A big thank you to Maria Rubinate for organizing the garden restoration project, and to Maureen, Claire, and Calvin (among others), who aided in the transformation of the Shala’s green space. It took a tremendous amount of work (which is still ongoing) to dig up and remove decades of debris. If you are interested in lending a hand, please speak with Maria Rubinate or sign up on the Fort Greene Shala bulletin board. Gardening season is near!
Drawing for Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake, Utah, Robert Smithson, 1970
1.4 वृत्तिसारूप्यमितरत्र ।।४।।
At other times (itaratra), it takes the form (sarupyam) of the mental activities (vritti). or: Conformity to the operations elsewhere.
It is natural for our minds to identify with our thoughts and with the objects around us. This is the basis of avidya, or ignorance of our real Self — confounding all the changeable things around us with our own true nature. This true nature (atman, purusha, soul, the seer) is said to be eternal and unchanging, and is pure awareness.
This sutra tells us that when we lose touch with our own being, chitta (the mind, or thinking faculty) manifests itself in place of the seer. We then become bound by time and space.
When the mind is not resting in its own true being, it takes the shape of the vrittis. We think the thoughts we have are who we really are. This avidya, the source of all suffering, clouds our perception. When we ‘clean’ our minds our thoughts and actions are not colored and dictated by our misperceptions.
With practice, we can avoid behaving in ways we don’t intend, and can stop ourselves from saying things we regret. Practice allows us to make a habit of being true to ourselves. This intention becomes a habit of awareness. Though we will fluctuate back and forth, identifying ourselves with our mental activities, we can catch ourselves and let go.
Vyaas Houston of the American Sanskrit Institute has said:
“If I don’t remain the seer, continually aware of the field; if nirodhah is not occurring, there is conformity to the vritti. I never lose my original identity — I just think I do.
One or the other is taking place. Either yoga is taking place or there is identity with vritti.”
— Jenny Meyer + Barbara Verrochi
We kicked off the Shala Book Club redux with Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. Next up is Paul Kalanithi’s “great, indelible” memoir, When Breath Becomes Air. Book club discussion facilitated by Melanie Parker and potluck on Saturday, April 16th, from 5:45 to 7:15pm.
by ashley dorr
The following has been adapted from one of Ashley Dorr’s dharma talks. Ashley gave this talk before she left for her annual trip to the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India. Ashley will return from Mysore at the end of this month.
In preparation for my trip to India, I’ve been making a checklist of things I need to do: get my visa (check), buy toiletries (check), clean my apartment (check), exchange dollars to rupees (check), chocolate for the plane (check!!). All these things I need to get me where I’m going.
At the same time, I’ve had another list running through my mind, a list of all the people who have helped me to get where I’m going. The obvious ones: My boyfriend, who is watching my dog. The girl who is subletting my apartment. All my teachers and friends at the Shala. My students, who inspire me to gain more knowledge. Barbara and Kristin, who first inspired me with their own stories of India, and who introduced me to the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. The teachers I first started practicing yoga with.
The more I thought about it, the more the list grew, until it came to include the less obvious people. I’m thinking about the woman who exchanged my rupees, and the guy in the visa office who really helped me out during my 6-hour wait to process the paperwork.
There are a lot of people who help us get to where we are going. Strangers, even. I thought about this during the blizzard when I saw people I didn’t know shoveling sidewalks, and when I took the subway and noticed the subway workers and thanked them for being there. I would never normally thank them for being there, but they are always there.
There are a lot of people helping us all along our journeys. Maybe we only think of them during a big trip or a blizzard, but we can think of them everyday. When we do that, we realize how connected we are to the larger world. How there is yoga happening all around us all the time.
Sharon Salzberg puts it really beautifully when she talks about lovingkindess meditation, that just bringing awareness to the way others help us is an act of lovingkindness and gratitude: “Today doesn’t exist apart from the network of relationships and influences that brought us to this moment in our lives. How many people were involved in some way in your decision to meditate? How many people loved you or prodded you? Told you about their own meditation practice? Challenged you so that you decided to look for more inner calm and understanding? What about even those who hurt you, who brought you to an edge of some kind so that you thought, ‘I’ve really got to find another way’ or ‘I’ve got to look for another level of happiness’? They may be a part of why you’re reading these words. We are each swept into the here and now by a confluence of events, causes, and conditions. A larger community brought you to this moment. And you can make your sense of that human community even larger.”
