Tag Archives: gurus

The Evolution of Yoga: Why Yoga Continues to Expand and Grow Over the Years

yoga

by Bethany Cleg

Unless you really want to wear a loin cloth when practicing yoga, you probably have enjoyed the changes brought about by the evolution of yoga over the years. Today’s yoga practitioners have a wide variety of comfortable gym wear that wasn’t even possible 5,000 years ago, when yoga was first invented. It’s true that the practice of yoga began as a spiritual system of teaching to help students master the mind on their way to enlightenment, but that doesn’t mean that the core teachings in the physical asana won’t produce benefit in a chaotic and stressful modern world. Traditionalists may still want to visit India to get a first-hand view of older practices, but for most people in the Western world, the changes have helped this system to flourish and provide valuable guidance on health and fitness for millions, without the need for being stuck in the past. If you want to know what some of the changes are, here are just a few. Continue reading

On Guru Purnima, Respect and Discernment

Today is Guru Purnima.  Traditionally, it is a day when devotees pay homage to their gurus, and more broadly to all gurus, and to the very concept of the guru as one who leads spiritual aspirants from the darkness of ignorance to the light of awakened consciousness.  For many of us, it is also a time to reflect on the complex role of spiritual teachers in our lives.

Tibetans compare gurus to fire: stay too far away and you don’t get enough heat; get too close and you can get burned. On the one hand, we need spiritual guides as much as an aspiring athlete needs a coach or a teenager who wants a car needs a driving instructor. From gurus we can acquire knowledge, learn spiritual disciplines, connect to sacred traditions and receive the wisdom of the ancients.

Gurus provide guidance and pass along esoteric spiritual practices.  But, depending on the guru and the nature of your relationship to him or her, those gifts carry with them some risk: you may end up at the feet of a fraud or charlatan; you might choose a teacher who is not appropriate for this stage of your journey; you can become overly dependent; you might even be taken advantage of.

Historically, most people had little or no opportunity to select their own teachers. We, on the other hand, have an enormous variety to choose from. The price for that opportunity is personal vigilance. Every tradition asks for a certain amount of deference to its anointed guides. On one extreme, the student is expected only to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt, much as we defer to physicians or car mechanics because they know more than we do about certain things. At the other extreme, the teacher is to be revered as an intermediary between humans and the Divine, or even as an incarnation of God, in which case total submission might be expected.

Each of us has to decide how much we are willing to trust the gurus we bring into our lives: trust too little and you close yourself off to vital knowledge and experience; trust too much and you can end up misled, disillusioned, or exploited. The risks increase when you go beyond ordinary trust and relinquich your personal judgment and will.

Ultimately, each of us is his or her own master. Whether you are a devoted follower or a died-in-the-wool independent, you have to assume responsibility for your own spiritual development and become, as Buddha urged his disciples, a lamp unto yourself. Each of us has to decide what kind of teacher we want, what we expect from him or her, and what kind of student-teacher relationship best suits our spiritual needs at this time? Do you want an advisor? A mentor?  An expert consultant?  A role model?  Or do you want something more intense, like a master, or a beloved?

“Before taking someone as a teacher, be careful,” the Dalai Lama once said. “It is important…to use your critical faculty and subject that teacher to scrutiny.”  We need to hold spiritual teachers to high standards, but realistic ones.  A lot of people have gone astray by expecting their gurus to be perfect in every way, or by assuming that they are perfect in every way.

In the end, what we get from teachers depends on what we are wish to receive and are capable of receiving. Being a good student is a balancing act: we have to be open without being gullible, and discerning without being closed-minded.  And no matter how much we trust we always have to maintain responsibility for ourselves. “The outer teacher is merely a milestone,” said the modern sage Nisargadatta Maharaj. “It is only your inner teacher that will walk with you to the goal, for he is the goal.”  I never thought I’d see the name Ronald Reagan in same paragraph as Nisargadatta, but maybe what he said about the Soviet Union applies to gurus: Trust but verify.

