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A Night of Great Power, A Night of Great Peace May 19, 2020

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(“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the month of Ramadan.)

SUNNAH [Arabic; also “sunna” and “sunnat”] – Habit or Practice, refers to a collection of traditional social and legal practices and customs within Islam.

 

HADITH [Arabic] – Speech, Narrative, Talk, or Discourse, refers to one of the primary sources of Islamic belief, theology, and law. It contains the words and recorded actions of “the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)” which make up the SUNNAH.

 

QUR’ĀN [Arabic; also “Quran” and “Koran”] – The Recitation, refers to the primary sacred text of Islam as it was reveled by Allah (God). It consists of 114 “sūrahs” (or portions).

 

RAMADĀN [Arabic] – derived from root word meaning “scorching heat” or “dryness” and refers to the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community. It is also one of the 99 “Beautiful Names of Allah” (also known as “99 Attributes of Allah”).

 

In the Yoga Sutras, when Patanjali codifies the 8-Limb philosophy of Yoga, there are certain elements that he combines in order to emphasize their power. For instance, the philosophy begins with 5 Yamas (“External Restraints” or “Universal Commandments”) and 5 Niyamas (“Internal Observations”) and Patanjali combines the last five niyamas (tapas, svādyāya, īshvarapraņidhāna) to form Kriyā Yoga, which is a prescription for union. This prescription, or path, to the ultimate union – Union with Divine – is a cleansing ritual consisting of tapas (“heat”, “discipline”, and “austerity”, as well as the practices that build heat, discipline, and austerity); svādyāya (“self-study” – which is reflection); and īshvarapraņidhāna(“trustful surrender to the Divine”). Examples of kriyā yoga – that is to say, rituals made up of these exact three elements – exist outside of yoga and include observing a silent retreat (Buddhism), giving up leavened bread during Passover (Judaism), fasting for Yom Kippur (Judaism), fasting during Lent (Christianity), observing the 19 Day fast (Bahá’í), and fasting during the month of Ramadān.

“Use your time wisely. Spend it only in pursuit of things that are good. Hold the world in your hand if you so desire, but never let the world use your heart as its abode. Your understanding of the world around you will be based off of how you take care of the world within you. Treat your heart as something precious and let only what is good for [it] have the privilege of receiving its love.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2013 “Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

People who are not familiar with the tenets of Islam are often surprised to learn they believe things that Muslims believe. For instance, in Islam there are Six Articles of Faith: a belief in the Oneness of God, a belief in Revealed Books, a belief in the Prophets of Islam (which include Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed), a belief in the Days of Resurrections, a belief in Angels, and a belief in Qadair (“predestination”). The Five Pillars of Islam (in Sunni order), which make up the framework of worship and signs of faith, include: the Islamic Creed (a declaration of faith, proclaiming one God); daily prayers; alms giving; fasting during the month of Ramadān; and a Pilgrimage to Mecca (the holy city). To comply with that 4th pillar, those who are able must refrain from eating, drinking, cursing, violence, any of the vices (including sarcasm and gossip), and engaging in sexual activity from dawn to sunset during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar-based calendar. The month lasts 29 – 30 days and the fast begins with the sighting of the crescent moon. Like some of the instances mentioned above, this is a moveable feast… I mean, fast – although, at the end of each day and at the end of the month there is an eid or “feast” to break the fast.

“We sent it [the Qur’ān] down on the Night of Power.
And what can make you know what is the Night of Power?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
The Angels and the Spirit [the inspiration] descend therein by their Lord’s leave for every affair.
Peace! It is till the rising of the dawn.”

 

Sūrah Qadr (“Portion 97 of the Qur’ān”) 1 – 5

Even though Islam is one of the three Abrahamic religions with very definite historical (and theological) ties to Christianity and Judaism – and even though I have known Muslims throughout my life – I did not spend a lot of time studying Islam in the earlier part of my life. I did a lot of soul searching before I decided to teach a series of yoga classes focused on the theme of Islam and the observation of the month of Ramadān. Even though I sometimes have Muslim students in my classes, I knew that it was unlikely that any would attend during the month – which meant these practices would mostly be for people whose only intersection with Islam might be the news, passing someone in the locker room or some other publicly accessible space, and/or random encounters at school or work. Contrary to popular belief, there are conservatives (even conservative Christians) who attend yoga classes (even my yoga classes) and so I knew that there might be some people in the practice who were Islamophobic or regularly associated with people who were Islamophobic. So, in many ways, the practice served as an “explanatory comma” as well as an opportunity for svādyāya (“self-study”). As I was not expecting many Muslim students, but wanted to really touch on some key elements, I decided to lead these classes at the end of the month, which is the most powerful time of the month.

