Monday, November 5, 2012

The one who is generous and protects

Aparigraha and Veganism
aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathamta-sambodhah (PYS II.39)
When one becomes selfless and ceases to take more than one needs, one obtains knowledge of why one was born. 

     Every November for many years Jivamukti has some kind of focus of the month that reflects an ethical vegetarian diet. For some of us who may not live in the U.S. or Canada this may seem a bit strange or abstract. In the States and Canada we have a holiday that is called Thanksgiving (Japan actually has a national holiday on Nov 23rd that was adopted during the American occupation also called Labor Thanksgiving Day...prior to that it was called Niiname-sai and celebrated the harvest). Many stories abound on when, why and how this holiday started in the states. In school I was taught that it was due to a good harvest that was only possible with the help of the "Native Americans" in the region of Plymouth, Massachusetts, perhaps the  Wampanoag but it has been a long time since I had a class on the first thanksgiving. However what I do know is that many of the original settlers were dying. Their crops ha been failing and it was the native people of the regions who helped them to survive and taught them the ways in which they could farm. Also having a Thanksgiving feast was not an uncommon practice in Europe. On occasions when there was a good harvest or some special occasion a feast would be held that celebrated the gifts that God had bestowed upon the people. There were also days of fasting when people thought a penance needed to be made because of something bad happening like a draught.
     In either case whether feast or famine human beings have always recognized the central importance of food. That is why you find feast and food wherever there are sacred festivals. The word festival comes from the same word as feast and often was used in conjunction with a church holiday or you could say a religious celebration. When one ate a sacred thing, when one was very aware that what was on their plate was a divine gift and gave them some form on communion with the world and the spiriti or one might say the divine spirit around them.
    Now more often than not when we eat, unless it is some special occasion many people do not have this same feeling about having a feast or festival. The rituals still exist but in many cases they have become devoid of their original meaning. We no longer see eating as the most intimate connection we have with this divine creation we call earth; a connection through which we actually embody the plants and animals of this earth and bring them into us and they become the cells of this body and become the energy that allows us to walk and talk, sing and dance, listen and speak.
     The act of eating is the act of transforming energy. We all know this on some level, no one has to tell us to eat or that it is important. We all have the desire, we all know that if we do not eat we will be ill and eventually die. The two times that we universally come together in most, if not all cultures, to stop and pause and take in the great mystery, is at death with funerals and at meals with prayers and grace. We all know that eating is a profoundly meaningful action.
     Traveling around the world I realized many of these things and recently, a few years ago, another idea came to my mind. I was having a discussion in San Francisco over dinner. A person who was eating with me made the comment "I could never be vegetarian. I grew up poor and all I could afford was vegetables. Now I live in America, I have a good job and I am going to eat meat." Eating vegetables he associated with being poor. Meaning that vegetables are more easily raised and sold at an affordable rate as they use less resources and that those who could exploit because of their position in society and the amount of money they had set themselves apart by eating meat. In effect eating meat was a sign of being wealthy. The fact that the further you go back in time, no matter the culture the more vegetarian food we find in the diet. In Europe, Asia, Africa many of the people ate what came from the earth more so then they did meat. As cultures "advanced" we find the consolidation of resources into the hands of a few, the wealthy landlords, kings and rulers that used the labor of the poor for agriculture to create a farming and herding culture.
     The word capital comes from the Greek word capita which meant a head of cattle (probably sheep or goats). The more capita or cattle you had, the more wealthy. No one can argue that it takes more resources to raise animals for food then it does to raise vegetables for food. We have terms like peasant bread on one side and a rich diet on the other. Most forms of cancer or physical disease that are caused by diet in our modern world are linked to rich diets. Of course we have places in the world where people are dying because they do not have enough food or are malnutrition and we also have some people who get sick from a vegetarian diet as they are no well informed on how to eat. With both of these exceptions if we look closely we can see they are linked to raising animals for food to a certain extent.
     John Robbins in his book A Diet for a New America he says that producing one pound of beef takes 15 pounds of grain and that if America cut its beef consumption by 10 percent it would be enough to save 16 million pounds of grain." That is roughly the same amount of grain to feed the population expected to die of starvation in the world. Would America even sell it at a price that other much poorer nations could afford is another issue. The fact remains that the planet produces more food than all the humans can eat. We have a shortage of food in many places because of the unequal distribution of resources and how we produce food, not that we cannot produce enough.
     Since we have this complex that meat is for the wealthy, we see many countries that try to mimic what we do in the west suffering as we. Diabetes has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a major cause of death with 347 million people suffering worldwide and over 3 million people dying every year from high blood sugar. Many causes are suggested but it is interesting to note that meat and dairy are insulin inhibitors. Adopting a vegetarian diet has been proven to reverse type 2 diabetes and in one very interesting study affect even type 1. Heart disease and many other forms of physical illness are easily reversed by adopting a vegetarian diet and having a healthy active lifestyle.
     The word aparigraha can be broken down to get a better understanding of the implications of the word. Pari means "all around" and graha is "grab" so parigraha is to grab all around. To grab at things and hold them to us for whatever reason, fear, desire, fashion or spirituality. Adding a short a is a negative meaning not. So aparigraha means not to be grabbing all around. Janma is "ones birth", Kathamtha is "purpose" and Sambodhah is knowledge. The verse is saying that when one stops taking more than one needs they gain the knowledge of the purpose of this life. To get a better understanding I had to contemplate the opposite. How would taking more than one needs cause confusion and block knowledge. Well when we are only concerned about what we can get we block out the needs of others or at the very least the needs of others takes a back seat. We create a division and see the others needs as less then ours. When that happens we think it is ok to hurt them, we minimize their existence we diminish their purpose. I believe that anytime we diminish the life's purpose of another we diminish our own. When we hurt another we have to harden ourselves and in so doing shut down a feeling part of our being that is essential in understanding of our own purpose.
     Many being grab at things around them to get an understanding of where they are and this is natural. We are seeking purpose and understanding. However we can very easily become burned by the things we hold onto, weighed down by that which we grab onto. This happens when we have a meat based diet...literally. Our life becomes about short sighted gains based on taste, fashion and societal acceptance all of which fade easily. All of the great saints and sages were not remembered for what they did for themselves but what they did for others. The became light and shining beings by letting go of those things that did not serve them or those around them. I am not saying everyone should be vegan or vegetarian nor that to be happy or understand your life you have to stop eating meat. I am saying that it may be easier for us. I am saying that it would be easier on the resources of the world and the very fragile environments that we see being crippled all around us. Give it some thought...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Adventures with Engrish

