yoga history

Sikhism symbol

Sikhism: The Fifth Largest Religion in the World

Sikhism: A Tradition Striving for Unity and Truth

Sikhism guru_nanak
Guru Nanak

Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world(one of the fastest growing, too) and originated in Northern India in 1469. Sikhis (meaning disciple or learner) are monotheistic, believe in the unity and equality of all mankind, engage in selfless service, and strive for the prosperity of all life. There are over 25 millions Sikhis in the world.

Sikhism originated in a guru tradition in 1469; Guru Nanak was the first to establish what because a religious tradition over the course of centuries. Ten gurus followed in Guru Nanak’s footsteps and after the death of the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, the Guru Granth Sahib became the literal embodiment of the eternal, impersonal guru and serves as a guide for Sikhi’s.

The Ten Sikhi Gurus (each represents a divine attribute) are:

  1. Guru Nanak – Humility
  2. Guru Angad – Obedience
  3. Guru Amar Das – Equality
  4. Guru Ram Das – Service
  5. Guru Arjan – Self-sacrifice
  6. Guru Hargobind – Justice
  7. Guru Har Rai – Mercy
  8. Guru Harkrishan – Purity
  9. Guru Tegh Bahadur – Tranquility
  10. Guru Gobind Singh – Royal Courage

A couple of the Sikhi gurus are also Bhakti saints giving Hinduism an interesting relationship with the origins of the Sikh religion. The goal of the Sikhi is unison with the divine and they believe that no one tradition has a monopoly on the divine and emphasizes the “five thieves” of god’s presence: lust, rage, greed, attachment and conceit.

The Origins of Sikhism

Sikhism was created in the Punjab region, which is between India and Pakistan. In the time of the first Guru, Guru Nanak, there were two competing religions of the Muslims and Hindus. Legend says Nanak went into a river at 28, proclaimed there is no Hindu or Muslim, only god and that he continued to bring Sikhism into the world.

The 5th Guru, Arjan was a scholar and helped to build the Sikh religion by creating the first scripture. However, he was seen as a threat by the state and executed for his faith in 1606.

The 6th Guru, Hargobind eventually moved to militarize the community and the Sikhs learned to fight to preserve their faith. They became relatively peaceful until Tegh Bahadur, the 9th guru, was executed in 1675 by Aurangzeb, the Moghal Emperor. The Moghal Empire consolidated Islam in South Asia, and spread Muslim (and particularly Persian) arts and culture as well as the faith.

The 10th Guru, Gobind Singh, created the Khalsa as a military group so that they could forever defend their faith.

The Sikhs continued to rebel against Muslim oppression and eventually became a state of their own. But then they were defeated by the British. Then they became peaceful for a while, until 1919 when there was a massacre of over 400 dead and 1,000 wounded by British soldiers who fired on a crowd of protesters. A few historians signify this event as the beginning of the decline of the British Empire in India.

The Sikhi god: Ik Onkar

Ik Onkar is the Sikhi word for god and means ‘all pervading spirit’. This spirit has no gender, is beyond time and space, is without form, beyond the comprehension of humans, but not completely unknowable. The spirit is visible sikhism_ik_onkareverywhere to the spiritually awakened through the heart or “inner eye”. The religion prescribes meditation to allow for communication between god and man.

The Opening Line of the Mool Mantar:

“There is but one all-pervading spirit, and truth is its name! It exists in all creation; it does not fear; it does not hate; it is timeless and universal and self-existent, you will come to know it through seeking knowledge and learning!”

The ultimate goal of a Sikh is to be completely united with god. They achieve this state of liberation (mukti) by focusing on god rather than themselves.

Maya: the Worldly Illusion

Maya is a spiritual concept that has evolved over time and crosses over nearly every eastern religion in one way or another. Literally, Maya means delusion, extraordinary illusions of power, the veil of perception, magic, and “unreality”.

These worldly illusions are viewed as a direct opponent of realizing god in this lifetime (the goal of the Sikh is to realize god). It is believed that the object of Maya, or object of the senses, lust, desire, attachment, ego, greed, and anger which are known as the 5 thieves and are believed to take away from the individual’s relationship with god by distracting and hurting the individual.

Once god is fully realized, the individual is considered jivanmukta and liberated in this lifetime, which is a belief also shared in Hinduism. After this liberation, the individual is ceaselessly united with Brahman (the supreme truth underlying all of reality, but hidden by it). Sikhs also believe in reincarnation and karma.

The Khalsa – the Nation of Sikhs

The Khalsa is the collective body of all Sikhs. The Khalsa was initiated on March 30 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last Sikh guru. The word Khalsa means “sovereign”, “free”, or most often “pure”. Being initiated into the Khalsa is a type of baptism and males are entitled Singhs (lion) while females are titled Kaurs (princess).

The Khalsa is responsible for all executive, military, and civil authority in the Sikh society. They are considered the pinnacle of Sikhism and perform no rituals and believe in no superstitions. They only believe in god who is the master and creator of all, the only destroyer/creator.

A Sikh is defined as any human being who faithfully believes in one immortal being; ten gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, the teachings of the ten gurus and the baptism bequeathed by the tenth guru.

