Tag Archive: tantric yoga philosophy

Untitled (and Jnanam Bandaha)

For me “untitled” as the “title” of a work of art means that the image speaks for itself and that to name it would be to bind the viewer from access to a “pure” and open response of his/her own.

In the yoga philosophy much is made of the fact that any attempt to describe mystical (for want of a better word) experience already veils or distorts the experience and that which has been experienced.

Sometimes, then, I show what I cannot say in words, recognizing that the camera, too, alters and separates the viewed and the viewer.

Jnanam bandaha, by the way, is the second sutra in the Siva Sutras and means roughly, knowledge is bondage. Later in the text, we are also told that knowledge alone liberates. It is a delicious paradox for contemplation.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.



The term pradakshina roughly means turning towards what is right, to move in alignment with nature. When I was in yoga teacher training, we were taught that to make sure that the practice was in accordance with nature, with the principle of pradakshina, we should instruct our students to roll to the right when coming out of savasana (final relaxation; the corpse pose).

Those who take class with me may have noticed that a couple of months ago, I started just saying to roll to your side, whichever side feels better for you.

Why should turning to the left be sinister (latin for left), or gauche (french for left), or subversive and contrary to dharma (left-handed tantric practices).

Left-handed myself, I can assure you that not one of the salesmen in the expensive shop in India where I bought art and jewelry last year cared that I signed a credit card slip with my left hand (though in India it is customary to eat with the right hand and wipe oneself with the left to make sure that one never uses the same hand for both activities).

Who wants to move the right if right means not correct, but conservative, fundamentalist, self-righteous, and rigidly traditional in societies where tradition is paternalistic, narrow-minded, racist, classist, religiously dogmatic, and sexist?

I think turning to the side without the bum shoulder or the clogged sinus or turning to the side where there is more room or a beloved friend practicing beside you is turning in accordance with the principle of pradakshina–even if it means turning to your left.

Practice pradakshina by all means, seek to align with and embrace the flow and forces or nature within and without and honor those social customs that support and expand love and community, but don’t just roll to the right (or teach that) because someone told you going to the right will bring you closer to the divine. It ain’t necessarily so.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.


Disobedience and Isvara Pranadhana

MoveOn just posted this Howard Zinn quote on Facebook:  “Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”

It spoke my mind and resonated with what I wrote about yesterday with regard to how to be open to yoga’s invitation to practice humility without ceding power to authoritarian structures.   This quote is spurring me to think aboutPatanjali’s eight-limbed path of yoga, and particularly the niyama (observance) of ishvara pranadhana (surrender).  I  don’t see why a true, radical yogini could not simultaneously surrender to the mysterious outrageousness of being while still being appropriately disobedient to authoritarian structure.  But maybe that is because I was raised a Quaker; there’s quite a bit of overlap between some of the tantric yoga principles and the teachings of Quakers.



Last night at house practice, we were led to think about humility (in Sanskrit vinaya). Yoga, similar to religion, tends to privilege the idea of humility.

From a one perspective, it is easy to think of the benefit that those in charge–the priests and the moneyed and privileged classes that support religious institutions to get help staying in power–get from preaching the virtues of humility. If the relatively powerless are led to believe that they will benefit spiritually from practicing humility before humans and institutions that hold sway over them, that certainly helps perpetuate a patently unfair status quo.

We can recognize our own skills and talents and relative worthiness and actively seek justice and fairness, though, and still be humble. However much intrinsic power we have and extrinsic fairness in distribution of power we seek, we can still recognize that we are not ultimately in charge of exactly how our life will play out in the vast and complex web of being. Feeling humility in the face of all that we do not and cannot know is just living in awe at the wonder of life. This, I think, is true and sustainable humility.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.


Quote of the Day

“Life is extremely inventive; it always finds the means to prove to you that you are still a little rigid and tense, still projecting somewhat, still expecting a little, still somewhat vulnerable, and it is this constant dialogue with reality that keeps you from mistaking yourself for a master.” Daniel Odier, Desire, The Tantric Path to Awakening.

Whatever you might think is mastery or whomever a master.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.


What About Love? (and Conflict Management Training)

Last week I attended a work-place training entitled “Conflict Management–Dealing with Difficult Conversations in the Workplace.”  I do not do much training at work; the several hours a week I spend doing professional reading generally satisfies the needs of my position.  When the offer for this two-day  training came into my inbox, I decided that it might be useful.  I am responsible for a project that involves several different offices in multiple government agencies all of which have perceived differences in agendas and jurisdiction and real differences in expertise and personality.  I am also about to get another new supervisor, and people in my division have been edgy.

The training, which had about 15 attendees even though it was the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving started simply enough.  We all identified ourselves by name and job function and where in the agency we worked  and then took the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, which helps give a broad general idea of how one typically reacts in situations that involve conflict.  All pretty straightforward workplace training stuff.  Then the facilitator suggested that most conflict between people (and within ourselves) arises when our feelings of worthiness are or are perceived to be threatened.  My ears perked up.  “Anavamala,” I thought.  It’s just like what the tantric philosophers teach us, that the unreal cloak of unworthiness is what leads to suffering and discord.

The workshop continued.  We did some roleplaying and engaged in discussion to consider how we can better lead the best out of each other and ourselves, whatever type of negotiator we are.  It was interesting to see how this fairly diverse group of workers — young, old, experienced, brand new workers of varying levels of seniority in the agency — were able to be engaged and brought together in exploring these issues, but nothing was particularly surprising.  It was almost time to break for lunch on the first day, when the facilitator asked, and then let drop  the question, without discussion or seeking a response, “what about love?”

“What about love, indeed?” I thought.  That’s a word we do not hear in the workplace unless it is in an interview and someone claims to love their work, or it’s idle conversation and someone declares that he or she loves a sports team or a restaurant.  The next morning I commented privately to the facilitator that I thought it a great question, but was not surprised, given the context, that he had not discussed it further.  He said that he would bring it up more, and he did.  He suggested that when we love, we are more willing to allow, respect, and listen to differences of opinion; when we love, we are also more motivated to resolve conflict in a way that serves best those with whom we are in conflict.  This teaching made sense for most of the participants with regard to conflicts with friends and family, but it was harder for them to see in the context of the workplace because they did not think of love (as this society has come to classify it) as something that is part of the workplace.

How can we bring love into our non-intimate relationships (although I would argue that in some ways, the workplace is very much an intimate relationship as it so deeply relates both to our sense of purpose and to our survival)?  The tantric teachings suggest that there is a universal ground to all being, one aspect of which is, in essence, love (prem).  When we recognize that we are all made of the same stuff and that an aspect of the universal is love itself, then we are invited to see the unity in diversity and to respond in the highest in the face of difficulty or challenge.  (Quakers similarly teach us to recognize the light or good in every being and to treat all as divine).   Truly loving universally does not necessarily come naturally and can be a challenging and advanced practice , but it has been my experience that it is a practice that is worthy of all our relationships, including those in the workplace.  It may be too much to ask us to like our co-workers, but seeking to recognize that they are worthy of love can go a long way to making our work day a brighter, more productive, more effective, and more compassionate place.