The Path To Bodhichitta

You start where you are, the practice will meet you there.

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Friday, July 21, 2006

Words Of A Saint

You know the saying - some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never ever the same. Here are some of the footprints that Mother Theresa left behind.

On Poverty
“There is more hunger in the world for love and appreciation than for bread.”

On Abortion
“It is a poverty to decide that a child must die, so that you may live as you wish.”

On Her Life’s Work
“The other day I dreamed that I was at the gates of heaven. And St. Peter said, “Go back to earth. There are no slums up here.”

On Love
“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I do know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will NOT ask, How many good things have you done in your life?, rather he will ask, How much LOVE did you put into what you did?”

On Serving God
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

“At the end of our lives, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made or how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in.”

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Four Reliances

How odd that after writing last night's post, I find this in my Inbox the next morning. It was one of the daily snippets of wisdom to which I've subscribed. I guess the higher forces figured that enlightenment would be faster if they sent it via email!


In Buddhism we establish whether a teacher is authentic by whether or not the guidance he or she is giving accords with the teachings of the Buddha. It cannot be stressed too often that it is truth of the teaching which is all-important, and never the personality of the teacher. This is why Buddha reminded us in the "Four Reliances":

Rely on the message of the teacher, not on his personality;
Rely on the meaning, not just on the words;
Rely on the real meaning, not just the provisional one;
Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary, judgmental mind.

So it is important to remember that the true teacher, as we shall see, is the spokesman of the truth: its compassionate "wisdom display." All the buddhas, masters, and prophets, in fact are the emanation of this truth, appearing in countless skillful, compassionate guises in order to guide us through their teaching, back to our true nature. At first then, more
important than finding the teacher is through making a connection with the truth of the teaching, for it is through making a connection with the truth of the teaching that you will discover your living connection with a master.

Source Of Inspiration

A teacher I know has been losing some of her students, who claim she isn’t inspiring enough. When I heard this, I wondered just how personally a teacher should take such a situation. So I asked around and got some interesting answers.

One teacher opined that it isn’t just the teacher who has to inspire the student but student who also has to inspire the teacher. I was intrigued by this concept. I always believed that the onus is on the teacher to ensure the students can absorb what s/he is teaching them. So I asked this teacher to elaborate.

“If you’re constantly making the same corrections to a student class after class, you’ll be uninspired to teach them, because they don’t have the awareness to absorb what you’re imparting,” he explained.

However, another teacher said, “Every student has a different way of learning. A teacher has to find out what that way is and tap into it. Of course, this can be challenging in a classroom, but you have to care enough about your students to make that effort.”

I agree with the latter. After all, patience is a teacher's greatest virtue! And since teaching is a teacher's vocation, a teacher has to explore every possible teaching method instead of dismissing a student as a 'lost cause'. I also believe that sometimes a student just doesn't connect with the teacher, that their energies aren’t in sync. In this case, the teacher could be as inspiring as Ghandi and it would still do nothing for the student. Then the teacher would have to gracefully let go and allow the student to seek out another teacher who may work the desired wonders.

But what do you think? Is inspiration between student and teacher a one or two-way street?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Safe Place

Last Friday, Yoga 2 Health invited Manoj Kaimal of Manasa Yoga to teach a special class at 6am. When I heard about this, my mind swung like a pendulum - to go or not to go.

I had heard many people sing Manoj’s praises. Even Parveen, who attends his class, recommended seeking out Manoj when I'm ready to sample another teacher’s style. Yet I had never found the time to drop by his studio. Now here he was, coming, literally, to my doorstep.

Verdict: I wanted to go.

After a class earlier in the week, my back muscles punished me by plunging into violent spasms. My chiropractor’s diagnose: a possible tear in a spinal disc. His remedy: a possible MRI scan and less yoga. I left, a boiling cauldron of rage and frustration. Furious with my body for not getting its act together and frustrated at being put on a leash where my practice was concerned. How could I attend a class, being led by his renowned teacher, when my movements were so limited?

Verdict: I didn’t want to go.

When I vented to PP, she said, “Just go. What’s important is not what you can do in the class but that you were present.” And so I ended up going.

The studio was relatively empty when I arrived and I unrolled my mat at a spot in the last row with relief. Perhaps my ‘disabilities’ would go unnoticed here. Then Parveen walked in and asked me to move to the front row so any latecomers wouldn’t disrupt the class. Swallowing my dismay, I slowly moved up front.

