Tuesday, September 21, 2010

That Was Zen, This is Tao

Sometime around the 5th or 6th century, an Indian sage named Bodhidharma left for the far East. He is said to be the transmitter of the Buddhadharma to China - responsible for the development of Cha'an (from the Sanskrit dhyana meaning 'meditation') which would later become Zen (Japan) Buddhism. It was a remarkable transference in Asian history. Between India and China. Two of the most ancient living cultures and civilizations in the world.

Like so many pilgrims before and after Bodhidharma's time, we too will follow the ancient Silk Road (metaphorically, not necessarily geographically) from India to China. Charlotte and I have been offered positions teaching at an English Training School in North Eastern China. In the town of Yun Cheng, in the Shanxi Province - about 3 hours from Xi'an where the famous Terracotta Warriors rest. We are told it is quite a historic place, the capital city where many of China's famous dynasties once ruled the land.

Farewell India
It is hard to believe we are leaving India so soon - Now, tonight in fact. India is a place that had filled my dreams and imagination for so many years - yearning for the day I would set foot on her holy soil. And now I have spent almost four months of those days, exploring her mountains, rivers, towns, and temples. But India - like China - is HUGE! And it is ANCIENT. And it is teeming with the NEW. It is such an in-your-face perplexing mix of tradition and modernity - a booming East and West fusion at the shopping mall temple. With monks on cell phones and sadhus in sun glasses. This experience will be lingering in psyche, processing, churning - possibly until I return.

Writing this blog feels like a goodbye of sorts. But it's not. My karma is not yet finished with India nor her children. This is not a goodbye. It's a see you later. After our work in China, we plan to return to holy India, with wallets reloaded, to once again smell the spice and taste the nectar of the axis mundi of religioso. As our dear Israeli friend Nimrod once said, "India is like a strong, beautiful woman you'd like to dance with. But... (in his thick Mediterranean accent) you must let Her lead." While traveling in India, you must surrender. You must let go of who or what you think you are. You must let go of that bus ticket, let go of that train ride, let go of that custom made yak-wool sweatshirt you got in Manali that you loved so much and would be so perfect for a cold winter in China...You must let go of any plans you think you had. Because She will swallow them whole. And spit you out anew. But... if you can learn to flow with Her, to dance with India, then grace is bestowed. You are rewarded with the ultimate gold. You are your Self. You are always where you need to be. And you're always going where you're supposed to go. "For every 10,000 places you don't get to see, there are 10,000 other amazing places you do get to see."

This post almost marks the end of a chapter for Mindful Roots. It appears that we will not have access to Blogspot once we enter the Great fireWall of China. Nor will we have access to Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, or any other user-friendly forum of social networking freedom. We are both nervous and excited to move to Communist China. I know we told everyone we were moving to India... but now we are really moving to China. Our teaching contract runs 9 months through June. We are excited to learn Mandarin (our company is providing each of us Chinese tutors!). Just as it is not fair to judge Americans based on the foreign (or domestic) policy of the U.S. Government, the same holds for the people of China or any other nation. We are excited to experience China from the inside - to make Chinese friends!

If anyone would like to continue to receive photos and updates from China,
please send an e-mail to mindfulroots@gmail.com or charlottecora@gmail.com
We also have a Skype account: mindfulroots
Also...if anyone wants to come visit us in China. Come!
We'll pour you tea, teach you some Chinese, show you how to use chopsticks, and take you 'round the land between Heaven and Earth.

Thank you to everyone who has been following this blog! We deeply appreciate your support on this journey. Please check back in about a year...

In love & gratitude

- Seth & Charlotte

Friday, September 17, 2010

Feelin' Santosh

Santosh means 'contentment' or 'self-sufficiency' in Sanskrit.
Sufficient through spiritual means.
Santosh Puri is the 'abode of contentment'.
The ashram is a place to heal the mind and body, to nourish the soul.
Bowing to the Divinity within you...
Om Namo Narayana.

After three weeks stay, Char and I had to say goodbye to our spiritual family, the sangha eventually has to split - as the river of impermanence reveals her timeless ripples. We had such a wonderful stay at this beautiful gem in Haridwar. We strongly encourage anyone who is interested in ashram life, or who is planning travel in India - please check out this humble ashram abode - your spirit will thank you.

