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Yoga Beyond Fitness Blog


About Karin

Yoga teacher, practicing yoga since 1997, teaching since 2003, writer/translator, global soul, world traveller (and sometimes beyond), passionate about eastern philosophy and western psychology, especially its application in mind-body practices such as yoga and somatic movement therapy, deeply in love with life, knows that our greatest teacher lies within, also sometimes a total mess - it's part of the package!

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    Recent Entries

    The Flower Shower - A Zen Story

    Tuesday, July 6. 2010

    Subhuti was Buddha’s disciple. He was able to understand the potency of emptiness, the viewpoint that nothing exists except in its relationship of subjectivity and objectivity.

    One day Subhuti, in a mood of sublime emptiness, was sitting under a tree. Flowers began to fall about him.

    “We are praising you for your discourse on emptiness,” the Gods whispered to him.

    “But I have not spoken of emptiness,” said Subhuti.

    “You have not spoken of emptiness, we have not heard emptiness,” responded the Gods. “This is the true emptiness.”

    And blossoms showered upon Subhuti as rain.

    (Quoted from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki.)

    On the Way and at Home

    Tuesday, April 7. 2009

    Tao Lung (1203-1268) was a Chinese monk and Chan adept. In 1246, at the age of 33, he travelled to Japan to guide and teach Zen disciples for more than three decades. He is usually known by his Japanese posthumous name of Daikaku.

    The following saying, attributed to Daikaku, is an excerpt from Zen and the Ways by Trevor Leggett and serves to illustrate the heart of Zen practice:

    (For Tom: may you receive 10.000-fold what you have given.)
    "Whether you are going or staying or sitting or lying down,
    The whole world is your own self.
    You must find out
    Whether the mountains, rivers, grass, and forests
    Exist in your own mind or exist outside it.
    Analyse the ten thousand things,
    Dissect them minutely,
    And when you take this to the limit
    You will come to the limitless.
    When you search into it you come to the end of search.
    Where thinking goes no further and distinctions vanish.
    When you smash the citadel of doubt,
    then the Buddha is simply yourself."

    A Little Look at Sound

    Sunday, April 5. 2009

    If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?

    Caution: This question is a Zen Koan - try not to take it too literally! And please don't argue with your fellow seekers about what you think is the right or wrong answer. You might just miss the point altogether. :-)

    Need some spiritual hints to find the answer? Then, please read on...

    Hint #1: You might want to look at this question from a general scientific point of view.
    What is a tree? What is a falling tree? What is noise? Is noise the same as a vibration or sound wave? Does a vibration make a sound? Who hears sound, if any, and when and how? Is sound only sound as long as a perceiving entity (i.e. an ear) is present, that is to say, is sound only sound when it is perceived? Or is sound only sound when it is perceived through a perceiving entity (i.e. an ear) AND converted by something else (i.e. your brain)?

    Hint #2: You might want to look at this koan from a philosophical point of view.
    Is sound intrinsically dependent on a perceiving entity being present (the ear) to be able for you (the perceiver) to perceive it (the fall of a tree) as sound (the perception)? Can there be perception WITHOUT YOU?

    Hint # 3: You might also want to consider how your mind and memory work. Who is making the sound of a tree falling, if any, at this moment in time? Is it the tree that falls that makes the noise right now? If your answer to this question is "Yes", then please go back to hint #1 - sorry!

    If your answer is "No", then you might want to consider the following: Is your memory recalling a noise from the past that a fallen tree has made and is this recalling taking place at the same moment that the above mentioned tree in the forest is falling? And is your memory bringing that past experience into the NOW, thereby substituting the NOW with a memory recollected, making you "think" that the tree must make a noise, even though YOU are NOT there to perceive it? If your answer is "Yes", please go back to hint #2!

    If your answer is "No", then consider this: Is it YOU (the perceiver) who imparts reality (perception) to a thing that is perceived or not perceived? Can there be perception (reality) WITHOUT YOU or anyone else declaring it as their own?

    Hint #4: You might also want to go further back and consider the moral question: "Is it still wrong to do xyz, even if you don't get caught?" And is the very fact that you're asking yourself this moral question an indicator that the answer to this same question must be "Yes" or "No"?

    Hint #5: Shut out the noise of the world for a little while, discard your senses, tune into your internal dialogue, and enquire what is actually happening.

    Enjoy the silence.

    Enjoy the answer.

    p.s.: If sufficiently thought through, you should have found the answer to this koan by now. If not, you might just need to repeat this exercise with your other senses. Look. Touch. Smell. Taste. :-)

    Sit Still and Wait for Lift-off

    Monday, November 10. 2008

    Why sitting meditation is absolutely useless to understand the true nature of reality and the human mind—a thought-provoking perspective on the potential of sitting meditation as a catalyst for personal transformation.

