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Yoga, Buddhism and Social Action (Part I)

Over the years, I’ve found it increasingly frustrating that Yoga is continually reduced to “a body practice” and Buddhism “a mind practice.” This makes no sense at all. Anyone who has practiced deeply in both traditions knows that the Buddha gave attention to the body, Patanjali the mind, and both traditions value ethical precepts and commitments as the foundation of an appropriate livelihood. I organize a community in Toronto called Centre of Gravity Sangha, a thriving group of people interested in integrating Yoga and Buddhist Practices.

In the Buddha’s teachings, the body is used as the primary object of meditation, so that one can study the universe not through books or theory but through one’s subjective experience. Likewise the Yoga postures, when practiced with breathing and sensitivity, become opportunities for deep meditative insight because they are designed to calm the nervous system. This grounds us. When we move within the various shapes of the yoga poses and tune into the internal energetic patterns of our breath, we are working the habits of mind as well. Though the Yoga postures we practice in modern Yoga studios have obvious therapeutic benefits at physiological levels, some teachers and schools seem to have forgotten how the postures also teach us how to work with the mind. And for most of us, our troubles are not simply in the body – primarily, trouble is in the mind. How can we use the body to study the mind and work with the mind through the body? By experiencing how the two are completely interrelated.

There is a fundamental affinity between mind practices and body practices. Think of them both as curves in a grand mandala that continually spirals in, on, and through itself with no beginning or end. When I work deeply with my mind, I only do so by giving attention to the body: I witness its processes, from breathing to listening or seeing. The same is true when I study the intricate holding patterns in the web of my body (called koshas in Sanskrit), I end up seeing where my mind sticks, where it can’t focus, where it gets caught in refrains of old tape loops. What I thought was “body” is mostly mental.  The Buddha says “Leave the body in the body.” When the Buddha teaches mindfulness practices, he begins with the bare awareness of body.

 “The old Indian practice of Yoga,” writes scholar Karen Armstrong, “meant that people became dissatisfied with a religion that concentrated on externals. Sacrifice and liturgy were not enough: they wanted to discover the inner meaning of these rites.” Turning inward means taking responsibility for the spiritual path by focusing on the microcosm of reality that exists in the body’s functioning in this and every moment. Although yogic practices can supposedly be traced back some five thousand years, and although yogins described their paths and discoveries in very different terms depending on their respective cultural vocabulary, they all share the same common focus: the body is the primary object of meditative inquiry.

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I recommend the book

this is taken from the intro to Stone's book "Freeing the Body/Freeing the Mind: Writings on the Connection Between Yoga and Buddhism," which I'm savoring. (or he wrote it for something else and incorporated in the intro. whatever.)

I strongly recommend the book. I've only read the chapters written by teachers I've been fortunate enough to study with, but I'm eager to also read the others.

I went to yoga to be in my body. when I was younger I found that in dance class, but in life it's easier to not reside there. during a difficult time, I found yoga was the only place where I could escape my endlessly running thought and the stories they told, so I began to treasure that along with the lessons on accepting what the body could do that day, not comparing, sticking with discomfort.

eventually that brough me to Yoga Body/Buddha Mind, where David Nichtern taught the sitting part and Cyndi Lee the movement part, and now I have a daily yoga and meditation practice that meets my physicial needs and makes my life immeasurably better. Read the chapter by Sarah Powers, to whom I owe my daily yin practice.

Re: Yoga, Buddhism and Social Action (Part I)

From The Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism, by Thich Nhat Hanh:

4. Do not avoid suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, visits, images and sounds. By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.

5. Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. Do not take as the aim of your life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure. Live simply and share time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.

10. Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit, or transform your community into a political party. A religious community, however, should take clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.

12. Do not kill. Do no let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war.

13. Possess nothing that should belong to others. Respect the property of others, but prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

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