Please help

We need your help as donors and especially as volunteers to serve the community, whether becoming a Jail Yo-G at the Mesa County Jail, or in our numerous other efforts to address hunger, in satyagraha, in our interfaith outreach and cooperation, supporting civil services, supporting local businesses, local Dharmic centers, or in our various other efforts to ensure an adequate environment for the practice of Yoga. Training is free. lokahathayoga@gmail.com or (970) 778-2835

Becoming a teacher

In yoga, and all of life, it is not necessary to be perfect, or excellent, or even sufficient.  Sufficiency is a goal, but the means to achieving that goal is becoming comfortable with making mistakes, and errors.  Becoming comfortable with not being the best.  This is one of the most important lessons to learn: because frequently, our best is insufficient for the requirements of the moment.

Seeing the yoga class beginning, the prisoners waiting to return asked aloud why their pod had no yoga instructor: they missed doing yoga at home, and did not feel confident in their yoga without the guidance of a teacher.  One of the prisoners in the class, hearing this, expressed his gratitude for the class: the other prisoners made fun of him when he meditated, or did yoga, and it was only in this class he felt comfortable.  Why were there not more yoga instructors for the jail?

I told him what I would tell you: please consider volunteering to teach Jail Yoga.  I am the worst yoga teacher in the world, and no matter how little training or experience you have, I am certain you will be better than me.  Do not let your own lack of confidence prevent you from volunteering.  Even if you have only one student, yourself, do not let this stop you from teaching.  He realized at that moment that there was work for him at the jail.  I told him what I would tell you: there is work at the jail, but there is work everywhere.  If you cannot teach yoga at the jail, volunteer elsewhere.  If you cannot volunteer elsewhere, teach yoga at your home, on your street, at your place of work. 

Ignorance, its nature and means of ending

Ignorance is that which results from the act of ignoring, whether intentional or unintentional. 

We are always presented with more sensory information than we are able to accurately perceive and understand.  Therefore, judgement and discernment, both conscious and unconscious, guides the balance between small quantities of accurate but limited information and greater quantities of limitedly accurate information.  Consequently, ignoring is merely a process which naturally and necessarily occurs both with and without intention because of the nature of our senses, and the perception and understanding of that sensory information.

These acts of judgement and discernment occur through both rational processes of analysis in which the relevancy of information is calculated or anticipated, as well as logical processes by which the pain (or pleasure) of the sensory response to that information is tolerated.  Understanding that some information is naturally painful and some pleasant permits an example to be made: the same sunlight which painfully blinds the eye when it overwhelms the retina upon direct observation also can result in pleasure when it is seen indirectly upon a beautiful landscape. 

Yet it is the understanding that some information is relevant, and others irrelevant, which permits not only conscious evaluation of information to determine relevance, but an analysis of consciousness itself.  Such awareness allows an understanding of why we believe some information more relevant than others.  This is why it is said, "awareness is the end of ignorance."

It is the absence of true perception which creates a desire for truth.  The inability to achieve this truth creates a desire for belief.  This is the cause of aversion, or even hatred, of what is apparently contrary to what we believe as truth.  This is why it is said that ignorance is the cause of desire, and hatred. 

It is the holding onto beliefs, rather than tolerating the limitations of truth, rather than accepting that truth cannot be perfectly known, which is the cause of aggression.  This is why it is said, Ahimsa is the end of aggression. 

Beliefs can be let go of, and sacrificed.  This is why it is said, the greater cause of our misfortune is our own fault, due to a failure in sacrifice.  This is why it is said, too, that only a self-bettered person is capable of sacrifice, and that self-bettered person has the duty or nature of sacrifice.  A person who has developed awareness sufficient to understand they are the greater cause of their own misfortune will not fail to give up those behaviors which are the cause of their own misery, and in so many other ways seek and achieve the means of their self-contentment, and self-satisfaction. 

Having become self-satisfied, self-contented, this self-bettered person will similarly not hesitate to perform the self-sacrifice, and the numerous other duties of their improved nature.  They will not hesitate to fulfill their duties to society. 