They have courses going on year round, ranging from Ayurvedic Cooking, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, Clinical Yoga, and Chakra Meditation to Yantra painting. Click Here for more info.

Aligning With the Cosmos

One way that we can stay in touch with the rhythms of the universe, is through the colors we choose to wear. Each day correlates with a planet, and each planet is related to a certain color, element, gem, feeling etc.

By dressing in accordance to the planet, it helps to you to align with the natural rhythms of the cosmos. Your whole outfit does not have to be the color, but make sure it is visible somewhere on yourself, then sit back and feel the natural rhythms take you in the flow!

MONDAY: Moon Day Silver, Pale Blue, White


WEDNESDAY: Mercury Green, Green-Blues

THURSDAY: Jupiter Yellow

FRIDAY: Venus Pink, White, Pale Colors

SATURDAY: Saturn Black, Dark Brown, Dark Blue

SUNDAY: Sun's Day Orange, Gold

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pranic Healing

At some point we have all heard the accounts of miraculous healings. The water at Lourdes, France is said to heal any ailment. Submerge in the Ganges and your karma is purified. Jesus could bring the dead to life, as could Sri Yuketswar, the teacher of Parmahansa Yogananda.

But how?

The answer is Pranic healing. The word prana in Sanskrit means vitality, life force, or literally the supreme energy. Pranic healing is that which is bringing the vitality into being. That is how the blind could see again, the dead revived, and the sick brought back to health in all miraculous healings. Yes it can be called a miracle, but it can also be called the science of Pranic Healing.

Based on the studies and research of Grand Master Choa Kok Sui, we were given a workshop on how to become Pranic Healers ourselves. Class began with an inspiring talk on the fact that each and everyone of us can be a healer, because healing is about tapping into the life-force energy, God, the Supreme, Mother Mary. Your choice is how you tap into that supreme cosmic energy, to allow yourself to become an instrument in which the prana may come through you and into another being. We were led through a series of simple steps to become familiar in our own abilities as Pranic Healers.

1. Sensitize the hands: through a series a exercises, clapping of the hands, then holding the hands together and pulling them apart slowly to feel the energy pulsating between.

2. With a partner (I choose Seth of course) you stand 3 meters away from the other person. Then with eyes closed, slowly move in closer, holding out your right hand until you can feel the vibrations of their energy field or aura (tricky business, you have to be really focused to be able to feel it, but it is there, we all have them).

3. You then create an imaginary fire (or trash bin) next to the person. This is a very important step because you need a place to put all of the negative energy that you clean from the person, in order to extinguish it properly. Moving your right hand in a clockwise motion and simply say, "here is the fire."

4. Then you sweep the aura and chakra line of your partner. If there is a particular area of sickness or pain that area can be concentrated on. You sweep the chakras clean by moving your hand counter clockwise on top of each chakra, placing all of the negative energy into the fire.

5. Then you must distinguish the fire, moving hand counterclockwise, "fire be gone" (you can make up your own lines, but that is the gist of it).

6. Wash hands with salt to remove any negative energy.

7. With right hand up and facing forward, and left palm facing up towards the sky, you ask the universe, God, Shiva, Mother Mary, or the Cosmos to "please let me be a vessel for healing this person. Please send positive healing and white light into my body so that it may shine on this person."

8. In a clockwise manner, you re-energize the chakras, focusing on any trouble spots, re-energize the body, then very importantly, ask the energy to stabilize in the body.

9. Last step is to then say, "now that the energy is stable, please cut the connection of energy flowing between us."

10. The Pranic Healer is then to wash their hands.

This is a very simple and easy method of healing, which can take just 5 minutes, but can have tremendous results. Seth said he felt like a million bucks after I did it on him. And, you don't even have to be in the same room as someone to practice this type of healing. Pranic Healing can be done from the other side of the world! That is how subtle and complex our energy fields are.