Laylat al-Qadr, translated as “Night of Power,” “Night of Destiny,” “Night of Value,” Night of Measure,” Night of Decree” or “Night of Honour” is commemorated as the anniversary of the Qur’ān being reveled to the angel Gabriel in a verse-by-verse recitation, which Gabriel then recited to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) over the last 23 years of his (the Prophet’s) life. It is also considered the night when a certain evil spirit can do no harm/evil, when past transgressions are forgiven, and when Allah decides everyone’s destiny. (Notice the similarity to the High Holidays in Judaism?) It is a night so powerful that people will stay up all night praying because it is believed their prayers are more powerful on this most holy night.

There’s just one problem….

No one knows which night is the holiest night.

“Many Muslims will give emphasis to the 27th of Ramadān… but, the opinions on what day it is varies. The Qur’ān doesn’t mention a specific date for Laylat al-Qadr and the Prophet Muhammad’s recommendation: to ‘Seek it in the last 10 days, on the odd nights,’ indicates the importance of searching for it.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2012 Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

Some people set their eyes on this past Sunday, while others will be praying tonight (Tuesday, May 19th) as it is the 27th night of the month of Ramadān. There are at least 1.8 billion Muslims in the world (almost a quarter of the world) and about 3.5 million Muslims (or a little over 1%) in the United States. Even when you consider that the pandemic (and the fact that illness is an exception to fasting) means not everyone is fasting or praying; that’s still a lot of people fasting and praying. It’s an even larger number of people when you consider that some non-Muslims are also observing.

“Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not to show off) then all his past sins will be forgiven.”

 

Sahih al-Bukhari 35 (Vol. 1 Book 2 Hadith Bukhari 35)

 

All that is to say, tonight is the night we’re going to open our eyes, or hearts, our bodies, and our minds. If you’re interested and available, please join me today (Tuesday, May 19th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Prayer for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. I mean no disrespect by this choice. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music.

 

### PRAY FOR PEACE ###

It’s Bach’s Day Too! March 21, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom.
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“[Music] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true music, but only an infernal clamour and ranting.”

– Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685)

According to the Old Style / Julian calendar, March 21st, is the anniversary of the birth of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Born in 1685, Bach’s statement about music also works as a statement for yoga: [Philosophically speaking, yoga] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true [yoga], but only an infernal clamour and ranting. People who think of yoga only as a form of exercise are often surprised that there’s more. One can only imagine their surprise if the walk into one of my classes – especially on My March 21st, when the playlist starts with Bach and then becomes a soundtrack for other events that correspond to this date in history. Imagine their further surprise when all of that is just the background to a deeper practice.

On Saturdays I typically teach a 90-minute practice at that is primarily attended by a dedicated group who are interested in the yoga philosophy as well as asana and asana philosophy. For the past few years, we start in January and “build a practice from the ground up” physically as well as philosophically. Physically, we start with the beginning of a specific practice or sequence and either explore it for about 30-weeks before continuing to a new practice built on the original or, as we did this year, we start with a basic set of poses and start building around it. Philosophically, in years past, we have explored the 8-limbs of yoga, as well as how the 7 chakras correspond with 7 yoga paths (hatha, tantra, karma, bhakti, mantra, yantra, and jnana). Last year, we started moving through the Yoga Sutras – which worked perfectly as there are 51 sutras in the first chapter.

This year, we started physically moving through the warm-up and asanas that Ram Dass illustrated in Be Here Now, and just recently started using that sequence as a “finishing sequence.” (If you’ve been attending the Saturday practices and/or are familiar with the sequence, that’s your practice today.)

Philosophically, we decided to continue last years work and make our way through the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras. Today, March 21st, is the 12th Saturday of 2020. I am including a bit of background for those who are just now joining this journey and a bit of last week’s commentary since so many had to miss the class. For more on the sutras, you can check out Swami J’s website or purchase the series of books by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD – both associated with the traditions of the Himalayan Masters.

Yoga Sutra 1.1:  atha yogānuśānam

– “Right here, right now (in this auspicious moment), yoga (or union) instruction begins”

Yoga Sutra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodaha

– “Yoga (or union) ceases the fluctuations of the mind”

The first chapter of the Yoga Sutras is the “Chapter (or, more literally, Foundation) on Concentration” and Patanjali begins by explaining how the mind works; atha, right here, right now. In this present moment each of our minds is processing multi-bazillion bits of information/sensation – which results in a constant fluctuation of the mind (cittavŗtti). This restlessness and agitation of the mind, in turn becomes restlessness and agitation in the body – and this becomes obstacles to the practice (or to our goals). At the same time, he explains that our thoughts fall into two (2) categories: afflicted thoughts (i.e., thoughts which cause pain) and not afflicted thoughts (which may ease pain, or at least not cause pain). Finally, Patanjali explains how to work the mind – using the mind’s own ability to concentration/meditate – in order to rest the mind and, therefore, the body.