This is why the end of criminality lies in the end of ignorance.

Learning to walk

I am not a very good teacher, and I especially did not teach very well in the last class.  One prisoner, whose minor surgery had gone well, left him with several scars that troubled him, permanent reminders of what he would not like to remember.  And he still hurt badly.  In mixed-up English and Spanish, he expressed his own mixed-up mind, better than I did.  He saw I was distracted, mixed-up, and did not understand I couldn't tell him what was on my mind.  "Now I'm Buddha!" he pointed and laughed at his own swelling, and the other prisoners laughed too.  "Buddha laugh! You laugh." He insisted. 

But though I am usually the first to laugh, today I couldn't.  "No laughing today," he said, apparently understanding.

The Buddha's good friend helped him in the several Asanas, gently supporting his friend in and out of the poses, helping him balance.  This Ananda would not have anyone else help his friend.  In mixed-up English and Spanish, they discussed the Dharma of each position. 

Another, soon-to-be-free, asked, "tell us about Siddhartha.  Tell us the life and teachings of the Buddha.  We have been reading about him, but want to hear you tell the story.  Tell us about Zen. We have been reading about Zen, and need to know how to best practice.  Teach us a mantra?"

But today I couldn't.  Another, newly jailed on an old charge, expressed his joy in the sun salutation, how it helped him turn his life around.  In English and Spanish, mixed up. 

Tat Savitur Varenyam! Seeing and hearing his love for the sun, I, too, mentally saluted the sun.  But I could not speak today.

Teach us a mantra?  They did not understand why, today, I could not.

Teach us a mantra?  I could no longer refuse them.  I quietly said, Om. Mahamuni.  Svaha!

I said, this is the mantra of a Buddha.  Not of the Buddha.  Even though many said this to Siddhartha, Gotama Sakyamuni, upon satisfaction with his wisdom.  They were wise enough themselves to recognize wisdom.  They needed no teacher, since they already understood how to learn. And already knew all that was worth learning. 

I am not able to tell a story today.  So I will simply tell you how the Buddha died.  He died from food poisoning.  He had no clean water in which to wash the filth and blood which covered his body.  He shuddered so hard in his dying that flowers fell from the trees he lay under.  He was an old man, over 80 years old.  And when he died, his students were dumbstruck and afraid - their hair stood on end!  All because they thought they still needed his instruction.  And he was a remarkable man, with many things to teach.  But so are you, Siddhartha.  Oh, Siddha-artha, soon-to-be-released, oh, all you Buddhas: don't you know you already have the skill to achieve all your goals?  When Gotama could no longer teach them, in his dying breath, he said, "now you must teach yourselves."

I cannot teach you today.  I have never been a very good teacher.  Today, I do not think I am teaching you well at all.  And though I may be better able to teach you next week - you already know what is worth teaching.  Still, by such repetition, and assurance, confidence is gained.  Perhaps, dumbstruck as I am, I may still be of some use to you.  Now is not a time to learn, but to practice, and develop your skill, Siddhartha.  Forgive me, then, if all I can instruct you today is how to walk. Walk on the right side of the hall, walk in single file, walk quickly, and walk quietly. 

So many years

When you feel old, injured, weak, there seems to be less time
Time feels rarer, and more precious
Angry at others wasting it – things change so fast
Can’t keep up, the anxiety tries to slow things down
Grasping at every second, looking for what has changed now
Always changed for the worse – what can be done?
Taking the measure of a moment, time weighs heavy

Breathe, then Asanas – Hatha, Jnana, Bhakta, then Dharma
Dharma, then Artha, then Kama. Siddhi, then Riddhi.
Step by step, regain your strength, heal, grow young
You’ll find there is plenty of time
Time is precious, yes, and there is so much of it
Like water in the river
Can’t be wasted
The best conversations you had were about nothing at all
The best meals you had were unmemorable, but wholesome
Waste time, kill time – conquer Time, to sacrifice Time.
Take hold of every second, weighed down – there’s plenty to share
Give some of your time. Serve time. To those who are lacking!
Plenty of time to know another, and love them
Grasp every second – weigh yourself down heavy
Then lay down your burden and walk on lightly
Give up what is worthless for what is more valuable
Give up your Self in self-sacrifice
Become something more; timeless, deathless.

