Category Archives: Life Tips
Welcome to my personal blog (as opposed to my professional blog.)
This blog will consist of writing and video work that I am doing around the idea of connecting Yoga and Vedic philosophy to everyday life in the western world. So you will see a variety of essays, media reviews, social commentary, video blogs and even some questions & answers (if you have any!). The goal is to offer you tools and encouragement for becoming a Modern Yogi and sharing the Modern Yogi lifestyle with others. You may ask what it is a Modern Yogi? Well..
A Modern Yogi is someone who:
– believes in the power of virtue (Dharma) to shift consciousness.
– thinks the happiness you seek will be found in the happiness you create for others.
– feels acts of kindness and courage triumph over self-preservation.
– knows that what we do is more important than what we think.
– is not into short cuts, but is definitely into efficiency.
– is not the body, not the mind, and not any of the roles we play.
– is a Spirit-Soul who knows everything here is play and the art of service.
Another exciting aspect of the blog is “Ask the Yogi”. These will be my answers to your questions. Some will be posted as written blogs and some as video, while some will be answered in the Akashic field (just kidding). Seriously though, I can’t guarantee I will get to every question, but I will do my best.
You can submit questions by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can use the submission form.
While I do not make any promise to be regular, I will add things from time to time. So, please use the subscribe function. That way you won’t miss a thing:-D
Really hope you like the new site and I am looking forward to your feedback
[UPDATE: This was the last post I put up on the Modern Yogi site. Since then it has been shuttered and the domain name put up for sale. It was the end of an experiment to create a social community. I will continue to blog intermittently and will be using Atma Blog as my personal home page.]
“Don’t believe the hype, it’s a sequel.
As an equal, can I get this through to you?”
~Public enemy- 1988
You all mean a great deal to me. And even though this is a kind of good-bye I am excited to share that I am moving on. I will be stepping away from Modern Yogi.com and switching gears. Starting in January I will be working full-time for The Atman Group. A business management firm founded by me and dedicated to using a blend of Eastern and Western sciences to create higher-functioning more conscious organizations.
As the year and the clock winds down on the Modern Yogi project the question becomes what is the most important message to leave all of you with? After deep thought I have chosen this…
We are not all one.
That is the most important idea for your consideration. This simple and powerful idea has what you need to continue to change your life and to create deeper healthier relationship with everyone and everything you hold dear.
‘We are not all one’ is not a rejection of our connectivity. It is, rather, a joyful embrace of our mysterious nature. In many ways the essence of the Modern Yogi message is that paradoxical notion of oneness and difference.
It is a paradox because the mind cannot conceive it. How can we be one and separate at the same time? Yet it is the fact that we cannot conceive it that makes it so wonderful. Like a Zen koan the notion takes us outside of ourselves. Meditating on the possibility of simultaneous oneness and difference we are placed on the precipice of mystical unknowing. This is the unbearable beginning of bliss.
Extending this notion logically, we are also not God. Once again the rejection of dogma carries the seed of rapture. To meditate on the possibility-as inconceivable as it is for the mind-that we are simultaneously one with and different from God, is to bring us to the edge of egoic destruction. But what a wonderful place to be!
Here is the beginning of humility. Humility is the guarantor of contentment, spiritual growth, and happy healthy relations. Humility, the all important precursor to greatness, is torn asunder by thoughts of being all one. For where is the ability to bow and to serve, or even the need, if we are all one?
When you step away from the enchanting but deadly allure of certainty that comes from dogmatic assertions like ‘we are all one’, or ‘I am God’, you enter the realm of true magic and mystery. When you live in mystery you are dancing with paradox. And paradox is another name for God’s breath.
Make a decision to relish in the inconceivable, to bathe in mystery, and turn away from the soul dampening notion of ‘we’re all one’, ‘it is all mind’ and so on. Let these dogmatic notions fall away and be remembered for what they are, cheap and tawdry novelties from a new age carnival in its last days.
