a study guide to the Gita- how wrong I was! It is a study guide to life– your inner spiritual life- your sadhana. Which when you come full circle, is really what the Gita is : a study guide for life. In Ram Dass’ words, “This really isn’t a book “about” the Bhagavad Gita. It isn’t an analysis of the Gita, or a commentary on the Gita, or anything like that. Rather, it’s a series of reflections about the major themes of the Gita- themes that touch on the various yogas, or paths for coming into union with God, that the Gita investigates. It’s an attempt to look at how those yogas might be relevant to our own lives, in this day and age.” p.1

 For those of you who have never had the blessing to meet Ram Dass there is one thing I want to stress about him- his sense of humour. Yes-he is brilliant, articulate, wise and filled with a deep inner light , but he is also so of this world as well. When I first met Ram Dass a few years ago on Maui, I was struck by his ability to teach the deepest wisdom on such a human level. He is like a beautiful,  intricate bridge that allows us to walk from this world to the Divine.

Paths to God  is based on a course that Ram Dass taught at Naropa Institute ( now Naropa University) in Colorado in 1974. The course was called “The Yogas of the Bhagavad Gita”.Ram Dass’ guru- Neem Karoli Baba (affectionately known as Maharaji) – would only hand out two books to his students: The Ramayana and The Bhagavad Gita. Keeping this in mind, Ram Dass decided to further his own understanding of the Gita by teaching this course. As a teacher myself, I know how teaching can bring greater understanding to even the teacher- sometimes even a different understanding!

Ram Dass sets a context for the teachings by giving an outline of the Gita in his first chapter that he calls: Context and Conflict. He continues with the following chapters:

2.  Karma and Incarnation

A discussion on what Karma actually is and our belief ( or non-belief) of incarnation. Ram Dass,  being born Jewish and having studied various religions, brings an interesting inter-faith perspective to the idea of incarnation. He quotes parts of the bible that actually show a belief in incarnation in the Judeo-Christian faith. Reincarnation seemed to be common belief at the time of Christ but the Church hotly debated it and as Ram Dass puts it, “they realized that reincarnation wasn’t such a functional philosophy for maintaining the church’s control.”p.38   He goes on to explain differing views of reincarnation and karma from both the  Buddhist and Hindu perspectives. This theme plays heavy in the Gita as Krishna urges Arjuna to fight because the body will perish but that which is not the body, I will use the word essence, continues.

 2.18  ” The body is mortal, but that which dwells in the body is immortal and immeasurable. Therefore Arjuna, fight in this battle.”- Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Gita

 

3.  Karma Yoga

Ram Dass gets into a great discussion of dharma and what it means to act. All of our actions- including thought- have an outcome. Even non-action has a result. He brings up a memorable example ” It’s like when you have met someone who has “”Given up smoking!”- and that’s totally who they are. ” who are you?” I am someone who hasn’t smoked for 2 weeks , four hours, and thirty two minutes. ” In their thought forms they are smoking at least a pack an hour!” p.56   He calls it phony holy. Really, can’t you relate to that? For all of us that have gone on a diet,  suddenly food becomes an obession! Is that really serving you? When we operate in the place of spirit rather than striving- we are operating in the place of true dharma and no longer creating karma. “When we first set out to do our work as spiritual practice, we’re still acting from inside the world attachments and desires, because the desire to get free is still a desire.But as the upaya, the method, begins to work, it leads us to a deeper understanding of the reason and wisdom that underlie the whole system.” p.72

 3.6 ” Those who abstain from action while allowing the mind to swell on sensual pleasure cannot be called sincere spiritual aspirants.”- -E.E.’s translation of the Gita

 

4. Jnana Yoga

Jnana is the yoga of wisdom or knowledge but Ram Dass explains “whenever we think about our practices or talk about our practices, the thinking and talking are forms of jnana yoga.When I describe to you the practice of karma yoga or the practice of bhakti yoga, the description is a jnana yoga technique. To understand devotional yoga, to understand why we meditate, to understand why we do mantra, we have to develop the kind of discriminating wisdom that can differentiate the real from the unreal, and the path of developing that discrimination is jnana yoga.”p.73 This chapter focuses on techniques to turn the mind in on itself so to speak. Ram Dass explains the levels of mind(ahamkara,  manas, buddhi, atman) and how each relates to the sense of who we are and our actions- how they function on a daily basis. He then introduces methods in which the mind becomes the tool which extricates us from the mind and then we see it all as one. “It is all just God dancing with God.”p.93 I love that quote….

