The Heart of the Universe: Exploring the Heart Sutra, by Mu Soeng. This thin volume from fellow Wisdom author and resident scholar at the Barre Institute for Buddhist Studies is thick in wisdom. As the title suggests it explores the Heart Sutra, placing it in context and then line-by-line commentary. It also uses the Heart Sutra as the platform for a clear and compelling account of Buddhist psychology, philosophy, and wisdom. Fans of the Heart Sutra will find the commentary fascinating and provocative. People unfamiliar to the Heart Sutra will be amazed at the parallels between the Buddha’s insights 2500 years ago and the findings of 20th century quantum physics. While not offered as self-help, this scholarly treatise offers such help to the astute reader. It goes to the core of the Buddha’s teaching, his fundamental insight regarding the nature of self and reality. Mu Soeng says, “To see oneself truly and authentically, as an event — an ever changing process — rather than a thing-in-itself, is the greatest act of re-imaging.” The metaphor we use to understand what it means to be a self makes all the difference. If the metaphor is a solid thing than we are vulnerable to dukkha (suffering, dissatisfaction). If the metaphor is a process there are no edges in which to create dukkha and therefore no suffering or pervasive dissatisfaction in life.
When we relate to self as a solid entity, we understand this moment or a segment of our lives in terms of a past moment. This past moment, or more accurately, our memory of this past moment has been selected and is therefore incomplete, it is also biased by beliefs, rules, and preconceptions. In this way, the previous moment serves as a metaphor for the future moment. The past distortion gets propagated into the future thereby interfering with our ability to experience this moment with more clarity as a “new” experience. We miss the opportunity to experience this moment unladen with the burden of past experience and its concepts, beliefs, and rules.
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Tiger Wood has announced his return to golf for the 2010 Masters. Few stories have garnered as much attention and jaw dropping voyeurism as this sexual scandal. Indeed, Tiger’s return to golf in the Master’s will be “will be the biggest media event, other than the Obama inauguration, in the past 10 or 15 years.” says CBS boss, Sean McManus.The most recent episode of South Park in its typical brilliant fashion highlights many of the issues at hand. How did they choose to represent the Tiger Woods Scandal? The episode begins with a scene between Tiger and Elin wherein she is chasing him with a golf club. The scene plays into the rumors that she assaulted him and that led to his fleeing the home and crashing his Escalade. The creative turn here and incisive social commentary is that the scene we are seeing comes from a video game being played by Cartmann and Stan. The episode then turns to the issue of sexual addiction and Kyle and Kenny are identified by the CDC as showing risk factors for developing sexual addiction. The tongue-in-cheek joke is to suggest that some degree of sexual preoccupation is abnormal, when of course it is not. Tiger’s fall from grace was more poignant because he led such a private life and gave little of himself to the media or, indeed, to his fellow players on the Tour.
In Tiger’s mea culpa he cited his Buddhist faith as a means to his salvation. He said, “People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years … Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security … “It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously I lost track of what I was taught.” The Dalai Lama, previously clueless to the phenomenon known as Tiger Woods, commentated that Tiger’s Buddhist faith would provide, ”Self-discipline with awareness of consequences.” Well said, Your Holiness, and Tiger too. Now what? I wonder how he will play now that he is not looking outside of himself for security. How will his golf game be now that he will be, presumably, less identified with his identity as “Tiger Woods” and less invested in propping up this image. In principle, he could play better! That’s a scary prospect for every player on the PGA Tour. What if all these fornicating actually detracted from his game? What if his obsessive preoccupation with sex impaired his ability to concentrate and play his best game. How many major championships would he have now? Again, it will be interesting to see what unfolds as he moves forward. While I hope that he can restrain his behavior, without a dedication to meditation he won’t have the inner discipline to accomplish his goals. He may still chase every mental impulse and pursue unrestrained fantasies. His outer disciplines if accompanied by the inner discipline of Mind FITness will certainly help him to realize his maximum potential as a golfer and as a human being.
The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox Massachusetts is a unique institution and community. If you don’t already know about, please allow me to introduce you to it. I just returned from directing a course there over the weekend based on my book entitled: “Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: Metaphors for Mindful Living.” Kripalu is a wonderful place situated in a landscape of soothing physical beauty in the Berkshire Mountains, it throbs with an energy of people seeking their truth through yoga, meditation, healing arts, among many other disciplines. A weekend workshop at Kripalu is a time to learn and to relax; to enjoy wholesome food and the company of dynamic and friendly people. Around the workshop times, yoga classes at different levels are offered including a yoga dance hour. I did this on Saturday. It was a fabulous workout and great fun, led by renown yoga dance teacher Toni Bergins, creator of Journey Dance. If you don’t want the structure of a workshop, you can go to Kripalu for Retreat and Renewal. Here you can partake in yoga classes and other classes, hike the grounds, sit in the sauna and enjoy the healing atmosphere of this magical place. I am pleased and proud to be a new member of the teaching faculty of this singular organization.
Kripalu offers training throughout the year for Yoga Teacher Training, Massage Therapy, and Ayurvedic Medicine. The Institute for Extraordinary Living (IEL) Directed by Stephen Cope is conducting research on the brain effects of yoga using neuroimaging. Sarah Lazar who has conducted ground breaking research on the brain effects of mindfulness meditation is leading the research. Yoga has penetrated our culture with 6.9% or 15.8 million people in the United States practicing yoga. Another 8% of population are interested in trying yoga. Kripalu Yoga emphasizes compassion and witness consciousness, representing a more contemplative form of yoga than the many varieties available to the interested seeker. The yoga efficacy study conducted by Sarah Lazar tested 16 yoga practitioners, 18 meditation practitioners, and 16 control subjects. All subjects underwent brain imaging via functional MRI (fMRI). Cortical thickness was measured for each group. Meditators meditated while in the MRI tube while yoga practitioners imagined going through a yoga routine (since the claustrophobic like confines of the MRI tube do not permit actual yoga asanas). Results will be published soon. The IEL is also conducting research on the beneficial effects of yoga on musical performance (in conjunction with the famed Tanglewood Music Center) and the effects of yoga for veterans with posttruamatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Kripalu is a non-profit organization and thrives through the generosity of its donors and program participants. Visit them at http://kripalu.org/
I am currently in the process of planning my next teaching engagement at Kripalu, so stay tuned for more details.