Our eyes were closed when Manoj entered the class and all I knew about him as we began pranayama was that he his voice held a little more than a touch of kindness. My nervousness began dissipating and by the end of he first sun salutation, it was a distant memory. Coupled with the early morning stillness, his voice worked like a muscle relaxant and I could feel my body gradually unfurling. For the next 90 minutes, Manoj guided, encouraged and made us aware of parts of our body we weren’t even thinking about. For instance, in Paschimottanasana or seated forward bend (one of my least favourite asana!), he said that if we were thinking about the distance between our forehead and our knees then we were merely stretching our muscles. But if we were focusing on our calves pressing into the floor, our shoulders rolled back and our feet flexed, then we were doing yoga.

Most of all, he allowed us to be imperfect. With each asana, he reminded us that where we were at that point was right for us for that time. No need to push and pull to get into the full posture. And with that simple assurance, I felt safe. Safe enough to do only as much as I could, safe enough to send my ego out of the room and safe enough to be honest in my practice. I left the class feeling like someone had injected me with a syringe full of gratitude and Happy Air.

To me, good teachers are those who know help their students work around their limitations. But great teachers are those who make students feel that it’s all right to have limitations. These teachers turn their studios into a temporary retreat, a safe haven for their students. A sacred space where crooked spines, bad knees and arthritic joints are invited to come out of hiding, so they too may have a chance of blossoming to the best of their abilities. As Parveen always says, it’s the intention that’s important. If your mind is fully present in the asana, then what your body is doing is secondary.

I’ve been sounding like a broken tape recorder in my own class, telling my students to only go as far as they can and to never push their bodies too far. Now I’m more determined to continue repeating myself!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Heart Of The Matter

It was between a sip of heaven and a contented sigh that the conversation suddenly veered from business to philosophy.

"Have you ever felt like you needed to help people?"

I eyed HC through the curling steam from my coffee cup. "Just recently but very strongly."

"How?" he asked, looking at me intently.

"I don't know yet," I answered. "But everyday I ask for an opportunity to learn and practice compassion, humility and strength, and I believe that one day, I will be shown how I'm meant to serve others."

"But what's your motivation for doing that? Is it to feel good inside, to give back to society, to make up for your wrongdoings?"

I pondered over his question. No one had ever asked me that before. After a while, I slowly answered, "Well, I suppose my motivation comes from a deep yearning to make other people's lives a little better."

My reply sounded uncertain and hollow to my own ears. HC nodded and the conversation returned to business negotiations. On the drive back, I chewed over his question. It bothered me that I didn't have a motivation for displaying kindness and compassion. Then I realised that that was the answer.

Kindness and compassion need no motivation. They should just be given.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

False Alarm

My phone rang at 5pm. It was Parveen with a request that made my heart sink. He wanted to switch teaching classes that evening. My mind exploded in fearful protest.

"But your class is too advanced for my simple sequence," I bleated. "What if your students don't ever come back? "

He laughed. There was a special ceremony at the temple that night, he explained, and he needed to be there, but no problem if I felt uncomfortable about switching. His tone held no annoyance or disappointment. My mental chattering screeched to a halt. How could I let my selfish inferiority get in the way of his bhakti yoga? So I conceded.

All thoughout the short drive to Yoga 2 Health, I agonized over how I'd manage this class. The sequence I had carefully prepared and researched suddenly seemed like a wade in the baby pool. What difficult asanas should I throw in to keep the class interested? What great yogic philosophy should I impart? How would I handle a class of more than 10 students? What if I wasn't good enough? My mind collapsed in a silent puddle of despair and frustration. And then something interesting happened. A voice deep within spoke. It was as though it was patiently waiting for the theatrics to end before making itself known. And it said, "You don't have to be everything you think you should be."

Suddenly, I understood. I didn't have to be Parveen's double, just his substitute. I didn't have to be better than the students, just the best I could be. I didn't have to throw out my sequence or throw in an array of impressive asanas. Better to teach them how to do simple asanas with an advanced approach, than mess up a advanced sequence. I didn't have to prove anything to anyone or even myself. I didn't have to be this or that. I just had to be. With this awareness in mind, I walked into the studio and gave one of my best classes to date.

I felt like I had finally found my place in the front of the class. My voice was stronger, my instructions were clearer and my mind more relaxed. I felt the quiet strength that comes with surrendering. Instead of being too big as I had feared, the class felt intimate. Instead of struggling to remember everything as I usually do, I spoke from my body's memory of each asana. If I remembered something too late, I just saved it for the next time and moved on. I interacted more than instructed. I spoke less and paid more attention. In other words, I allowed myself to be myself and have a great time!

I have a long, long way more to go but this has been a good start.