Culture, Observations, and Rituals of Sikhism

Most Sikhs wake up early to meditate on the name of god. Then he/she bathes in a pool of nectar (I’m not really sure what this means, probably some type of sweet herbs and spices). Then he chants the name of the lord. All sins, misdeeds, and negativity is erased through this process. When the sun rises, the Sikh is to meditate on the name of god again. The idea of the Sikh’s existence is to worship god so that they can maintain a close relationship to god.

There are 5 K’s(panj kakaar) or articles of faith that baptized Sikhs are obligated to wear:

  1. Kesh – uncut hair, usually tied and wrapped in a Dastar (a style of turban)
  2. Kanga – a wooden comb, usually under the dastar
  3. Kachera – cotton undergarments worn by both sexes to symbolize chastity
  4. Kara – an iron bracelet, a weapon and a symbol of eternity
  5. Kirpan – an iron dagger of differing sizes. In the UK it is very small and in Punjab it can be up to three feet long.

Sikhs are also very interested in music, many instruments were supposedly created by gurus. These instruments include the Rebab, the dilruba, the taus, the jori, and the sarinda. They would often play drums or Nagaras while marching into battle.

The Modern Sikh and Sikh Statistics

There are about 27 million Sikhs worldwide and 83% live in India. 76% live in Punjab where they form Modern_Sikh2/3rds of the populace. Sikhs were some of the first to migrate to Britain from India and were used in the Indian Civil service and so were spread out over the entire British empire. Many have spread throughout Europe and Northern America.

The caste system is still very prevalent within the Sikh religion, even though their gurus denounced the system. Untouchables, or Dalits still face harsh discrimination.

The first gurdwara (place of worship) was established in the United States in Stockton, California.

Discrimination against Sikhs has risen since the 9/11 attacks. They are said to be often confused with Arabic or Muslim Middle Eastern men because of their turbans and CNN suggested an increase in hate Crimes against Sikh men after the attacks. I’ll leave it to a few clips from CNN and other news to show you what I mean by discrimination (it involves racism and persecution because of ignorance).

  • The U.S. has the highest murder rate of affluent democracies. America had an extreme homicide rate of 5.4 per 100,000 people in 2008-2009, compared with a 1.43 rate in England and Wales and a 1.3 rate in Italy. Japan has 1/10 of the murders of the US. Don’t be surprised about how often this happens.
  • [September 24th, 2013] A Columbia University professor who wrote about hate crimes against Sikhs may have become a victim of one himself when 12 to 15 people attacked him while shouting anti-Muslim slurs, police said.
    Prabhjot Singh, a Sikh and a professor of international and public affairs, said the attackers were yelling “get Osama” and “terrorist” when they swarmed him Saturday night near Central Park in New York.
    “There were about 20 of them. A few surrounded me, and started punching me,” Singh said, according to the Sikh Coalition. He suffered injuries to his face, including displaced teeth and a possible fracture in his lower jaw. CNN ARTICLE
  • [August 5th, 2012] There was a shooting of 6 people in Wisconsin in a hate crime on August 5th 2012. ‘He said members described the attacker as a bald, white man, dressed in a white T-shirt and black pants and with a 9/11 tattoo on one arm — which “implies to me that there’s some level of hate crime there”.’The gunman started shooting in the parking lot, then entered into the temple and proceeded to open fire. Most of the victims were leaders of the church, men with turbans. CNN ARTICLE
  • [September 13th, 2015] A Sikh American man says he was taunted as a “terrorist” and “bin Laden” by another driver this week, and then beaten unconscious in his car. Police in the Chicago suburb of Darien are investigating the alleged incident as a hate crime and a road rage incident that escalated into a violent attack, Chief Ernest Brown said. CNN ARTICLE
  • [January 6th, 2016] A $10,000 reward is being offered in the slaying of a 68-year-old Sikh man brutally murdered in a central Fresno convenience store on New Year’s Day. They have video of a light-skinned suspect between 16 and 18 with a red hoodie that waited outside for about 5 minutes for a man named Gill to be in the store alone. Once Gill (Sikh man without any Sikh attire on) was within about a foot, the suspect stabbed Gill repeatedly. Gill tried to push himself away, retreated and picked up a golf club. The suspect knocked Gill to the ground before returning to the cash register, which he could not open. He then took something from a shelf and walked out of the store in the same direction from which he approached. Gill died of his wounds minutes later. Sikhs were anxious about heading back out into the community because of another attack that occurred on December 26th. FRENSO BEE ARTICLE
  • [March 2nd, 2016] Balwinder Jit Singh says a passenger beat him while calling him a terrorist and a suicide bomber last year in Inglewood. YAHOO NEWS ARTICLE

So this is very real, and its happening right now. This article from THE INTERCEPT talks about how Donald Trumps campaign makes it extremely hard on Sikh’s because hatred and violence are condoned. These are Americans that are discriminated against in our own country. And in lots of cases the police turn a blind eye, refuse to investigate, or whatever nonsense racism and ignorance they can make up. But this seems to happen a lot and we, as a nation, should not allow this kind of intolerance or ignorance. This is the 5th largest religion in the world!

