Monthly Archives

September 2012


Day 13 – Bearing Witness

Chapter 13 – The Field & The Knower
Yoga Teacher – Derek Beres

I had to delay publishing this post for half a day because I needed to sleep on it. To me, this is the most interesting and thought provoking chapter found within the Gita. Many layers of deep connection between the real, the perceived, mind and body, God consciousness and witness consciousness are all explored here. They are explored and ultimately explained however, the mystery of how our lives do the dance with the unknown is still present.

This question still remains – what is consciousness? Is consciousness something that is found between our ears as a result of our extraordinary brains? Or is consciousness something that God has given us that allows us to experience (to a degree) what is happening around us in space and time? Science will conclude that the separation between matter and energy is very little, if not at all, so if the intangible makes up the tangible then how and why do we even need to separate them?

That answer comes when we explore the nature of our thoughts and their role in the material world. In the Gita – it’s called the field and the knower. Or the elements found within prakiriti and the purshua. However, in the Gita the mind itself is also defined as part of the field along with “the five areas of perception, the five elements, the five sense organs and the five organs of action…”(Verse 5). This is difficult because the mind to me is not a physical “thing” it is vague and mysterious therefore calling it part of the “field” takes a little getting used to. If you do look at the mind as just a plane of existence where stuff is happening and thoughts are occurring then it starts to make sense.

The knower of the field is defined as the Self or which may be very simply called the witness. Depending on where your relationship with spirituality lies all of this will bring up a very unique conflict that is at the heart of all the great philosophers who have tried to make sense of consciousness and it’s relationship to the personal experience.

Someone very dear to me proposed a different model on the same thing called “the eight-circuit model of consciousness” that is divided into four lower circuits (the larval) and four higher circuits (stellar). The higher circuits are what allows mythical and enlightened states to take place but are thought of as being new to human evolution and not accessible to all humans. The difference here with Leary vs. The Gita is that he proposed that the eight circuits are all functions of the human nervous system and thus found within the mind itself, not really allowing too much room for a cosmic infusion that exists outside of ourselves (aka God).

I do believe that we do have to take into account the soul yet somewhere between the two philosophies lies the truth.

Witness consciousness will imply that when we are detached from our egos, meaning we are only using the healthy ego as a vehicle for perception, we can see that things are just happening all around us and sometimes to us but are not us. Ram Dass talks about this endlessly. He says, for example, that when you are angry simply sit back and forget all of it and meditate. Look at the thought which is making you angry and detach yourself from the person or thing you are angry at. Soon the thought itself will become isolated as just a thought and then you can realize “hey. i’m angry. isn’t that far out?” The point is that the anger itself is not your souls natural state of being and is merely your ego creating thoughts to distance yourself from the universal truth. In the Gita it is said “…is called the witness, approver, supporter, enjoyer, the supreme Lord, the highest Self.” (Verse 22)

No matter your view of all of this it is a fun game to play when doing yoga. Try playing witness to your asana practice. Keep detaching over and over again until you’re just resting in the place of the self watching the body doing this movement. It just is. You’re moving and breathing. That’s it. It doesn’t feel good or bad, you’re just doing it.

It’s useful when pain arrises, when you are tired or when the teacher is annoying you as was my case during yesterdays practice. The thought did come up “ohhh. he’s annoying. i don’t like this class.” Certainly I don’t have to go back to his class but for that 90 minutes I can just move my body anyway and reap the benefits of the practice.


Day 12 – Loving everyone

Chapter 12 – The Way of Love
Yoga Teacher – Hemalayaa Behl

The most famous of all Neem Karoli Baba’s teachinsg was “Love Everyone. Serve Everyone. Remember God.” In a very simplistic way that is the essence of this chapter in the Gita. Because the construct of the world we live in (the material world) the Hindu philosophy talks often about whether God is impersonal or personal. It suggests that in the material world it’s helpful to have a personal God that takes on “form” to worship.

I will not take this opportunity to dive into the pros and cons of dualism vs. non dualism but it safe to say that the answer of the above question is both, God has personal and impersonal qualities.