So let me know if anyone needs me to use my body as an instrument for Pranic Healing, because I am ready and willing.......ohhhhh which reminds me of an important step I forgot.....before step number 8 where you re energize, you must ask the person," are you willing to receive this healing light", because if someone is not willing, no amount of medicine or Pranic energy will work to heal them. Never underestimate the power of the mind, the power of your own intention, Jesus, the Ganges - this healing happens because people have faith that it will heal them. We are our own best doctors, so be kind to yourself, think positive thoughts, and as "The Hidden Message of Water" reveals to us, living in "Love and Gratitude" forms the most beautiful crystals in one's own body.

The Science of Life

We are currently entering the last week of our therapeutic Yoga and Ayurveda course, and even though my teacher said not to speak of it until we ourselves have been practicing it for a year, I cannot help myself and want to share a bit that I have learned. My hope is that is will spark something in you, and that you will be inspired to learn more about these beautiful healing tools. I of course am no doctor so please take what I say with a grain of salt.........

As humans living in this beautiful world we are constantly on the quest to alleviate suffering - suffering of the mind, suffering of the body, suffering of the soul. In India, the path to relieve that suffering is found through the thousand-year old sciences of Ayurveda and Yoga.

Both provide a set of basic principles that define proper lifestyle and diet, all in accordance with your individual nature and your environment, as it is said that which is outside is also inside.

The main principle of Ayurveda is based on the five elements: ether, air, water, fire and earth. They are found in everything external and internal of the body. These elements are found in our body in the form of the doshas or "humors" or "natures." They are separated into three categories, Vata - ether and wind, Pitta - fire and water, and Kapha - earth and water.

In Ayurveda we receive our life vitality from two main sources, 30% from food, and 70% from our external environment. It is when these sources of vitality become imbalanced in the body that problems begin. In terms of the food, problems occur through the digestion of food, due to lack of or too much fire (agni) in the digestive track. The outer environment can cause imbalances in the mind and body when we are stressed, in a chaotic space, surrounded by pollution, possess a lot of anger, etc...

Our bodies always let us know externally when there is an internal imbalance. This can be seen through acne, constipation, redness of the eyes, etc. In Ayurveda they would say that one of your doshas are out of balance.

The first step in the diagnosis is determining what your dominate dosha is:

Do you have dry skin, and tend to get cracks in your feet, and split ends in your hair?
Do you dream of warmer weather?
Do you get pain in your joints, pains everywhere?
Do you find it hard to finish things, and long to travel all the time?

If so you are most likely Vata dominant.

Do you have fair skin and hair?
Are you hungry all the time?
Do you feel like you can become angry very quickly?
Are you thirsty all the time?

If so you are most likely Pitta dominant.

Do you have oily skin?
Do you have a hard time waking up in the morning?
Do you sweat a lot?
Do you have a strong sweet tooth and could eat a whole container of ice cream in one sitting?

If so you are most likely a Kapha.

So how to fix an imbalance. Well one way is to learn everything you can about Ayurveda (which takes about minimum 5 years in an Ayurvedic school), you can self diagnose looking at your own poop (yes people the poop tells it all!) or you can do what Seth and I did and visit your local Indian Ayurvedic doctor.

On our one day off, we went to the main city of Haridwar, with a group of 6 people from our course, to visit the doctor. We enter a small crowded room, where in the middle sits a desk and at the desk, is a very small, very old (I am guessing 90) man with the largest Yoda like ears I have ever seen. He is the doctor, and we are all there to witness the open examination of each of his patients, which goes something like this: I sat next to him, he felt my pulse for about thirty seconds, then asked my age, and from that he said to me three very startling facts about my past and present medical conditions, information that only I know about, wrote me out a prescription, and the whole process was over in less than two minutes. He did the same to Seth: in less than a minute he told him that his Vatta and Pitta were out of balance and that he needed to 'focus more on his asana practice.' Then he stuck a flashlight down his throat and told him that his tonsils were swollen, which they were.

I am a believer, it is true, but I also know that this man after all of these years of training is so sensitive and acute to the smallest sign and behaviorisms that the average person would never notice, that along with the science of pulse reading, he can tell exactly where the imbalance is.