 

References:
  1. Institute of Sikh Studies
  2. Sikhs dot-org
  3. BBC Religion
  4. Sikh Coalition
  5. Sikh Net
  6. Maya Wikipedia
  7. Sikhism Wikipedia
  8. Religion Facts
"Swami Vivekananda-1893-09-signed" by Original uploader was Dziewa at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Swami_Vivekananda-1893-09-signed.jpg#/media/File:Swami_Vivekananda-1893-09-signed.jpg

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekanada was born in 1863 into an aristocratic Bengali family and was heavily influenced by his guru Ramakrishna while he taught concepts and philosophies of Hinduism around the world. He was a charismatic and well-known man who traveled the world speaking on Hinduism and bringing its form of spirituality to the west. He was spiritual from childhood and continued to become one of the most influential Hindu speakers in India, but throughout his life he focused his mind on god. Throughout the beginning of the 19th century he toured India teaching Hinduism and intercultural awareness to his fellow Indians and later he would teach the concepts of Hinduism to the western world until he died in 1903 at 39.

Vivekananda was born Narendranath in Calcutta. His mother’s religious attitude and father’s rational attitude helped to form his thinking until he began his tutelage under after a lecture from William Hastie. Ramakrishna a mystic and yogi who pledged himself to Ma Kali, but experienced samadhi and followed a path towards the Hindu concept of Moksha in service to others, the philosophy which  Vivekanada also followed. However, Vivekanada did oppose Ramakrishna’s idol worship, polytheism, and obsession with Kali. After renouncing everything following his father’s death and the bankruptcy of his family his took up Ramakrishna as his guru in the pursuit of realizing god.

Ramakrishna died in 1886 and after his death Vivekanada founded a new monastery in the memory of his old guru. The disciples would spend hours in meditation and practicing rituals each day and eventually Vivekanada and eight other disciples swore religious vows to live as Ramakrishna had and Narendra changed his name to Swami Vivekanada. He continued to travel teaching as he went.

There is no doubt that Swami Vivekanada was an excellent public speaker. He is probably best known for this speech to the Parliament of World Religions where he called Americans brothers and sisters to a tremendous uproar of approval. He traveled through the western and eastern world and eventually claimed to be a new buddha to the west. He traveled around the world for fourteen years speaking on Hinduism, meditation, and founding monasteries and ashrams.

Swami Vivekanada’s health began to decline in 1899 when he developed insomnia, diabetes, and asthma. He died in 1902 after meditating for several hours that day and died while meditating, after the rupturing of a blood vessel in his brain. After his death, Vivekanada is recognized for revitalizing Hinduism inside and outside of India, in particular his doctrine that each living being is divine. He also stated that all paths within Hinduism lead to the same goal, but some view this as oversimplified.

Vivekanada was an excellent writer and produced songs, poems, lectures, and other forms of art. His influence allowed the printing of over 19 books, some published posthumously. He wrote on everything in Indian culture from defying the caste system to treating all other people as brothers. He was a powerful figure in modern Hinduism and Indian nationalism and helped to pave the way for yoga to later become a powerful influence in the West.

Saraswathi_Jois_Shala

Practicing Ashtanga with Saraswathi Jois

Tuesday marked the final day of my practice at the Pattabhi Jois yoga shala (kpjayi) with Saraswathi Jois. I feel extremely lucky to have been able to spend the last couple of months practicing with her and exploring the lineage of Ashtanga yoga.

Learning there was a bit of a unique challenge in my case because I have practiced for five years before I even got to India. There were certain asanas that I hadn’t done regularly and certain asanas that I was very proficient at in the advanced and intermediate series, but didn’t practice because of how late they are in the series. Even the first day was weird. Saraswathi belted out some commands to me, which I tried to enact (her english is not amazing) and we got up to the Maricyasanas. I worked through them for a while then a couple weeks later moved into kurmasana and supta kurmasana and Bhujangasana and was able to work on the finishing sequence since the beginning of practice. Eventually, 25 breaths of headstand are pretty much effortless.

My daily practice has completely transformed and now I have something to work from. I deviate into variations and stretches that I am craving and work in back bends and some of the intermediate series at the end. Soon, I will start working on the first few poses of the sequence (I’ve been working on Pasasana for over a year, except while in Mysore). And as much as I want to say that I do not care about progression, I do care about deepening my Samadhi and I find that new poses and deepening certain existing postures is a part of that. Supta Kurmasana taught by itself has deepened my practice in many ways, same with the Maricyasanas, so I am grateful for having the opportunity to learn them.

I didn’t get to drop backs or Setu Bandhasana, but that is fine with me. I will work on the intermediate series and the primary series, maybe I will even come back. I enjoyed the alone time and the doing nothing but writing a little, making some music, and making room to practice yoga every morning and meditate during the days. Having experienced the atmosphere of India I can really understand how yoga came about and why it is so powerful for the human body. History I’ve been reading makes a lot more sense now after seeing the environment that Indians live in.