Difficulty giving and volunteering?

Volunteerism is sometimes difficult because of improper motivation.  Consider giving a little of your time, not as a gift benefiting others, but for the benefit you gain in that sacrifice: though sacrifice eventually becomes natural, it must first be motivated for selfish reasons, for personal gain. This is how a Yogi learns to give up the benefits they would otherwise gain and instead sacrifice for the benefit of others.  And this is how a Yogi learns to give this up as well: the sacrificing becomes more and more natural, and is accomplished without intention of gain at all.

Volunteerism is sometimes difficult because of poverty: time is valuable and limited, as is money, and other things.  There is no fault in not having anything to give.  But having recognized both the desire to give, and the inability to do so, there is fault for not achieving this goal by obtaining sufficient resources: consider the obstacles to your success, and understanding their causes, struggle against them.  Your problems are not entirely of your own making, and so it is understandable that you'd need the help of others in overcoming them.  Discovering the interdependence of all beings and things is one benefit of this effort, understanding the nature of Karma is another.  Understanding the distress of others, the many ways you have contributed to it, and the ease by which you may cease your aggression, is another benefit.  There are many other benefits, besides these. But the difference between intellectually comprehending that there is interdependence, and Karma, and distress, and aggression, and the cessation of aggression and actually experiencing these makes effort into understanding worthwhile.  If you cannot give up time, or money, or other things, give up your ignorance.

Volunteerism is sometimes difficult too because of lack of skill, or confidence, or for any number of reasons associated with the discomforts of inexperience, or other discomforts as well.  But it is in becoming comfortable with discomfort that the Yogi develops great benefit.

There are many other reasons why volunteerism is difficult.  But it is in the manner by which this difficulty is engaged that the Yogi finds success.  Give your strength until it is exhausted - then you will come to trust that you will recover your strength, and in this second wind, this second breath, this second life, this very second, you will gain that momentum of satisfaction which is the purpose for which all sacrifice is undertaken.

So many things will take your breath away.  Regain your breath.  Then, when you are ready, exert yourself. Bear into your Asanas and discover the Dharma for yourself.

Serving Time

The Deputy announced Yoga.  One regulars came to the desk and waited patiently, quietly, explaining to the Teacher that another regular couldn't come.  Five more prisoners came to the desk, and were playful, loud and unfocused.  They had never done Yoga, and were unsure if they should - but it seemed better than staying in the Pod, bored.

One had drawn a lion on his shirt, and broken other rules.  The Deputy gently admonished him, but encouraged his choice, and said he needed Yoga.  Another had stuffed his pockets with papers, small personal items, anything he could hold onto, grasping in attachment to even his extra shirt: the Deputy said to this Packrat that he had to leave it all behind.  The Deputy and another prisoner encouraged the Rat, and promised to keep his treasures safe - saying he would be better for Yoga.  A laborer complained of his back, an insomniac his neck - this next one was coming along to stay with his friends.  Seeing the crowd gathering, one more arrived - from the middle of shaving.  He had always wanted to try Yoga, and did not want to miss the opportunity.  The Deputy called to an eighth, lingering nearby, uncertain if he should go - she said to the Prisoner he would feel better if he did some Yoga.  The Deputy cleared the eight to leave, and she returned to her station.

A basic introduction to Asanas, and in the first five minutes, the prisoners heard Svaha, and learned the Dharma from Her.  In the next five minutes, the prisoners learned to quiet themselves and sit still.  Sitting in the first Jnana, then in the second, then in the third, and the fourth, within fifteen minutes, all achieved self-control.  

The Lion, astonished, spontaneously exclaimed: "I have never not felt angry!" The Rat, similarly astonished, reflected on his own achievement: "I feel fear, but am not overwhelmed by it.  I think I am stronger than my fear now."  For the first time, the laborer rested his back, and thus relieved, was astonished he did not feel pain.  The insomniac was slowed his breathing and heart, and releasing, became untroubled and was astonished by peace.  Strengthening themselves, they lifted themselves up.  They straightened their spines, and regretted having caused such trouble and disturbance in their pod.  

