enlightenment

jesus&buddha

Idealization in the Psyche

A core function of the human mind is dreaming, or imagining events that haven’t actually taken place. This can occur while sleeping, while bored during the day, while exercising, pretty much any time when your attention is free, this is possible for the mind. If you are intensely focused on something, for instance your breath, then the mind cannot create these abstractions or false realities. This is part of the Maya that Buddhists and Hindus believe is the illusion of this world.

I’ve heard a lot about spirituality in the last 3 months; I’ve heard that the Buddhas enlightenment meditation was about 4 hours long, I’ve learned that the mind will ceaselessly process events for seemingly no reason, I’ve learned that Buddhism is absolutely a religion, and I have come to the conclusion that the Western and Eastern spiritual religions are two sides of the same coin; the quest for power.

The Buddha and Jesus Christ are treated very similarly in their respective religions of Buddhism and Christianity. Each is somewhat of a key holder to salvation from the world; the Buddha through enlightenment, and Jesus through heaven. Being educated by Jesuit priests has its advantages; I believe it is a requirement to have a PHD in both Theology and Philosophy. Eight years at Jesuit schools has taught me a lot about how to understand and interpret mythology, which religion can effectively be compartmentalized under.

Proper understanding of any literature requires analysis of three major factors : historical events, cultural rituals, and most importantly language. It is impossible to understand what writers were attempting to say in ancient times without understanding their lifestyle, educational background, and historical circumstances. These three things cross over into each other (ie language is a cultural phenomenon and history consists of many important rituals and customs), so having a decent understanding of all three circumstances is important to understand the meaning of what is being said.

If we look at most modern-day christianity, a lot of this contextual information is forgotten, therefore disregarded which causes us to completely lose the meaning of the original text. You need this contextual information to understand what the author is trying to express.

A lot of people don’t understand the bible but quote it regularly; I hesitate to say most, but I don’t think I would be wrong. It is an ancient book written for ancient times and most of it was passed orally before it was ever written, including all four books about Jesus’ life. Even with all of the available knowledge regarding historical, cultural, and linguistic circumstances, we still have a very small picture into the life of someone like Jesus. So we idealize about the individual person in nearly every way, because we allow our brains to construct “the perfect” human. This is essentially what the ideal of Jesus epitomizes in Christianity, an individual that sacrifices everything for his community, even though he receives no recognition for it.

The buddha is very similar to eastern traditions. A lot of the knowledge passed from the Buddha was also passed down orally; but instead of the 70-100 years gap before Jesus’ teachings were written, the Buddha’s teaching were first written about 400 years after he died. This leaves a rather large margin for misinterpretation in the writings of both holy books. He was also a “perfected” human, though his path was different he achieved enlightenment and unison with the divine.

Most scholars accept that the Buddha lived and founded a monastic order and that he was a younger contemporary of Mahavira (the Jain teacher). But very few are hesitant to say much more than this, because of the convoluted theologically influences historical events. The same is true with Jesus, most scholars accept that he lived, died, and founded an order in the process. But scholars of both traditions believe that the traditional texts are not at all historically reliable.

Both the Buddha and Jesus led tremendous cultural revolutions that were anti-establishment; Jesus against rabbis and Jewish pharisees, and the Buddha against Hindu ascetics and Brahmins that constructed the caste system. Both taught about freedom that can’t be obtained externally and both were very misunderstood then, and now. And both were lost to time, never to be truly understood because of lack of reliable information. This has created a complete idealization of both figures, so much so that individuals consider them to be the gateways to the divine.

Why am I writing about this? To exemplify a constructive process of the mind, called idealization. We do this with people we look up to, idolizing and making up idealistic personalities for them. Modern music, movies, acting, etc creates plenty of this. It is part of how we dream, we look up to the individuals we think of as the most successful, or the highest quality. Then we try to be more like them to improve our functioning within society.

We need to step away from these ideals and understood the people around us as humans, rather than idealizing about your favorite artist, a model whose body is unforgettable when photo shopped. Jesus and the Buddha were both humans. There really isn’t any evidence to show otherwise, so that is my position that I am sticking to, because instead of creating an impossible ideal to strive towards, now you have a concrete human that you can measure your own progress against.