Saraswathi is traditional and you really can’t blame her for that. She teaches the sequence the way it was taught to her and she is a powerful voice for many things, but ultimately you have to regulate your own injuries if the (re)occur. So with the Ashtanga practice in general comes an enormous responsibility to know your own anatomy and to increase your awareness for the functioning of your body. Without a heightened awareness, you can easily injury your knees, shoulders can get used to being hyper-extended in down dog(this happens a lot), and muscles can be easily strained. In doing yoga, you are increasing your sensitivity to your body, especially in a practice as intense as Ashtanga. This allows your to better manage your body, which increases the steadiness of your mind, because your are more aware of the consequences of your actions and of the actions of your environment, which have direct effects upon your body.

So ultimately Saraswathi wakes up early and facilitates the yoga of her students and is very committed and so are her assistants, but the Ashtanga yoga method is usually not suitable for beginners. Especially when you are older, you should have pretty much mastered sun salutations and at least practiced most of the postures. Also knowing and using yin yoga can be a great addition to an Ashtanga yoga, even though it isn’t prescribed by the KPJAYI.

If you want to take a couple of months off, practice a yoga practice that you conform to and focus on those postures for a few months while quieting your mind, the Ashtanga Institute is a great resource and so is Mysore, more specifically Gokulam.

Gokulam is an amazing place, a quiet repose in the midst of a semi-busy city that supposedly is a prototype for southern India. I didn’t get to visit too much else, but Mysore itself is an amazing city, full of animals and wildlife and scooters. The pollution there is bad as well, but I am told that as far as India goes, the pollution in Mysore is minimal.  Basically I didn’t have to wear a mask every day and the streets were walkable, though just barely.

The yoga institutes are hidden away from the city in much quieter Gokulam, with plenty of facilities to practice yoga quietly. It was an experience I will remember as having quieted my mind, as well as given me some great experience with yoga’s history.

So if you are looking to come to the source to practice yoga as it has been taught for the last five decades or so, Saraswathi is great. Ensure you know the sequence, at least the beginning and end, when you arrive. You can also take your time to learn, they are very accepting at the shala, but keep in mind that personal attention from the teachers isn’t something you should rely on. But if you need more, Saraswathi is the one to go to simply because she has fewer students and you are learning the method and not a teacher.

ashtanga yoga creator Krishnamacharya

Ashtanga Yoga and Yoga’s Modern Lineage

What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga yoga sequences are a tradition expounded by Pattabhi Jois and is currently taught by teachers in different forms across the world. It is most likely that these sequences were originally created by Krishnamacharya for Pattabhi Jois, using knowledge he obtained from his guru, Brahmachari for short, who lived in a cave with his family in isolation. Krishnamacharya created the sequence for Pattabhi Jois who claimed that the yoga koruntha (which explained the yoga system) was written on a palm leaf that was eaten by ants. This tradition was passed orally from Krishnamacharya to Jois and Iyengar, and Jois used it to create the Ashtanga system. The existence of the document is questioned and although Jois claims to be Iyengar’s appointed guru, Iyengar claims no such relationship. The modern lineage of yoga is an incredibly interesting a complex series of relationships and history.

 Here is the known lineage of the originators of Ashtanga Yoga:

Students of Pattabhi Jois include Bryan Kest, Iyengar, Larry Schultz, Richard Freeman, and Chuck Miller. BKS Iyengar was a student, but they were in disagreement whether Pattabhi was his appointed guru. Both were called Guruji.

The Ashtanga yoga lineage has expounded yoga into the west, but its traditional original can be questioned. Many of the exercises seem extremely gymnastic to be so ancient and many people discuss where the influence of the postures and sequence really come from. However, one thing is certain; Surya namaskar

krishnamacharyas yoga school in Mysore
Ashtanga Yoga School of Krishnamacharya in Mysore, India

is an incredible movement pattern that is excellent for your body’s health if properly aligned. There are also transitions in the ashtanga series that create incredible concentration and focus, but it is certainly true that no series is perfect for every skeleton. Ashtanga yoga, while exemplary, is no exception to that rule.

Balancing the intense yang posture of Ashtanga with Yin postures that counterbalance the spinal twists and shoulder openers of the primary series is completely necessary to progress properly in the primary series. This requires responsibility over your own body. The combination is powerful and relatively unexplored, but there is no reason to spent only 5 breaths in each pose and to continue to practice the exact same way, without variation.  I think that the pattern of 5 breaths for many movements is great, but some poses can be held for much longer and indeed have expanded benefits from being held.

Yoga is not a religion. There are no rules. Attempts at trying to organize it are a joke. It is a system for learning about the self and the limitations and delusions of consciousness. Rules in regard to yoga are silly, because at its best it needs to be completely personalized. Therefore its leaders are simply the people with the most experience in the field through their own practice and assisting the practices of others. This is why it takes so long to become a true guru.

ashtanga yoga designer Krishnamacharya
ashtanga yoga designer Krishnamacharya

I think it is important to realize that yoga has been passed father to son in many generations before a system like Krishnamacharyas was expounded and spread to the West. He even spent many years in poverty teaching before befriending the Maharaja and gaining the raja’s patronage for his yoga shala. It’s popularity was in decline up until this point, but Krishnamacharya would make demonstrations on his days off work, and would eventually travel with his students to demonstrate asana, then send students to become teachers in other cities. Jois and Iyengar were two of these students and both learned different lessons from Krishnamacharya because they studied with him at different times in his life.