After a week of medications, which were a combination of herbal tasting powders, all carefully prepared in individual newspaper packets, I feel amazing and completely healed. For example I have had a planters wart on my foot for over a year and I tried all sorts of western medicine and nothing worked, and these magic powders have done the trick....there were other things as well, but I will keep my pooping issues to myself....

The conclusion is that this is a science that has been practiced for over two thousand years and is still going strong, I think that is just one proof of it effectiveness. India has known for a long time that healing is a process of not just body and remedy, but a process of sustaining the vitality of the mind, body, heart and soul.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ganesha Chaturthi

[Swami Sivananda on Ganesh]

SALUTATIONS to Lord Ganesha who is Brahman Himself, who is the Supreme Lord, who is the energy of Lord Shiva, who is the source of all bliss, and who is the bestower of all virtuous qualities and success in all undertakings.

Mushikavaahana modaka hastha,
Chaamara karna vilambitha sutra,
Vaamana rupa maheshwara putra,
Vighna vinaayaka paada namasthe

MEANING: "O Lord Vinayaka! the remover of all obstacles, the son of Lord Shiva, with a form which is very short, with mouse as Thy vehicle, with sweet pudding in hand, with wide ears and long hanging trunk, I prostrate at Thy lotus-like Feet!"

Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most popular of Hindu festivals. This is the birthday of Lord Ganesha. It is the day most sacred to Lord Ganesha. It falls on the 4th day of the bright fortnight of Bhadrapada (August-September). It is observed throughout India, as well as by devoted Hindus in all parts of the world.

Clay figures of the Deity are made and after being worshipped for two days, or in some cases ten days, they are thrown into water.

Lord Ganesha is the elephant-headed God. He is worshipped first in any prayers. His Names are repeated first before any auspicious work is begun, before any kind of worship is begun.

He is the Lord of power and wisdom. He is the eldest son of Lord Shiva and the elder brother of Skanda or Kartikeya. He is the energy of Lord Shiva and so He is called the son of Shankar and Umadevi. By worshipping Lord Ganesha mothers hope to earn for their sons the sterling virtues of Ganesha.

His Mantra is Om Gung Ganapathaye Namah. Spiritual aspirants who worship Ganesha as their tutelary Deity repeat this Mantra or Om Sri Ganeshaya Namah.

Lord Ganesha represents Om or the Pranava, which is the chief Mantra among the Hindus. Nothing can be done without uttering it. This explains the practice of invoking Ganesha before beginning any rite or undertaking any project. His two feet represent the power of knowledge and the power of action. The elephant head is significant in that it is the only figure in nature that has the form of the symbol for Om.

May the blessings of Sri Ganesha be upon you all! May He remove all the obstacles that stand in your spiritual path! May He bestow on you all material prosperity as well as liberation!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Svaha! La Shana Tovah!

Last night we celebrated the auspicious Day of Shakti with a special yajna fire ceremony. The yajna is a very ancient Vedic ritual, traditionally performed by brahmin priests to maintain balance and harmony between humanity and the cosmos. The word yajna literally means 'churning,' and it is through this churning of the fire that we can burn our impurities away.

The fire is the center piece of Vedic life and religion. On a symbolic level it represents the fires of transformation within each of our bodies on the microcosmic scale. In yoga the internal fire is located in the Manipura chakra at our naval center. At the macrocosmic level the fire is the burning sun, the source of energy for all life. Just as we want to feed and nourish our physical bodies, to churn the digestive fires, similarly, we offer nice smelling herbs and grains to the yajna fire. It is an opportunity to make amends, ask forgiveness, and to let go of something that is preventing you from realizing your full potential.

During the ceremony, we chanted the Gyatri Mantra 108 times around the mala. At the end of each mantra, we'd let out a svaha! with an offering to the offering. Svaha is one of my favorite Sanskrit words, it means something like the Beatles' song 'Let it Be.'

It just so happened that this new moon was also the night of Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish New Year! Our beloved Israeli friends Miri and Nimrod were there to help bring these two ancient traditions together. Similarly in the Jewish tradition, this evening begins a 10-day period of reflection, forgiveness, offering of your sins, to 'purify your karma.' On the evening of the tenth day, the Gates of Heaven (also the translation of Haridwar!) are said to be open, and it is known as Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement - where we can offer acceptance and repentance, clearing impurities and making space for a sweet new year! We celebrated as tradition with apples dipped in honey for a sweet nectary prasad.

