Friday, February 29, 2008

no yoga for pig eaters

yogena chitasya padena vaccham…

Let us bow before the noblest of sages, Patanjali,
who gave yoga for serenity and sanctity of mind,
grammar for clarity and purity of speech,
and medicine for perfection of health.

Let us prostrate before Patanjali, in incarnation of Adissa,
whose upper body has a human form,
whose arms hold a conch and a dsic,
who is crowned by a thousand headed cobra…
chant to Patanjali

23 feb 08

On our break now after the second week of the yoga course. I have not yet decided exactly when I am leaving, could be as early as Monday, most likely Tuesday, but for sure by Wednesday since I need to get down to Delhi to catch my plane out of India. These weeks have flown past. I can hardly believe my time in India is done but I am well into my sixth week already.

This week went well and fast. I always keep in mind the phrase the Kristi in Santa Cruz used to say, that in yoga we should find the “edge between our minimum and our maximum.” There was one day in the middle of the week when I felt as if I was stretched even beyond my maximum. We were doing back bends for over an hour and then we ended class with a series of long-held chakrasana–the wheel pose, both hands and feet on the ground underneath and bending up from the waist. There were people collapsing all around me, and there were also about six people in the middle of the room slowly folding backward from a full-shoulder stand straight into the pose who seemed as if they were defying gravity. Rajiv was concentrating all his effort on them, trying to fine-tune their hand position and descent. I was relieved to find out afterward that Espen, who is quite experienced in Iyengar, also found it a grueling workout and has been carrying the same pain in his lower back since then as I have all week.

That afternoon was our philosophy class. To give you a taste of Rajiv’s style in teaching us––I wrote this down verbatim so that I could remember it––he started class by saying, “When you Westerners come to India you don’t have the context for this…” And then he told us that it would be a waste of his time to teach us Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras; he needed instead to teach us “pop” philosophy.” Again I was disappointed by that, but he may be right; perhaps the majority of the class does not have much background in philosophy and spirituality, and only know the asanas. In my case it is almost the opposite. I studied the philosophy for years before I ever began hatha yoga. There was never a yoga teacher at New Camaldoli so I had to wait until I got to Santa Cruz. I wrote in my journal that after the years of study “it’s almost as if I had to sneak back outside of my body and come back in, make the journey all over again, trying not to forget what I had already learned as I enter into my own second axial consciousness.” Ignore the thing about “second axial consciousness” if that doesn’t make sense and suffice it to say that I think this is also emblematic of Christian religious life: we do tend to have a lot of book knowledge and theoretical knowledge and rational knowledge, but we have been scant on practical skills and practices.

But––and this is what I did glean out of Rajiv’s talk that day––this is why you teach yoga to children, so that when the time of interiority comes later in life. He was referring to the vanaprastha asrama, the third phase of life when one can retire to the forest, what one of my friends refers to as the “RV stage” in America. During the first years, the brahmacarya phase, young people are being governed by biochemistry, and they got to have to have the fire in the belly. That is the time when they need to be taught virtue and how to act properly int the world, give them some reins to drive the chariot. In that second stage of life, grihasta, as interaction with the world gets more and more dense, as I have heard it described before, so Rajiv also said that the main focus is on the righteous pursuit of material affluence, and a judicious use of pleasure and karma. But then, some time after 50, the density of interaction with the world begins to diminish, and one starts preparing for death. It could be a time then to also actively phase out interactions with the external world and really focus on the inner journey. And if you have studied yoga, you already have some practical skills of focusing within through the body because through yoga one knows how to turn the gaze within, one has a sense of the indwelling divine, one knows one’s own body as the brahma-loka.

I remembered Richard Rohr’s teaching about the male rite of initiation, that the young boy carries with him that memory of the experience of death and what to do with it––“Go down!”––when the time comes, when he reaches the crisis of limitation in his life. Rajiv said something similar: “Yoga prepares you to die,” he said, by teaching you to engage in the core self, in the essential being that does not terminate, the pursuit of knowledge of the Self when the urgency of the immediate fades away. But, he says, it’s too late to start when you are middle aged; you need to start at a young age to know what to do later when the time comes to start detaching from the outer for the sake of the inner. Then age is not seen as a hardship but rather as a time when one can perceive judicious interaction through the knowledge of hindsight.