Chapter 12 really brings Arjuna back down to a grounding level when Krishna guides him into the path of a devotee, Krishna says in Verse 16 “They are detached, pure, efficient, impartial, never anxious, selfless in their undertakings, they are my devotees, very dear to me.”

Krishna also says those who set their “hearts on me are more established in Yoga.” (Verse 3) It’s important that we learn from these teachings because it routes us back to the path of loving all things in all ways. We’ve already established in the previous two chapters that Krishna can take form in all things so now that we are prepared to love, why not see God in everything? It’s much easier that way, it’s better than “trying to figure it all out” as Maharaj-ji once said.

We come back to loving Krishna in the personal sense because it very easy, natural and intuitive for man to love another physical form rather than loving the vast formless nature of Bhagavan (impersonal God). I don’t believe one way is right and one way is wrong, but I do believe it’s a very useful tool to use the deities as doorways to get to The One. That’s why they are here and can serve us – they are portals into the vast ocean of loving awareness. Krishna took form here to remind us of that and when we study his pastimes we are reminded of transcendental bliss that is around us always.

Today, I found myself loving everyone but not being super kind to everyone. I was a little out of sorts with my temper and frustration that, admittedly, I wasn’t able to settle into my practice with as much grace as I’ve experienced the past 11 days. In fact, I even lashed out at someone for telling me about their same problems that they’ve been telling me about for years and years. I was not very helpful or compassionate. When these things happen the only thing that I can do is to return back to the love and know that tomorrow is a new day whence I shall I feel different than I did today and will be prepared for new opportunities.

Todays yoga practice was a lot of fun but did not route me back to my heart center. It was a very different sort of class, one in which I was not prepared to deal with. That’s fine and again, I’m so grateful that LA has so much to offer. Perhaps I just wasn’t ready for change today. Tomorrow? Let’s wait and see.


Day 11 – The Cosmic Vision

Chapter 11 – The Cosmic Vision
Yoga Teacher – Govind Das

What a life. What an incarnation. What a lila. At this very moment I am so blown away by all of the abundance and grace that is available to us should we choose to seek it. That’s really always the case, isn’t it? How we choose to see things is entirely up to us. Even the challenges, of which there are many, are just “grist for the mill.”

Chapter 11 is perhaps the most famous of all parts of the Gita. When Robert Oppenheimer the father of the atomic bomb first saw his creation explode he said “I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds” (Verse 32) which ironically portrays Krishna in the state we seem him in the least. That’s what I’ve always found so interesting about this chapter. Normally when we praise Krishna, or sing of Krishna or speak of his pastimes we’re cultivating the mood of the sweet blue boy playing out in the fields of Vrindavan who is wooing the cowherd girls (the gopis) with the sound of his transcendental flute. That part of his lila is so sweet, intoxicating and such a far cry away from the fierce nature that Krishna reveals to us here.

Also in Chapter 11 I’m not sure which is more extraordinary; Krishna revealing his cosmic grandeur in fierce form or the fact that Arjuna has attained samadhi to the point of being able to experience Krishna, the lord of lords, in this way. Both are very compelling transformations to meditate on. At the beginning of this story Krishna was only Arjuna’s charioteer and “spiritual advisor” and now he is the supreme personality of God. And Arjuna was of the mere warrior class and now he is able to attain complete visions within samadhi. For the sake of discussion, let’s focus on Arjuna.

Arjunas tale is more like ours because he is of the material world and is very much caught up in the role that he has to play. In this case it’s the role of a warrior prince. But the actual role itself is irrelevant. We all have our roles to play and some may be based on the illusionary forces of maya to be more important that others. But everyone, no matter their roles, all share similar qualities – no matter what happens in life you’re going to stand on that battlefield of life needing to make the difficult decisions just as Arjuna is doing in our story. Arjuna here has paid such close to attention to Krishna’s instruction that he’s now able to take into action and reap the benefits of this practice of yoga.

Now it goes without saying that not all of us in our lifetimes are going to have such grand displays of the Cosmic Vision that Arjuna is having at the feet of Lord Krishna.

Verse 7 “Behold the entire cosmos turning within my body, and the other things you desire to see. (8) But these things cannot be seen with your physical eyes; therefore I give you spiritual vision to perceive my majestic power.”