A traditional rangoli by Ashley Dorr
excerpt of speech on Civil Rights, Segregation & Apartheid South Africa, london 1964
I’m not talking about a weak love. I’m not talking about emotional bosh here. I’m not talking about some sentimental quality. I’m not talking about an affectionate response. It would be nonsense to urge oppressed people to love their violent oppressors in an affectionate sense, and I have never advised that. When Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” I’m happy he didn’t say, “Like your enemies.” It’s pretty difficult to like some people. But love is greater than like. Love is understanding creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. Theologians talk about this kind of love with the Greek word agape, which is a sort of overflowing love that seeks nothing in return. And when one develops this, you rise to the position of being able to love the person who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does. And I believe that this can be done. Psychiatrists are telling us now that hatred is a dangerous force, not merely for the hated, but also the hater. Many of the strange things that happen in the subconscious, many of the inner conflicts, are rooted in hate. And so they are saying, “Love or perish.” This is why Erich Fromm can write a book entitled The Art of Loving, arguing that love is the supreme unifying force of life. And so it is wonderful to have a method of struggle where it is possible to stand up against segregation, to stand up against colonialism with all of your might, and yet not hate the perpetrators of these unjust systems. And I believe firmly that it is through this kind of powerful nonviolent action, this kind of love that organizes itself into mass action, that we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation and the world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. Certainly this is the great challenge facing us.
….in countries like India or Burma or Tibet, where meditation practice is more widespread, practitioners are counseled to look for qualities like kindness and compassion as the metrics of whether their practice is proving effective or not. And, as I was taught in each of those places, look not towards your formal period of practice — your retreat experience, or the time you might put into meditation each day, however long or short — look to your everyday life to see signs of the possible efficacy of the practice: How are you with yourself when you’ve made a mistake? How attentive are you when meeting a stranger? How rigidly do you categorize people, and then cease to pay attention to them altogether? How might you be creating an “other” that you then discount or disdain?
Read more from Sharon Salzberg’s weekly post on On Being.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
Guru Pūrṇimā is a day dedicated to paying respects and expressing gratitude to our teachers. Guru translates as the heavy one or heavy teacher, the one who is steady and grounded in any circumstance — who is never swayed by external events.
This year the festival falls on Friday, July 31st, the first full moon after the summer solstice. That full moon day is when life on this planet is at its most receptive to all possibilities.
Shiva the First Yogi (Adi Yogi) was also the Adi Guru (First Guru). It is said he transmitted the yogic sciences to the Saptarshis (the Seven Sages) on this day,around 15,000 years ago, high up on the banks of a lake in the Himalayas, It may have happened like this:
One day Shiva woke from his usual deep meditation to see seven men waiting in front of him. They begged him to be their teacher. In what would become a long tradition of guru/shishya (teacher/student) parampara Shiva refused them.
The aspirant must prove himself — prove that he is worthy. That he really wants the teaching. So after ignoring them for a very long time, the Adiyogi tested then by giving them some simple instructions. Then he closed his eyes again.
The seven men did as he said, And they continued for many days, and many weeks. The weeks turned into months, the months into years, and the Seven men, who would become the Seven Sages, followed Shiva’s directions.Finally after 84 years of this sadhana, Shiva opened his eyes. He looked at the aspirants again. And saw that they were ready — they were shining.
So on the very next full moon day, Shiva, the Adiguru, expounded the yoga sciences to the seven men. The Seven Ṛṣis went on to spread this knowledge to all: that a human being can evolve consciously, beyond all limitations is possible for everyone.
Our guru, Śrī K Pattabhi Jois, was born on the full moon day of July, 1915 — Guru Pūrṇimā. Guruji loved his birthday and always wanted his students to attend his birthday festivities. He enjoyed celebrating life.
