A FREE AND EASY SONG

By Venerable Lama Gendun Rinpoche

Happiness cannot be found through great effort and willpower but is already present, in open relaxation and letting go.

Don’t strain yourself, there is nothing to do or undo. Whatever momentarily arises in the body-mind has no real importance at all, has little reality whatsoever. Why identify with, and become attached to it, passing judgement upon it and ourselves?

Far better to simply let the entire game happen on its own, springing up and falling back like waves – without changing or manipulating anything – and notice how everything vanishes and reappears, magically, again and again, time without end.

Only our searching for happiness prevents us from seeing it. It’s like a vivid rainbow which you pursue without ever catching, or a dog chasing its own tail.

Although peace and happiness do not exist as an actual thing or place, it is always available and accompanies you every instant.

Don’t believe in the reality of good and bad experiences; they are like today’s ephemeral weather, like rainbows in the sky.

Wanting to grasp the ungraspable, you exhaust yourself in vain. As soon as you open and relax this tight fist of grasping infinite space is there – open, inviting and comfortable.

Make use of this spaciousness, this freedom and natural ease. Don’t search any further. Don’t go into the tangled jungle looking for the great awakened elephant, who is already resting quietly at home in front of your own hearth.

Nothing to do or undo, nothing to force, nothing to want, and nothing missing.

Emaho! Marvelous! Everything happens by itself.

Gendun Rinpoche is a senior Kagyu lama, abbot and retreat master and this poem was translated by his students from Tibetan.

 

Reading this poem it made me think of a yoga class, a laboratory to learn about ourselves. Asanas cannot be achieved by force or will power but they are attained by letting go of expectations and judgement of ourselves. Without controlling or manipulating our bodies and breath, simply relax and find the comfort and ease of the perfect asana.

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COHERENT BREATHING

One of the first instructions before meditation is to inhale for 3 seconds and exhale for 3 seconds.  When we establish a balanced breath we energize the body and focus the mind so that we concentrate better on our subject of meditation. Pranayama or breath control is indeed one of the preliminaries of meditation in the Raja Yoga system.

According to Vedanta, the breath is part of the astral or energetic body and is sustained by two major pranas or winds, prana vayu and apana vayu.  Prana vayu makes us inhale and moves upward and prana vayu makes us exhale and moves downward. Many of the pranayama exercises aim to bring balance between these two movements.  In the physical body every time we inhale the sympathetic nervous system makes us feel active and when we exhale the parasympathetic system makes us relax. In a yoga class we become very aware of these two energies as we stretch or make an effort when we inhale and let go when we exhale.  In a conscious way we emphasize this balanced breath and the result is that at the end of the session we feel energized and relaxed at the same time.

A few days ago, at the Yoga retreat, we were introduced to techniques used by the HeartMath organization who studies the benefits of a coherent heart rhythm.  This coherence regulates emotions, diminishes stress and lowers high blood pressure.This is mainly achieved through positive thinking techniques but also by balanced breathing. The interaction between heart and mind is a two-way communication and the bridge between the two is the breath.  The yogis have known this for a long time but thanks have to be given to science that proves and makes this knowledge known. Breathing patterns modulate the heart’s rhythm and the HeartMath studies indicate that it is possible to generate a coherent heart rhythm by simply breathing slowly and regularly at a 10-second rhythm (5 seconds on the in-breath and 5 seconds on the out-breath).

Coherence is not relaxation though.  The coherence breath exercise mentioned above is a wonderful tool to calm ourselves when we are stressed or tired or as a preparation for relaxation or meditation. It is a controlled breath, with no gaps between the inhale/exhale and the exhale/inhale and its effects are a feeling or relaxation and alertness at the same time.

I am sharing with you this exercise that I like to do when tired or at the beginning of a meditation practice, especially at night when I feel sleepy. I hope you find it useful. And remember, our electromagnetic field is centered on the heart and the more coherent our heart rhythm, the larger the field becomes.

 

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EVERY DAY IS A GOOD DAY!

Thank you for those of you who have inquired about my blog going dry for a while.  I am happy to say that this blogger is not going dry in spite of having to watch the “vata” that comes with age.  Instead I feel very “juicy” with ideas and inspiration but they have  manifested in a different way. I am practicing more and more just being with what comes along, watching more and doing less.  And though this may seem like being lazy it is quite a challenge and it is only lately that I am getting accustomed to being the watcher, the spectator who watches the show. In fact it is a great relief not having the compulsion of “doing”, in this case putting an intellectual frame around anything that comes into my mind either through concepts or words.

