Yoga, the bible,
A Q&A episode
Episode 4: In this episode we'll be exploring the answers to three listener questions. You'll learn about how happiness can lead to enlightenment, how yoga relates to Biblical teachings, and how you can find peace and joy right in this moment—even if you have a full and busy life.
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Hello and welcome to episode four of this Real Yoga. Today we're going to mix things up just a bit because over the last few weeks my inbox has been well, uh, flooded with questions and kind notes from you all.
So, I thought it might be helpful if we took a few of those questions and explored the answers here together. So, let's get to it.
Welcome to this perfect moment, a podcast dedicated to helping you use ancient wisdom to unlock your life of radical happiness, connection and meaning right here, right now. I'm your host Eric Walrabenstein, and I'm glad you're here.
Our first question comes from Sharon in Denver.
Sharon's question looks to be about episode number one, entitled, what about now? She writes, as a student of Zen, I seem to have a different understanding of the quote you shared from a Zen master Dogen.
And as a reminder for us all the quote is, if you cannot find the truth where you are now, you will never find it.
And then Sharon continues. I've been taught that this quote is about the truth, or enlightenment, if you prefer. But in this episode, you seem to be using the quote to make an argument for happiness, not enlightenment. In my mind, happiness and enlightenment are two different things. Can you clarify?
Great question, Sharon. Let's see what we can do to clear this up.
So, first thing is—you're right. Enlightenment and happiness are two different things, but they share some important commonalities that make this quote just as relevant to happiness as it is to enlightenment.
So, the first thing it would be helpful to clarify is exactly what is the process that brings about enlightenment and universally across traditions you'll see that the opportunity for enlightenment or again, God realization or spiritual liberation is created by cultivating a state of profound inner peace or stillness, a state free from feelings like anxiety, worry, fear or anger or envy.
And this experience of quietude, the theory goes, is what is needed to access the subtle and quiet experience of the divine. Said another way, the creation of this state of inner peace is a kind of gateway to the truth.
And we see this reflected in scriptures in various traditions. “Be still and know that I'm God.” Or in yoga we say “stilling the fluctuations of mind.”
Now, of course we can explore how this process of enlightenment works in greater depth in a future episode if anyone's interested, just let me know in the comments if it would be helpful.
So back to the process that brings about enlightenment. This is why all traditions and religions have practices and rituals that are designed to bring about profound inner peace.
So, since this inner peace is the necessary precursor to awakening to what Dogen is calling the truth, Dogen could have just as easily and accurately said, if you cannot find inner peace where you are now, you will never find it.
And this is data point number one. The quote is about inner peace as much as it is about truth. And let's park that thought and now turn to happiness.
Let's start with the question. What is happiness?
Now I know this sounds like a question that is wholly unnecessary because after all, we all know what happiness is.
Or do we?
I mean, when we look closely, we'll see that most of us might not be quite so clear as we think we are.
And I'll pause here to make my standard disclaimer. Don't believe anything I say, but rather understand it and check it out in your own experience because that's what really counts-- your own experience.
So, here's the thing. The truth of the matter is that that happiness doesn't exist. That's not to say that you can't experience it, it's just to say that it's not a thing. In one manner of speaking, we're all chasing a kind of a ghost because the truth is that happiness is much more accurately described as an absence.
The absence I'm suggesting is the absence of disturbing thoughts and emotions.
Happiness is the absence of sadness. Happiness is the absence of anxiety. Happiness is the absence of worry and fear and anger. When these kinds of troubling thoughts and emotions are absent, we have a code word for that kind of inner peace. We say that we are happy.
In many ways, this concept of happiness is not unlike the concept of health. Health, too, is not a thing. It's an absence. In this case, the absence of disease. When disease is absent, we say we are healthy.
So, what does this have to do with truth and Dogen's quote?
Well, it's this: as we've already seen, the portal to the truth or enlightenment or God realization is inner peace, stillness or the absence of inner turmoil.
And the actual experience of happiness even if we don't typically conceptualize it in this way, is one of inner peace, stillness or the absence of inner turmoil.
