Is everything just maya?

Ancient philosophers have talked about the “illusion” of reality. There is even a word called “Maya” that has been coined to refer to this. Now this concept seems to get more support from the field of quantum physics. What does all this mean for us and our lives? This short video presentation provides some insights.

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The Brahmodaya Competition

Picture of Albatross

Imagine an albatross sitting on top of a huge iceberg. The albatross sits at the highest point of the iceberg and sees nothing but snow and ice in all direction. It then proclaims in a loud voice, “I see beyond what anybody else can and I attest that the universe is nothing but ice!”

Are we being like the albatross when we proclaim that the universe is nothing but space-time? We put our telescopes on top of high mountains and peer in all directions and see nothing but space-time and so some of us feel that there is nothing more to the universe. The difficulty for us is that our minds are primarily rooted in space-time. This means all our tools and our languages are oriented in that direction. We are trapped in our limitations and like the frog in the well some of us seem to think that the patch of sky above is all that is to universe. It now seems that scientists and philosophers are waking up to the possibility that the space-time universe is just the tip of the iceberg of the totality of reality. So the question is if we are submerged in a reality that is predominantly not space-time why do we struggle to accept this?

The problem is that when we go beyond space-time our language, our mathematics, and our ability to think, all break down. This is because all the ideas, concepts, and structures in our head are related to space-time. We use these to formalize our thoughts. When we verbalize our thoughts in spoken and written word we use language. And when we do it more rigorously we use mathematics that science uses. However all this simply breaks down, because at the root of the entire framework is our conception of space-time. When we go beyond space-time we simply do not have the tools to even think or express anything.

St. Thomas was a prolific writer. After a mystical experience near the end of his life, he put his pen down in the middle of a treatise: “Reginald, I can write no more,” he said to his friend. “All that I have hitherto written seems to me nothing but straw!”

Throughout history those who have glimpsed beyond the ordinary have clammed up. One of the earliest mystics who has left a written record was Lao Tzu. He said, “The Dao you can talk about is not the eternal Dao.”

One of the techniques to fathom the unfathomable was to shock the mind into silence. This was done by using paradoxes. If you could present a paradox that created a knot that logic and language could not break, the hope was that this would silence that part of the mind that worked with space-time constructs and logic. The idea was that if this were silenced consciousness would then be able to grasp the unfathomable that lay beyond space-time.

In ancient times, around 500 BC, the Indians organized something they called the “Brahmodaya competition” to accomplish this. The aim of the competition was to come up with a verbal formula that would help understand the Brahman. The Brahman, like the Tao, was supposed to be the innermost essence of everything and was too subtle to conceptualize or talk about. To prepare for the competition participants would go to the jungle and stay in isolation. They would fast, meditate, do yoga, and do different breathing exercises, all this in an attempt to induce an altered state of consciousness. This was important because it was assumed that the grasp of the Brahman was not possible in the ordinary conscious state. Having so prepared they would return for a verbal duel. Karen Armstrong describes how the duel worked:

“The challenger issued his own elliptical and paradoxical description of the Brahman, one that embodied all his learning and insight. Then his opponents had to respond, building on the challenger’s formula and taking the description a step further. But the winner was the one who reduced everybody to silence — and in that silence the Brahman was present.”

In blog posts, books, television, and streaming media, we have an endless chatter of thoughts swirling around. The paradox is that as we multiply our thoughts we get increasingly disconnected from our essence. All we are doing is beating the same space-time drum to death. What we really need is to unplug from all this and find the silence that will undo the knots that tie us down. In this case less is more. Each one of us has to find a way to organize a modern version of the “Brahmodaya Competition” inside ourselves and find a level of silence that takes us to our true Self.

Related: The Peace That Passes All Understanding

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From India to Chicago

India to Chicago

As I entered the classroom of a special school in Bangalore, India, and found children with autism on carpets arranged in a circle following the directions of the yoga teacher, I knew my idea would work. Last December, I sat at my desk at Bogan High School on the South side of Chicago trying to figure out a way to help my students with autism calm their anxieties, improve their focus, and incorporate fitness into their daily lives. Including yoga as part of our daily routine in my self-contained special education classroom popped into my mind. I knew how much I have benefitted from yoga and believed it could improve the lives of my students as well.

After doing some research, I learned that yoga is an integral part of many Indian schools, and, furthermore, several schools included yoga for their students with autism. I thought that visiting these schools, talking with the teachers there, and seeing firsthand how to incorporate yoga into a school day would empower me to pursue similar efforts in Chicago. But first I had to get to India.

I discovered Fund for Teachers through the Chicago Foundation for Education, whose mission is to “[enrich] the personal and professional growth of teachers by recognizing and supporting them as they identify and pursue opportunities around the globe that will have the greatest impact on their practice, the academic lives of their students and on their school communities.” After proposing my idea and waiting several months, I was granted a $5,000 fellowship.