    Before continuing, I suggest you first read the Zen story Whipping the Cart or the Ox. The following will make more sense, if you have read the Zen story.

    Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism known for its emphasis on mindful acceptance of the present moment and its belief that enlightenment can be attained through direct intuitive insight. Zen emphasizes intensive periods of meditation. Although any meditation posture (including walking) can be applied, the core of the practice is seated meditation. Practitioners usually assume the Lotus or half-Lotus position. The posture recalls the position in which Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment. The meditation itself focuses on the elements of mindfulness and concentration, which are part of the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path is said to be the way that leads to the achievement of self-awakening and enlightenment. It is used as an instrument of discovery to gradually generate insights unveiling the ultimate truth of all phenomena.

    Zen teaches that all people possess the Buddha nature inherently—it's because of their ignorance that they do not perceive it. Therefore, Zen practitioners are urged to find within themselves the answer to any question raised within because the answer is believed to be found where the question originates. This practice is called self-liberation. The best way to achieve this is through meditation on a Koan, a riddle or fable that defies conventional logic or explanation.

    Meditation on a particular Koan can involve sitting for long periods of time. It can therefore be hard for beginners to get used to the classical sitting posture that requires to sit motionless, or at least, make physical movement undesirable. Which raises the question: Why is the practitioner required to sit? Why is sitting so important to gain clarity of perception and to understand the true nature of the mind? One does not gain great wisdom through the very fact that one is sitting. Buddha did not attain enlightenment because he was sitting! Or did he?

    Don't take my word for it but the truth is—and the Zen story about whipping the cart or the ox illustrates it—sitting in meditation serves no particular purpose. Sitting is done for the sake of sitting. There is no benefit or usefulness. The only reason one sits is because one loves to sit.

    At this point, those experienced in meditation might argue that they sit to make sure they are not so comfortable that they fall asleep. That might be so but still, the question remains: Is the very fact that one is sitting in meditation conductive to understanding the true nature of reality and the human mind?

    Some yogis and yoginis teach that sitting, especially sitting motionless, is important because it is a method for exploring physical sensations and invite a deeper release of tensions that obstruct energy pathways and clarity of perception. Indeed, I myself am quite familiar with this type of physical exploration (see below) but how do I stop obstructive physical sensations to interfere with my concentration?

    Some hard-core traditionalists are adamant that sitting upright and crossing the legs in Lotus posture is essential. They say it reduces "poisonous" thoughts and feelings of desirous attachment while it allows all vital energy to rise upwards through the spine to the highest energy centre, the seat of wisdom and insight. Hmm…

    I must admit that throughout my own spiritual journey I struggled meditating motionless in sitting posture. Forty five minutes of pins and needles in my right foot required a lot of patience and composure! Besides, if it was not my right foot, then it was the cushion I was sitting on. It started itching. Or it was a clingy fly that wouldn't stop buzzing around my head. Or I had to go to the loo… I couldn't wait for the moment meditation came to an end, stretch my legs and lower back, and feel some sense of freedom and control over my body again. The very fact that I was so uncomfortable and impatient interfered with my ability to calm my thoughts and find that peaceful centre within. How many decades of sitting are useful to dissolve all obstacles and realize the true nature of the human mind?

    Ultimately, for me, the rewards of a dedicated meditation practice with a numb foot and an itching bottom were tremendous! The break-through came one Sunday morning whilst enjoying breakfast in bed and getting totally absorbed reading a book, the title of which is totally irrelevant for the purpose of this blog post, although I am sure, some wondering spiritual seekers out there might disagree with me. And whilst drinking my tea and munching my fruit salad, it came to me: Do not confuse the means of the practice with its goal—for indeed, I had whipped the cart instead of the ox!

    Meditation for the purpose of cultivating insight and clarity of thought is not dependent on being skilful in any particular physical posture. It concerns first of all the mind, not the body. It is a practice of introspection to gain clarity of thought, perception, reason and knowledge. The initial aim is to reach the most settled state within, where one transcends all mental activity to experience the simplest form of awareness. This state of intrinsic awareness is said to be the stepping stone for personal transformation. Sitting still in meditation is therefore just one of the many possible tools on the path to reach that state but it is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is the realization of the true nature of the self, reality, and all phenomena. And this realization can happen slowly and in stages or suddenly and rapidly—even when one is not sitting, even when one is not meditating. It happens when one catches a glimpse of or experiences the simplest form of intrinsic awareness without grasping or becoming attached to it. It's a sort of letting-go of everything. And like the Zen story about whipping the cart or the ox illustrates, it happens when causes and conditions harmonize.