Being anti-establishment is important; it’s what allows the establishment to grow and evolve to better fit the needs of the unfortunate underprivileged. Both leaders were completely anti-establishment, in my opinion. They were leading revolutions. Remember that the next time you go to church, or a temple. Jesus literally taught against established religion. I don’t remember Jesus ever going to church, nor the buddha building a temple where he wanted to meditate. The Buddha was enlightened under a tree! And both were focused on being and existence and you can tell because they didn’t write anything about themselves! They were busy teaching people how to stop thinking about how virtue can make you happy. So focus on being happy now, like these awesome dudes!

 

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gita battle

Purusartha | पुरुषार्थ

The Goals of Life

Purusha and Artha are two very complex Sanskrit words that represent a Hindu ideal of life’s purpose[Purusha (पुरुष) and Artha (अर्थ)].Together, the words mean purpose of being, the objective of human pursuit, or the meaning of life. Purusha means human being, soul, or the universal principle and soul of the universe. Artha means purpose, objects of desire, or meaning.

The goals of man, the aims of human life, purpose of being, four goals and virtues that lead to a happy life:

  1. Dharma – Dharma is a key concept in Indian religion that has multiple meanings. Dharma is said to be in harmony with the forces of the cosmos, Brahman, or rta which denotes the “right way” of living. In Buddhism it means “cosmic law and order” and refers to phenomenon and the path and teachings of the buddha. These can be considered virtues.
  2. Artha – can be defined as the means of life, sense, purpose, meaning, goal, or essence. Essentially, it is the activities or resources required to live in the desired state for the individual. How you make a living and feed yourself.
  3. Kama – means desire, wish, or longing in Hinduism. Kama most often denotes a sexual desire, but also can mean longing for pleasure, desires, wishes, passions, aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, or love with or without sexual connotations. This goals are considered healthy and essential when balanced with the other three goals.
  4. Moksha – means emancipation, liberation, or release more specifically from Samsara and the Maya of this world. It connotes self-realization, self-knowledge, and ultimate freedom.

Together, these form the goals of human life according to the Hindu tradition, however these aspects need to be balanced. Together these turn the wheel that leads towards Moksha, or liberation from the cycles of death and rebirth, ultimately suffering.

It’s nice to think about life as having a need to balance between different pursuits. Too much focus on one, and you become imbalanced and therefore unhappy.

The Hindu traditions recognize certain necessities in life, that all pleasure cannot be avoided. Very different from the Puritan influenced american spiritual traditions such as the quakers or amish. There are nights of indulgence, days of fasting, all kinds of different traditions to allow the body to fluctuate and process the world in the way that it tends to do naturally rather than forcing it to do things in order to conquer the mind. If you are interested in learning more about balancing as your strive forward successfully, Nishkam Karma will be a great guide for you, which is a central message in the Bhagavad Gita.

Hinduism also has answers for those who do understand the tensions between pursuing wealth and virtue simultaneously and provide answers in terms of pursuit with renunciation, craving-free dharma-driven action. In cases of conflict, Dharma is said to be the most important because it leads to Moksha more so than the other two do and Moksha is the main ideal of human life. It is also the foundation for pursuing wealth and sexual pleasure, or whatever it is that you desire.

So this is a method for you to go after the things that you want in life, granted that you remain detached from the end states, because desire for an “end-state” or “product” will only lead to suffering because such things are temporary. Remember that you are a process, that you are happening, right now, processing the world around you in various different ways that you couldn’t possibly be aware of. So enjoy the ride, as they say.

 

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Ganesha Temple, Gokulam

The Responsibility of Ashtanga

I love being able to learn yoga from multiple sources, multiple teachers with subjective and unique viewpoints. I think this is one of the biggest reasons I have been able to progress through various yoga traditions without injury.

Lots of the yogis here are injured, in one form or fashion. I’ve seen taped toes, adjustments, heard about knee tears, ankle injuries, wrist pain. This is the pitfall of advanced practice, injury is more prevalent when you are exhausted, too tired to breath, or simply disconnected from your body. I notice this almost exclusively with my breath, it is what guides my practice.