This is very interesting because Krishna granting him power here has been based off of his righteous intent of action that have been displayed in the previous chapters. Therefore, the work we do everyday is so important. Little by little through “the stuff we do” we might get little glimpses of the wonderful and terrifying nature that is God.

When I read this chapter I feel scared like Arjuna did after Krishna says “I have already slain all these warriors; you will only be my instrument.” The mere thought conjures up so many intense energies and karma’s that we need to work with. I choose to see it this way – God in the form of Krishna has already fought all our hardships for us and it is our action that makes them realized. Grace, action. Grace, action. Etc.

Tonights 830 pm Yin class with Govind Das was extraordinary. After 10 days of difficult strong asana it was so sweet to settle into a juicy slow yin class that opened me up to receive everything that was floating inside my body and through my mind. I feel like Arjuna on the battlefield when he discovers the power of the divine – sometimes it’s simply beautiful and sometimes it comes in the form of stuff we need to work on.


Day 10 – …In Everything…

Chapter 10 – Divine Splendor
Yoga Teacher – Annie Carpenter
Breathwork Teacher – Michael Brian Baker

In the “Love Service Devotion – Ram Dass on the Bhagavad Gita” talks from 1974, Ram Dass proposes some interesting instruction in reading the Gita. He suggests reading it three times: once just as a story, the second time from the point of view of Arjuna and the third from the point of view of Krishna.

The latter two are both fascinating depending on where your at with your own personal trip. If you’re reading the Gita while going through a very difficult life challenge then perhaps taking it in from Arjuna’s perspective might suit you. And if your reading it from a place of trying to make sense of what, or perhaps who, God is then imagining it from Krishna’s perspective is very very extraordinary.

In Chapter 10 Arjuna is really starting to understand who Krishna is but he’s not all the way there. Basically he says “Krishna. Dude. Who the hell are you?!?” The secrets of the universe are becoming evident to Arjuna and it’s blowing his mind so hard that he has no choice but to make Krishna a) tell him who he is and b) prove it. Krishna does both.

Back to the previous point, of taking it in via Krishna’s POV, there is something so graceful here that it’s worth exploring. Imagine that you are guiding your friend through the most chaotic and challenging situation here but your manifestation of Godhead is so sound and secure that in the midst of this chaos everything is calm, cool and collected. You’re basically telling your friend “whatever’s going on is going to be ok. just remember me and know that I’m everything.” Krishna’s grace in this chapter is really beautiful, fierce but beautiful.

Krishna says in Verse 4 “Discrimination, wisdom, understanding, forgiveness, truth, self control, and peace of mind; pleasure and pain, birth and death, fear and courage, honor and dishonor, nonviolence, charity, equanimity…all of the living qualities found in living creatures have their source in me.”

This is a very important discourse here because Krishna is saying he has both positive and “negative” forces within him. He is resolute in telling Arjuna that duality of the world, the sometimes confusing dichotomies of life, are all necessary and are all aspects of God. How many times have we asked ourselves in life “If there is a God why does such and such happen?” It happens because it’s the order of things and with positive there sometimes can be negative. If you add science to the equation you know that all positive charges have an equally negative charge. The polarity of the universe is what keeps it in balance.

I’m not suggesting that we pretend to be Krishna or anything that outrageous but I am saying that if you believe there’s even a sliver of Gods supreme wisdom living inside of you then you can apply this wisdom when facing whatever challenge you may face. In this grand example Krishna is telling Arjuna that since I’m everything anyway, whatever you’re gonna do is going to be ok because it is the order of how I made it. Great stuff, and a great circle of thought to chew on.

And if you explore the Chapter even further the specifics of what Krishna says he is exactly is equally fascinating – especially when he refers to himself as being the “atman” and the syllable “om.” Many other, more involved, Hindu concepts are described here and are well worth looking into.

When applying this to a daily Yoga practice it helps to remember that not only am I a perfect manifestation of Gods (in this case Krishnas) creations but the practice itself is as well. Literally, when we engage in yoga we are doing a sacred dance that honors God.