I landed in Delhi, India, on July 10. For the first two weeks I oriented myself by traveling to different spiritual centers: I went to Amritsar, where Sikhs make pilgrimages to the Golden Temple; Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama and a large Tibetan community; and Rishikesh, Allahbad, Haridwar, and Varanassi, which are holy Hindu cities along the Ganges River. In Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga, I stayed at an ashram and took two yoga classes to prepare for the next three weeks of my fellowship.

At ASHA, the Academy for Severe Handicaps and Autism in Bangalore in the state of Karnataka, I first witnessed a 40-minute yoga class taught to students with autism. The students I saw reminded me so much of my own. Some were quite independent and were able to follow right along with the instructor; others needed individual help from the teaching assistants with the postures and breathing exercises. Some of the students were verbal, others nonverbal. Still other students made repetitive motions, such as rocking their bodies and flapping their hands, and a few could stay still. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that it affects everybody in different ways to different degrees, and these students, halfway across the world, mirrored the range of abilities of the students in my own class. Continue reading

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Yogasutras: an online study program

AG Mohan and Indra Mohan

AG Mohan and Indra Mohan

It is not everyday that you get a chance to study the yoga sutras in depth in authentic form from authorative teachers. Now here is an opportunity to not only study the Yogasutras but also do it from the comfort of your home at your own schedule!

A.G. Mohan and Indra Mohan, are our gurus, and are offering an on-line study program for studying the Yogasutras. This online study program of the Yogasutras of Patanjali is based on the authoritative commentary of Vyasa, as well as the classical commentaries of Vacaspati Mishra, Vijnanbhikshu, Hariharananda Aranya, and contemporary commentary of Sri T. Krishnamacharya.

Beginning July 8th, 2011 a new video will be posted to a web-site every Friday. Each video will be of 20 to 25 minutes duration and can viewed at your convenience. You will have the opportunity to view it over the period of next 30 days. Chanting of yoga sutras will be included with the weekly videos. No prior knowledge of Sanskrit is neccessary.

What if you have questions? The Mohans have provided an option to submit questions. Selected questions will be answered on the forum every month.

More details can be found here.

Other than the love for yoga and our teachers, we have no personal interest in this program. Ketna Shah has registered for the program and highly recommends programs offered by the Mohans.

A. G. Mohan was a personal student of Krishnamacharya for 18 years. He is the author of “Yoga for Body, Breath and Mind.” The co-author of “Krishnamacharya- his life and teachings” along with his son Ganesh Mohan. And the co-author of “Yoga Therapy” along with his wife, Indra Mohan, and son Ganesh Mohan. He has also translated “Yoga Yajnavalkya” one of the most important classical texts on yoga.

Indra Mohan is the wife of A. G. Mohan. She recieved her post-graduate diplomoa in yoga from Krishnamachayra and has been teaching and practicing yoga for over 35 years.

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Being the change

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My name is Janice and I want to change the world. I’m a stubborn idealist, often called radical, and I have been this way for all of this life, and I’m quite sure in many of my past incarnations.

Ecuador has been a very special place for me since I arrived from Canada in 2006, and although I was already on the path to great change, those changes have been happening quickly and often since I arrived here. I arrived here semi-conscious, just after losing someone dear to me, and finally aware that I must live life to the fullest and follow my heart. The light was beginning to shine through the cracks, and I was open to growth and happiness. From that beginning, through a series of ‘adventures’ on an often precarious road, I am now the proud operator of La Sirena Yoga Adventures (and a Reiki therapist, an artist and engaged to the love of my life, but those are other stories). I want to share this magical energy that I have found here in Ecuador and facilitate transformations in others, and that’s how I developed the idea for La Sirena. La Sirena’s mission is to provide yoga and holistic therapy retreats, combined with adventure travel, to visiting English speakers while supporting the local communities of Ecuador through fair and ethical trade practices and a Giving Back program. I also try to keep things as eco-friendly as possible. Actually, La Sirena has expanded in scope and now includes art workshops and life coaches as well. The idea is that transforming yourself sets an example for others to follow- kind of like that shampoo commercial where you tell 2 friends, and they tell 2 friends, and so on.

At the heart of La Sirena Yoga Adventures is the desire to do something good for the world, to be of service, to help others. I pray daily that I may be successful so that I may be in a position to help others. That’s why you’ll find a section on the web page called Giving Back. Micro finance for disadvantaged and abused women is a great way to give back to the local communities of Ecuador and make a lasting difference in the lives of many people. Regular charity is a temporary solution; it may feed a family for one day, or two or three, but what about the future? As the Chinese proverb says, give a man a fish, and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime. Continue reading

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