Using breathe to guide practice is the only way. I am extremely fortunate to have learned this from Rusty Wells, Bryan Kest, and many of my other teachers before arriving here. It is how I stay sensitive to the soft spots in my body, the places that are not normally touched. It is how I open my hips, by drawing my breath deep down into my abdomen and activating my lower abdominals to twist, open, and externally rotate. I can feel what is too much, or not enough because I am in tune with the fluctuations of my body. Each exhale is pushed out with ease and each inhale fills my torso and lengthens my spine. When there is too much pain, I can feel it is too much, but when it is good pain, I can breath through it, feel my body opening and making space for less. The power of the primary series and the Ashtanga practice is undeniable, no matter which series or whatever you are on.

I can’t imagine doing Ashtanga then resting for the rest of the day. I walk heavily and practice Yin, as well as static Hatha style poses to compliment the imbalance of the primary series (there is no doubt that it is powerful, but it is not necessarily optimal for a 25-year-old. Why? My knees need to be strengthened simultaneously, my hips need to be stabilized, and my mind needs the softness of moving slow. Forwards folds, child’s pose, lunges, Baddha Konasanas, happy babies, goddess poses, half pigeons, and cow-faced pose are all a part of my practice outside of the studio and they are absolutely allowing me to go deeper, faster, but honestly I don’t care about where I am in the series anymore.

Over the past week, I have talked to many people about the politics of the Jois Shala. Of course there are politics, these are humans we are talking about; however, it does seem that there is a certain mindlessness about the Shala. My personal observation is that the art is quite as respected as it once was and it now mass-produced so that everyone can experience the Jois Shala. Apparently, this morning there was fighting at the gate to get into the Shala because people wait outside for hours before the class starts to get a good spot. So it’s a lot like the freeways in America now.

I always remember Rusty saying, “try not to act like you are the only one.” And its true, there are more people in the world right now than there ever has been, so we all need to act accordingly.

Last night, I met a man from Israel whose name I can’t remember, but he practiced with Patthabi Jois and we got into a lively conversation about the ego and what series you are on and what yoga is truly about. Happiness. He said he had met zen Buddhists that had never even practiced yoga and were the happiest men he had ever met. We also talked about how silly it was that the primary series is the point of focus for the Ashtanga tradition, because it is an anatomically imbalanced sequence that was designed for Patthabi Jois as a young teen by Krishnamacharya. He assured me that the sequence is not important and I can’t agree more. But by the same token, I didn’t necessarily come to India to learn the primary series, I came to India to deepen my Samadhi, my mindfulness, and to detach from the world of my birth. To meet people as a fresh unknown person, to learn more about myself, my tendencies, and most importantly, my flaws and strengths. And maybe, somewhere along the way I can find this thing that some call Nirvana, others call Samadhi, and most refer to as god.

The day before, I met someone who had only great things to say about Saraswathi. So far, she has done a great job with being personal, telling me what to do, and letting my practice my own yoga. on day 2 she told me to do head stand and I was very happy to do some inversions. Her assists have been great too, we got the point where I was bound in half-lotus, but there was too much pain and she let me adjust in the way I needed to adjust. That said, my lotus hip openings are moving along very well here because of the repetition of the primary series. You are welcome to your own opinion, but I believe that the physical body is something that contributes greatly to our mental state, especially the openness, flexibility, and strength of joints and limbs. I mean, 90% of the happiness neurotransmitter, serotonin, is in your gut. The body certainly is the overarching reason why we feel the way that we do, because the body is a system and the mind is what allows us to operate the body in the ways that are available to us. So by opening the body, I believe I am opening my mind.

I realize this may contribute to a sense of having to be somewhere, like there is a destination besides your current location, but the opening process is enlightening in and of itself. I am trying to focus my mind on gratitude for each day’s new sensations, new aches, new pains that I move through. And my Samadhi continues to deepen so I will continue to strive along the path that I have found. But I want to try to enjoy each step of the path, rather than just the major destinations call asanas, or sequences, or series, or styles of yoga.