I’ve reached a new level of comfort for sure in the practice, I can’t say that I’ve ever done 10 days in a row of yoga at a studio before. If I have I surely can’t remember. Now the challenges have reversed themselves. It’s the writing that’s become difficult while the practice is becoming easier and easier. On a technical note I noticed today that when doing Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend) that I can go down a good 50% more than I could 10 days ago. So for anyone wondering about what’s happening with the physical practice, there ya go. I found it incredibly gratifying and liberating.

I waited late to post today because I concluded the day with adding a different modality into the mix. I went to one of Michael Brian Baker’s breath work workshops with the intent of deepening my practice through the stuff that comes up doing that work. Too much to get into here, but my heart and mind is wide open and I’m very grateful that this world has an endless amount to offer.


Day 9 – The Royal Path

Day 9 – The Royal Path
Yoga Teacher – Micheline Berry

When you travel on a path for many years you become the path. The nature of the path become your nature. This is the reason why change takes so much time. We are aware of higher laws but we become attached to the path and continue on the same road every day. Tomorrow when you get up travel choose a different path. Don’t worry you will not get lost – Sri Vishwanath

The above thought provokes a paradox for anyone who has engaged on any sort of path at all. The attachment to the path. If you get attached to a path how can you make it your own? The word path literally implies that you are following something that is already laid out in front of you. It becomes an interesting notion when you adapt a path that appeals to you and add flourishes to it that are yours alone. The spiritual experience must be personalized, if not then you are following someone else’s dogma. A little dogma is good to get you started but building on it takes time and effort, thus the above statement that indicates “change takes so much time.”

In Chapter 9 we are hovering in what I call the in-between chapters of The Gita where the mysticism reigns supreme and we pay attention to the clear rather sensational instructions Arjuna is receiving. Never forget the context of The Gita – this “song of God” is being told to Arjuna inside of a chariot while sitting on a battlefield ready to engage in war against his own family. Imagine that you are dealing with the most complicated and profound problem that you’ve ever faced in your life and God tells you directly “Whatever you do make it an offering to me – the food you eat, the sacrifices you make, the help you give, even your suffering. In this way you will be free from the bondage of karma and from it’s results both pleasant and painful.” (verses 26-28). Huh? Far out.

The message in this is literally quite simple – see God in everything. In everyone. Always. Twelve step talks a lot about Gods wills vs. Self will and all that sorta inherent polarity that lies with the human condition. Because we are still granted the gift of free will the difference can be blurry. We are free to make our own decisions and to make our own mistakes, surely most wise teachers will tell us that our mistakes are really ingredients for learning. So, even if you are going against the grain of what seems like Gods will is it really Self will?

Rather if you choose to make everyone of your actions focussed on God the pain of the material world will lessen. There have been many times in my life where I’ve felt that this whole “game of life” is a bunk deal. When we take shape in this incarnation at this time we’re dealt a hand of cards that have to be played. We have to get jobs, make money, pay rent, deal with shitty LA traffic (or not), eat healthy food, deal with hurt feelings and so and so on. Our world is no longer built to just wander the plains picking delicious fruit while sitting by the river. Sometimes I don’t want to change my relationship to the game, I want to change the game itself. Tall order and rather delusional but you get my point.

Accepting where we are at and taking action with all of it can be tough. Keeping our focus on healthy beautiful things can be tough.

Again, that is why the practice of yoga works in spite of yourself. Today, at 6 am I really did not want to suit up and show up to sweat at a 7 am class. I was cranky, did not sleep well and full of the usual ramblings of the morning mind. Low and behold 10 minutes into the class it all went away and a rush of gratitude wore over me, almost to the point of astonishment. It amazes me that I can loose site of what’s so simple and beautiful and focus on all the crap that goes on between my ears. This simple practice is a miracle.


Day 8 – Steady Focus

Chapter 8 – The Eternal Godhead
Yoga Teacher – Brian Campbell

As progress on this path of yoga we don’t want to loose too much focus from the process of Being Here Now but at the same time every single person who takes birth in this material world questions the nature of death. What happens when we die?

It’s such a heavy and esoteric topic that surely I can’t do it justice in this blog at this time. Nearly every tradition has scriptures that focus on this topic – the Hindus have the Upanishads, The Buddhists have the Tibetan Book of the Dead and so on. Since “we are all here to go” as William Burroughs once said it’s of course natural to prepare for the inevitable.