In the 1990’s when we first traveled to Lakshmipuram, India to study with Guruji, we would practice in the mornings and return to his home later in the afternoons to visit him and his family. We would sit around him in his small living room for a few hours while he recited and translated sacred texts, examined what jewelry we bought that day, or answered our questions about life. Sometimes we would sit silently with him while he read the paper and drank his tea. We liked to sit down near him because his calm and stable presence would help us feel grounded.
In the mantra from the Guru Stotram translated below, the line, ‘guru sākṣāt’ means the guru is nearby, visible and true, is embodied before us. Paraṃ brahma is translated as ultimate consciousness or God. Guruji was fond of saying, “Everywhere you look you see God.” And sitting next to him reminded us of that.
gururbrahmā gururviṣṇuḥ gururdevo maheśvaraḥ ।
gurusākṣāt paraṃ brahma tasmai śrīgurave namaḥ ।।
The guru is Brahma the creator.
The guru is Vishnu the sustainer.
The guru is Shiva the destroyer.
The guru is clearly the supreme spirit.
I bow to that guru.
Translation by Jenny Meyer
1.3 तदा द्रष्टुः स्वरूपेऽवस्थानम् ।
TADĀ DRAṢṬUḤ SVA-RŪPE ‘VASTHĀNAM
tadā — then
draṣṭuḥ — of the seer (draṣṭṛ — the seer)
sva — one’s own (as in ‘swami’ — boss, owner)
rūpe — in being, (rūpa — form, body)
avasthānam — established, abiding, standing
from ‘ava’ — a prefix meaning away, down, off
and ‘sthāna’ — standing, from root ‘sthā,’ to stand’
When the vṛttis, or turnings of the mind, become quiet, when we are no longer bound by the patterns of our mind (Sūtra 1.2), we can fully connect with our inherent stability.
The seer (draṣṭṛ, pure consciousness) is unchanging and not subject to the vṛttis.
In the Bhagavad Gītā, the seer is called the Ātman, and is described by Kṛṣṇa in this way:
Neither is this (the embodied self) born nor does it die at any time,
Nor, having been, will it again come not to be.
Birthless, eternal, perpetual, primeval,
It is not slain when the body is slain. bg 2.20
Weapons do not pierce this (the Embodied Self),
Fire does not burn this,
Water does not wet this,
Nor does the wind cause it to wither. BG 2.23
It is said that this is unmanifest,
Unthinkable, and unchanging.
Therefore, having understood in this way,
You should not mourn. BG 2.25
—translation Winthrop Sargeant
Yoga means stopping mental activity.
Patanjali defines yoga as nirodha, or a quieting of the vrittis (fluctuations) of the citta (mind, intelligence, and ego). ‘Nirodhah’ literally means ‘stopping,’ so ‘stilling’ is a good way to understand this sutra. The word ‘nirodhah’ is cognate to ‘erode.’ ‘The root is rudh — to obstruct. And it seems the vrttis (the whirlings of the mind) are gradually worn away like that — eroded as we become established in our own being.
Thich Nhat Hanh has been a Buddhist monk for more than 60 years, as well as a teacher, writer, and vocal opponent of war – a stance that left him exiled from his native Vietnam for four decades. Now the man Martin Luther King Jr. called “an apostle of peace and nonviolence” reflects on the beauty of the present moment, being grateful for every breath, and the freedom and happiness to be found in a simple cup of tea.
for full interview
Violet Leaf on Orange Background (Palmette), 1947, Henri Matisse
1.1 अथ योगानुशासनम्
here upon, the lesson on yoga.
This is the first sutra of 196 sutras on the teachings of yoga by Patanjali. “Atha” translates as now. Now, at this moment, the teaching begins. And now, at this moment, we can begin our practice. No other time is better than now. Pema Chodron succinctly describes beginning our spiritual practice in How to Meditate.
You start where you are. You might feel that you are the single most stressed-out person on Planet Earth; you might be hopelessly in love; you might have six children and a full-time job; you might be going through a depression or a dark night of the soul. Wherever you are, you can begin there.