Tomorrow, I will practice the whole primary series and begin to embed it into my body. When I come back to my own practice in the Shala on Monday, I’ll see how far I can go on my own. I am excited to practice with everyone, I always love the group energy. Plus, the main Shala is really cool and decorated and I don’t get to spend much time in it.

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Moksha | मोक्ष

Moksha is the concept of emancipation, liberation, and release from the cycle of Samsara or repeated rebirth. Mukti, vimosha, and vimukti are all interchangeable words that mean emancipation, freedom, self-knowledge, and self-realization. In the Upanishads, it refers to this release with the same word used to release horses from their carriage, but each school of yoga describes a different origin of Moksha and method for achieving it.

Moksha is a word that is similar to Nirvana, but Nirvana tends to be a buddhist concept while Moksha is Hindu; Nirvana means “blown-out” or perfect stillness of the mind. However, in both religions, this is a release from the endless cycles of samsara or the infinite cycles of rebirth. Samsara is seen as a cycle of suffering, pain, injury, death, and bondage, so release from this is the ultimate goal of an individual’s life, in combination with the four other purusarthas, or objective human pursuits. There are two different schools of thought as to how Moksha is obtained: on earth (Jiva Mukti), as an ultimate destiny, or only through concrete, ethical actions in the world. Moksha is a transformation of knowledge that allows an individual to see beyond the fog of ignorance.

The state itself is described as a oneness with Brahman, or the universal god energy that fuels the universe bringing absolute peace, bliss, and a state of knowledge. One of the written ways of achieving this is through meditating on Brahman, or universal “god” at the core of the being that is liberated. In essence, Moksha is liberation into the core essence of the energy of the universe, while relinquishing the sufferings of consciousness.

Jivan muktis, or self-realized humans are said to have the following attributes in the Upanishads (keep in mind these are guidelines and in the tradition, there have been many jivan muktis):

  • not bothered by disrespect and endures cruel words, treats others with respect regardless of how others treat him;
  • when confronted by an angry person does not return anger, instead replies with soft and kind words;
  • even if tortured, speaks and trusts the truth;
  • does not crave for blessings or expect praise from others;
  • never injures or harms any life or being (ahimsa), is intent in the welfare of all beings;[87]
  • is as comfortable being alone as in the presence of others;
  • is as comfortable with a bowl, at the foot of a tree in tattered robe without help, as when in a mithuna (union of mendicants), grama (village) and nagara (city);
  • doesn’t care about or wear sikha (tuft of hair on the back of head for religious reasons), nor the holy thread across the body. To the Jivan Mukti knowledge is sikha, knowledge is the holy thread, knowledge alone is supreme. Outer appearances and rituals do not matter, only knowledge matters;
  • there is no invocation nor dismissal of deities, no mantra nor non-mantra, no prostrations nor worship of gods, goddess or ancestors, nothing other than knowledge of Self;
  • humble, high-spirited, of clear and steady mind, straightforward, compassionate, patient, indifferent, courageous, speaks firmly and with sweet words.

So you can see that there is an idea of what a Jivan Mukti is supposed to be: a teacher, a sage, a mentor, a guide on the path of Dharma.The Jivan Mukti is not only a friend for everyone, the Mukti strives for the liberation of all beings. The Mukti no longer lives for their self, but for others.

 

 

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nirvana

Nirvana | निर्वाण – Liberation from Samsara

Enlightenment

Nirvana is a Sanskrit word that literally means ‘blown out’. In Indian religions, this is the achievement of moksha, or liberation from reincarnation. Nirvana refers to the extreme silence of the mind after one has tempered the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion. It is most commonly associated with Buddhism, though Hinduism and Jainism use the concept in association with their versions of enlightenment. Overall, the three agree that it is a release from Karma.

Jainism

In Jainism, Moksha and nirvana are interchangeable. Moksha is release from karma. The Gautama explains it as a safe place without old age, sickness, death, or disease. It is safe, happy, quiet, difficult to reach, but those who reach it are free from sorrows, and have put an end to the stream of existence, reaching complete peace.

Buddhism

Buddhism shares very similar views to those of the other indian religions. The Buddhists call it perfect peace, when all cravings are eliminated. When the forces of raga(attachment), dvesha(aversion), and moha/avidya(ignorance) come to an end, so does dukkha(suffering).