The goal of yoga, bhakti, and any renaissance of spirit is to celebrate. But to get the full measure of celebration we must do it as the many, swept-up in the One. The One spirit of love and eternality that runs through all of us, that connects us and yet remains beautifully separate from us. It is these wondrous distinctions that give us something to celebrate. The spiritually erotic and mind bending tension of being simultaneously one and different is the field where we all meet to dance, sing, and love. So let us meet there in this coming year. Let’s celebrate together, again and again, rejoicing in the fact that we are both one with and different from God and each other. That is the yogic concept of unity in diversity.
Your servant with love,
[Last of three essays on the theme of Goddess Yoga]
Our sense of who we are in the world,
how we relate to the world,
and the way we reflect on the world’s cornucopia of desirable objects,
colors the original clarity of the soul’s desires with the mixed colors of material energy.
This creates material desires.
These desires lead to lust and longing
Longing leads inevitably to frustration and the sad/angry emotions
Angry emotions lead to poor judgment
Poor judgment requires forgetting spiritual lessons, losing sight of spiritual leanings and longings
Thus concludes the atrophying of our free will and the capitulation to matter over spirit
This extinguishes our bliss…
In the Goddess Yoga world view
Innocent victims of the matrix, that is to say our mother Maya
No way to un-attach completely
In order to inhibit Maya’s manipulation
We must choose to feel without ego (identification)
Feeling is hard
It’s the seemingly scary side of paradox and mystery
One goal is to stop running away from emotions. Another goal is to stop being run by emotions.
The more interesting option is to use your ability to feel emotions
Women (generally) are in a better position to feel (than men)
But women (generally) identify more strongly with their bodies
To dis-identify with the body is NOT to stop feeling
Instead feel more as an observer rather than victim
Observation takes practice
Start with looking for (i.e. aggressively self searching) emotional attachments/expectations (aka threats
to your identity or sense of self)
From these make note of the emotions that arise (the fruits are varied but the tree is anger)
Go through this laundry list of emotion in sadhana – using just the word to trigger the emotional experience and practice choosing to feel it in your body.
Practice WITHOUT images or narrative – just physical sensation
Becoming fearless in your ability to be a true and full observer of human experiences
Know that you are simply a tourist in a time joy forgot
these material emotions are just postcards for your one true love
the origin and realm of souls
Soon it will be time to go home
Before then, help as many as you can and remember to practice engaged detachment
[Second of three essays on the theme of Goddess Yoga]
Of the many obstacles in the journey of self-realization one of the most challenging is confusing the body you are riding around in as you. This challenge is often magnified for those travelling in a female body. This is partly due to the cultural pressures and biological influence that accompany identifying with the female body. These influences begin at an early age in at least three ways: 1) undue emphasis on bodily image; 2) fixation on the missing body of the future mate; 3) identification with the body that will (or could) come out of your own body.
So how do you do you? Without being you? [the body]
The solution is to come to feel the body around you as an instrument for divine intentions. Feeling like the temporary proprietor of an instrument for divine use empowers you at the soul level and brings with it a host of potential revelations. The more times throughout the day you can experience the phenomenon of sitting in a divinely inspired carrier, the more you will weaken the dark bonds of false ego that confuse you with your body.
This is the practice I talk about in the Boot Camp for the Soul, call engaged detachment. Also known as being in the world but not of the world.
In the Bhagavad Gita we find the Sanskrit instruction (ch. 5, text 11)
kayena manasa buddhya
kevalair indriyair api
yoginah karma kurvanti
sangam tyaktva atma-suddhaye
Here Krishna is instructing Arjuna:
With the body, the mind, the intelligence,
Free of materialistic intention, including even the senses
The yogis perform any and all actions
While giving up their association/identification [with the body/mind] to clarify and free the soul
Take time today to notice what it feels like to see, to taste, to smell, to touch and to hear. Deepening with each moment of ‘other-than-body-awareness’ the felt sense of being separate from your body and senses.
This is a wonderful step in unwinding the influence of the senses that in the past have imprisoned you but in the future will set you free.
