Monday, July 21, 2008

Sung to the tune of the Coltrane jam.

In no particular order, a few of my favorite cliches about yoga. Feel free to contribute your own! Remember, just because something is a cliche doesn't mean it isn't true or accurate. Though wouldn't it be more fun and rewarding to acknowledge that they are, in fact, cliches, so that we can move on to see how they originated, if they're true and accurate, and what sort of transformation they might undergo over time?

— A conflation, signaling greater confusion, of yoga asana with all yoga practices; or, in the case of ashtanga vinyasa, confusing a branch for the tree, as it were.

— All yoginis are ...
White; upper-middle class or upper class; thin; "cut" or toned; vegetarian; female; twenty-something; eco-conscious or green; liberal; partial to organic food and clothing; single; ascetic; non-smoking; non-drinking; non-synthetic drug taking; rapturously in love with India; have a guru; value bliss and happiness.

— Yoga is a lifestyle, with accordingly appropriate books, movies, clothes, accessories, services, and holidays to be purchased and consumed.

From (oV0), whose handle looks to me unabashedly like a pair of breasts:

— The knees are the ego. Kapotasana will open your heart. Emotions are in the hips. Stiff people have issues.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I don't care for the latest Radiohead release, In Rainbows, which leads me to wonder what Ramesh Balsekar would make of it. During our visit to his flat in Mumbai, I didn't get a chance to wander from the main room, but I assume somewhere on the premises is a computer with Internet access. One could also assume that Ramesh opted to either download the release from Radiohead's site, in which case one could wonder what amount, if any, Ramesh consented to pay for the music. Forty rupees? Four hundred? Or perhaps Ramesh is an active BitTorrent user, and simply downloaded the music for free from Pirate Bay or Demonoid.

My personal like or dislike of a Radiohead album is in the same vein as that Picasso anecdote, which I am doubtlessly misremembering. The painter is accosted by a woman at a party, a woman who insists to him that she neither understands nor cares much for Cubism. "But madam!" says Picasso. "It really doesn't matter!"

Does Ramesh have a preference either for or against the new Radiohead album? While he was listening to it, did he lean to his wife and say, "Aum Shiva, but Thom Yorke is one whiny bastard!" Or has he completely extinguished all patterns, imprints, habits, and other boundaries of the ego? As water ceases flowing from a tap, has that part of mind that produces preferences within Ramesh been completely shut off

Or does Ramesh's lack of preference either for or against the new Radiohead album mean that he still witnesses desire or its opposite as either arise — only he is not identified with them, as them? The thought arises, "I do not like the discordant, free-jazz pseudo-electronica of In Rainbows," that thought in turn observed by the single and expansive pinpoint of overwelming consciousness?

Perhaps a clue can be found in Consciousness Writes, in which Ramesh quotes Yang-Chu: 'Let the ear hear what it longs to hear [including In Rainbows].' When there is disassociation or dis-identification with whatever happens to the body-mind mechanism ... the prevailing tendencies of the body-mind are merely witnessed without any comparing or judging."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

We are taking the gods, we are turning them into toys, and we are putting them into the hands of children, or into the hands of grown men trapped in a retarded adolescence. Worship has become a form of play and play has become a form of worship, archetypes and icons at once immanent yet transcendent. Please note: Hanuman comes with his Gada mace and the Himalayas; the latter fits snugly in the palm of his hand.

Who knows, if there'da been a Jesus action figure — a good Jesus action figure, on a He-Man or G.I. Joe level, you know, a Jesus with an eight-pack stomach and massive pecs, money-changer-thrashing pump-arm action, personal stats and info on a file card to be clipped out, collected, and saved, and a whole passel of accessories (shepherd's crook, bread loaf, fish, chalice, crown of thorns, various sandals and robes ((white, black, dun-colored))) — my whole kick mighta turned out quite a bit different.

Sonofa ... ! Of course, why wouldn't they have a Rama action figure, too? Ram comes equipped with Shiva's Bow and a Divine Arrow. He also has "11 points of articulation plus a flexible grip," said "flexible grip" to be utilized for putting the pimp hand down on Ravanna.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Well ladies, one way to find out what evil lurks in the hearts of your men is to leave them to their own devices. Tara (wife) and Rowan (daughter) are out of town for the week, which means the numbers of penises in our household now outnumbers the vaginas by two to one. (Note: of the aforementioned genitalia, one penis and one vagina are of the feline variety.)

Now that I've finally ascended to my rightful place as benevolent-ish oppressor, as compared to my usual standing as woefully oppressed minority, exactly what brands of evil am I consuming?

1. Japanese Animation
Appleseed: Ex Machina: A bit Matrix-y, but Jesus, they knocked it out of the park with the animation. Produced by John Woo, some costumes designed by Miuccia Prada?

2. Gun Porn
Anyone seen Rambo? Ho. Lee. Shit!

3. Comic Books
Brubaker's/Phillips' Criminal

4. Making Organized Messes
My wife views our house as a home, a warm, comfy, inviting environment that functions as a safe respite from the harsh winds of the world outside, a place in which we, as a family, can snuggle and nest. Our home is to be decorated and adorned, and consequently kept brain-splittingly clean.

I, on the other hand, view our house as the staging ground, the outpost, the secret headquarters, the Fortress of Solitude, if you will, for the various adventures that I embark upon on a daily basis and that constitute the stuff of my life. As such, in the same vein as Richard Dreyfus' character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I am compelled to stack, pile, and otherwise accumulate, throughout the house, waist-high mounds of the various equipment, gear and accoutrements that are necessary for the life of action and daring I lead.