To think you have to practice with a certain guru is silly. To think you “have” to practice Ashtanga is silly. The energy of India is great, but the primary series is the same no matter where you do it. Ashtanga yoga should absolutely be supplemented with other activities. The tradition of Pattabhi Jois is continued by his daughter, Saraswathi Jois and his grandson, Sharath Jois, both studied under his guideance in the same sequence as all other practitioners. Both

Ashtanga Yoga Propogators K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath Jois
Pattabhi Jois and Sharath Jois

are currently teaching in Gokulam, Mysore (links to when I went). It is interesting to know where styles of yoga come from, so you may want to continue by reading Krishnamacharya’s, Pattabhi Jois’, and Iyengar’s books about yoga. Iyegnar’s book is particularly interesting, though Krishnamacharya are much more detailed in interesting ways and somewhat cryptic and mysterious. Krishnamacharya’s guru, Ramamohana Brahmachari and Krishnamacharya are the only ones that we can credit with the creation of modern yoga, though it many poses from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika are much older, such as shoulder stand/sarvangasana, headstand/sirsasana, sun salutations, spinal twists, and lotus poses  They all make for very fun and interesting reads, I’m sure. Many are available online, I’ve found a bunch by searching in Wikipedia.

Modern Ashtanga Yoga’s Primary Shala –

The K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Research Institute in Mysore, India http://kpjayi.org/

 

Lakshmi_goddess of wealth

Lakshmi | Lakṣmī | लक्ष्मी

Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, prosperity, love, fortune, and is considered the embodiment of beauty. She is the wife of Vishnu and carries his active energy. Her fours arms represent purusartha, or the four primary aims of human life: Dharma, Kama, Artha, and Moksha and representations of her can be found in many Jain monuments as well. In Nepal and Southeast Asia, Vasudhara mirrors Lakshmi with some minor differences. She is Vishnu’s source of strength while maintaining the universe.

When Vishnu incarnated on Earth, Lakshmi took form as Sita (when Vishnu became Rama), Radha (Krishna’s lover), Rukmini, and Satyabama. In ancient Hindu scripture all women are declared to be embodiments of Lakshmi. The marriage between Lakshmi and Vishnu is the paradigm for Hindu religious wedding ceremonies. Their relationship forms the basis for partnership in Hinduism.

Archeologists suggest that Lakshmi’s worship may have originated around 100BC. Statues and iconography have been dated from the second half of the first millennium CE. In modern India, Lakshmi is regarded as the goddess of wealth and Diwali and Sharad Purnima are festival celebrations held in her honor.

Lakshmi is another great example of a deity that evolved in the ancient Hindu texts and was mentioned only once in the Rig Veda as a kindred mark or sign of auspicious fortune. In the later Arthara Veda, she evolved into a deity with multiple incarnations and large amounts of plurality and is associated with good luck, good fortune, prosperity, success, happiness, and the good. Later, she is regarded as the incarnation of beauty, and the goddess of fortune and was associated with Vishnu. In later myths, she is associated with the creation of the universe, giving diverse gifts to many of the other gods (ie Indra gets force and Sarasvati receive nourishment). In the later epics, such as the Mahabharata, she personifies wealth, riches, beauty, happiness, loveliness, grace, charm, and splendor.

The word Lakshmi is derived from lakṣ (लक्ष्) and lakṣa (लक्ष) which mean to perceive, observe, know, understand and goal, aim, or objective. This together form knowing goals, or perceiving and understanding objectives.

Lakshmi is usually sitting or standing on a lotus flower and carries a couple in her hands which represent the ability to grow beautifully from dirty or filth in circumstances. She is also seen with elephants (symbolizes work, activity, strength, rain, fertility, and abundance) and an owl (symbolizes striving to observe and discover when surrounded by darkness, that also becomes blind in daylight, a reminder to refrain from greed and ignorance after knowledge and wealth is acquired).

Lakshmi also has a multitude of other names: Padma, Kamala, Padmapriya, Padmamaladhara devi, Padmamukti, Padmakshi, Padmahasta, Padmasundari, Vishnupriya, Ulkavahini, Ambika, Manushri, Mohini, Chakrika, Kamalika, Aishwarya, Lalima, Indira, Kalyani, Nandika, Nandini, Rujula, Vaishnavi, Samruddhi, Narayani, Bhargavi, Sridevi, Chanchala, alaja, Madhavi, Sujata, Shreya, Maheshwari, Madhu, Madhavi, Paramaa, Janamodini, Tripura, Tulasi, Ketaki, Malati, Vidhya, Trilochana, Tilottama, Subha, Chandika, Devi, Kriyalakshmi, Viroopa, Vani, Gayatri, Savitri, Apara or Aparajita, Aparna, Aruna, Akhila, Bala, Tara, Kuhu, Poornima, Aditi, Anumati, Avashyaa, Sita, Taruni, Jyotsna, Jyoti, Nimeshika, Atibha, Ishaani, Kalyani, Smriti and probably her most used abbreviation, Sri.