The modern yogi understands that change begins with ambition… But material ambition is a slow lurching fall into the barbed-wire-heart-tearing-clutches of the false ego. Only spiritual ambition differentiates the hero from the prisoner.
The trick to setting powerful spiritual goals is three-fold: size, secrecy, and spirit-based.
Here’s how it works:
Size – this means the goal should be big enough and compelling enough that the thought of it makes you shudder (with giddy-delight.) You should wake up in the morning thinking of your spiritual goal and feel excited about making progress towards it. In other words craft a goal that is VERY enticing.
Secrecy – your spiritual goal should be your secret from the world. Things kept secret grow more powerful. Keeping it secret also makes it easier to come up with a ridiculously huge goal (after all it has to charge you up every time you wake up).
Spirit-based – this means the goal has no basis in material advancement or sense gratification. So, for example, getting more money is a material goal, helping others make money is a material goal, helping others feel better about themselves and become less selfish is a spiritual goal. One way to gauge if a goal is spiritual is by asking, “could I carry out this goal even if destiny took away everything I had, leaving me destitute?” Spiritual goals are about things like, realizing God, inspiring others, creating compassion, harvesting harmony…. Be creative. If you have questions about whether a goal is materialist feel free to write me. (Just express the nature of the goal without giving away its grandeur.)
So is there a place for material goals? I would not make anything materialistic a goal. Rather I would think of material needs as earthly duties. Food, shelter, healthcare, retirement… these are our responsibilities. The modern yogi cannot evade his or her responsibilities. Nonetheless these duties should be organized under the principle of, “what is the least I can do for myself so that I can do the most for others”. This stops us from thinking about material goals and more along the lines of fulfilling our duties.
In 2010 let your ambition soar above and beyond the realm of angels. Walk around with a smile in your heart where you are guarding the spiritual secret of your ambition. Others will look at you and know something is different, and exciting about you, but not be able to put their finger on it.
Happy New Year!
Earlier this week while catching up on current events courtesy of the internet I read this: New York Times, October 3: Mr. Obama, in his Saturday radio and Internet address, noted that the job loss rate was continuing to decline, reflecting what economists have said was evidence that the recession is slowly ending. But that’s not really the case is it?
We are also being mislead by politico’s, pundits, and spin doctor’s tying to convince us to manically cling to the evaporating hallucination that every will be alright if we just get back to our old shopping standard. Our preceding era of relentless consumerism is now giving way to the sober reality that a credit-driven economy has to come crashing down sooner than later. As obvious as this might seem, many people are caught in the anthem of all dogma, “we believe what we want to believe.” Historically this is a launch pad for fascism, totalitarianism, and the inevitable dismissal of human rights. Unfortunately, public policy, control of the media, and economic development at a national or global level, are all things that seem to be well beyond our control. And, to some extent, this is true. So what is a modern yogi to do? A great deal actually. The consciousness we bring to the ups and downs of everyday life is has a real impact on others. The principle of the tipping point applies to social consciousness. We need just enough Modern Yogis and a small percentage of us could change the world.
There is an excellent verse in the Bhagavad Gita, which explains the concept of Karma Yoga and gives a prescriptive for good times and bad.
kurvann api na lipyate” (5.7)
Word for word definitions:
yoga-yuktaha—the art of using everything for connecting with spirit;
vishuddha-atma—a being (soul) free of all hallucination or delusion;
vijita-atma—the self is liberated;
jita-indriyaha—having freed sense perception from the influence of selfishness;
sarva—bhuta—to all living entities;
atma-bhuta-atma—compassionate (a soul who is always concerned with
the wellbeing and prosperity of other souls);
kurvan api—although acting and serving in the material world;
lipyate—tainted, defiled, adversely affected.
The yogi is connecting everything in their life to spirit and using everything in pursuit of spiritual union. The yogi’s obstinate pursuit of clear thinking has freed them from a materialistic perception. Such a person is dear to everyone, and everyone is dear to him. This modern yogi remains in the world working, serving others, but is never entangled or caught up in the spectacle.