"Do you want to remember the reason you wanted to recover your strength?" asked the Teacher.  

In thirty more minutes, they remembered more than this: surpassing their teacher, they turned the Wheel, and each understood how to be bettered by serving Time.

Crowing with courage

His friends demonstrated the crow
The prisoner said,

I can't balance like that
I am afraid that I will fall
The floor is so hard

"Try it!" his friends and teacher said.

And when he did fall, he said,

See? I couldn't do it.
I don't see any benefit to this.
He sat. Down. And disheartened.

"Was the floor so hard?" 
His teacher asked.
"Are you now still afraid of falling?"
His teacher asked.
"Having learned courage, now persist."

Now the prisoner understood what he had learned.
The prisoner was not afraid anymore.
Having learned courage, he was encouraged.
Encouraged, the prisoner persisted -
- and then accomplished what he did not think he could do.

The other prisoners carefully observed this
And they then understood what they had learned.

To succeed requires persistence,
To persist requires courage.
Understanding the cause of courage
Permits strength sufficient to never to fall again.
Emboldened, unafraid of falling ever again, all the Yogis crowed.

A bodhisattva, soon-to-be-released

The young man, Soon-To-Be-Released, said,
"It is important to breathe
Be careful, don't lose your breath
So many things will take your breath away."

The old men nearby sat still, and quiet, and listened
(things they had never done before they began Yoga)
Now instructed, they breathed, and understood
Things they had never done before they began Yoga.

The Soon-To-Be-Released
Feeling the nearness of his Time, grew anxious now and said,
"I will not ever come back to jail
I will ride my mountain bike
As far and fast as possible
Under the sun, into the fresh mountain air
To find cold blue waters in beautiful parks
And in those waters bathe, and swim
Into Heaven I will soon be reborn
And as a new man, be happy, and free."

His Teacher, seeing the danger, quickly responded,
"If you would be happy, Bodhisattva
Wish all beings to be happy, too.
No one is truly happy and free until it is shared
If you treasure your happiness and freedom, use them
They are advantages others do not have.
Brahman, you are a better man now, sacrifice is required of you now.
Brahman, giving, sharing, using - sacrifice is required of you now.
Share your gifts of freedom and happiness!
Beautiful mountains with their cold blue waters take the breath away
One could indeed live forever in the bliss of that heaven.
But breathless, deathless, how will you blow out the flame to complete the sacrifice?
Breathless, deathless, lost to bliss, where will you find nirvana?

In Heaven, may you remember what you learned here and return.
Leaving jail, may you return to society - to serve and lead.
Leaving jail, may you return, to volunteer.
Though you have won victory once, and freed yourself
You have not achieved that success you require for peace
Your enemy remains unconquered, and threatens you still!
Continue your struggle against aggression, desire and ignorance
Until they are conquered within every being
Return, for the sake of all beings, human and non-human.
You have learned one Dharma, now learn them all.
Remember and accomplish your purpose."

The Bodhisattva vowed this he would do -
If and after he regained his breath.

Remembering to breathe

It was a long time since he last breathed

A long time ago as a youth he did yoga every day
His mother was a Yogi, and had asked him to breathe
His mother had asked him to breathe, and grow stronger
So he had learned to master his breath
So he had developed strength, in mind and body
Once, he had even taught a class, teaching others to breathe.

As a man, he had learned a valuable trade, his earnings were considerable
Consumed by his wealth, he bought many enjoyable things
And did many enjoyable things, in beautiful places
These took his breath away.
He became distracted, and intoxicated
A little at first, then increasingly so
Then, he was intoxicated all the time.
Then one day he was asked to breathe - into the breathalyzer

So he found himself in jail.
Now in a yoga class, he confessed.
It had been a long time since he last breathed.
But these things are not easily forgotten.
Nor is the strength once cultivated easily lost.
His teacher asked him to breathe
And when he did, he remembered how.
Moving from one asana to another, he remembered so many
This is how he remembered his mother
And how she had asked him to breathe
And to grow stronger.