 

Deepak Chopra: Sat Gurus

Question:

I have had a personal Guru for approximately 12 years…… due to some sexual allegations that have come to air I have decided move away from this relationship. ( as I know some people involved and sense that it is true).
MY Guru is certainly of high spiritual calibre.. and I had numerous energetic and psychic experiences that I know he facilitated…..all of which only ever served to affirm that he was a true sat guru……therefore I wholeheartedly honoured him as my external Guru.. and obeyed and heeded his guruvakyas. On some levels I can see that this process has forced me to investigate my level of discrimination, but on others I am still unclear.
I so so  deeply felt that he was my divine master. Now I am feeling a bit like I am in no man’s land…..Do you believe that one can tread this yogic path without the guidance of a sat guru?……I would appreciate any thoughts you have on this matter .

Answer:

Of those who have attained enlightenment, many have done so without the help of a personal guru, so yes, it is possible to tread the path of yoga without that kind of help. And it is fine to look at this as an opportunity to deepen your faculty of discernment. But this could also be your inner guidance telling you that whatever growth process you’ve been through with this way of relating to his teaching is complete and now it is time to move in a different direction spiritually.

Love,

Deepak

http://www.deepakchopra.com

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Deepak Chopra: Draining Guru

Question:

I joined a spiritual org in 2003. There was a strange incident that happened few times in past 4-5- months. I can literally feel that my energy is being drained by someone (I feel it’s done by the Guru) while i asleep. After such incidents when I wake up I feel exhausted, I don’t feel fresh. Energy level will be so low that I can’t even carry out my everyday chores. Would like to know what’s happening and should I discontinue doing all the practices taught by the Guru. I didn’t know where to look for answers, so turned to u. Are these Gurus trust worthy at all?

Answer:

It’s hard to determine exactly what’s going on simply from your account of not waking up fresh in the morning. That can be due to many things. People can feel like there energy is drained at night even without anyone doing that to them. I’m not discounting your feeling, I simply cannot give you a definitive answer. Since it has only happened a few times in the last 4-5 months, I’m not sure it would fit the description of someone who is being systematically used as a energy source by someone else. It seems too sporadic. But it’s not out of the question that you have opened yourself up at night to opportunistic forces while you sleep. If so, you can stop that by clearly stating and intending before you go to sleep for deep rejuvenation and rest for only your mind, body and spirit.

Love,

Deepak

 deepakchopra.com

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Guru’s Death Awakens World

Sunday afternoon I read the announcement of Sai Baba’s death. Of the many teachers from Jesus and Buddha to my parents, Sai Baba is among the most loving, profound and powerful I have ever encountered. Baba’s works describe him best. He established free schools from kindergarten to PhD level. He created state-of-the-art hospitals in Bangalore and at Puttaparthi where all healthcare is free. In the U.S. we have battled over the cost of healthcare, but the Sathya Sai Super Specialty Hospitals charge nothing including for highly specialized neurosurgery and cardiosurgery. Baba also built canals that bring drinking water to millions of people who once had to walk miles for it.

When I first heard of this holy man, something in me hoped against hope that he was for real. I traveled to India to see for myself and discover the truth behind the stories of his immense generosity and I wanted to verify that he practiced his teachings of seva or selfless service. Being a doubting Thomas, I had to see and experience first hand. After correspondence with Dr. Safaya, who directs the hospitals, a visit was arranged and along with two companions I explored the hospital at Bangalore. It was real. Sick and poor people from across India have been healed by the thousands here. Baba counts prime ministers and presidents, film stars and cricket stars among his devotees. On Wednesday he will receive a state funeral service with highest honors in India.

A few days ago I dreamed of an empty cremation ground. I saw a man dancing on smouldering ash, but I had the impression that no one had been cremated. He danced gleefully with his legs kicking up in the air. A woman also danced with the same ecstatic joy. The man jumped out of the smouldering ash and danced on an ancient tomb stone with the same glee. I titled this dream, "Dancing on Death."  The dream revealed that death has no power over Love, that Divine energy that makes the world move. It is moving that Baba decided to depart his body on Easter Sunday, a day of resurrection. He has reminded us over and over that the body is a dress to be changed like any other. It grows old and wears out. But we are not the body. The Spirit never dies.