The idea is, ‘to be in the world, but not of the world’. The question is, what does this actually look like ? How do we apply this in everyday life? The key to understanding the rich concepts captured by this verse is in the compound expression of the first two words, yoga – yukto.
Beyond the literal meaning of these two words (unify and engage) is a concept very important to understanding yoga philosophy – dialectics. In a literal sense the word dialectic can be understood as, “the space between the words”. It is the idea of paradox and juxtaposition, that one plus one can be greater than two. It is the path way to the realm of the mysterious and the inconceivable. It is the lesson the sage longs to impart to the disciple through koan and parable. Before the Mahabharata war Krishna advises Arjun to kill everyone, but know that nobody dies.
Another example of a dialectic is the seeming contradiction in yoga philosophy between dualism and monism (are we souls separate from God or are we God?) Yoga resolves this in a solution that is difficult if not impossible to conceptualize, ‘simultaneous oneness and difference’. We are all part of the whole, yet the whole remains whole without us. Ouch. That can hurt the old noggin. It can also free it. For spiritual paradox is the mysterious door through which we the sincere seeker must travel.
So the words from the verse above yoga and yukta form a dialectic about being in the world but not of the world. The resolution to the seeming contradiction, between being apart from daily life while being engaged in daily life, is in seeing daily life not as a trap but as an opportunity. Daily life is an opportunity to play a part in a divine scheme. To tap into that and experience the divinity inherent in daily life one simply has to take on divine attributes. Sounds like a reasonable idea. But, here is the kicker. Divine traits are almost always paradoxical. The modern yogi’s job is to upgrade their consciousness by choosing to live in paradox.
So how do you live in paradox ? By practicing self-preservation AND charity, confidence AND humility, bravery AND kindness, ambition AND detachment, and by knowing AND embracing mystery. Living in paradox is the opposite of living in dogma.
Living in paradox means throwing your arms open and running forward into life welcoming and experiencing fearlessly everything it brings your way all the while feeling like a kid running through soap bubbles. Spread the joy.
photo license: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos
Happiness is the birthright of every spirit-soul, at least according to the Sanskrit saying, Ananda-mayo bhyasat. That is good news we can all use. After all, many of us have experienced moments of happiness; yet an enduring, persistent kind of happiness has been largely elusive.
So where is this birthright of bliss of which the Vedas speak? An important clue lies hidden in a word we hear on almost a daily basis, “Yoga.” Not the yoga of stretchy-pretzel-limbed fame; but rather Yoga as the timeless knowledge of the Self. The word is a cryptic passage to a realm beyond the impermanence of material life. Yoga invites us to experience that which lies outside the boundaries of body and mind. Yoga is not a belief, or a fact. It is an impulse, a drive, a longing to connect with something real. Yoga is the exquisite pursuit of a life more real than the transient glamour and fleeting joys that punctuate the otherwise drab and anxious tone of material life.
The modern yogi’s journey of self-discovery begins when the appeal of material objects and objectives begins to pale. This can begin as disillusionment with our preconceived notions of life, or the creeping realization that even if we got everything on our wish list, we wouldn’t necessarily be happy. This idea emerges in most of the wisdom traditions. As our spirituality matures, it begins to emerge in our consciousness.
It can be a bittersweet realization that true happiness or what I prefer to call anxiety-free happiness (ananda in Sanskrit) is not to be found in material artifacts or accomplishments. It can be hard to let go of the deep-seeded belief that the right partner, the right bank account, the right environment will make us whole (even if we know intellectually that is not the case.) As André Gide once said, “One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” So, it is normal to have pangs of remorse as we slowly turn our backs on the sea of material longings that beckon and promise to fulfill us. In many ways it is a revolutionary thing to turn away from hopes we have harbored our whole lives.