Free at last

The prisoner was to be released tomorrow
He was hearing voices - was he crazy?
  No
  No!
He did talk to the voices
But
He did not heed the voices
He did not act on them
    He did have to act on them!
He critically evaluated what they told him
He carefully considered his choices
He skillfully took action
But
He was not always so
He was an anxious man
He had been beaten as a child, and angry
He had been beaten as an adult
    until his bones pierced his organs
He had been ill, terribly so
He had been intoxicated
   Addicted
He had been homeless
No friend, no home
Dying, alone
So alone
So he came to jail
So he received a book
And in those words heard the Buddha calling him:
    Walk with me, Bhikkhu!
So, homeless he now would sit
    Now in jail
    Soon under trees
    Harmless, friend to everyone
One morning in jail he rose victorious
    Ending his battle against the voices
    Against all his demons
He became self-controlled
Attended by Brahma, and Indra
See?
He could see.
He saw a new life waiting for him
He saw he was not healthy, not strong
He saw he was sick, homeless and dying
He saw he was free at last

Garuda to Kneeling Warrior

He had been reading online how to perform the poses
He wanted to stand on his hands
But did not understand why
He had worked day in and day out
His arms burned, his body burned

    Now he saw his world wasn't upside-down
    And learned again how to stand on his feet
    How to push himself up with his own two hands
    Above the ground
    Garuda!
    He gained the perspective he needed

Having learned of the Dharma
He exerted himself
    a little further
The kneeling warrior
Understood his duty
And extinguished the fire that burned him
To ignite a better one

Inner light

In the conference room the attorney frowned, waiting for his next client
The lawyer did not want to tell his client the prisoner the sun was shining
Though he knew his client likely knew that it was -
Attorneys know how to be silent.
Some things need not be said.

Prisoners in silent meditation reflect
  the sun shining above the clouds
  the moon floating high in the darkness
Spouse, children, work, green trees in spring's blossom
Prisoners also know some things need not be said.
Not beyond the brick walls, above the ceiling, above the roof.

Then understanding this
the prisoner with sudden insight touched his own heart
and said quietly,

"I was a framer. 
Outside, I had built walls and rooms.  
And inside here I built them too.
Now I know I am not far away, and never really have been. 
There is light, family and work - 
not only here and there, but inside and within."

In jail (and elsewhere)
Some sleep through all their days and years
But he was now awake.

Snake to warrior

Always had a story to tell, didn't know no one listened
Alone now, no one was there to listen
Speaking to himself - even he didn't hear himself talk
Not really.

Thief.  He stole again, and again -
Even here in jail: food.
Taking, taking, hungry, wasted
Hands always empty, reaching
Didn't even think about it anymore

"I am not a thief"
"I didn't want to take it, I couldn't help it"
"I didn't want to take it, I had to"
"I took for hunger of what I needed"
"I took what I desired and wanted"
"I took what my girlfriends wanted me to take"
(He had many lovers - he took their hearts)
"I took drugs and alcohol when they were offered"
"I took drugs and alcohol when they were not offered"
"I took the deal given me by the prosecutor"

He was without remorse
He blamed the women who seduced him
He blamed his co-conspirators who entrapped him
He blamed the police who targeted him
He blamed everyone but himself, it was not his fault.
It could not be: he would not hurt himself like this.

He was better off alone.

In the hole, alone now, he kept taking
He stole from himself
He became his own enemy
Taking all that he had:
Having everything taken from him
Having seen he took from himself
He saw he was a thief
"I -- a thief?"

Alone now he muttered, more and more
Persistent against the silence
He heard himself, for the first time
Heard those stories he told
And for the first time he was listened to
Now someone was listening, really.
Encouraged, he talked to himself, argued.
"I am not a thief."  "I am a thief."
He thought he was going crazy
He didn't recognize himself anymore
He didn't want to recognize himself anymore
He was becoming sane.