So, from this it becomes clear that Dogen's teaching—"If you cannot find the truth where you sit now, you will never find it” is every bit as relevant to happiness because it's about inner peace and happiness is inner peace. In the very same way that inner peace is the final stop on the way to the truth.
I hope this clears it up, Sharon. Really appreciate the question and of course if there are follow-ups, feel free to shoot me a note. Thanks again.
The next question comes from Pam in Seattle and Pam's question looks to be in reference to episode three The Path to Wholeness.
She writes, in episode three I was surprised to hear you quote from the Bible. I thought you were a teacher of yoga and meditation. Are you teaching Christian yoga?
Thanks for the question, Pam, and this is a really good one.
To answer it, we need to go way back when. When I decided to dedicate myself to this work some 30 ish years ago when I first started teaching yoga and meditation in the San Francisco Bay area, and then when I began to get interested in the deeper practices of yoga, the wisdom that hardly anybody is teaching about even today, by the way, and when I started my yoga training center in Phoenix, Yoga Pura.
Through all of this, I was becoming more and more clear that I really didn't give a whit about yoga.
At first, I thought I did, and in fact, for a time I built myself a tidy little identity out of it.
But then it began to occur to me that I didn't care about yoga. I cared about people.
I cared about ending unnecessary suffering. I cared about lifting lives to their true potential and I cared about real healing, the kind of healing that happens only from the inside out and for me, yoga just happened to be a set of tools that worked really well to help me serve others in this way.
Little side note here, the yoga I'm talking about has very little to do with the bending and breathing on a little rubber mat that most of us have come to think of when we think of yoga.
And so while it looks like I've dedicated the last 30 years of my life to the study, practice and teaching of yoga, it's much more accurate to say that through it all I've been devoted to people. To helping them live in a way they were put here to live: happy, fulfilled, connected, empowered.
I just happened to use the technology of yoga because it has so many powerful tools and techniques, but I'm just as happy to borrow from other traditions as well.
In a way. I see my mission as holding a better vision for my students then they're able to hold for themselves and then use whatever wisdom techniques or tools will best serve them.
There's a funny thing about scripture's really, well more accurately, the funny thing is about how we relate to scriptures because oftentimes people think the Bhagavad Gita is about yoga or the Bible is about Christianity or the Quran is about Islam and in one measure, sure that's true, but in another measure, all of these different scriptures are really about you.
In my many years of this work with literally thousands of people, I found that scripture has the most transformational horsepower when we see it as guidance.
Think of the yoga sutras as a kind of operator's manual for the human organism designed to help you live in a way that will yield a particular result. In this case, the result is spiritual liberation or God realization, but by the way, as we see it in the previous question, it's just as relevant to creating everyday happiness as well.
And this isn't just the case for the yoga sutras. The same is true of scriptures from other traditions too.
So, in this vein, I'm clear that the yoga scriptures and the practices that have derived from that tradition don't have any kind of corner on the market. They're not the only source of legitimate guidance or wisdom.
And maybe more importantly, depending upon an individual's upbringing, cultural identification, religious affiliation, a particular traditions guidance and practices may not even be accessible to someone who grew up in a different tradition or religion.
A person steeped in fundamentalist Christianity, for example, may not be able to receive guidance from an Eastern tradition. So, we need to find the corresponding wisdom from the Bible in order to be of service.
So, this is why you'll often hear me pulling from different traditions, both to be able to be of service to many, many more people, but also for myself, I found it illuminating and empowering to draw these parallels between the different paths from the different traditions as it helps me to become ever more clear on what the Buddhists call the way or the path to enlightenment or God realization or the truth.
Thanks again for the question, Pam. I hope this answers it because it's an important one. If you have additional questions, feel free to shoot me a note. I'd be happy to help.
Our next question comes from Jonas in Brooklyn and it looks like it is in reference to episode one: What about Now?
Jonas writes, you suggest the way to happiness now is to stop the struggle. Stop trying to get somewhere else. Now, this sounds like a nice idea, but the truth is that most of us don't have the luxury to stop. We have children and careers and responsibilities. Are you somehow suggesting that the way to happiness is blocked for those of us with full lives?
Awesome question, Jonas. Thanks.