Hinduism

Hinduism‘s views of nirvana are a bit different, many apparently consider nirvana to be a buddhist term, though there are some that say that from the Bhagavad Gita onwards the term has been linked with Brahman, the absolute principle from the Upanishads and the Vedic traditions. The religion occasionally uses nirvana in place of Moksha. Moksha infers liberation, meaning to be set free of bonds. The nirvana of the Gita directly contradicts buddhism in that a person attains egolessness and unison with the Brahman, rather than perfect stillness.

Nirvana Across Traditions

Buddhism has differing approaches to the enlightenment of the buddha, Mahayana Buddhists believe in Dharmakaya saying that the buddha was born to benefit humanity and is one aspect of the buddha while Theravada Buddhists believe the buddha achieved libertation through human efforts. The Dhammakaya movements in Thailand and India view the true self of the buddha as being present in all beings.

Nirvana is death in much of the buddhist traditions. It is the ultimate freedom of life and most Buddhists consider it to be the aim of life. The buddha teaches the way.

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Mahavira

The Founder of Jainism

Mahavira or Varhamana was the 24th and last Tirthankara (person who has conquered Samsara) of Jainism, therefore the founder, or reformer of the Jain religion. Mahavira, like the legends of the

Mahavira
Mahavira

buddha, was born into a royal family in Bihar, India. The name Mahavira means great warrior, though in youth Mahavira received what he desired, his father being the king. Some traditions state that he was celibate, some that he married, but most agree that he was born in 599 BCE achieved moksha in 527.

Mahavira spent 30 years traveling through India to teach his philosophy with eight cardinal laws. Mahavira abandoned his royal life at the age of thirty. Over the next twelve years, Mahavira honed his senses and killed his desires so that he became all-knowing and all-seeing in the eyes of his disciples. He taught that pursuit of pleasure is endless, equanimity of mind, and self-restraint as a means to obtain enlightenment of the greater population. At the age of 72, in 527 BCE Mahavira died and is said to have obtained nirvana.

Tirthankaras
Mahavira to the right

Mahavira taught 8 core tenets, which correspond to other teachings you are likely familiar with in the aim to increase quality of life. The eight teachings are: ahimsa (giving the highest respect and most possible kindness to each being), Satya (truthfulness, which leads to confidence), Asteya (non-stealing, one should not take anything if not properly given), Bramacharya (control over sexual pleasure), and Aparigraha (non-attachment). Sound familiar? These are the 5 yamas, or the first limb of yoga. It’s interesting to think that the two religions overlapped, but in truth, all religions do in one way or another.

Mahavira was intensely intellectual and even the Buddha is argued to be one of his mentors. He paved the way for all of Jainism and for the religions of India to flourish during the next hundreds of years. He taught a philosophy of enlightened society that was influential and coincided with traditions that would last India until the modern-day.

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Buddha_mountain

The Buddha

buddha_w_tree

 Siddhartha Gautama

Siddhartha Gautama, or the buddha, is the sage whose teachings were interpreted to form Buddhism. ‘Buddha’ means awakened one, or enlightened one and is titular for the first awakened being of an age. Siddhartha is the supreme buddha (Sanskrit सिद्धार्थ गौतम  |  samyaksaṃbuddha) and taught a middle way between the opposing philosophies of indulgence and asceticism in the eastern regions of India in about BCE. Most of the traditions of Buddhism were passed down by oral tradition through monasteries and about 400 years later were committed to writing.  The majority of scholars today believe that he did indeed live during the Mahajanapada|महाजनपद era in India thus making him a younger contemporary of Mahavira, the Jain teacher.

The Buddha had teachers, many that are very notable: Alara Kalama, Udaka Ramaputta who appear to have taught him meditative techniques. He was also influenced by many contemporary thinkers like Purana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosala, Ajita Kesakambali, Pakudha Kaccayana, Sanjaya Belatthaputta, and the Vedic Brahmins. There are many traditional biographies that historians disagree with, but that are very interesting for understanding the religion as a whole.