    Therefore, do not become attached to any particular way of sitting in meditation. Do not become attached to any particular method of meditation either. In fact, do not become attached to anything! There is no right and no wrong way to follow your path. Explore what works best for you. If you want to meditate, then meditate. If you want to sit in meditation, then sit in meditation. If you want to sit motionless, then sit motionless. If your foot hurts, move it. If you want to scratch your bottom, scratch your bottom. If you want to walk, walk.

    To become attached to any posture, any method—any particular action or non-action—is to fail to comprehend the essential principle, and that is to understand that the true nature of reality and the true nature of the human mind comes as a breakthrough in everyday logical thought.

    And even if sitting still in meditation might make it easier for some practitioners to maintain their concentration—after all, the physical movements that otherwise could disturb one's practice will forcibly be reduced to a minimum when sitting still—the fact that one sits still is however not essential for the goal.

    We imagine that one day, when we catch a glimpse of the true nature of reality and are astounded by the personal transformation that it creates, there will be something like ecstatic bliss, intense moments and direct encounters with the divine. But we forget that divine grace doesn't come from the outside. Nothing comes from the outside... in fact, divine grace doesn't even exist… another long topic, the details of which, for now, are not of interest.

    Understand that everything derives from the mind, and from the mind alone, that's all you need to realize the true nature of reality and all phenomenon. Then, personal transformation can happen in the most banal of daily experiences: looking up into the sky, listening to music, waiting in a traffic jam, putting your feet in warm sand, drinking a glass of water, smelling a flower, reading, walking. One day your mind and body naturally begin to work together and in harmony.

    Therefore, meditate, meditate, meditate … sitting, walking, swimming, cycling, whatever ... simply meditate ... without becoming attached to or abandon any particular part of it. It is wonderful, essential, and completely useless to understand the true nature of reality and the mind. Why? Because understanding the divine comes in the most unexpected and mundane of situations and everyday experiences, and not when sitting still on your cushion. But meditate you must.

    Meditation cultivates inner silence. Inner silence can't be captured by the mind – it can only be experienced. That's why yogis say "stillness in action" is the trick!

    But as I said, don't take my word for it.

    See whether it is like that or not, and understand the matter for yourself. :-)

    Whipping the Cart or the Ox

    Monday, November 10. 2008

    A Zen Master noticed a young man meditating every afternoon. Since the man seemed to possess Zen wisdom, the Master asked him kindly, "My friend, what are you doing here?"

    The young man obviously did not like being disturbed and reluctantly answered, "I sit in meditation."

    "Why are you sitting in meditation?" asked the Master again.

    Quite perturbed, he nevertheless replied, "To become a Buddha!"

    The Master continued to pursue his questioning in a kind manner, "How can you become a Buddha by sitting in meditation?"

    This time, the man ignored the question to show his disdain for the talkative old monk. Since the Master could not attract the young man's attention by talking, he found a brick and began to rub it on the floor while sitting next to the young man. In the days that followed, whenever the man came to meditate, the Master would return to his task of rubbing the brick. Finally, the young man could no longer suppress his curiosity and inquired, "What are you doing here every day, if I may ask?"

    "Polishing the brick." the Master declared.

    "Why?" he queried.

    "To make it into a mirror," replied the Master.

    "How can you turn the brick into a mirror?" the young man asked.

    And the Master replied, "If the brick can't become a mirror by being polished, how can you become a Buddha by sitting in meditation?"

    The young man was astounded by the response. This simple question completely rid him of his arrogance. He immediately stood up and prostrated himself respectfully before the Master, imploring, "What should I do?"

    In reply, the Master asked him gently, "Let's say you're driving a cart. If it doesn't go forward, should you whip the cart or the ox?"

    Upon hearing this, the young man prostrated again and then knelt down, saying, "Master, how can I be free from all bondage and attain enlightenment?"

    "Your study of the doctrines of the Buddha is like sowing seeds, while my explaining to you the essence of the Dharma (meaning: the teaching of the Buddha; the path; the true nature of reality) is like sprinkling sweet dew on those seeds. When causes and conditions harmonize, you'll be awakened to the path."

    After hearing this, the young man became enlightened.

    Later, he became a famous Zen Master of all time, Ma-tsu Tao-i.

    Further reading: Why sitting meditation is absolutely useless to understand the true nature of reality and the human mind—a thought-provoking perspective on the potential of sitting meditation as a catalyst for personal transformation.
    (Page 1 of 1, totaling 5 entries)


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