Yoga, as I am describing it for the modern person, is the spirit of this revolution. This is a revolution against anxiety, dread, and fear. This is a revolution in pursuit of absolute truth, absolute happiness, and absolute freedoms. Yoga is a next-generation paradigm that portends the end of relative happiness. Yoga psychology champions a happiness that is not dependent on external factors. This type of happiness is a completely internal state that arises or disappears in spite of external factors and not because of them. A happiness based in the bliss-from-beyond is the result of turning toward the ephemeral and its loss is the result of turning away. When the modern yogi understands this it slowly becomes easier and easier to participate fully in life; while at the same time maintain an internal distance from it.
Consequently, the modern yogi becomes a citizen of two worlds – on the inside you identify with the journey of discovery, with the mystery of God, with your dharma which is described in certain Vedic texts as das-anu-das-anu-das… meaning, the servant of the servant of the servant of Spirit. On the outside you play the roles you are presented with, and you play them with feeling, and with commitment, but you don’t accept them as who you are because you are increasingly aware that you are the servant of the servant of Spirit. The modern yogi is one with and yet separate from the world at the same time.
This oneness and simultaneous difference is the beauty, the mystery and the philosophical underpinning of Yoga: the more you become free from the influence of matter, ego, dualism (distinguishing between pain and pleasure); the more you see the inherent spirit in all, the easier it will become to participate in the rituals and roles of daily life. The need for personal gratification will no longer be the driving force in your life, because you will have rediscovered your bliss. Instead you will participate in life for the sake of serving others. And even more you will want to help those around you rediscover their bliss. The modern yogi is filled with longing to help fellow yogis restart or continue on their individual journey of self-discovery.
Of course this may sound like so much lovely philosophy. What if we are not yet firmly on the path of the modern yogi? What if we feel a longing in our hearts for other things, alongside our desire to serve others? What if we want a loving wife, a compassionate husband, a house of our own, a good future for our kids? The beauty of the modern yogi path is that whether you are changing diapers, holding hands at sunset, paying bills online, or going it alone, living like a monk, it doesn’t matter. The modern yogi simply stands (or sits) in the place that they are, and uses that moment to connect to spirit. The modern yogi does this by paying attention; paying attention to breath, to sensation, to sound, and above all to the burgeoning sense that she or he is an observer.
As your capacity for paying attention expands it is likely you will experience more spiritual or ephemeral emotions: lightness, giddiness, buoyancy, etc… All this opens you up to a grander scheme. The trick is to avoid the pitfall of assuming too quickly that someone or something is orchestrating these experiences which you are beginning to observe. The caveat is on the “assuming too quickly.” For jumping too quickly to metaphysical conclusions runs the risk of becoming mired in sentimentality. It is worth it in the spiritual process to pace yourself, question everything, and don’t accept every experience as necessarily spiritual. It is of little value to become religiously sentimental. Sentimentality, like any superficial redressing, is the touchy-feely remapping of the false ego.
It is also easy, but equally disadvantageous, to try to just feel better by believing in you, or some newly conceived version of you. Many of the new age and recent self help movements simply push out the boundaries of self-esteem, resulting in an expansion of the false ego (the source of our misery and material misidentification.) The more authentic process is to have respect for the body and mind that surround you, while you work on discovering your true Self and whether or not someone is orchestrating all this.
The fact is something, or someone, probably is orchestrating the experience we call life on Earth. And Yoga is about exploring the mystery, the beauty, and the romance of making a connection with whomever it is that lies beyond the resoundingly transient realm of our senses. The modern yogi path is about doing that without dogma and ill-conceived ritual. Leaving behind the man-made means of escapism; the yogi instead looks for an internal way to touch the wings of hope, to trace out the path of spirit. The modern yogi may regulate and follow certain rules, but not for rule’s sake. Rather the rising spirit-star relies on mantra and practice. Mantras provide the fuel and the landscape. Yoga practice is the repetition of new spirit-affirming skills, replacing old, ego-entrenching acts.
All this requires a very new and real bravery; a courage born of compassion and kindness. Without this fearless determination to discover what lies on the unseen shore of one’s consciousness, the journey of self-discovery stalls in the ports of self-pity and complacency.