However there is no denying that muses exist and when they make their appearance, like at this moment, they are irrepressible and the only thing to do is to obey them.  I am writing to you from the garden in the Bahamas Yoga Retreat while I listen to Krishna Das who is performing live and  chanting “Sita Ram, Sita Ram”.  I have been here since New Year’s and the blessings have not stop coming.  Every day is so unique in spite of following the same schedule every day. The weather, the people you listen to, the yoga class, this body, this mood are continuously changing, so where is Groundhog Day?  Here like in life outside the ashram there are days when emotions appear as if blown in by the same wind that changes the surface of the ocean.  Swami Sarvapriyananda who visited us last month from the Vedanta Society of New York compares the “seer” and the “seen” to the water and the waves. Sometimes the wave is gigantic, sometimes a ripple, but both are made of water.  So when moods appear in spite of our reaction to them can we simply watch, be aware, acknowledge  and then let them go because as Vedanta says anything that is not real is bound to have an end while that consciousness that detects and is a witness remains.  But as jnana yogis warn us the fact that this body, mind and world are unreal does not mean that they are not experienced.  Experience is in fact intrinsic to our real nature, as well as consciousness and bliss.  So both negating and becoming identified with that which is transient is making a big error. This is exactly the point of Zen koans and when one  resolves the paradox of being in the world and not being sucked in by it, one can say  “Every day is a good day!” as a Zen master exclaimed.

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RIDING AN ASS

Zen stories are full of curious anecdotes, contradictions and illogical statements.  They can even sound frankly irreligious although a Zen temple is full of Buddhist piety and ritual. How paradoxical!

It would be difficult to understand Zen without looking at the influence Taoism had in Chinese Zen.  Mahayana Buddhism was introduced in China in the 6th century AC.  It   revived the original insights of Lao-tzu and was transformed into Zen (Chan in China). As  J. Wu says in The Golden Age of Zen, ‘If Buddhism is the father, Taoism is the mother of this prodigious child.  But there can be no denying that the child looks more like the mother than the father.’  Zen or Tao rejects all systematic elaborations, complex religious and philosophical systems to get back to the pure experience.  Experience of what? To life itself, to the ‘I’ exist, to who is this ‘I’. What is the difference between authentic and illusory awareness? Zen does not seek to get involved in dialectical exchanges but tries to grasp the naked reality of existence. In this context Zennists mistrust words as Zen is fundamentally inexpressible found only by direct experience.  The words of the masters are only meant to provoke the awakening of the intuition.  Here are some Zen exchanges:

A monk asked, “Who is the Buddha” the Master fired back, “Who are you?”

A new arrival said apologetically to the master, “I have come here empty-handed”, “Lay it down then!” said the  master.  “Since I have brought nothing with me, what can I lay down? asked the visitor. “Then go on carrying it!” said the master.

We may persist in understanding Zen but in fact the only and wise thing we can do is to embrace it and realize it like the fish in the ocean who wanted to know what water was. In this sense Zen teaches nothing, it just points.

“You wish to know the spirit of Zen? Look at the lake in front of the gate. When the sun shines, it radiates light and brightness. When the wind comes, there arise ripples and waves.”

This pointing meant to stir and awaken our mind often uses very vivid, dramatic or even disrespectful language like in the following story. Master Fo-yen said, “There are two diseases in the practice of Zen. The first is to ride an ass in search of the ass. The second is to ride the ass and refuse to dismount.” It is easy to see the silliness of seeking the ass you are riding.  As your attention is turned outwards, you will never look inside.  So many troubles in the world have their origin in keeping this position! Ma-tsu said’ “You are the treasure of your own house”. The second disease is even more difficult to cure. You know you are riding your own ass.  You have tasted some degree of interior peace but the danger is that you become so attached to it that you are bound to lose it altogether.  Thomas Merton said, “The situation of the soul in contemplation is like the situation of Adam and Eve in Paradise. Everything is yours but on one important condition: that it is all given. There is nothing we can claim, demand or keep. As soon as we try to take something as if it were our own, we lose Eden. So Fo-en’s final counsel is “Do not ride at all. For you yourself are the ass, and the whole world is the ass. You have no way to ride it… If you don’t ride at all the whole universe will be your playground.”