In Eastern Indian traditions, Lakshmi is regarded as a form of Devi, along with Durga or Shakti. Lakshmi, Parvati, and Saraswathi are regionally considered to be from of Durga in West Bengal and Odisha, which are usually considered separate in India. She is the personification of spiritual fulfillment and is the embodiment of Param Prakriti, which purifies, empowers, and uplifts the individual.

It is obvious that Lakshmi represents an elusive and evolving subject of wealth and prosperity as well as the divine feminine aspect of spiritual energy. She is a powerful symbol in Hinduism and is worshipped often in modern India with statues and symbolism apparent in many of the places that I am currently near in Mysore. Her evolution is as interesting as her origins and I continue to find tremendous insight in the symbolism applied to her forms.

 

Jois Yoga Shala

Places of Interest in Gokulam

A few of my upcoming blogs are going to be simply photo blogs. Pictures speak a thousand words

Gokulam City Center
Gokulam City Center, you can see the rickshaw stand on the right, and the street leading to the Jois Shala in the center
Gokulam Coconut Stand
Gokulam Coconut Stand, somewhat the center of the town
cell_tower_Gokulam
Gokulam Cell Tower, on top of the hill in Gokulam
Saraswathi's_Shala
Saraswathi’s Shala, this is where I practice. In the morning, there is no one outside and it is dark
Sri Chakra House
Sri Chakra House, quiet and highly recommended. Great food, great company, drinkable water, Wifi. This is a great place to rest, relax and refuel.
Osho Meditation Center
Osho Meditation Center and Mystic school, called by many the “second best” yoga Shala in Mysore. I hope to study there in March
Gokulam Children's Center
Gokulam Children’s Center, really beautifully decorated, but I never see any children there
Ashtanga Institute, Mysore
Jois Shala of the Ashtanga Institute, Gokulam, Mysore

 

 

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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Hinduism vs. Buddhism

Comparing two religions in their similarities, differences, and the in-between

“Can you do a simple comparison of Hindu versus Buddhism at some time in the future?” -Inga D

This article comes from a request from my good friend Inga, thanks for the great idea!

Most of my experience with these two religions is based upon my knowledge of their holy texts and the philosophy I have gained through school and yoga. I am extremely excited to experience these religions more fully in about 3 weeks when I leave for India. Kathmandu is supposedly a fusion of Hindu and Buddhist traditions and I will be there from April 3rd to the 17th.

Hinduism and Buddhism seem to come from a shared ancestry, both place an enormous amount of emphasis on non-violence amongst other core tenets. Both are more lifestyle oriented ways of life rather than simply belief systems and have origins in Ganges culture of northern India during about 500 BCE.

Buddhism supposedly focuses on the teachings of a single teacher while Hinduism’s teachings are from scattered sources, but there are many influences that are shared, or responded to in the Buddhist religion. For instance, the Upanishads seemed to be responded to by many Buddhist tenets and in fact, most Hindus consider Buddhism to be an offshoot of their religion, considering the Buddha to be an avatar of Vishnu.

Even the meditational 7th and 8th limbs of yoga, Dharana and Samadhi and shared as meditation foundations in Buddhism. Both religions believe that life is full of suffering based on your prior karma and that it is your purpose to follow Dharma, or your righteous path which leads to enlightenment, or freedom from suffering. Both religions reject the idea of angels (protective spirits), or prophets, tend to be extremely open to female ascetics (more so in Buddhism), and both are open to atheists. Click for more information on Hinduism or Buddhism.

Now onto major differences in the religions, we’ll start with what could be the basis of all religions: god and creation. Hinduism believes that god is in everything, that all beings are a part of the Brahman, or eternal energy source of the universe. Therefore, there are a handful of primary deities and many accessory deities in the Hindu pantheon of gods. Buddhism, on the other hand, believes that there is no creator god and that at the core of the human, there is nothing. They explicitly reject a creator god and do not pay heed to any delusions of god that other religions may have, though they respect the beliefs of other religions. Jainism, which has many shared roots with both religions, teaches a sustaining god at the source of the universe who has always been and always will be. This seems to the biggest difference in religions.

The second, and arguably most important difference in the two religions are the tenets of enlightenment. Hindus believe enlightenment is liberation from Samsara to be one with god while Buddhists believe that Nirvana is truly realization of the nothing within, giving freedom from suffering by realizing the freedom of nothingness.

The third major difference is within the meditation practices of each religion, most likely because of the different ways liberation is obtained. Buddhists practice meditation with liberating cognition, or thought patterns, while Hindus practice to slow the mind and to cease thought. Because god is at the source of nothing, focusing on nothing is focusing on god, opposed to Buddhism in which focusing on nothing would not be liberating. The Buddha was the one to express a constant mindfulness, rather than one that would be turned on to practice yoga and meditation, then off during the rest of the day which was a big leap from the philosophy of the Upanishads.

Both religions believe in miscellaneous deities, though Hinduism is the only one to accept them as more than illusion. Hinduism can even have personal gods, as well as personal pantheons of gods. Many Hindu believers belief in thousands, if not millions of different gods, depending on their tradition. Neither puts an intense focus on these devas, or illusory gods, but both are reverent towards the beliefs of the individual.