The Buddhacarita is an epic Sanskrit poem by Asvaghosa, who wrote in classical Sanskrit. The Lalitavistara Sutra, Mahavastu, and the Nidanakatha are other accounts of the Buddha’s life, leading to different traditions and accounts.

He was born a Sakya, either in Uttar Pradesh India, Nepal, or Piprahwa, but tradition states him as being born in Lumbini, Nepal. The Buddha denied being man or god, but the stories of the scholars bring light to the man after whom the religion is based.

His story was elaborated upon time and again in tradition after tradition, but the ending is always the same: Siddhartha sits under the Bodhi tree for 49 days and becomes enlightened. The buddha awakes. He realized the cause of suffering and how to eradicate it with use of the four noble truths striving to attain Nirvana|निर्वाण or the ultimate stillness. Hindus refer to this as an extreme egolessness, or quietness of the mind and unison with Brahman. The buddha described it as perfect peace.

The buddha lived and taught for a long time, and his death seemed to be somewhat voluntary, though his last meal might have been pork. Tradition even dictates that he may have been somewhat sexist, refusing women into his following at first. At first, the buddha didn’t even want to teach! He doubted that human could grasp the subtlety of his message, or the intricate complexity of its meanings.

The authenticity of much of the buddhist religion’s traditions are in question, but they seem to be at least based on the original Gautama. The core principle of buddhism, dhyana, or object-based meditation is maintain across all traditions, as is the concept of liberating insight. However, scholars believe that the buddha’s teachings were likely personal and that the eightfold path and four truths may have been expounded upon after the buddha’s passing. Many find evidence only for a middle path or middle way. Some Hindus regard the buddha as the ninth incarnation of Vishnu.

The stories you have heard and likely largely exaggerations of the buddha’s birth and upbringing. There really was a buddha, very long ago, though his teaching was likely very different from its depiction today and was likely very personalized to each individual, though he never claimed to be a god. This remains one of the core tenets of Buddhism, that there is no god and that the universe is somewhat tailored to each of us individually, though we are part of a larger whole. Humans are subject to the wild laws of karma and continue in samsara until we achieve moksha, or liberation. For more on the religion, please see my article on buddhism.

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ब्रह्मन्/Brahman, God, and Death

Brahman is a Hindu concept describing the energy force behind the universe, the unchanging truth of why the universe is, and the source behind it. This is very different from the god Brahma, who is known as the creation aspect of the divine pantheon and is a part of the Trimurti with Shiva and Vishnu. He is not regarded in quite the same way as the great cosmic spirit, which is everlasting and greater even than the Hindu deities as the source behind creation and sustenance of the cosmos.

Jiva-muktis or liberated beings are human beings that have realized Brahman and thus their become aware of their true self; described as consciousness bliss and the highest achievable reality. However, this type of self-actualization does not accord with the Buddhist ideals of enlightenment, nirvana, which denote an awareness of the nothingness inside and with this awareness great peace and release from suffering.

Brahman in modern-day Hinduism denotes absolute reality, unchanging, the source and return of all things. Within the Hindu religion, this is an argued point and even Buddhism denotes Brahman’s as divine forms having attained Nirvana. Certain Buddhist and Hindu schools seem to collide here, though it happens later in the Buddhist tradition when scholars begin to identify Nirvana with Brahman. But the Buddha seems to have rejected the idea, saying that the desire from Brahman leads to suffering. He could find no evidence of the personal, or cosmic soul. Jains completely reject the idea of a creator god, because the universe has always been.

Brahman denotes the cosmic god that many people of the modern west refer to as “the universe”. It is the idea of cosmic divine energy that is representing when saying Namaste and recognizing the divine in another. In this way, Brahman is inherently Hindu because of their belief in the divine unison of all things.

Atman is a Sanskrit word that means inner-self or inner soul. To obtain liberation, a human must acquire self-knowledge to realize that one’s true self is identical with that of the transcendent Brahman. This refers to the Hindu idea of breaking down the body to get to the divine soul within. This is the Hindu path to enlightenment, through one of the schools of yoga. It is through realization of the Brahman within that on attains enlightenment, according to the Hindu traditions.

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