Up to this point, Arjuna has been given clear instruction on karma yoga and maintaining righteousness in his actions. This is yoga in action. So when the moment of death comes he doesn’t suddenly turn from an unsavory person to that of a yogi and expect everything to be ok. This is why we practice everyday. Our part of the deal is to change our thinking which changes our behavior which changes our lives. It would be so easy if we could act a fool our whole lives and then just chant “hare krishna” and expect the transition to be perfect.

Based off this this understanding Arjuna does look ahead, probably too far, towards the moment of death and asks Krishna “How are the self-controlled united with you at death?”

We already know the answer to this as has been the subject of previous posts, however living in the material world will distract us from this. I know from very first hand experiences in dealing with the distractions in the form of addiction and other ego run wild diversions that falling off the path is easy, life is fragile. I find that everyone has a couple things in common – we all want to be loved and understood. If those desires go to far in the direction of pleasure (sex and drugs) for instance the balance is thrown off and we loose site of the ultimate form of love. We can use these tools as destructive methods if there is no basic for growth or reflection. Or if we put too much emphasis on having other people fulfill our needs and wants then we become co-dependent and can’t take care of ourselves. Somewhere in this there’s a balance – having other people around to love is great, experiencing sensual pleasure with a partner who you love and care about is great and having a satisfying occupational pastime is also great. Keeping it all in balance while focussed on god is the challenge and the true yoga.

Anyway, herein lies the reason I engage in yoga. As I stated before “in it’s ideal state practicing yoga is a moving meditation.” During that 90 minutes I can free myself from all the worries that go on in my life and have even a little glimpse at a relationship with Brahman. It’s a small step forward in my life for sure.

At this point, I am looking for focus. The discipline of a mere 8 days in a row of yoga is setting in, but it’s such a small amount of time that the need to sharpen my gaze is approaching. Besides being lost in the moving mediation what more can this practice offer me? Can I continue to find small miracles in an everyday asana practice? Do people who practice asana everyday really attain moksha or are they just really well settled in their bodies?

Looking forward to finding out.


Day 7 – Inner Wisdom

Chapter 7 – Wisdom from Realization
Yoga Teacher – Saul David Raye

It only takes someone slightly aware to look around the world and to see that we are a species run amok. We are insane by the very definition of the word. We are destroying our ability to live on the planet. We kill people who might believe in different ideas. We are poisoning our food. The list goes on and on. The same could be said if you go throughout human history and plot mans rise from birth to where we are now. It’s just that in today’s world the insanity is much more pronounced and rapid because the world has gotten smaller.

The path of yoga, while not an immediate fix, has long term benefits to quieting the insane mind because realization of love and compassion for everyone comes from the practice. Even in spite of yourself, the wisdom will still come. With all of the chatter in the mind, the misplaced ego, the hurt feelings and the lashing out against love – yoga will still win when practiced with sincerity. Of course, I don’t believe that it’s everyones path and without our species is doomed. However, I support the notion that we all must do our part, again with sincerity, to quell the thirst of destruction that is reaping our very existence. And yoga is a good start for some.

Chapter 7 deals much with the knowledge that can arise when engaged in focus of the divine – here it’s called “jnana.” However, this chapter has always taken finesse for me to understand because you have to step back to look at the difference between dualism and non-dualism when reading it. I, myself, am a non-dualist (advaita in sanskrit) so some of the language that Krishna uses here can throw you off if you don’t recognize the subtle variations when applying it to daily life.

Krishna starts the chapter very directly by saying “With your mind intent on me, Arjuna, discipline yourself with the practice of yoga. Depend on me completely. Listen, and I will dispel all your doubts; you will come to know me fully and be united with me.”

To some people who are automatically anti-spiritual this sort of talk might get mixed up with the radical dogma majority we see around the world today in wars and on TV. This, however, is not the case here. The advaita view on Vedanta states that when you view the self (atman) as part of the whole (Brahman) you can seek liberation through the practice of yoga. Therefore, Krishna is brahman and he is serving as a doorway for Arjuna to recognize his true divine self by merely telling him to seek refuge in God. And that God may be accessible always, even at times dwelling right inside of him. And when this is realized the supreme knowledge is granted and there is “nothing more you need to know.” (verse 2)

The chapter goes on and deals with complicated topics like finding peace after many many births and peoples misunderstanding that Krishna transcends birth and death. These are very important when understanding the Gita but too much for this blog.