This is why, I often say, “What happens in the mind happens in the body. What happens in the body happens in the mind. And both affect the breath.” If you take a deep breath in (right here, right now) and a deeper breath out (right here, right now). You not only bring your awareness to the present moment (right here, right now; every time you consciously inhale and every time you consciously exhale) – you also, affect the body and the mind. In fact, that is one of ten practices Patanjali describes in the first chapter: focus on your breath.

Yoga Sutra 2.11: dhyānaheyāstadvŗttayah

– “Meditation destroys the mental tendencies (associated with affliction/pain)”

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras is (the “Chapter (or, more literally, Foundation) on Practice. It is basically Patanjali – way back in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th BCE – recognizing and acknowledging that everyone on the planet can’t just drop into a deep-seated meditative state. So he starts explaining the elements of kriya yoga (“yoga in action”) and how the practice of training the senses, exploring within, and letting go of aversions and attractions attenuates the effect of afflicted/pain-producing thoughts. To do this, however, he first gives us a deeper understanding of how afflicted thoughts produce pain.

“Samskaras – the drivers of our mental tendencies – manifest in the form of memory. We are able to remember something because the subtle impressions related to the object have been store in or mind. Because they are hidden beneath thick layers of the forces of time, the mind is not aware of their existence. But like a seed that lies dormant until spring brings moisture and warmth, samskaras awaken when the conditions inside and outside the mind are conducive.”

– Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s commentary on sutra 2.11

 

Using seeds as a metaphor or a simile for our thoughts, words, and deeds is a very common teaching tool. In previous weeks, the metaphor I used was a backpack containing a still soft, but sculpted, piece of clay. Let’s say you’ve molded a little figurine (whatever comes to mind) or a tiny cup; but, something causes you to place the molded clay into your backpack. For some reason, the clay stays in your backpack, getting tossed around, even a little mushed, as you go about your days. Every once in awhile you brush your finger across it when you’re looking for something and you think, “What’s that? Oh, yeah….” And whatever emotions you were feeling in relation to making the piece, or having to toss it in your bag before it was finished, flash up.

Later, you might even pull the piece of clay out, notice that it’s smashed and decide to completely smash it and start again or restore it to some close proximity of what you did before. Someone else could feel it or see it or see you remolding it and have a completely different experience, but this is your experience – and now this new layer of experience is attached to the clay, just like the oils from your skin. Even if you “buy a new backpack,” a piece of the clay finds its way inside. (YS 2.10) Unless, of course, you have “trained your senses, explored within, and given up your aversions and attractions – in which case you can discard the clay when you switch backpacks or you can recognize what it was and decide to treat it as a fresh piece of clay ready for a new project. (YS 2.11)

 

Yoga Sutra 2.12: kleśamūlah karmāśayo dŗşţādŗşţjanmavedanīyah

– “The reservoir of our actions is rooted in affliction/pain that is experienced in seen and unseen lives”

For anyone wondering: Nope, I had no idea this week’s sutra was going to keep us firmly grounded in the “seen and unseen.” Previous translations I’ve used for comparative analysis talk about “current life and future life,” “this life and the lives to come,” and “at the time of the action or (another time).” The bottom line, though, is still the same.

All of our experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds have consequences. Some consequences occur “immediately” and we easily see the connection between cause and effect. Other times, there is the distance of time, space, memory, and/or ignorance (or lack of awareness), which causes the connection to be “unseen” by us. Yet, cause and effect is still there, and so it becomes even more important to recognize that, as Pandit Tigunait points out, “Impure karmic impressions cloud our mind with desire, greed, confusion, and anger, and become the drivers of negative, destructive actions. Pure karmic impressions create a positive mental atmosphere, awakening virtues such as love, compassion, kindness, and selflessness, which then become drivers of positive, constructive actions…. Causing intense pain to someone who is fearful, diseased, or stingy engenders a highly, negatively charged karmic reality. Betraying someone who trusts you or harming a high-caliber soul committed to intense austerity also engenders a highly potent negative karmic reality. This potent negative karma ripens quickly.”

We don’t always have control over our circumstances, but we always have control over our actions (thoughts, words, and deed). We don’t, however, make decisions in a vacuum. Part of the practice is recognizing that are current actions are informed by our previous experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds – and what we do in this moment, is going to inform what happens to us (and what we do) in our next moments… even if that moments are years away.

 

### BE KIND TO YOURSELF & TO OTHERS ###