Friday, February 15, 2008

the breath is like rain

Having turned to training in meditation,
making me your goal,
keep your thoughts directed to me always,
while inwardly resigning all you do to me.
Directing your thought to me,
by my grace you will overcome all obstacles.
Bhagavad Gita 18:57-58

thursday, 14 feb, 08

It has been a hard week. It’s been very challenging physically––my shoulders, neck and lower back are pretty sore––but there has been very little I haven’t been able to do. I’m grateful for that. But it has been much more challenging psychologically, and it was quite a struggle to surrender to the process of this course as it is. Rajiv is an incredible teacher, and very demanding.

Some pearls from Rajiv:

The breath is like a miner carving out the cavities of the body.
The breath is like rain; it permeates the hard places of the body; it is soft even when the body is hard.
The eye looking out is “eating”; so look at your eye instead.

As opposed to Baba Hari Das’ teaching about doing meditation before asana practice, here I think I can safely say that we are intentionally being led to an immediate experience of heightened interiority at the end of each of the two-hour sessions practicing the “technology” of the yoga.

I have found out that Ashtanga Yoga has a very bad name around Iyengar people. My first cue of it came from Rajiv himself when we did our introduction the first day and I said that I had studied “ashtanga yoga,” and I mentioned Baba Hari Das, Haridwar and Mount Madonna. For as few times as I have actually gone there, it’s interesting that Mount Madonna was the first thought that came to my mind to describe what I do. Rajiv had asked me if I had been to the center in Mysore, and I said no, of course, having no idea what Mysore had to do with it. Well, if I have pieced it together correctly, someone named Puntabi Joyce has an international school of yoga that is called Ashtanga Yoga or Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and people around here speak of it in deprecatory terms, “Hollywood yoga” or “gym yoga.” The way they describe it is a few very dynamic series’ of asanas, and very little of the philosophy or the other limbs. I found myself defending ashtanga yoga as I know it––the eight limbs of Patanjali, and how Saturday morning class runs at Mount Madonna––and wish that I could explain to Rajiv as well, but it’s too late for that and everything I say around my housemates comes out sounding very defensive. Many times Rajiv each day derides in the strongest terms what he calls “boga,” the phony yoga in the West that he says is actually dangerous because it lets loose a bunch of powers that are used for lust and greed rather than for interiority, and is constantly deriding anyone who would dare call him- or herself a yogi, let alone an advanced or even an intermediate yogi. There is no other way to describe it except to say that he seems quite angry about this and seems to take it personally. He says his teacher, I assume BKS Iyengar himself, is also concerned about this. He and Swati make an annual pilgrimage to Poona where their guru-ji still lives and has his center. The interesting note is that apparently Mr Iyengar and Puntabi Joyce had the same guru themselves. I do wonder what other kind of yoga Rajiv considers to be authentic and/or beneficial.

I do know and can honestly say that for me it is all about meditation. I was taught when I started doing asana practice that all the asanas ... gradually lead up to Yoga proper, Raja Yoga and were a means of … overcoming physical impediments standing in the way of other, spiritual, forms of yoga; and that the … ultimate goal and true end is the repose of spirit necessary for the realization of the Supreme, or for experiencing the Divine. I don’t think Rajiv would argue with that.