I was wondering if people in the West or anywhere in “developed nations” really know what to do with themselves when there is nothing left to do, nothing left to entertain and distract us. When there is nothing else on the outside calling for outward attention, work or duty or family responsibilities, that is, according to the Indian mind, the time not to “move on” but to “move in,” all the way in. I don’t know that the Indian mind is that different from the any other mind in this regard, only that it is written out literally. We see this natural movement in some people in all cultures and I certainly see it in America, how many people in their 40s and 50s and 60s are hungry for a “way in,” practical skills for making the inner journey and devoting themselves more to prayer and meditation, the spiritual life in general. While it is vitally important also to give young people practical skills that they can tap into later, I don’t want tot think that older folks are a waste of time either, or even that it’s too late to start at middle age.

I ran into this beautiful mantra from the Isha Upanishad the other day that had given me such consolation some years ago, and it made all new sense to me in the light of this: Krato smara krtam smara––“O mind remember all that has been done. Remember!”

The funniest thing the Rajiv said the other day, though I am not sure he intended it to be funny, was the closing line of his lecture. He had been talking about karma and diet and said simply, “There’s no yoga for pig eaters!”

* * *

A couple of things happened this week that really started building some bonds between is all. Monday afternoon after our philosophy class many of us headed down the hill into Rajpur proper for various reasons and about ten of us wound up at the same at tea stall. It was the first day that I actually felt a connection with people outside of my housemates, and the liveliness of the conversation was amazing. As I noted, the crowd in general is very international anyway, and there we were sipping tea folks from Norway, America, Sweden, Switzerland and Sweden, if I remember correctly. We of course were comparing notes about the class and Rajiv’s fiery style of teaching.

And then Thursday evening we had all been invited to go to a place called the Purval Youth Development Center. This is apparently a favored charity of Yoga-Ganga Centre, who likes to encourage folks to give donations in that way instead of just doling out indiscriminate charity. A small school bus met us and took on a hurtling ride about 10 km up Mussorie Road, first to beautiful home of Mr Swamy and his wife, who run the PYD. He is a retired economist from Bombay. His idea for the PYD was an after school program to help disadvantaged young people in this area, his adopted home since retirement, to give them basic educational skills––English, computer, maths, and, what appears to be his special love, current events in world affairs. He and his wife greeted each one of us as we entered their beautifully manicured garden, asking our name and country of origin. When he found out I was from California, he said, “Oh, I must ask a favor of you.” A little later he approached me again and let me know what it was: could I please explain to him the American election process? What was all this business about primaries and caucuses, and why were there only two parties, and why was there no popular vote? I started in the best I could, and he said, no, not now. Could I come and teach his children at the school about it before I left? I said, we would see what the schedule allowed.

We then went over to the school. He has done a marvelous job, built up a couple of sturdy buildings with five classrooms plus a science lab, computer lab and yoga hall. We were ushered in to the yoga hall where Mr Swamy showed us a Powerpoint presentation, and then the older kids were paraded in and gave us a series of speeches on various topics about the organization. After they were done talking he asked each one of us to get up and point to our country of origin on a world map and tell something for which our country was famous. That was pretty interesting even for each of us to hear a little more from each of our yoga mates. We were three Americans, from far different regions––Chicago, Colorado and California. I always seem to either just say “California” or add it to “USA” since people here seem to know it well as a separate entity. When I finished Mr Swamy said to all the kids, “And Mr Cyprian here is going to come and teach us all about the American election process.” Now, I had been thinking to myself that I didn’t necessarily want to give any cash donation but that I was would enjoy coming to play for the kids, so as we were leaving I said as much to Mr Swamy. He said, “Oh yes, yes, that would be very nice, but for sure tell us about the American election process. I want the kids to know.”

Anyway, it’s a great program, and very heartening to see someone spend their retirement years giving back in such a way, so I’ll do what I can to get up there one afternoon before I go.

* * *

sat, 23 feb 08

Those who check their anger,
like a rolling chariot,
them I call charioteers.
Other folks merely hold the reins.

Conquer anger by love,
evil by good,
stinginess by giving,
falsehood by truth.
Dhammapada 222-223

I had an incredible day yesterday. I had been wanting to go up to Mussorie, which is an old British hill station town about 20 km from Rajpur and a popular tourist destination that others in the class had praised highly. I had run into my young friend Sonu Negi again the other day in town and suggested to him that he accompany me there if he really wanted to spend time with me and practice his English, which seems to be his main interest in me. But he didn’t seem too keen on that. So when two folks mentioned that they were going to be hiking up there, I asked if I could join them and they were quite happy to have me come along. We wound up being four, Jillian, a traditional Chinese Medicine teacher from Newfoundland, Eryk, a seeker from Poland, and Andrea, a yoga teacher from Colorado. Others had told me that it was a beautiful hike, and Florence had said that it was not all that steep, although it is at 6000 feet. We left at 8:30 knowing only that it was about a four-hour hike and having only the vaguest sense of the route. “You can’t get lost!” we were told. Well, we could have gotten lost, but luckily at every crossroads there seemed to be an angel waiting for us, an old man at the first, a couple of women sitting on the ground at the next. At one point it looked like the trail headed right into somebody’s home and there was a flock of goats and an old unhappy dog sitting on the roof, and suddenly a women appeared and we said the same thing to her as we said to everyone: “Mussorie?” And she indicated to us to proceed, right through her yard and between two homes continuing up the path.