Svaha! La Shana Tovah!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Santosh Puri Ashram

Hari Om.

Well we are now officially back in India India. That is Hindu India. Right in the heart of it. Residing in one of her holiest cities - Haridwar, the 'Gates of Heaven' - where the river Ganges descends from the Himalayan mountains down into the plains of India. It is a place that has attracted millions of pilgrims for thousands of years, to dip in the purifying waters of Ma Ganga. One drop, believed to wash away your impurities and take you to 'the far side.' Jai Ma Ganga Ki Jai!

We are staying at the Santosh Puri Ashram, right on the holy river. The ashram is run by an incredible divine family of yogis: Narvada Puri, or Mataji as we call her, and her three incredible children, named after sacred Indian rivers - Ganga, Mandakani, and Alaknanda (or Gangotri). Mataji is a German born women who came to India at age 18, and never left. She found her guru Baba Santosh Puri and together spent 12 years on an island off the Ganges, practicing intense yogic austerities and serving the cows. To be in her presence is a gift, and we are receiving so so much from our stay at Santosh. We are in the midst of an intensive 3-week Clinical Yoga and Ayurveda course. Needless to say, the schedule is full. And ashram life starts dark and early. Here's a taste of our schedule:

Meditation/Aarti 4:30am
Cleansing Kriyas 6:00am
Herbal Tea 7:00am
Asanas 8:00am
Breakfast 10:15am
Karma Yoga 11-11:30am
Lunch 12:00pm
Ayurveda/Clinical Theory 1:30pm
Tea 3:30pm
Ayurveda Theory/Pranayama 4:30pm
Dinner 6:30pm
Aarti 7:15pm

Wow just typing that was a lot. The schedule is challenging, but actually not too bad. I'm surprising both myself and Charlotte by waking up at 4:30am to attend aarti every morning! There is something powerful and mysterious about starting the day before sunrise - a potent moment of energy in between night and day consciousness. In fact I remember reading a Yoga Journal article months back that mentioned that humans are the only species who sleep past the rising of the sun! This struck a cord, but unfortunately I was unable to make any radical lifestyle adjustments at that time...

What was particularly challenging though this week were the most 'difficult' of the shatkarma kriyas. First up was Shankha Prakshalana, the 'Supreme Movement' - which involves chugging 2 liters of warm salt water and rather quickly, letting it 'pass through you.' This kriya is to cleanse and purify our 'lower mouth.' Shankha Prakshalana is also accompanied by its helpful friend, the Ganesh Kriya - where you take your middle finger (of your left hand), some oil, and gently massage the walls of the anus. Which may seem a little weird at first - as we don't tend to give much attention with our hands 'down there' in the West - but it is actually very therapeutic and greatly helps to empty our bowels. Needless to say, when doing Shankha Prakshalana with a group, it is essential to have several toilets available at once.

After two days of Shankha Prakshalana, next was Kunjal Kriya a.k.a. vomiting. Again the warm salt water - with a little less salt - this time to purify our 'upper mouth.' Facing South.....we all lined up and.... BLAK! 2 days of Kunjal Kriya. As Gita Meta says, something to the affect, in Karma Cola, excretion is a social and communal activity in India - just like bathing and eating. Our group has certainly bonded this week.

With the little free time in between classes, I have also managed to begin some other studies... Emily and I are learning to play the Harmonium with Mandakni. Jai Ma!! I'm beginning to teach myself Hindi, learning the Devanagari Script. I'm even studying and reciting the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit with the local 'Babaji.' While also finding time to read from the incredible selection from the ashram library... Yes ashram life is sweet, like nectar. Sundays are our one free days, so I will try and write more next week! Hopefully these mosquitoes don't eat me alive first...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Meditations at Pangong Lake

With rock as my seat,
tucked in shawl to protect from high winds.

I sit on the edge,
of intense shades of indigo blue, aqua navy.
Sounds crash into changing shorelines,
sending ripples of timeless peace.
Above us only snow.