This is a time of profound transformation as He becomes known on an even greater scale worldwide. News of his works spread over night from the Times of India which has often paid tribute to his work to ABC News and the Washington Post. Baba has often said, "My life is my message." Those who are interested can discover the profound ideals he shared that united Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and all faiths. His ashram, Prashanthi Nilayam, the Abode of Infinite Peace, brought together people of all faiths and nationalities. His death will do the same as the world mourns and millions who knew and visited him grieve his passing from the body. His presence remains infinitely accessible.

Bio: Debra Moffitt, author of Awake in the World: 108 Practices to Live a Divinely Inspired Life (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2011) is a long time student of the world’s oldest spiritual traditions. Her writings appear in print publications around the world and were broadcast by BBC World Services Radio. Read more at: http://www.debramoffitt.com and http://awakeintheworld.com

Is Yoga Hinduism? Yes and No and Maybe

Recently, a debate played out on the Washington Post’s On Faith blog between Aseem Shukla, a physician who heads the Hindu American Foundation, and Deepak Chopra. The argument, which was also reported on in Newsweek, began with Shukla’s essay, “The Theft of Yoga,” in which he lamented that the phenomenal popularity of yoga has been achieved at a cost, namely its disconnection from the tradition that gave it birth.
 
"Yoga originated in Hinduism,” he wrote. “It’s disingenuous to say otherwise. A little bit of credit wouldn’t be a bad thing, and it would help Hindu Americans feel proud of their heritage." Deepak countered on historical grounds, and on the grounds that modern yoga is one response to the need for a secularized spirituality that transcends religious forms.
 
It seems like an almost comical irony: yoga proponents, including many of Indian descent, disassociate yoga from Hinduism, while many Hindus wish to claim it. In fact, it is a tribute to the tremendous depth and complexity of India’s spiritual heritage that both sides can be considered correct. The same teachings can be understood in spiritual/religious terms and in secular/scientific terms. 
 
The problem is largely one of language. “Hinduism” is, by definition, a religious term. It was coined by British imperialists to describe the dominant spirituality of the “Hindus,” which is what the inhabitants of the Indus River region were called by earlier invaders. What we call Hinduism is actually so multifaceted as to make the sects of Christianity look uniform by comparison. It has also been the victim of centuries of misconceptions—e.g., that it is polytheistic—thanks to mendacious colonists, condescending missionaries and ordinary ignorance. Further complicating the matter, the everyday religion of India is as different from the teachings that caught on in America as everyday Judaism is from Kaballah or Sunday morning Christianity is from the mysticism of Meister Eckhart or John of the Cross. 
 
As a result, many people prefer not to use the term Hinduism, favoring instead Sanatana Dharma (the original term, commonly translated as Eternal Path), or phrases such as “Vedic tradition” or “Indian philosophy.” All of which means that you can argue for or against the premise that yoga stems from Hinduism, depending on how you define that term and interpret its history.
 
None of this is new.  About 200 years ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson, America’s greatest homegrown philosopher, read the first translations of Hindu texts to land in Boston Harbor. While he made explicit his debt to Vedic philosophy, he blended those ideas with other ingredients in his Transcendentalist stew, and the individual flavors are not always easy to identify. That kind of adaptation has been going on ever since.
 
The first guru to grace our shores was Swami Vivekananda, the star of the landmark Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893. In the face of attacks from Christian leaders, Vivekananda patiently explained and fiercely defended Hinduism. But, when he created an organization to carry on his teachings, he named it the Vedanta Society, not the Hinduism Society. It was an accurate term, since Vedanta was the component of the Vedic legacy that he emphasized, but it was also an expedient one, since it did not carry religious baggage that might cause people to think he was out to convert them. To this day, there are monks and nuns in Vivekananda’s lineage who refuse to call themselves Hindus, while others happily accept the label. 
 
A few decades later, Paramahansa Yogananda made similar choices. He named his organization the Self-Realization Fellowship, not the Hindu Fellowship, and the title of his enormously popular memoir was Autobiography of a Yogi, not Autobiography of a Hindu. Then came the perfect storm of the Sixties, when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (with the help of the Beatles) ushered Transcendental Meditation into the mainstream and convinced scientists to study the practice. His organization was an educational non-profit, not a religious one, and his rendering of Vedanta was called the Science of Creative Intelligence. 
 