If you wish to hear more poetic, puzzling and delightful Zen stories come to the meditation retreat at Dhyana-Ananda in the Laurentians, Quebec, on September 1-3.  Please check the web page at dhyana-ananda.ca

 

 

 

 

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THE SCIENCE OF CONCENTRATION

Raja Yoga, one of the main four paths of yoga, is an eight steps systematic path that prepares us for meditation and eventually samadhi. It is sometimes described as an eight-rung ladder. More and more people today want to meditate but they find it quite challenging in spite of the simple instructions which vary between following the breath or fixating on an image, word or sound.  To deal with the difficulties of establishing a stable meditation practice  Raja Yoga offers a series of preliminary practices.  The first steps start with moral restraints and observances which help create a pure and healthy lifestyle conducive to meditation.  Then come asanas and pranayama to clean and unblock the energetic channels in the astral body. At this point our body and mind have calmed down and we are able to withdraw our senses.  Now we are ready to concentrate although this is not meditation yet. What we call today meditation in many schools and traditions is in fact learning to concentrate the mind and keep the body still. Once this is attained we can enter effortlessly into the state of meditation. Concentration is therefore a necessary and fundamental preparation for the essential practice of meditation.

In the Bon* Dzogchen tradition of Tibet the practice of concentration is thoroughly examined and describes three stages. The first stage is “forced” concentration.  It involves the application of effort.  We persist in the practice  to improve concentration because we are not accustomed to it.  In the second stage we further develop this effortfull concentration until it transforms into an effortless and tranquil state. In the third stage we relax the concentration until it turns into a state of stable tranquility.

As we continue with our concentration practice different kinds of internal and external signs will appear indicating that we have gained a certain amount of control over our mind. This tradition says that although it is important to get those signs, it is also important not to seek to obtain them as there is the risk that we may willfully create them. If there are no signs the instructions recommend intensifying the practice using sound such an external or internal OM, practice in the company of the wise (satsang) or even going on a pilgrimage. There are eight internal signs:

The first sign is like a turtle that, when put in water, retracts its limbs into its shell. The practitioner feels almost like her mind cannot move.

The second sign is the image of a little bird in a cold wind that starts to tremble.  Our mind starts to tremble because it is becoming very subtle and clear.

The third sign is like a crab that moves its limbs in a disordered way.  This is a sign that the mind is not restrained or involved in making judgements but has effortlessly assumed its natural condition. After this experience we feel relaxed and loose without there being any imposed order in our thoughts.

The fourth stage is derived from ancient times where there were no matches and Tibetans still used to strike a flint to start a fire. Sometimes you get a spark, sometimes you don’t. This means that during the meditation session sometimes we are calm and sometimes we are not. By having both experiences we can comprehend what is true understanding and identify when we are in a calm state.

The fifth sign is like clear water flowing through a very narrow tap. This means that the state of the mind has become stable and even like a continuous fine flow.

The sixth sign is like a bee that does not  want to move far from a flower full of nectar. This means that we feel very good, we have attachment to that happiness and we do not want to stop. However, this is not a negative kind of attachment but a desire to continue to practice for a long time.

The seventh sign is like a fish swimming in the sea in any direction it likes, without being concerned about any obstacles or accidents. This is like a sudden sensation of freedom, a feeling that in whichever direction the mind moves, there is no disturbance or distraction.

The eighth sign is like the wind blowing through leaves without getting stuck to anything. This means that whatever thoughts arise the mind continues to flow without forming attachments.

There are also external signs like not wishing to move physically or wanting to laugh or to cry for no apparent reason. It may seem we are going a little crazy but it just means that we are harmonizing our internal energies as a result of having liberated our mind.

The thorough application of concentration and the experience of the subsequent signs allow us to enter and remain effortlessly and for longer periods of time in the state of meditation, a state of presence and clarity. We are finally able to observe how thoughts continue to arise and disappear without following or suppressing them. Remaining in this state where thoughts self-liberate, there is no attachment or aversion, inner or outer, there is just recognition that  all “outer” really is a projection of the “inner” state, and that is sufficient. At this point we have reached the top of the Raja Yoga ladder, a rung beyond high or low, first or last.

 

*Bon is the native religion of Tibet.  The teachings presented here are from the Dzogchen tradition published by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche in Wonders of the Natural Mind (2000)

 

 

 

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TO AGE GRACEFULLY

the beauiful crone

To Age Gracefully is the subject of a course I offer at the Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas from March 9th to the 13th. In those five days we will explore the challenges and blessings of growing older at any age. The philosophical and spiritual inspiration comes from the wisdom of Vedanta and the practices that help us create a lifestyle in accord with our stage in life from Hatha Yoga and Ayurveda.

I look forward to these daily workshops where we will discuss appropriate diet, exercise, relaxation, positive thinking and meditation.  I will also be your teacher for the morning asana class adapting postures and accommodating for physical challenges.  You will also join the Ashram schedule for the morning and evening meditation and some karma yoga or selfless service. There will also be free time for swimming or going for walks on the beautiful beach. Those of you who have been to the Retreat know how healing a stay in the Ashram can be.  So join me for this event.  I look forward seeing you again.