Perhaps the most difficult part of initiating this journey is being willing to surrender hope of finding fulfillment for our many material desires; desires that surround us and pervade every aspect of our experience. Desires overwhelm us because they spring from the soul. The soul’s desires are for spiritual romance and adventure. Fortunately the desires of the soul can be fulfilled. Unfortunately, while we are trapped in this material body, our desires turn from spiritual objectives to material objectives; and we find ourselves chasing mirage-like fantasies that never fully materialize (and if they do we live in anxiety knowing they won’t last). It won’t be easy to overcome the influence of the body, mind, and the material universe; but you can be confident that it is possible, and it is possible in this life time.
This world is real because it feels real. And it will go on feeling real for most of us for a very long time. But if we can wake up in the morning and make a decision: that no matter how real it feels, whatever happiness or distress we experience, we will perceive it with equal amusement and observation. We will observe ourselves the way a parent watches a child at the beach, sharing the triumph of the sand castle and the dismay of its erosion by the tide, but all the while knowing it is just a play date with the sea.
The old-school-mystic yoga path requires, among other things, total renunciation (vairagya in Sanskrit.) The modern yogi is encouraged to renounce by using everything in service of the Divine. This dovetailing or engaging everything you have (time, talent, money, etc…) is called yukta in Sanskrit. So the modern yogi’s rallying cry is yukta vairagya: use everything in service of spirit.
If, powerful material desires exist in the heart, they can be used to fuel the spiritual journey. The great danger for the modern yogi, is getting lost in personal sense gratification. The solution is to simplify one’s lifestyle to the furthest extent possible.
The fully surrendered yogi gives up everything in pursuit of his spiritual mission. That might be a bit extreme for most people. Four-hundred-and-fifty years ago, the Bhakti yoga scholar Jiva Goswami gave the formula for the ideal modern yogi: 50/25/25. The idea was, “Simplify your life so that you can use fifty percent of your income for charity and good works; live on twenty-five percent, and the rest should be invested for retirement and future care of family.” While this would be a challenge for most, it is not unheard of here in America. In December 2007, People Magazine highlighted a number of people living the fifty percent rule.
Here is a list of ideas for practicing yukta vairagya – modern detachment:
1. Keep a journal for one month of what you spend and what resources you use
2. Have a family meeting and brainstorm on how much less you can live on
3. Make a dream list of what charities or spiritual programs you would support if you freed up 50% of your income
4. Plan a volunteer vacation
5. Choose a number (1-30) for the day each month you will do a major life style simplification overhaul
6. Push the boundaries of sustainability: each quarter set a new and higher green standard for yourself and/or your business
7. Make a 10 year plan to grow your income and shrink your living standard
8. Have family and community contests to discover new ways to simplify and reduce
9. Create a web page or blog journaling your down-sizing
10. Create a facebook/myspace community to promote simple living-evolved thinking
11. When you make or receive food mentally offer it to the divine with the love of a lost lover, as if they were finally joining you for dinner.
12. Whatever new purchases you make, bring them home and offer them to the divine as you understand him/her
13. Create a sacred space or alter in your home, bring in flowers and incense daily
14. Play mantras, kirtan, gospel, or any spiritual music throughout your home (even when you are not there)
15. Find spiritual sounds you can play quietly while you sleep
16. Start a book club, reading classic literature but exploring the spiritual meaning
17. Create a community meeting online or live to discuss the Sanskrit texts (Bhagavad Gita, etc)
18. Encourage your employer to bring in a onsite yoga and wellness program
19. Read from a spiritually inspirational book at least once a day
20. Associate with people who have advanced spiritual knowledge
21. Smile, chant & serve
Any failure to live in abundance is a result of mental conditioning. Unfortunately, thinking or wishing will rarely remove these mental roadblocks. Dislodging the conditioning that has created our current sense of scarcity demands a new behavior. Actually, if abundance is to be attained, a new lifestyle is required: The secret lifestyle of the modern yogi.
The secret of the modern yogi’s lifestyle is in having a conscious approach to finance. The essence of this approach is to make as much money as you can; live on as little as you can, and use the rest to serve spirit and humanity. The consequence of this leaves one feeling deeply satisfied.