The practice of yoga, ongoing with sincerity, when ones mind is transfixed on nothing but prema (love) will settle even the most insane thoughts. Today, my struggle is with acceptance. My ego and desires want some things to be a certain way. They may actually turn out that way which is great, but if they don’t the work is knowing that result must also be great. Otherwise I’m trapped.

Krishna says: “Delusion arises from the duality of attraction and aversion…every creature is deluded by these from birth.” (Verse 27)

Today’s yoga practice was so sweet, gentle and reminded me that it’s only my perception that mucks things up. I haven’t been talking too much about the specific teachers in previous posts because I’m going to save that for the end. Anyone who practices yoga in Los Angeles knows that we have access to some of the best practitioners of this science and my cup runneth over. I’m so grateful to be part of this community and to have access to such amazing teachers and teachings. Looking forward to tomorrow. Perhaps this is getting easier?


Day 6 – Going Inward

Chapter 6 – The Practice of Meditation
Yoga Teacher – Govindas

Today was a bit of a break through. Anyone who does any kind of practice knows that it’s only the repetition of the practice do the results come. After 5 days in a row of yoga today, the sixth day, felt really good. I was able to flow in a way where my mind was purely focused on the breath and not the struggle. It certainly helped that maha-teacher Govindas cultivated such good bhav that the room was charged.

This is karma yoga in action. When the self is performing it’s duties without any hang ups about what may lie on the other side. Doing hatha yoga isn’t exactly selfless service but it is a way to take a litmus test of gauging where you’re at and what your hang ups are.

The first five chapters of the Gita talk so much about karma yoga, action and how to detach the ego by focussing on the atman. Chapter 6 is interesting and unique to The Gita because it’s the first time that Krishna is giving detailed instruction for any kind of practice. Krishna instructs Arjuna on the path of meditation and even goes so far as to tell him to sit up straight to avoid drowsiness. Krishna is becoming astutely aware that Arjuna is indeed becoming a yogi, or at least should become a yogi.

This sort of discussion is more commonly found in the Yoga Sutras when referring to eight limbed yoga (ashtanga yoga). There has been much controversy of the years as to what the word “asana” means, most say it just means “seat.” So when Patanjali is talking about this limb of yoga he could very well have been talking about mediation and not what we call asana today. In essence, Krishna is also talking about the same thing.

Chapter 6 Verse 10 “Those who aspire to the state of yoga should seek the Self in inner solitude through meditation.”

Of course the Self referred to here is the atman – the true eternal self. Not the projected self that lies within the ego which dances on the banks of maya.

Chapter 6 Verse 11 “Select a clean spot..then once seated, strive to still your thoughts. Make your mind one-pointed in meditation and your heart will be purified.”

The heart? Yes Krishna talks about the purification of the heart which has always lept of the page for me. This is one of the first instances where Krishna is talking about bhakti – the yoga that cultivates the heart space. It is clear that Arjuna has been in his head and hung up on a very specific trip in this journey. When it’s recommended that self realization through mediation will awaken the heart Arjuna will now be able to see what is his dhamra and what isn’t. We all say many times “the journey from the head to heart can be long.” This is evident here.

After this revelation Arjuna hits a wall and expresses doubt that he can even comprehend such a thing. Arjuna says “O Krishna, the stillness of divine union which you describe is beyond my comprehension. How can the mind, which is so restless, attain lasting peace?”

How many times have we doubted our ability to continue on the journey? With yoga alone I’ve probably done more questioning than I have embracing. Like I said in earlier posts, I constantly fall into the trap of comparison. For as long as I’ve been practicing asana (10 years) I should be much more accomplished in the physical practice than I am, right? Ahhhh…this illusion is so juicy. The essence of what is maya.

Krishna says in verse 35 “But it can be conquered Arjuna, through regular practice and detachment.”

I find that this chapter, when looked at just a little differently, is directly applicable to someone engaging on a practice of yoga. The instruction is given here. Really beautiful.