4.33 “The offering of wisdom is better than any material offering, Arjuna; for the goal of all work is spiritual wisdom.”       -E.E’s translation of the Gita

 

5.  Brahman

“But where is the “there” we are trying to get to?”p.94 This chapter focuses on what is known as the formless, the One, Spirit…the list  of  names is endless in all forms of metaphysics. Ram Dass uses many other texts , including the Tao Te Ching, to show how they explain the immeasurable and indefinable. This is a really deep chapter for we spend pages trying to explain and understand that which in a large part is unexplainable. i think Ram Dass introduces enough anecdotes and thoughts from other spiritualists to create a picture at least from where we can start.  Ultimately though, Brahman must be experienced to be understood and so Ram Dass says-“ But “painted cakes do not satisfy hunger,”and finally we have to do the work that allows us to enter the state for ourselves.”p.103

13.17 ” Dwelling in every heart, it is beyond darkness. It is called the light of light, the object and the goal of knowledge,and knowledge itself.”- Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Gita

 

6.  Sacrifice and Mantra

I call this the weight loss chapter. Ram Dass spends a good part of the chapter showing us how to work with desire and how mindfullness of our desire can become a sacrifice. He uses the one desire most of us have in common: food.  Most of us are completely unconscious about the process of eating…or maybe overly obsessive- neither is good. He describes a funny incident at a retreat where Ram Dass had a huge meal prepared for the last day and he would talk about it a lot and everyone would get excited and their desire would build and then when they finally sat down for this beautiful meal together he would give a long, long  blessing while the food got cold and then he would read a Buddhist passage on the repulsiveness of food and how it moves through our body- very descriptive, non-enticing stuff. If that wasn’t enough he would then explain how slowly and mindfully they were all going to eat and ” by then the banquet would be ruined.”p.116 He would then explain to the group that we can surrender some of the pleasure of eating and make it more mindful. What Ram Dass is getting at is that anything to which we have a desire attached to can be used to get us to progress further down the path- ” part of our sadhana involves experimenting with each aspect of our lives for its potential as part of our awakening.“p116

His section on mantra I found especially good. I do not know of any other book that has explained mantra practice in such a step by step form and made it seem very approachable for the beginning student. This part of the chapter is something I will use as a teaching and study resource for many years to come. ” That is , what mantra does is to concentrate already-existing stuff in you. It just brings it into focus. It’s like a magnifying glass with the sun: The magnifying glass doesn’t have any heat in and of itself, but it takes the sunlight and focuses it;makes it one pointed. The mantra becomes like that magnifying glass for your consciousness.”.p.121

4.24 “The process of offering is Brahman; that which is offered is Brahman. Brahman offers the sacrifice into the fire of Brahman. Brahman is attained by those who see Brahman in every action”-Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Gita

 

7. Renunciation and Purification

I looked at this chapter with fear in my heart as purification and renunciation just don’t seem to go down very well with my dharma. I have tried before people- it wasn’t good.  I like to think all I have to remember is that I am Divine- I am part of that greater pulsation already but as Ram Dass kindly reminds us, these acts are ” to get rid of whatever in us prevents us from knowing who we are at this moment…..(they) are designed to get around the roadblock between our knowing and our believing.”p.128. Hmm. I guess he has a point. Ram Dass also says there is a time that is appropriate for these things and I am feeling that more now. I am starting care less and less about what brand name I wear or how much stuff I have. In fact ” stuff” starts to make me feel a little claustrophobic these days. Maybe I am just kidding myself and I am trading Coach bags for yoga books, bamboo cutlery and Lululemon? Phony Holy…

As Ram Dass points out, advertising today is meant to make “us feel more and more dissatisfied, making us think we want more and more things.”p.134 It is so sad and so true. The process cannot be forced, however, and renunciation and purification cannot be done fully because the mind is wanting us to be “good”- that doesn’t really work.  Carlos Pomeda once said in a lecture, “renunciates are usually people who are very unhappy with the world”. Can you be a happy renunciate?? I think Ram Dass gives us a chance to explore that idea. 