It sounds simple, and it is. So what is keeping people from setting out on a lifestyle of simple living and evolved thinking? The problem, whether we like to admit it or not, is that we are deeply invested in the fantasy of financial freedom. We place a great deal of stock in the idea that somewhere, somehow, enough money is going to set us free. We have dumped our assets into consumption, catching up, and keeping up. We are deeply dug in, with debt-based lifestyles. Unwinding these long-standing cultural and emotional investments won’t be easy. Fortunately, help is available in the age-old teachings of Yoga.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is an ancient language, and the wellspring of yoga philosophy. Sanskrit words, and the sounds they are made of, are far richer and more magical than the words in our modern languages. Each Sanskrit sound is a both a story and an adventure. Each Sanskrit sound is a mantra. A mantra is a sound vibration powerful enough to push back the boundaries of the mind. (In Sanskrit mantra literally means, that which can liberate the mind.) Sanskrit mantras are doorways to another universe: the universe of self-discovery.
Yoga’s process of self-discovery can show us a way out of the conundrum of wanting more for humanity without wanting less for ourselves. To understand how yoga psychology can accomplish this feat, and bring us to a state of abundance, we must understand six Sanskrit words or mantras. They are: karma, dharma, kama, kripa, yajna, and yoga. Taken together these six mantras form the basis of the modern yogi’s lifestyle.
Karma is physics. It is the consequence of past actions. Karma is responsible for your genetics, your culture, and your lot in life. Genetics is the kind of body you have (tall, short, athletic, hobbled, etc.) Culture is the circumstances of your birth and/or upbringing (race, class etc,) and your lot is what you have coming in life (money, difficulties, good times, etc…) This can be a bit of a difficult pill to for some to swallow. It makes some feel as though they are hopelessly trapped by destiny. This, however, is not the case. There is plenty of hope.
Karma is inextricably intertwined with past lives. When we view life through the lens of past lives, life makes more sense. It is easier to understand why good things happen to bad people and vice-versa. The karma described in yoga philosophy is somewhat different than the popular notion of instant karma. According to the yogic theory of karma the results of your activities in this life have more to do with what you did in previous births. This can be very confusing to contemplate and might even suggest a course of inaction, “why put out the effort if outcomes are predetermined?” This is not recommended, because failure to play the game to your fullest dooms you to another round with increased difficulties. Karma is the hard-wired consequences of your actions, going back farther than you can ever remember. It is not a reason to give up or feel defeat.
The most discomforting aspect of karma is that, although you know what your genetics and culture are, you can never know what lot awaits you. Even Vedic sciences like astrology, Brighu readings, or face reading, give only cursory and vague indications of what lies ahead. So, what do you do if you have no way of knowing if prosperity or tragedy awaits you? You do what any spiritual warrior would do. You assume the best, and prepare for the worst.
If karma is what you are stuck with, dharma is what you do with your karma. Dharma is an exciting and multifaceted story. It has to do with what is right. In that sense dharma means virtue. Dharma also holds the key to discovering who you really are. Dharma is your essence, your true nature. Dharma is inherently reciprocal. When you protect dharma, dharma protects you. Dharma is the opportunity to redefine who you are by choosing to be defined by your actions (dharma) rather than your assets (karma.) So, if life hands you obstacles, or even a tragedy, you either go dharmic on it, and turn the fire of adversity into fuel for growth or you capitulate and let the fire burn down all hope.
The essence of dharma is the drive to connect with spirit. This same impulse is part of the creative impulse. This is why art, music, science, and literature, is, at its best, about gaining access to the indescribable, the mysterious, and the exquisite-absolute truth. The negation of dharma is the laborious effort to try and control the unconquerable realm of matter. Because matter is transient it offers only the illusion of stability and can never be fully controlled. Consequently, no amount of material success will ever bring a sense of abundance. Dharma is the courage-instilling-adventure of stepping into the unknown and discovering who we really are, and what we are capable of.