We passed through countless new little ecosystems and such beauty. I kept forgetting what country I was in. At one point, surrounded by chaparral like in Big Sur, we were being circled by a large and powerful-looking hawk with a white tail. At another point we were looking down a terraced hills planted with rice patties. Then it was as if we were in a tropical forest near a waterfall and we suddenly realized that there were bright green parrots flying all around us. As we climbed higher and higher the trail became not much bigger than a goat path and we were unsure again so we yelled down at some people in a house across a small valley: “Mussorie?” and they urged us ahead. Then we ran into three young people who were just coming onto the path, all dressed in their school uniforms carrying book bags, and we asked them as well, and one of the boys nodded yes and waved his hand forward, indicating they were going the same way. They stayed ahead of us a long time, and if we slowed down they did too to make sure we were following. I could see that the one boy really wanted to engage us in conversation and finally he turned around and asked us something like if we were from Dehradun, and then we asked him if they were going to school and what class they were in (9th Standard, all of them). Then he slipped ahead with his mates again who teased him about his English. It was something to think of them making this trek every day not for fun but to get to school. As we passed others on the way, men building a home, women carrying jars of water or baskets of mud on their heads, little kid out playing while their young mother hung up the laundry, the kids would yell out “Namaste!” or something more like “’maste!” I was actually quite surprised at how many homes there were out there and how well constructed they seemed to be as well, since there was absolutely no access by vehicle, so everything had to have been made there out of the soil or carried in, bags of cement, bricks, tin roofs, framing wood, satellite dishes! I think my favorite thing was at one point we passed by a little temple, in the absolute middle of nowhere on which was a sign––in Sanskrit, transliteration and English––that read Sarva Dharma Mundir, Temple of All Religions, indeed with symbols of various religions painted on the walls surrounding the entrance.

Mind you, we were climbing to 6000 feet. Florence had at least understated the climb. The kids left us just before the last little climb into what someone would alter tell us was a “suburb” of Mussorie, right near St George’s College, certainly a regal vestige of the old days of the East India Trading Company. By that time all of our legs were feeling the weight of hike. We were walking up just as the angelus bell was ringing and I must say I had a moment of gratitude seeing the church and bell tower in the distance. Thinking that was Mussorie itself, I was dreaming of getting a chance to sit in there for a bit while the others went off to do whatever––what a joy that seemed like it would have been!––but we still had 5 km to go before reaching the town proper.

Anyway, the trek wound up being nearly five hours including a stop for tea in that suburb. We had talked a lot all the way up, and laughed a lot too, comparing notes about the hardships of class these past two weeks. By the time we reached Mussorie we were exhilarated as we were exhausted from the climb, and piled into the highly recommended Pamini Nivas Hotel for a generous at delicious, though mildly costly at R 135, vegetarian tali (meal), complete with potato, cabbage, rice, chappati, raisa, butter milk, sambhar and salad, all we could eat. Then we headed into the market area itself. Mussorie is a destination spot for Indian tourists more than Western ones, it seems. So it was commercialized but in a different sort of way that’s hard to describe, things that would appeal to Indian tourists. Lots of photo studios that featured old style clothing from the days of the Raj, lots of popcorn stands and shooting galleries, in addition to Domino’s Pizza, Baskin Robbins Ice Cream and an Asian version of Starbucks that I had seen also in Singapore, I think, called Café Coffee Day. All these places seemed a little anachronistic but I confess to a delicious cafe Americano and a little bit of chocolate at the latter. We also had a stop at the wonderful overstuffed Cambridge bookstore. Books were piled on top of each other in only the faintest resemblance of order, but the manager seemed to be able to locate anything we asked for. Lastly we also took the cable car up to the top of the mountain, “Gun Point,” it was called (hence the shooting galleries). On a clear day you are supposed to be able to see well into the Himalayan range from there, but it was not a clear day and it was a dreadful sleazy and commercialized spot, which we were not expecting at all.