Like those three seminal figures, virtually every guru and yoga master who came to the West made similar adaptations.  They expounded various components of what the world calls Hinduism, but in a universal context, and they were circumspect about using the word Hinduism. They offered a spiritual science – a science of consciousness if you will – and not a religion as such. Therefore, Americans were free to utilize the teachings on their own terms, whether religious or secular. Millions took them up on it. In the process American spirituality changed, and so did healthcare, psychology, philosophy, and even, to some extent, physics. 
 
I just devoted about 400 pages to analyzing this history for a book that will be published in November. Its title is American Veda, not some variation on Hinduism in America.  My publisher (Doubleday) and I made that decision because: 1) if Hinduism were in the title potential readers might think it is only about the religion practiced in Hindu temples, and 2) what influenced American culture was a combination of the philosophy of Vedanta and the mental and physical practices of yoga, not the everyday Hinduism that most people associate with exotic rituals and colorful iconography. 
 
From the perspective of Hindus who are proud of their great heritage, such choices are unfortunate. Advocates like Dr. Shukla are doing what they need to do to rehabilitate the image of their ancestral religion, and I for one hope they succeed. At the same time, we probably would not be having this conversation at all if the influential gurus had not made the choices they did. How many Americans would have taken up meditation or yoga if those practices had been offered to them as Hinduism?  Probably the about as many Indians who would have embraced the science of physics if it had been presented as Christian cosmology.
 
I look forward to the day when people like me can use the term Hinduism without fear of being misconstrued.  In the meantime, it is incumbent upon yoga proponents to give credit where it is due, not just because India deserves it after centuries of exploitation, but to keep the spiritual and philosophical foundation of yoga in the foreground. If those deeper elements are lost and yoga comes to be seen as just another fitness exercise, we will fail to take full advantage of its gifts. Most veteran yoga teachers recognize this, which puts them on the same page as the Hindu advocacy groups – except for that pesky issue of nomenclature. I would urge them all to not let arguments over terminology overshadow what really matters: the depth and authenticity of the teachings. Putting substance over form would be in keeping with the most fundamental premise of Hinduism and the Vedic tradition that predates that term by centuries: “Truth is one, the wise call it by many names.”  

Devotion to the Teacher

A passage from Leonard Jacobson’s latest book, Journey into Now.

Devotion to the Teacher

Journey into NowThere is a tendency to project the source of truth onto another. This often happens in our relationship with the teacher and it acts as a barrier to true awakening.

One Thursday evening, at one of my teaching sessions in Corte Madera, Laura raised her hand to speak. She is an earnest young woman who had recently attended one of my five-day residential retreats.

“I feel confused,” she said. “A part of me wants to give myself over to you completely. I can feel devotion arising within me. But another part of me feels afraid. I do not trust you and I want to run from you.”

“That is perfectly natural,” I replied. “When someone is very present with you, it is a beautiful experience. It is the most perfect gift we can share with each other. It is appropriate that you would feel love for me. But the danger is that you will project the source of that love onto me, and that you will lose yourself in your devotion.”

She confessed that she had done this with a guru she had been with several years ago.

“There are many people on this planet who happily encourage your projections and are supported by your devotion. They want you to give yourself over to them and it is not surprising that mistrust should arise as a byproduct of your devotion.”

I paused for a while to allow my words to be absorbed.

“A true teacher will not allow you to project the source of love onto him. He or she will be very skilled at reflecting the love back to you, until you recognize that the love you feel is arising within you, and that you are the source of the love. A true teacher will insist that you reclaim all your projections, both positive and negative. A true teacher will not allow you to lose yourself in devotion.”

I could see that she was relaxing.

“What are you feeling in this moment?” I asked.

“I am feeling very present,” she replied quietly. “And I am feeling very intense love for you.”

“That is beautiful,” I told her. “It is only natural that you would feel love for me if you are very present with me. Just as I feel love for you. Now turn from me and be present with these flowers.”

She turned and was very present with the flowers on the table next to me.

“What are you feeling now?” I asked her.

She looked quite radiant as she responded.

“I am feeling very intense love for the flowers.”

“Good,” I said. “And if you were to behold the distant mountain, you would feel love for that.   When you are present, you are love and everything that you are present with reflects that love to you.”