In your heart is a city overpopulated with longings, lust, and desires of every possible size and shape. If this city had a name it would be Kama. Kama includes every material desire you have, or will ever have. Kama also represents one of the greatest opportunities for spiritual growth that awaits you: the chance to harness a force greater than all the material obstacles put together. Kama is the secret weapon of all great yogis and spiritual warriors. Because they know that kama does not originate in the realm of matter. Kama is originally a part of spirit, intrinsic to the soul. Only as a consequence of our having forgotten our spiritual nature did kama become colored by material desires. The secret to redirecting the power of kama is to replace our material goals with spiritual goals. You do this by analyzing your material wishes and figuring out a way to make them spiritual. [See box inset for examples]
Basically the modern yogi only has three options for dealing with the endless desires of the heart: 1) ignore or repress them and eventually suffer the consequences, 2) submit to them and attempt to fulfill them and eventually suffer the consequences, or 3) engage them in the pursuit of spirit and make them work for you.
If the mysterious, the exquisite, or the absolute have an emblem, it is the inconceivable quality of kripa, or mercy. Kripa means grace. It is the only force capable of making an end run on karma. Outrageous quantities of it are all around us, yet it cannot be mined or extracted at will. Those who attain it know its intrinsic properties: uncontrollable and undeserved. Though we can never command it, we can dispense it freely. It is the one thing you can never purchase, yet you have an unlimited supply to give away.
For those who are interested in obtaining it, yoga philosophy does offer one clue; it is all about who you know. Similar to knowing the doorman at a club and getting an undeserved break, resulting in quicker entry, association with spiritually advanced persons results in being moved to the head of the line. Consequently, the modern yogi is always anxious to serve the saintly.
Yajna (pronounced yug-yuh)
Yajna is Sanskrit for sacrifice. In the ancient practice of mystic yoga, sacrifice involved elaborate rituals or extreme acts of self-denial. For the modern yogi sacrifice is about engaging everything you have in service of spirit and humanity. In other words, “What is the least you can need, so you can do the most for others?”
Some people are apprehensive about the word sacrifice. Interestingly, the word sacrifice is synonymous with the word yoga. In this context of modern yoga, sacrifice does not mean performing painful austerities. It means making everything sacred. This is the origin of the word (Latin=sacrificium; from sacer or holy + fic, from facere to make.)
Making life sacred is based on the practice of engagement (versus renunciation.) Yogic engagement means you give more than you use. The modern yogi should be able to support spiritual programs, give in charity, and provide for the welfare of those who work exclusively for the benefit of humanity.
All of this takes money. From this perspective the modern yogi is expected to make money, but not for personal indulgence. The guiding principle is, “What is the minimum needed to serve the server?”
The word Yoga is a powerful mantra. It is a universe of stories, histories and adventures. Yoga opens the door to a waking world where each day brings new awareness and experience.
Literally it means, “To yoke”. This yoking, or connecting, refers to restoring the relationship between the self and its original source, the source of all abundance. Another Sanskrit synonym for yoga is atma-jnana: which means journey of self-discovery. Yoga has always been about self-discernment; i.e. knowing yourself. Through self-knowledge yogis discover what they can they can and cannot control. A yogi then derives power from knowing they have no control over life’s outcomes. Yoga is about living what you can control and not being controlled by what you cannot live.
Abundance exists in the now
It is interesting to note that abundance seems to elude the poor and rich alike. Too little money will almost always lead to unhappiness. Too much money also leads to unhappiness (although not the same unhappiness of being too poor.) After meeting one’s basic needs, increasing income tends to lead to increased consumption. This leads to what researchers call, the hedonic-treadmill-hypothesis, where nothing is ever quite enough. Fortunately, spiritual happiness depends neither on abject poverty, nor material success. It does, however, depend on being able to live in a state of abundance.
Abundance is not measured by what you have, but by what you can give away. Those who have little but give a lot are often happy. Those who have a lot, but give little, often are not. If you start today and figure out what is the least you can need, so you can do the most for others, then abundance manifests immediately. Why wait for something that exists in the now.