I think the first point I'll share is that the idea is not to stop permanently.
There's no doubt that doing is an important part of the human experience and the achievement of goals and the accomplishment of things is not only necessary, but it's something that brings great richness to our lives, but it's also true that most of us live lives that are far out of balance.
We rely upon struggle and control and manipulation of our circumstances as our only means for finding happiness. And this has a couple of nasty consequences.
The first is it's unreliable. When the universe doesn't cooperate, when the boss, the employees, the spouse, the friends, the weather, the traffic, the kids don't cooperate with our agenda, we suffer until they finally do cooperate. And in my experience, and I'm sure it is in yours as well, there's a pretty fair chunk of our lives in which the universe and the various things in the universe do not cooperate with our agendas.
The second consequence is that it's exhausting, this battle. It turns our entire lives into something that feels like a perpetual struggle. And as we become stuck in that struggle, which by the way takes a tremendous toll on our nervous systems and as a result, our health, our relationships, our success and on and on, we are blinded to the fact that there is another way to find the peace and wholeness we seek.
A complimentary way, one that could be used together with achieving our goals, not instead of it.
The trouble is that when we are so far out of balance, when as in this case, the habit of struggle is so deeply ingrained, it's often the case that the best way back to an equilibrium is a complete, but again, temporary break from the habit.
And by the way, this kind of complete break is what the tradition of spiritual retreats is all about.
Now, this complete break from the struggle helps us to achieve a number of things. First, it allows us to reset the nervous system, which is for many of us caught perpetually in the unhealthy fight or flight mode.
Second, it allows us to validate the premise, the premise that happiness is possible here and now with the circumstances we have and to validate that in our own experience.
And then lastly, it gives us an opportunity to hone the skills we need to find more and more ease and joy where we are now. Remember as we talked about in the previous episode, finding happiness now requires a different skillset from finding an out there somewhere in the future, a skillset that most of us haven't really developed.
I remember when I was at San Francisco Zen center, a number of times a year we would sit these prolonged meditation retreats called sessions. They were usually either five or 10 days long and you would end up sitting meditation from 4:30 AM to around nine o'clock at night with just a very few breaks here and there.
I mean, we'd even have to eat our meals, which consisted of some sort of delicious rice gruel by the way, uh, on our meditation cushions. So basically, it's a hell camp for Zenster's.
Anyway, invariably people would attend these retreats with the idea that they were going to have a blissful spiritual experience. And then three days in, with aching backs and throbbing knees, they would come to the conclusion that they would be better off somewhere else.
So, they would go to the Zen master with some concocted reason for having to leave. Usually some poppycock rationalization of how sitting in isolation felt so selfish and the world would be better served with them out there, saving the whales or the seals or the kids or some other cause.
And so, the conversation would go with the Master, “Please, sir, can I leave to make the world a better place?”
Now, of course the Zen master—my Zen teacher—had heard all of this a million times before and every time he would nod with the same understanding, smile before asking the same question he did of everyone who came to him in this situation.
And the question was, “Are you settled?”
Now this question would often catch people off balance. I mean, of course they weren't settled. That's why they were petitioning for parole from the Zen penitentiary.
And once they indicated that they were not in fact settled, as was obvious, my Zen teacher would inevitably say, “When you are settled, you have my blessing to leave.”
The invitation was to be settled first. In his own brilliant way my Zen teacher was making the same invitation that was made in this episode: Learn to be happy here first, THEN go out and chase your dreams.
Because the trouble is that if we get it the other way around, if we chase first and then attend to happiness now, happiness now and happiness all along the way eludes us and we remain stuck in the struggle forever.
Thanks again for the question, Jonas. It's a good one. Keep them coming!
Well, it looks like that's all the time we have today. As always, thanks for listening and keep your comments and questions coming by, dropping me a note from my website ericwal.com.
Also, if you can do me a quick favor and leave an honest review of the podcast to help people understand if it might be a good fit for them, I'd be grateful and as always, please help me spread the word about the life changing power these ancient teachings have for all of us in our over busy lives.
Thanks again. I'm wishing you a wonderful week and I'll see you in the next episode.