Hinduism tends to be stricter in practice, at least from the original tenets of Buddhism. Hindus will be extremely mindful while during their rituals, exacting, meticulous, and during yoga you can see that there is a flexion of focus and mindfulness. Buddhists take this concept and apply it constantly, always striving for greater mindfulness, even during things like defecation and chores. Buddhists use the mind as a tool for exploration, while Hindus generally think of the mind as a hinderance from enjoying the pleasures of god.

The most impactful religious knowledge is made more powerful in conjunction with knowledge from different religious traditions and with global perspective on humanity. In other words, combining multiple religions to take the best aspects of each can lead to the most powerful realizations about our shared existence as humans and can help us to unveil our nature and hopefully, to find freedom from the sufferings of this world, in one way or another.

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The Different Styles of Yoga

We live in a world that is highly evolved and diversified; yoga is no exception. Yoga has evolved rather quickly, since Krishnamacharya trained Iyegnar and Jois in the 1930s and 40s. With the astounding rise of the popularity of yoga, combined with the lack of organization, clear history, and methodologies, many individuals and groups of people have developed methods for specific purposes, or to target certain systems in the body.

Patthabi Jois and Iyengar were two students of Krishnamacharya that developed their own specific styles. Jois developed a gymnastic, cardiovascular and demanding practice with strict guidelines called Ashtanga; Iyengar deviated from his teacher, Krishnamacharya’s demanding practice and developed a softer, knowledge and alignment based style of yoga named after him. Ashtanga, in particular, is the building block for all vinyasa yoga in the west; but Hatha yoga shares many of Ashtanga’s principles and esoteric philosophy. There is even more overlap as the yoga becomes more diversified and dispersed throughout the globe.

This list is very short compared to the amount of styles that have been developed to practice yoga. Yoga is something that is personal, so multiple interpretations of the same truths was inevitable. There is no one style that is better than another, though there are definitely discrepancies in difficulty, objectives, anatomical focuses, and mental effects. The things to remember is that yoga is not dogmatic, or canonical; there are only guidelines and yoga is a technology for unlocking the mind and body through control of the nervous system with breath and respiratory manipulation and it should be personalized.

I think this is the biggest reason why yoga is so challenging for many people to wrap their heads around. 30 million in the US people practice yoga now, but that is only 10% of the total population and in reality, everyone can benefit from meditation, stretching, and movement based breathing exercises. I am absolutely missing some styles (let me know in the comments!), but these are the styles of yoga that are most popular and used in the US right now.

Bikram

This style is named after Bikram Choudhury and 26 poses that he developed at the yoga college of India, where he was also the world champion for 3 straight years. Bikram yoga has concepts taken from Hatha yoga, which Bikram used as an influence to create his 26 postures. One of the great additions Bikram has made to the yoga community is the heat of the room; this heat can help to remove toxins from the body and the increase the metabolic speed and rate at which the body replenished tissue. The Bikram practice is powerful, each posture is done twice and there are two great breathing exercises as well as a lot of balancing work. However, you won’t find many arm balances, or inversions, which are a cornerstone of many of the more traditional systems of yoga. Tony Sanchez is a teacher to pay attention to, though I don’t have any personal experiences with his asana practice, though he trained with Bikram for 20+ years.

Ashtanga

Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is the system of yoga developed by Pattabhi Jois that is thought of as a lineage of classical indian yoga. The eight limbs refer to Patanjali and the 8 limbs of yoga which are spiritual yogic practices. There are six sequences designed to be practiced over 6 days, with Saturday off and a day off for the full moon. This is a controversial form of yoga that tends to have high injury rates, but also many highly dedicated yogis. Kino MacGregor is a modern teacher of the system with more of a inspirational view on her own practice to emphasize the incredible intensity and reward of the daily Ashtanga practice.

Hatha

Supposedly founded by Shiva, the Hatha yoga asanas are the basis for yoga in the world today. Usually, it refers to the text written by Yogi Swatmarama written in the 15th century that expounds details of yoga philosophy and physical aspects of the postures. Hatha yoga is often used to mean physically oriented and static yoga postures. Hatha tends to be a broad category and oriented towards mostly physically oriented asana.

Yin

Yin yoga has an extremely interesting lineage, grounded in Taoism and founded by Paulie Zink, but is popularized because of Sarah Powers and Paul Grilley. Yin yoga emphasizes longer stretching and the connections of joints through ligaments and tendons and a more passive side of yoga. The flow of qi through the meridian centers is increased according to the Chinese philosophy of the practice and the practice is more focused on regeneration and acceptance into the union of the universe. Yin yoga is traditionally meant to compliment traditional yang yoga, though there is a lot of work being done to widen the spectrum between the extreme lows of 15 minute stretches and then adding more and more movement. Bernie Clark is an excellent propagator of the practice and I highly recommend his videos for beginning a Yin oriented practice. It is a great way to wake up and fall asleep.