~Leonard Jacobson – Journey into Now
Journey into Now reveals in the simplest way how to still the mind and become fully present and awake in the truth of life.

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Why Have The Beatles Returned to Maharishi?

In accepting filmmaker David Lynch’s invitation to play at a benefit concert in New York City’s Radio City Music Hall to help fund the teaching of Transcendental Meditation (TM) to a million children, the two surviving mop-tops, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, reunited to reclaim their 1968 spiritual roots.

It was then that the most celebrated rock group in history traveled to India to meditate with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his Himalayan ashram in Rishikesh. "Say the word, and you’ll be free," John, Paul, George, and Ringo had sung a few years earlier, and eventually the word became a mantra, a Vedic sound given to them by Maharishi and their fellow meditators by TM teachers like myself.

When I first learned to meditate, Maharishi predicted that those who practiced his technique just twice a day for twenty minutes would become enlightened. He approximated that it would take somewhere between five and eight years. I began TM on April 18, 1971, but I didn’t start meditating regularly until January 1, 1972. After that, I almost never missed my twice-a-day meditation. And if I did, I usually managed to meditate at least once that day. I stopped using the technique sometime in 2000, nearly twenty years past the maximum eight-year prediction for enlightenment.

During one of his earliest public appearances, Maharishi described his view of enlightenment, which I came to share, and which millions of others who follow various spiritual teachers around the world still do. "Nothing from outside can stop a man from enjoying lasting peace and permanent joy in life," Maharishi said in 1955. When a meditator becomes enlightened, he explained, "all suffering will cease, all agony will go, and all peacelessness and misery of life will simply disappear."

Maharishi. who died last year at age 91, underestimated how long it would take, and what it would take, to bring people to enlightenment. This misjudgment might have partly been due to his utopian definition of an enlightenment that permanently frees us from all forms of suffering. But his teachings inspired me, his vision sustained me, his meditation expanded me, and I remain grateful. Maharishi wasn’t infallible, just human.

As one noted expert on Jewish mysticism explains, even for an enlightened saint, a tzaddik, not every judgment is flawless. "Situations arise in which perfection is not possible, in which the very structure of reality and the relations between a person, the world and God are such that no perfect solution exists," Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz wrote. "In such a situation, even a tzaddik can reach an erroneous decision." This teaching is echoed in Ecclesiastes: "There is not one good man on earth who does what is best and doesn’t err."

Instead of fixating on the attainment of an unattainable state of consciousness, where imagined gurus not only behave perfectly but see everything in the world as similarly perfect, spiritual realists experience both the serenity of impeccable inner silence alongside the emotional pain of this imperfect world.

"I do not trust the man who never weeps," said Swami Vivekananda, who in 1893 preceded Maharishi as one of the earliest Vedic masters to popularize Indian philosophy in the United States. This is a basic tenet of spiritual realism. Techniques like TM can take us to a place of inner spiritual peace, yet they will not stop us from crying over the suffering around us. Nor should they.

As Robert Kennedy reminded when quoting Aeschylus after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

He who does not weep over this world does not know this world. Yet letting go of our obsession with perfect happiness can liberate us. It can free us from the distraction of a constant search for an enlightenment that knows no pain.

Spiritual realism shows us that although the dream of a future blissful perfection is charming, the reality of the silent stillness of this very moment offers us a more modest joy, here and now.

The enlightenment that Maharishi promised may never rid us of our sufferings over the cruelties of man and the brutalities of nature. Yet meditation can still awaken us to an inner spiritual calm that we can readily access as we make our way through the emotional upheavals in this imperfect world of Korean nukes, al-Qaeda terror, and A.I.G. meltdowns. As Paul McCartney recently said, "In moments of madness, it has helped me find moments of serenity." Four decades after their Himalayan sojourn, the surviving Beatles’ public return to Maharishi was easy because his teachings had never left them.

Steve Posner is the author of "Israel Undercover: Secret Warfare and Hidden Diplomacy in the Middle East." His latest book is "Spiritual Delights and Delusions: How to Bridge the Gap between Spiritual Fulfillment and Emotional Realities." Visit his website at www.steveposner.com

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