* * *

The other day when I went to check my e-mail at a local place there wasn’t one computer available because every computer was occupied by a Tibetan monk.
I’d been keeping my eyes open for a Tibetan monk who looked like he might speak English––whatever that means¬¬––since there are usually a number of them wandering the streets of Rajpur and had approached a few without luck. But as I was leaving I asked one of the guys who had just left. He did speak some English, but I understood him to say that he was not from the monastery here in town but from up in Mussorie, and he and his companions were just down for the day because they had a day off of school. A little later, as I was sitting in a cafĂ© having breakfast I saw what appeared to be a Caucasian woman with white hair pass by in the scarlet robes, and I made a mental note to try and find her when I finished. Sure enough later I ran smack into her and asked her if she spoke English. As a matter of fact, she was from New York. She called herself Ani Kaz (Ani means “nun,” thought I am not sure how that is really spelled; and Kaz was short for Kasmiri. In fact her real ordained name is much longer and ore complicated.) We sat down and had a very good conversation in a little Tibetan restaurant, comparing notes about being a Westerner in the East and her telling me some of her story of belonging to the sakya lineage of Tibetan monasticism. (There are three other schools, more well known: ningma, the oldest; kygyu, the biggest and most thriving; and gelupa, which she described as the “reform party.”) His Holiness, the head of her lineage, happens to be in Rajpur right now and Ani Kaz was describing to me how I could have an audience with him, but it sounded a little formal and complicated to me. I have been just hoping for a conversation with a monk. As fortune would have it, the same monk with whom I had spoken was also at the restaurant with his mate and they came over to our table as they were leaving. Ani helped me figure out that they were students at Sakya College, up the road and on the way to Mussorie from here, and told them that I was a bhikksu also. I asked if I could visit them and the one wrote down his name––Lekshey––and cell phone number and said I could come the next day at noon.

We now have two days off from the course, and I must say when we finished yesterday morning I felt a real sense of gratitude, both for all the work of the week and for the break. I headed up Mussorie Road at about 11:15 to meet the young bhikksus at noon. I was told by a local man that it was about 3 km and would not take long to walk. It actually wound up being nearly 6 km, and about halfway up I asked a young man who was walking right behind me if he knew where Sakya College was. I didn’t understand his answer, but he kept talking to me until I realized that he was trying to speak to me in English. And then he kept following me and let me know that he wanted to practice his English with me. His name was Sonu Negi, 20 years old, and he stayed with me all the way up, stopping and asking people along the way for directions for me. He had never been up that way before himself although he has lived for some months in Rajpur, and was just spending his day off walking up and seeing the local sights. He said that at some point he was going to catch a bus and go back to town, but when we finally got to Sakya College it was obvious that he was going to stay with me.

Sakya College is a beautiful campus and compound, very clean and well manicured. Ani told me that it is where the cream of the crop study. It did have the feel of an elite prep school, even in the body language of the young men gathered around. When I asked two young monks who were standing near the gate for Lekshey, they let us in and said they would get him for us, and Sonu walked right in with me. We got carried along in a tide of monks walking toward the center of the campus until finally Lekshey and his mate, Tashi, approached and welcomed us. They explained that they only had a few minutes before going back to class. They didn’t seem to know exactly what to do with us, but were very kind. I explained to them that Sonu was my “dharma protector,” and they liked that and didn’t seem to mind that he came along as well. Tashi especially wanted to talk. They took us first to the temple, and then to the student canteen where Lekshey bought us a bottle of water, and then led us out through a garden to a grassy area behind the compound where we sat and talked for a little while. I asked a few questions, but we didn’t get too far or too deep. They are both Nepalese, 20 years old, have been in the monastery since 8 or 9. They both intend to stay for life. They told me that as novice monks–ketchu they take 10 vows, but after 35 years old or so they could become full kelong at which point they would take 250 vows. We spent some funny minutes trying to figure out what the 10 vows were. They of course knew them, but between Tibetan, Nepali and Lekshey explaining to Sonu in Hindi and Sonu trying to translate into English, we still only figured what six of them were: no attachment, no killing, lying, taking what is not offered, sexual misconduct, speaking ill of another. Tashi took down my e-mail contact information and promised to find English translation of them all and send them to me.

Sonu and I headed down, engaging in conversational English all the way. He was also helping me read some signs in Hindi, whose letters are very close to the deva-nagari script of Sanskrit. He also left me his cell phone number and asked when we would see each other again. We’ll see what the days ahead hold. I asked him if he would go to Mussorie with me some time––I must say it is nice to have a native companion––but that will depend on coordinating his work schedule with my class schedule.

Today I am heading out for a solo bus trip to Rishikesh where I hope to stay the night, do some wireless internet, and visit with Ram and Ranjeet, maybe see Sr Thelma and Atmananda too.