Vinyasa

Vinayasa yoga is oriented around the practice that was propagated by Patthabhi Jois as classical Indian yoga, involving sun salutations, jumping through arms, gymnastic oriented exercises such as handstand, forearm stands, and arm balances. All vinyasa yoga is adapted from his method, because of the foundation of sun salutations in the West, but movement aligned with breath is a far older meditational practice than Jois’ practice based on Krishnamacharya’s teachings. Vinyasa is now a broader category, and emphasizes cardiovascular and single breath movements.

Anusara

Anusara is classified as a type of Hatha yoga, originally started by John Friend in 1997 who was heavily influenced by Iyengar. The practice emphasizes universal principles of alignment and is grounded in tantric tradition. Friend explained the name of the practice as “flowing from grace”. John was involved in a scandal in 2012 that led to him stepping down from Anusara after admitting affairs with teachers and allegedly founding a wicca coven where he would engage with the women of the coven sexually. Suffice to say I don’t practice Anusara, but I do take significant influence from Iyengar, who influenced friend. Anusara has some great concepts of alignment, but the practice doesn’t resonate with me personally.

Iyengar

This is the man to learn from. Practiced, knowledgable, but unfortunately, he passed this last year. However, his source book is incredible and I have used it for literally hundreds of hours of asana. He describes poses with full depictions where he demonstrates the hardest and most dedicated of yoga postures. He is an incredible teacher who split from Patthabhi Jois’ Ashtanga method, instead creating his own style after deciding to go solo when Krishnamacharya would not help him to customize his own practice to suit his body type and needs. His practice is personal, fulfilling, gentle, mentally brutal, and extraordinarily fulfilling. His softer, gentle, and customized approach will continue to spread throughout North American for the next decade.

Jivamukti

This is a style of yoga developed by David Life and Sharon Gannon in 1984. It combines elements of Hatha, Ashtanga with emphasis on moral alignment in tune with vegetarianism, animal rights, social activism, and adherence to five central tenets: shastra, bhakti, ahimsa, nada, and dhyana. I am not at all familiar with the method, but each month there is a new theme with new chanting and practices, with an emphasis on progression in the yoga practice. This type of yoga tends to be popular among celebrities and can have focuses on having a personal teacher that massages during Savasana and a whole host of other assistant type activities.

Kripalu

Kripalu is a non-profit based retreat center in Massachusetts. The 16,000 square foot building in Stockbridge is the largest holistic center in the country and can hold up to 650 people for a single night. This style of yoga concentrates on inner focus, meditation, breath work, and development of a quiet mind. Amrit Desai is the founder of the method and center and began it to provide yoga classes and teacher trainings. He named the Kripalu system after Swami Kripalvananda whom Desai met in India. However, in 1994 Desai resigned after admitting to sexual intercourse with followers.

Kundalini

Kundalini is based on a 1935 treatise with Sivananda Saraswati and is heavily influenced by tantra and Shakta schools of Hinduism. The practice combines prana-yama, asana, meditation, chanting, and meditation to excite the nervous system to extraordinary levels. This is a type of yoga that you should absolutely try if you are at a good level of health. It is called the yoga of awareness and aims to cultivate the creative and spiritual potential of the yoga by focusing on truth-speaking, karma, and spirituality.

Power

Power yoga is the adapted version of Ashtanga to fit the Western practice of yoga, Bryan Kest is currently advertised as the founder, though I am really not sure who is. I like to think that Kest is, because he practiced with David West in Hawaii and was a student of Patthabhi Jois, which Baptiste was not. Though I honestly have no idea where it came from, but today it is a popular term for intense vinyasa yoga, sometimes occurring in a heated room. The primary propagators of this practice are Bryan Kest, Baron Baptiste, Larry Schultz, though it really refers to the style of yoga propagated by Bryan Kest and Baron Baptiste focusing on Ashtanga based meditational yoga. Bryan Kest is far and away my favorite teacher of this type of yoga, though the practice is certainly rewarding in and of itself.

Bhakti

Bhakti yoga is traditional and devotional by tradition, but is being grown into a specific type of vinyasa (power yoga) by Rusty Wells with a focus on spirituality, love of god, and devotion. It is also described as a path of yoga, different from Raja yoga from which Ashtanga is derived and doesn’t necessarily involved asana, but incredible amounts of time in prayer and meditation. This type of yoga focuses on a personal god and aspires to unify each step along the path of Dharma with the divine. practices include chanting and meditation with an emphasis on love. This is a growing style that I have really only seen on the West coast, but has ancient traditions in Hinduism.

Mysore Style

Mysore style is personal practice of the Ashtanga primary series, with a focus on individual asana performance and the warm-up of the primary series. Daily practice with a day of rest on Saturdays and for the full and new moon. This is the practice I will be learning a lot more about in India when I travel to Mysore, with an emphasis on the Ashtanga method.

 

It will be interesting to see how this article might change over the next few months and years, I will likely rewrite it later.

Notable Yogis: KrishnamacharyaPatthabi Jois, BKS Iyengar, TKV Desikachar, Tony Sanchez, Bikram Choudhury, John Friend, David Life, Bryan Kest, Baron Baptiste, Rusty Wells, Kino MacGregor

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