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Where the practice begins (and ends) July 25, 2020

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“Theft is the one unforgivable sin, the one common denominator of all sins. When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. There is no act more wretched then stealing.”

 

– Amir, remembering the lessons of his father, in The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

 

“They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, ‘In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit.’ And they ask you what they should spend. Say, ‘The excess [beyond needs].’ Thus Allah makes clear to you the verses [of revelation] that you might give thought.”

 

– quoted from Surah Al-Baqarah (2:219), Al-Qur’an al-Kareem

We all have a moral code, an ethical compass, something that helps us navigate through life – ostensibly creating as little harm as possible. The vast majority of people are born with an instinctual “true north,” just like every other creature in the natural world, and it’s calibrated based on the ethical lessons we are given early in our lives. We are given these lessons – about right and wrong and about how to conduct ourselves in the world – at a very early age, regardless of who we are, where we were born and raised, what language we speak, and/or which aspects of the Divine we may or may not honor. We can call them lessons of the father and the mothers, but they are also lessons of the sisters and brothers, lessons of the elders, lessons of the peers. Sometimes we are given explicit instructions, other times we watch the way people conduct themselves around us. Eventually, we recognize them as laws. And, just like Amir in The Kite Runner, there are times when we check in our moral compass and think, “Yes, this makes sense, this feels right” or, “Ooo, wow, this doesn’t make sense, this feels off.”

If you grow up in a society associated with one of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islām) then you may think in terms of the commandments (10 or 613) or you think in terms of what is of benefit and what is forbidden (harām). If you grow up in a culturally Buddhist society, you may view things through the precepts. Still, when we get to a certain age, these lessons have been instilled in us and we take them with us wherever we go – even on the yoga mat.

Yoga Sūtra 2.30: ahimsāsatyāsteyabrahmcaryāparigrahā yamāh

 

– “Non-violence (or non-harming), truthfulness, non-stealing, walking in awareness of the highest reality, and non-possessiveness (or non-hording) are the restraints (or universal commandments).”

Even if you have never heard of or explored the 8-limb philosophy of yoga, even if you have never been taught that the practice begins with an ethical component, the five yamās, or external restraints, will sound familiar. Along with the five niyamās, or internal observations, the yamās provide a rubric for the practice – that is to say, they give the practitioner direction about how to conduct themselves and how to move through the practice. Even when they are not the explicit focus of the practice, the yamās and niyamās make up the foundation of the practice. If you are not practicing them, or not practicing some form of them, while you are practicing āsanas (poses), you are not practicing yoga. One can also say that if you are practicing them while engaged in something other than āsana, then you are practicing yoga.

“Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind.

Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot. Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards, and the rewards of a transgression against its cost.

Contemplate three things, and you will not come to the hands of transgression: Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book.”

 

– quoted from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 2:1

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 25th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the “Hays Code 2020” playlist dated March 31.)

 

“Talking about a path is not walking that path. Thinking about life is not living.”

 

– quoted from Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu (translation from A Path and a Practice: Using Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin)

 

### WHAT ARE YOU PRACTICING? ###

 

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