9.27.9.28 “Whatever you do make it an offering to me- the food you eat, the sacrifices you make, the help you give, even your suffering. In this way you will be freed from the bondage of karma and from its results both pleasant and painful.Then, firm in renunciation and yoga, with your heart free, you will come to me.” – Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Gita

 

8.  Devotion and the Guru

This chapter could easily be retitled the path of love for love is the main theme. Ram Dass, being the devotee of a Guru, gives great insight into what is actually happening in the relationship; how the Guru is just as Ram Dass explains, ” a doorpost”  to the real thing.  He explained this in Maui during our Gita intensive by saying  that devotion cannot be done by intellect. It is done by the heart. A devotee is one whose heart has been opened. He explained that he loved Maharaji and was his devotee but what he really loved was the God within Maharaji. You cannot fall in love with the God in you, your atman, but you can fall in love with the God in someone else. That love  over time allows the door to open and then that is when we realize that the object of our love was the “doorpost”- the gateway- but not the subject. “The guru is a being who awakens incredible love in us, and who then uses our love to awaken us out of the illusion of duality”. p.170

He also brings up the discussion around those who think their hearts are closed. I mean, have you been to those yoga gatherings that are the big love fest ( Ok, Maybe it’s an Anusara thing…) and everybody is a bhakti and life is good but then there are those that are NOT that? ( I happen to live with one…)  Ram Dass sees those that are feeling nothing- in despair- as having the most potential for heart opening.”It’s only when our despair reaches rock bottom that the opportunity occurs for the heart to open. So if someone says to me, ” I feel nothing; I feel dead inside,”- that, to me, is a critical moment. It’s the moment when there is the possibility of the heart opening. “p.166 This is really what happens to Arjuna in the Gita, he is despondent, he has given up, and now Krishna has an opportunity, through Arjuna’s love of him, to reveal that which is beyond the doorpost so to speak.

1.47 ” Overwhelmed by sorrow, Arjuna spoke these words. And casting away his bow and arrows, he sat down in his chariot in the middle of the battlefield.” Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Gita

  

9.  Social Aspects of Sadhana

This chapters deal more on the psychology of  how we see ourselves; how we differentiate ourselves from others- all of our baggage that comes along when we use our perspective. We need discrimination- that is a given- but can we go the other way around and rather than looking for the differences see the “sameness”. Ram Dass calls this a soul looking at a soul and besides some great stories about his drug trips- he really makes us examine our individuality- or rather our illusion of individuality. He gets into a great discussion of judging and wanting to change people- I mean come on we are all a little bit like that..” I wish he would be more …yadayadayada…” you get the picture. “If we go out into the woods and we look at all the trees, we don’t say, “I wish that oak tree were an elm.” Somehow, we can allow trees to be what they are; we can grant that each tree is perfect just the way it is. But when it comes to people, if everybody isn’t the way we think they ought to be, all hell breaks loose! We sit around judging and judging, having opinions about everybody.”p.200

18.20 “Sattvic knowledge sees the one indestructible Being in all beings, the unity underlying the multiplicity of creation”.  -Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Gita

 

 

 

10.  Dying

This chapter is a collection of stories that show Ram Dass’ own evolution on thoughts related to death and dying. Ram Dass’ mother’s death played into his meeting Maharaji, John Friends mother’s death played into his spiritual journey and my own father’s death brought me to yoga. Death can have such a profound sense of rocking us to the core of who we are- or more accurately who we thought we were- and it plays the shell game with what we thought was important. (Under that one? No. Ok- That one! No that either…. ) What happens after death? Where do we go? Why can I still feel so connected?  That for me was the key- I knew he was still with me- I could FEEL it- so was that my imagination or was that a realization that we are all part of something that is unchanging? 

Reading this chapter, I often thought of my friend and fellow Anusara yogi, Carol Wray. Carol sits with people as they die. During the middle of the night , when family members cannot be present or individuals do not have family, people like Carol make dying a sacred act. She is the first to acknowledge that those who are leaving their body are not always attractive- even ugly- but that after a few moments she sees beyond all that and she is a soul sitting with another soul to help them make a transition.  I was hospitalized many years ago and in the middle of the night  I could hear the last breaths of an elderly woman a few beds down from me. I had seen her family visit her earlier in the day and I knew that she was loved, but now at 3am in a strange room,  she was dying alone. I am not sure what possessed me, as I was supposed to be bed ridden, but I managed to shuffle over to the chair beside her bed and I then plopped myself down beside this seemingly unconscious woman. “Hi- my name is Leanne”, I said, “and you don’t know me, but I figured you wouldn’t want to be alone. I wouldn’t want to be alone.” And there I sat- occasionally wiping her dry mouth with moist q-tips as I had seen her family do and just lightly keeping my hand on hers. I saw in her all those I loved…and I saw me. I wondered if I was doing this for her or if I was doing it for me? I guess it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things…… “ For someone on a spiritual path, death is a doorway, an opportunity, and all our practices are done to prepare us for that moment.”p.225