He missed friends
The games they played, the fun they had
Then he remembered he had no friends
He stole things from them and they hated him for it
He took his friends from himself
He missed his home - then remembered
He had taken his home from himself too - He was homeless
He missed his work - then remembered he took this from himself too
He took his home, work, life and hope
He stole everything from himself

Remembering his past life he understood his Karma
There, on the floor of Yoga class he wept
He felt remorse, he hurt the one person he ever cared for
Snake! whose Amrita was stolen

Now he was paranoid - so vulnerable!
Nowhere to run, no legs to run with
Substance withdrawal? Or growing sobriety?
He saw enemies everywhere, enemies he himself made
He was afraid of attack from every side
Everyone he had hurt would hurt him too!
He cowered, like a Snake he hid in that hole

The teacher said, get up! Come out!
So, there, in the hole he pushed himself up and out
Corpse to snake to wish granting cow
Cow to cat, cat to warrior
He transformed himself a thousand ways
He saw every world, searching
Then hunting
Then he found his enemy, the one who hurt him so
Finding himself, he bravely held the bow as the Teacher taught him to
Mercilessly, he attacked himself
But he would not die!
He felt his strength
Breathing, stopping breathing, breathing again
He fought and wrestled for an eternity
And in his hole he still does - and for a long time will
Steel will, steel mind, steel heart, stronger and stronger!
Now not a cold hearted warrior, hating an enemy
Now a compassionate doctor, cutting a friend
The sword now a knife: different than the knife he once had
No intention of harm: excising faults like a surgeon a tumor
He knows he will one day win.  If he keeps fighting.
One day his enemy will lose.  If he keeps fighting.
He will bring himself forth bound, holding the reins
He will bring himself to bear the yoke
Someday.

Success, Yogi!

Grounded

After the first year, he stopped counting the days, and started counting the months. After the second year, he stopped counting the months.  Some things cannot be understood by numbers - but still can be understood.  Some people cannot be known by names - yet will come when needed, like a good friend.  Forgetting the wide open sky, he felt the ground: it changed day and night, season to season.  Grounded, he understood. 

Seeing those coming and going from Jail (so relatively quickly!) he no longer knew their names.  He forgot his own.  His own past faded from memory.  As did his old habits.  Calm, self-controlled, compassionate, grounded.  A new life formed - one which would, after a time, emerge from Jail and see the wide open sky.  He practiced his breathing, felt his heart beating, and quickened.

Feeling better

No longer friendless, he first become his own friend

Now all his fellow inmates are now his friends
His celly whom he just met is now his friend too
As is the man who he knew too well
As is the man he once hated, and fought, and hurt
Like the man he once was

Returning from yoga, he answered the Deputy,
I am feeling better, and am getting better.
I am better and better.

It is by self control that one becomes a better man.

Climbing out of the hole

The fighter had begun - and lost - another fight.  What he was angry about now didn't matter much.  Now, in the hole, he sat alone.  He remembered what he had learned, and sat, hearing his breath.  Asana after asana, hour after hour, gradually, he was no longer alone: he was with himself.  He had never been by himself before, not like this.  Seeing himself for the first time, he was struck by the numerous faults in himself.  For once, he did not fight: he wanted to be a friend to himself.  So he decided to correct his faults, one at a time. 

He soon learned that he was not free - not because he was in jail, but because of his desire, his hatred, his own lack of self-control: these mastered him.  Seeing that he desired food, he fasted three days until he broke his desire for food: then he ate without desire, to nourish his body.  Desiring sleep, he fasted from sleep until he at last mastered his Tamas.  He conquered his thirst, for alcohol, for violence, for justice, for revenge.  All his desires now no longer mattered much.  Subtly changing his nature for a better one, he continued to sit - success after success, victory upon victory, the fighter conquered all, like a hero.

Now he sat in class, and was aware of his injuries - not only from fighting, but from his victory.  And so now he began to heal himself.  And seeing his own hurts, became aware of how others hurt.  Now that he had climbed out of his hole, he sought to heal the world of its pain.