Therefore, I have been busily at work turning our warm and inviting home into a combination Everest Base Camp and Batcave, or perhaps Justice League Satellite?

5. Tour de France
They will be hitting the Alps tomorrow morning, so when I am not practicing, I will be glued to my computer.

6. Paul Grilley's Yin Yoga DVD
Trying to make it through the theory bit.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Reading David Loy's "The Path of No-path: Shankara and Dogen on the Paradox of Practice"
Shankara, as David Loy writes, had some very specific ideas regarding the usefulness of a yoga practice: It is "for those of inferior intellect," he commented in the Brahma Sutra Bhasya. Repetitive meditation techniques? They may be helpful because "people do not always understand the first time."

Shankara, or Adi Shankara, who perhaps lived some time around 800 CE, was the renowned scholar and consolidator of the strain of philosophy called Advaita Vedanta. In the world of ashtanga vinyasa, many of those who practice the ashtanga pranayama recite the first verse of the Advaita Guru Parampara to begin the four chants that come at the closing of the practice. In so doing, they honor Shankara among the prominent teachers of Advaita.

So it may seem a bit paradoxical to, at the end of a practice, salute a prominent, pre-eminent teacher who didn't think much of "practices" at all. The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (I.iv.7) suggests that "the Self alone is to be meditated upon" — and Shankara does not agree. He comments on this line to say that "except the knowledge that arises from that statement ... there is nothing to be done, either mentally or outwardly."

I personally find it useful to locate my relationship to a practice or a belief-system in relation to yet a third system, one that appeals to me in some way and one that shares many similarities, and yet one that also presents opposites and oppositions. It is this act of triangulation that allows us to examine areas of overlap, areas of concordance, and areas of tension. I've heard Richard Freeman use the algebraic metaphor of the overlapping circles of a Venn diagram, in which one overlays different systems to see where they meet and, more importantly, where they don't. It is these seams, these areas where systems meet and flex and threaten irruption, their borders and boundary areas, that provide the richest, most useful insights.

In order to reconcile our practice of ashtanga vinyasa with, at least according to a key philosophical figure in its tradition, its utter uselessness, it's useful to veer completely and totally in the opposite direction, and head towards Dogen, a key figure in the Zen tradition. Unlike Shankara, "the heart of [Dogen's] teaching is this shusho itto (or ichinyo), 'the oneness of practice and enlightenment.'"

More importantly, as Loy says, where "Shankara resolves the delusive dualism between means and ends by denying the need for any practice, Dogen resolves the same dualism by incorporating enlightenment into practice."

In this light, we can re-examine the metaphor of the eight-limbed tree of ashtanga yoga, in which all limbs are in fact part of and inseparable from the same tree. From this viewpoint, the practice of the yamas, the niyamas, the asanas, the pranayamas — the external limbs — are inseparable from and equivalent to the internal limbs — including, most importantly, samadhi. The practice of the yamas is samadhi; samadhi is the practice of pranayama. Samadhi is the practice of the asanas.

Loy's suggestions for the Zen practice of zazen echo Patanjali's famous "abhyasa vairagyam tan nirodha": "This does not deny the reality of enlightenment from the relative standpoint. Done in such a fashion — neither seeking nor anticipating any effects — zazen in itself gradually transforms my character, and eventually there is an experience in which I realize clearly that the true nature of my mind and the true nature of the universe are nondual. Zazen cannot be said to cause this experience; enlightenment is always an accident, as Chogyam Trungpa has said, but practice undeniably makes us more accident-prone."

*The entire article can be found here: "The Path of No-path: Shankara and Dogen on the Paradox of Practice," Philosophy East and West, Volume 38, Number 2 (April 1988), pages 127–146
Lil' Wayne, "Lollipop."
Personally, I love it that all these rappers are getting positively baroque with the vocoder.

Death Cab for Cutie, "I Will Possess Your Heart."
I don't even like this band. At all. But this song kills, absolutely kills.

To qualify as a summer jam, a song must exist simultaneously in the past, the present, and the future. It must have a timeless appeal, as though specific sequences of your genetic chain, long dormant, await both this particular hook or melody and warm summer months in order to come to full expression.

A summer jam must also be so of the moment, so au currant, so immediate, that it renders frozen time itself. A good summer jam will freeze into golden amber instances during which it is heard, so that these friends, this car-ride, that barbecue are instants of utter summery perfection.

Finally, the perfect summer jam should trigger a deep nostalgia. For, like a snowflake on a fingertip, the crystalline moment that is the essence of the summer jam has already passed. The moment is over, and in fact, the moment never existed in the first place. You can recognize a summer jam the very first time you hear it when you recognize that you are already listening to it next fall, or winter, or years from now.

Yes, it is true that this is the plaintive scorched-earth howl of a woman hanging, by her cracked and pitted and doubtless painted-black fingernails, on the edge of a vast precipice, but at the same time it is also the ultimate wail of the bhaktin yogini — "Oh my god!" — offering up to and outright demanding that God take both her passion and her rage. At some point in the process, the offering and its intended result become one and the same, the means become the end, and Ida Maria surrenders, and not without a fight, the idea, the underpinning illusion, that she is the captain, piloting from the bridge, the cruise-liner that is her life. "Oh you think I'm in control/ Oh my god/ Oh you think it's all for fun." She is not asking questions here. This is not a comfortable process, nor is it a pretty one.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


You win a while, and then it's done
Your little winning streak
And summoned now to deal
With your invincible defeat
You live your life as if it's real...

You lose your grip, and then you slip
Into the masterpiece.