 

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One of the greatest gems is at the end of the book : the course syllabus from Naropa. In detail, it teaches you how to create a sadhana for yourself; how to journal, how to set up a puja, how to start a meditation practice,  how to use a japamala and many other things. From the perspective of a teacher of asana, I feel that these practices should not be left outside our realm for “other yogis”. These are practices, that along with the physical asana practice , bring us into alignment with our hearts’ intention- it helps us get free.  I know that a real hard core physical yogi can get broken open during kirtan, I know that writing can in a journal ( or a blog!) can give you clarity in your sadhana,  and I know that having a place set aside for prayer and contemplation can be a haven and reminder for that which is truly important. These practices are all important if we see our yoga as a path of spirit.

I know that in any future teacher trainings or immersion I do, this book will be mandatory reading.  I have wrapped up my own copy,  beautifully signed by Ram Dass, in a piece of silk to honor Ram Dass and his teachers.  If I can understand and just do even a little of what Ram Dass has put into this book,  it will be invaluable on my own path. I hope this book will become part of your path too.

 

“On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear.”

-(2.40 of The Bhagavad Gita)

 

Day 3 – Ram Dass and John Friend Intensive Maui September 28, 2009

The Bhakti yogi Hanuman

The Bhakti yogi Hanuman

The theme of day three, the last day of the intensive, was ” Faith, Devotion and Grace”. We covered the last 6  chapters of the Gita- except for chapter 15. (Don’t ask) It was really the emphasis of the Bhakti path or devotional path of yoga which was contained in the last chapters of the Gita.

The Bhakti path is not really unfamiliar to us in the West as the worship of Christ is a bhakti path. Many people worship God but the figure of Christ as the embodiment of God and his attributes makes it easier for us to understand than the disembodied divine spirit. As we are manifested in physical form it is hard for us to understand and conceive that which is beyond form and so we take manifested objects and our love for them is what triggers our love and understanding of the universal. We need form or a name in order to have that opening.

I often think of my Dad that is no longer alive and my love for him takes me straight into that place where abstract thought cannot take me. My love for him teaches me about devotion. It takes the absolute realm of the universal and manifests it into something that I can understand. Love is in relationship. You need to love something to understand love- you can’t understand love from a book or from a lecture- it is experienced in relationship.

John asked us all to write down what was the secret of the Gita that Krishna gave to Arjuna- the highest teaching. This is what I wrote, ” That God is in everything and everything is in us. Knowing this, live skillfully with love in your heart”. It is amazing that it takes 18 chapters to get that but you know how we are…..Arjuna keeps asking and doubting and Krishna has to keep explaining and going into more detail….I am wondering if Krishna was a wife….hmm.

We had a rockin’ practice of love in the morning which culminated in hand stand drop over to urdva dhanurasana. I know we did some other cool stuff like a dwi pada with an assist that had our foot in our partner’s back-( I actually adjusted Sjanie’s spine….*pop* ) but we were so blissed out that I forgot. I practiced right beside the Hanuman banner and Maharaji’s picture and it was like Maharaji and the monkey were really digging our practice.

Ram Dass came back for the afternoon and I got brazen enough to ask him to sign my book. As I walked into the room he was in I signaled a bewildered Sjanie and had her grab her book. This is not something Sjanie would normally do, so I kind of cajoled her into it, but I don’t hesitate to say she has no regrets. Ram Dass was very sweet to us and I told him how my daughter loves the monkey ever since we had Satsang with him. He was very pleased about that. Sjanie and I returned to the yoga room with our books clutched to our chests and a little misty trying to soak up Maharaji’s shakti and lookin’ like we just had our favorite movie star autograph our book. Yup- yoga geeks…..