The 'Roof of the World'
sits across the shore.
A dip in her cool blue waters,
is to step foot
in the 'Land of the Snow.'

'60% of its surface lies in China,'
the Guidebook says.

A small yellow bird squawks,
flying over head.
A symbol of timeless freedom,
naturally rings in song.

Is it Ladakhi or Tibetan?
Indian or Chinese?
There are no boundaries in the sky,
it is boundless like the original Mind.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Universe as a Mandala

During our first week's stay at Thiksey Monastery, the monks were engaged in a lengthy 7-day Mandala Puja Ceremony. They would start at 6:30am and chant all day long until about 6pm in the evening, with little breaks in between. The mandala is an intricate traditional Tibetan model, hand-crafted with painstaking detail using colored sand. In the center of the mandala lies Mt. Meru, the axis mundi, surrounded by the 4 Cardinal Directions. The model represents the entire universe within Buddhist cosmology. Once the puja ceremony is completed, which includes LONG recitations of Tibetan prayers, the sand mandala is then ritually destroyed and made as an offering. This is performed traditionally to demonstrate the Buddhist Law of Impermanence.

At the end of the week, there was a big fire ceremony in the courtyard, in which the monks made offerings to the mandala deity. Afterwards we entered back into the main gompa and ritually destroyed the sand mandala. Finally, we carried the sand remains in an urn, marching down the long monastery steps, to an outlet of the Indus river, where we offered the universe as a mandala. The monks at Thiksey perform three big pujas like this a year.

"Of all practices, the offering of the mandala is the most profound and skillful way to accumulate the essential provisions of merit and wisdom, without which we cannot travel swiftly along the path."
- Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, The Excellent Path to Enlightenment

"We practice the mandala offering so that we are able to give without clinging."
- Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, The Excellent Path to Enlightenment

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Puja at a Funeral

Aug 9

Death has arrived here in the village of Thiksey. The Mandala Ceremony has been temporarily put on hold, for more pressing engagements are required of the monks. For the next five days they will be performing special pujas, for the dead.

Walking alongside the ancient Indus River, we join a procession of red-robed monks and about fifty village people. All men, Charlotte quickly notices as she chooses to stay behind. With prayer beads in hand, I joined the other men to the cremation ground. Behind the monks, four men carry the body over their shoulders, in a colorfully adorned Tibetan-Ladakhi coffin.

As we arrive at the pre-arranged charnel ground, where the monks have set up for the puja ceremony, the body is placed on top a stone fixture, with an open center to receive the ashes. The villagers gather around, as the men walk up one by one and place burning incense offerings on top the coffin. The monks are seated in a crescent line around the body. Next to them is an array of offerings and puja accessories: grains, seeds, barley, beans, plant stocks, butter, and water are recognizable.

Ominous ochre-red mountains surround the desert funeral. Crisp blue skies and a harsh sun lurk overhead. A white cloud passes above blocking the fiery burning star in the sky, to provide a moment of cool. A sullen darkness falls. The head lama stands up, ringing the bell in his left hand, as he begins reciting the Tibetan prayers. The other monks hum along in their chanting echo mumbles. Money is given between the men in exchange for traditional white kata scarves. A small man approaches the center, standing near the lama with small wood animal sculptures in hand, apparently burnt by flame. Still chanting, the lama obtains a medium sized wooden stick with a white flag attached.

After a few minutes, the head lama conclusively shakes his bell, signaling the end of the prayer. Immediately, the small man runs off, the lama following close behind, almost chasing him, into the distance. I watch intently as the man throws the wooden animals into the desert. The lama tosses his stick, white flag flapping in the wind. Together the two slowly walk back to the group. The family members stand out from the crowd and begin the ritual kora, three clockwise circumnabulations around the body. One by one they each offer their white kata scarves and prostrate toward the deceased. And then, just like that, everyone began walking away…

I asked a young man why we were leaving so soon? He replied, ‘Only for the monks.’ The ritual burning was only for the monks, we were not to see.
I asked him, ‘Did you know the deceased?’
‘Yes. My Auntie,’ he replied.
‘What is her name?’
‘Auntie Tashi.’