As a short introduction to some of the themes I will talk about I am reprinting an article I posted last year titled “Young for ever”.

“Young for ever” is the new anthem of my generation.  As a baby boomer I have had it pretty easy so who would not like to keep the good times going? Every time someone remarks I don’t look my age I join my generation’s belief that I can defy the passage of time and keep it in mind when choosing clothes and hair style. Medicine and cosmetics also promise ever lasting youth through many pills, supplements and procedures. We are a generation intensely hyperactive, on a permanent quest to learn and better ourselves. Many of my friends in their seventies and eighties take new courses, learn foreign languages and travel to the “1000 places that must be seen in one’s lifetime”.  Of course it’s all wonderful but I question sometimes the motivation behind that flurry of projects, the urgency not to miss the next activity or product.  It is said that boredom is the worst enemy of old age after fear of sickness and death.  Boredom, that old demon hidden easily during our active years, sticks now its ugly head.

In our quest to remain forever young could we be missing a very important stage in our life?  The Greeks called it the “great age”.  So how do I embrace my great age? Letting go is  a start.  Nobody likes a fool old woman or man hanging on obsessively to old memories.  Letting go, that pending subject, becomes at this stage a necessity if I want to remain sane.  But once I let go of much of the running around that kept me busy in the past I find myself with… time.  Bertrand Russell said that idleness  is one of the privileges of old age. Indeed, it is a privilege to have time. I can play with time and stretch it in the pleasant company of good friends, for example, or I can transcend it watching in awe a beautiful landscape. When I was young I fought constantly with time and the rhythms of nature which I always found slower than my schedules but now because I have time I can slow down and finally enjoy being rather than doing. The result is that I am more present, it’s better for my health and I am more aesthetically graceful. Yes! more beautiful. Real idleness of course needs patience, another of those virtues that used to escape me. Through patience we get at the heart of compassion and love so, who said something was lost by aging?

Epicurus was convinced that the great age was the zenith of life, its best moment. This quote is attributed to him: “It is not the young man who is happy but rather the old man who has lived well.  The young man, full of vigor, makes many mistakes while the old man has safely reached the harbor and anchored his goods with the means of gratitude.”  Yes, indeed, I can look at my anchored ship in the harbor as I sit in a small café enjoying contently the Mediterranean sun, something I was not quite able to do till recently. Plato also was convinced that the great age is the ideal time to study philosophy.  Interestingly enough, a study from U. of California in San Diego* says that, neurologically, a slower brain is a wiser brain because those parts of the brain connected with abstract and philosophical thinking are free from the disturbing effects of the neurotransmitter dopamine, therefore someone older is less impulsive and subject to emotions. It’s good to know that I am not hooked on dopamine any longer. The truth is that now I think differently and, honestly, I don’t feel short-changed.  It’s all good.

the crone*Quote from Daniel Klein in Balade avec Epicure

 

 

 

 

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UNLOCKING THE GATE

 gate

 

When I go on hikes in the mountains of Mallorca I quite often come across gates that bar the path. All land in that small island always belongs to someone.  Then one has to go back or look for an alternative route. Sometimes the owner is generous and allows hikers to go through his property by leaving the gate unlocked.  I am always struck by how artificial these land divisions are when I see the same grass growing on both sides of the barrier.

When in meditation I have the courage to let go of my sense of “I” and “mine” it is like opening an unlocked gate. In Zen there is a collection of koans called the Mumonkan, the gateless barrier, and resolving each koan is like passing over and over an unlocked gate.  But when I hang to the idea of separation how insurmountable that barrier looks!

Realizing that there was never a barrier to begin with is most liberating and one cannot help smiling at how our false perceptions keep us from moving forward.  The grass grows indeed the same everywhere. The barrier is always mind-made and there are no sides or separation. When our perception changes, in a blink of an eye the barrier disappears, the heart stirs and the eyes become moist.   Love is not abstract any more. “Love is a concrete thing, an actual substance you can use with confidence”, says Swami Sivananda in Bliss Divine.  Love changes the vision of our eyes, the speed at which our blood runs through our veins, the make-up of our chemistry and our molecular structure. To keep a body “in love” is to keep it healthy, in accord with nature and alive.  Yes, Swami Sivananda, love is life, love is warmth, love is constructive and creative. “To live is to love. To love is to live”. This is the big secret that lays beyond the gateless barrier and that Swami Sivananda cried out in the ten directions. So, let us follow his advice and use that elixir to the point of becoming addicted to it. And if we ever run out of it, check your tendency to picking and choosing because that surely will make heaven and earth fall apart.

 

 

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