Ram Dass gave the most uplifting and warm talk and he spoke for two hours. He talked about his stroke which was very moving. He said it was like his chapter 11 in the Gita when Krishna reveals himself in the universal form. Before that Arjuna didn’t have faith- he had belief ( which comes from the mind) but he didn’t have faith ( which comes from the heart. When he has his stroke he said he lost faith- he said to Maharaji, ” Hey- did you go out for lunch??? What is THIS?” He was completely depressed in the hospital  and he stared at the picture of Maharaji on the wall. People would come in and say ” How could Maharaji let this happen to you”. It was ” all very sad” he said.

Over time though he started to realize that the stroke wasn’t from Maharaji- it was from nature. It was his karma.  His abilities that he was left with were Maharaji’s Grace. It was fierce Grace, but still Grace. Because Ram Dass had slowed down his audience had to slow down too. His wheel chair and paralysis softened people to him and he was better able to open their hearts. These positive things Maharaji supplied. Maharaji used to say to him, ” I love suffering- it brings me so close to God”.  That’s not saying that suffering is optimal, but isn’t it usually in our darkest times we seek out answers?

Ram Dass explained that devotion cannot be done by intellect. It is done by the heart. A devotee is one whose heart has been opened. He explained that he loved Maharaji and was his devotee but what he really loved was the God within Maharaji. You cannot fall in love with the God in you, your atman, but you can fall in love with the God in someone else.

John had a great quote that went, “ When I don’t know who I am I serve you- when I know who I am I am you.”  It really summerizes the path of the bhakti yogi.

Maharaji used to tell Ram Dass to meditate like Christ. ” Lose yourself in love” he would say. This puzzled Ram Dass so Maharaji showed him and, as Maharaji meditated, tears rolled down his face. Meditation can become like a ritual that is empty of love- this is what Maharaji was trying to explain. Ram Dass said, “You can sing hymns like you are reading the shopping list- but these are the beautiful words of Christ- you need to sing with love”. Ram Dass’ name means servant of God. It also is another name for Hanuman.

This segued into Ram Dass giving us a mini synopsis of the Ramayana. He kept saying he was talking too much and apologizing and we were all ” NO- please, please continue.” His assistant said he hasn’t talked that long to a group since his stroke. His assistant figured our attentiveness was feeding his desire to share. It was so very special.

Ram Dass finished his time with us by telling us his mantra- “ I am loving awareness“.  John sweetly gifted a shawl made from cashmere to Ram Dass and wrapped it around his shoulders. It was so obvious to us that it was like Maharaji’s famous blankets. It all just seemed so right. The perfect way to thank him and honour our time together.

After Ram Dass left,  John took the mantra Ram Dass told us and we used that as our japamala mantra for the afternoon. We also turned our mats and faced one person who we did  a meditation and a partner exercise with. We had to look at them and tell them what we liked about them~ what we saw. It was fun and brought back memories of doing that with Christina Sell many years ago.

We ended the whole day by making a huge circle and taking the whole three days and summarizing it into a few words or a phrase. We went around the circle saying our personal summary. There were some classics. Some of my favorites were, ” Be the loving dude I actually am” ” Love everybody” ” love makes us one” ” Hare Krishna” “Hare Ram” ( back to back no less… ) and “Yum, yum, yum” which is what Ram Dass would say every time he talked about getting to that deepest part of your soul.

I asked Ram Dass only one question during the intensive. I said, “Ram Dass, can faith and love in us awaken it in others?” He emphatically hit his good hand on the arm rest of his wheel chair and said, “YES! Absolutely!” 

My dharma thickens…….

 

Maui is like that… March 9, 2008

Filed under: travel yoga,yoga — shibuiyoga @ 9:51 pm
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Sorry for the long break in writing but we did not have computer access in Maui except for an Internet cafe and in a way it was extremely liberating. I realized how much of my day I glued myself to the computer. It seemed that 30 minutes twice a week was really enough to check e-mail and such. The only downside was not being able to write my blog so unfortunately these entries from our time in Maui will be less fresh and probably condensed from my normal writing. Maybe that is a good thing…

We spent every morning practicing Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga? I know many of my yogi friends are confused about why I would chose to practice Ashtanga but really I never stopped practicing it. Every Sunday I still do primary and Ashtanga was my first introduction to the practice of yoga and for that I am grateful.

After practice one morning, a practitioner beside me mentioned there was kirtan at Maui Studio with Ram Dass. I knew a little bit about Ram Dass having read about him on the internet and having encountered other teachers that had spoken of him. Basically he is an American spiritual teacher who is more infamous for his experiments with pyschedelic drugs at Harvard University than his spiritual teachings.  I stole most of the following bio from Wikipedia.

In 1967, Dr. Richard Alpert ( as he was known then) travelled to India, where he met the American spiritual seeker Bhagavan Das. As he guided him barefoot from temple to temple, Bhagavan Das began teaching Alpert basic mantras and asanas, as well as how to work with a mala. After a few months Bhagavan Das led Alpert to his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, or as he is better known in the West, Maharaj-ji. Maharaj-ji soon became Alpert’s guru and gave him the name “Ram Dass”, which means “servant of God”. Under the guidance of Maharaj-ji, Ram Dass was instructed to receive teaching from Hari Baba Dass, who taught in silence using only a chalkboard.  Among other things, Hari Dass Baba trained Ram Dass in raja yoga and amhisa- non violence. It was these life-changing experiences in India that inspired Ram Dass to write the contemporary spiritual classic, Be Here Now,  in which he teaches the harmony of all people and religions.

He moved to Maui sometime in the 1990’s and has been a fixture there ever since. I wasn’t sure what to expect at kirtan- which is usually devotional chanting- but what we actually came across was a satsang- a lecture by the spiritual teacher. With his stroke he speaks very slowly and deliberately and at first it seemed slow and frustrating but then it became easier- like the slow delivery made each word more significant. Ram Dass chose that night to speak of being a servant to God- a servant like Hanuman- the devoted servant of Rama. He basically retold the Ramayana in a way that those of us modern day yogis could understand. The basic story line is that Sita, a  princess, is kidnapped by a serpent like prince of Lanka , Ravana. Rama is a virtuous prince, and Sita’s husband and he searches all of India for her- with the help of all the animals and especially Lord Hanuman. It was insightful and humorous.

One of the things that I had never heard before was that in some versions Hanuman is actually Shiva manifested- Shiva felt sorry for Rama and chose to come to help him- but in the process of becoming the monkey he forgot that he really was the powerful Shiva. This is an interesting metaphor. We are born with incredible possibility and no knowledge. When Hanuman jumped or flew to Sri Lanka to find Sita he was full of fear. It was too far and too dangerous- it was impossible. He did not know the power that was within him- if he remembered he was Shiva he could have easily done it- but he did not know that. He was a simple monkey who was deeply devoted to his master Rama. It was his devotion and love of Rama that gave him the courage to believe he could jump- and so he did. Hanuman found Sita and eventually Rama and Sita were reunited. Love and devotion- this is the story of Hanuman.

Ram Dass went on to say that this is his story. He said that his story is the story of unconditional love. He said his guru looked at him and knew small details about his life that were unknown to others. He realized then that even those things he wished to hide from his guru- things that were embarrassing and unsavory- were all exposed- and that his guru loved him anyways. Unconditional love- that is what his guru taught him. People asked him “Why do you worship a man?” and he said ” I do not worship a man- I worship a doorway to God- my guru was this doorway.” 

He said a few other profound things which I tucked away in my mind, but one thing he mentioned I missed. My husband could not recall the quote either. It bothered me for days after as I felt it was somehow significant and now I would never get the chance to ask him again. I thought I would have to put it out to other teachers and see if they maybe knew the answer- but of course it would be speculation as only Ram Dass could again tell me the exact quote.

A few days later we had dinner with the owners of the cottage who we have become friends with. They said a neighbour was coming over to join us. The lovely woman that joined us was bright and articulate and she went on to say she had left a successful career and life on the Mainland to be with her spiritual teacher. My brain leapt back to satsang and I realized she was there. We started to chat excitedly and I went on to ask if she knew the answer to my question about Ram Dass’ satsang. She said “No- but I am his personal assistant.  Write it down and I will give it to him. I will call you tomorrow with the answer.” And so she did.

I mentioned the amazing set of circumstances to Nancy Gilgoff, our Ashtanga teacher, and she said, “Maui is like that.”  We continued to have more experiences like this during the trip. Like John Friend said to us in Seattle- there is no random.

For those of you curious to know what Ram Dass said that I was so eager to remember you will have to email me! So much for condensed….