That U is upside down

Get to Fukun this way....

A Fukun spa...

Adventures with Food

Taiwan is such an incredible spot for eating veggies. Unlike most places in NY and other cities I have visited most of the food prepared is not in the form of fake meat (which is a fav of mine) but soooo many different vegetable dishes. The picture below is from a buffet inside a mall??? All vegan and a plate filled to the brim cost about $2.75 crazy town.

The same evening was market vegetables with truffle oil...the tater tots is actually what put me over the top when I was trying to decide which dish.

The next day we went to a spot that sells only Baozi or steamed buns. It looked shady but the food was great.

The last one was a kicker. A garden that had only water lilies and a restaurant in the middle of a pond. Much of the food and the tea was also made from water lilies. 8 Course meal. Some pics i included but I got sick of taking pictures of food. 

Vegan on the road is not hard in Taipei mostly because of the influence of Buddhism and Taoism. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Asian Adventures

Yesterday I started a month long adventure in Asia. The first teaching location is in Taipei but there are no direct flights from NY. So began with a 14 hour flight to Narita in Tokyo.

Narita is a "fun" airport as far as airports go. They have a whole cultural section where you dress up like a samurai or do some classic Japanese style printing or painting. 

There was a pharmacy that played only Beatles music and had this sign in front... 
I got my connection to Taiwan and after a total of about 21 hours of travel closer to 24 actually door to door, I made it. 

The hotel I staying in looks really nice in pictures and is very comfortable but there is no manual control for the air conditioner so it is freezing.....

This weekend begins the classes and workshops all sponsored by Agoy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It begins by putting a face on the other and asking "Who are you, who am I, who are we? What are we doing and why?" Those are powerful questions. 
            The above lines are from Sharon Gannon's focus of the month entitled Yoga and Sexuality. For the past 5 or 6 years maybe a bit more, I have been growing my hair. I was presented with a great teaching opportunity as both a facilitator of the Jivamukti Teacher Training at Omega and as Lead Mentor is Costa Rica at Blue Spirit. I truly enjoy to study and it was great to prepare for these upcoming experiences. For a few months I stopped teaching and immersed myself in practice and study and practice. After a while I started to notice a few things and one of them was my appearance. So much of a teaching experience can revolve around the way someone looks. What someone wears or what their physical appearance is, is often a clue into an aspect of their sexuality. Red and orange robes often mean one who has taken vows of chastity whereas one who is scantily clad may be of another mind. Not only our clothes or jewelry but our finger nails, skin and our hair express aspects of our sexuality. We cannot control what everyone will say or think so of course some have worn robes and been promiscuous and others have barley enough cloth to cover their genitals and live an austere life filled with only God on their mind. I have always put a large importance on my hair. I often make sure my hair is looking a certain before I go out and if I cannot get my hair to agree with me I have many fitted hats to cover it all up.   
       Teaching yoga I always felt my hair played a large role. Long hair said something to me. Just as if you see a religious aspirant with long hair you wil probably assume the practice has been going on a while. I felt it was time for my hair to go. Not just my beard or my mustache but also the hair on my head and eyebrows. I drew the line at my eyelashes... I knew it would be best if I did not show up bald to Omega TT and surprise everyone and not have it feel strange at least to me. Costa Rica I ran the risk of getting a sunburned head and having to come back through US immigration. So I waited until yesterday and below is the appearance pre and post hair. Would taking a yoga class be different with either hair. Would you expect something different from a person who came to teach with half his head shaved. I would definitely be interested. Is the only reason you do something to your hair in the morning because of what other people will think. How much of our appearance depends on the other person. To what extent are the choices we make rooted in the desires of our sexuality of lack thereof. To what extent are you conscious of any of it and what could you do to allow a fuller or fully expanded   understanding of who you really are.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Que RIca

The coast of delicious goodness is another way of saying Costa Rica. The teacher training has been incredible but words cannot describe it so I figured some pictures would suffice.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Begin Again

One of the greatest teaching of the most simple sound of Om is that each moment is new. It is Pranavah, that which is always renewed. It is giving us an idea on how we might want to live, in a state of fresh, vibrant, creative and renewing energy. I find that in order for that to happen in my own life I have to be willing to question some of the most fundamental aspects of my being, my habits, desires, goals etc. This can be very difficult because it often means that I have to find the things I see so often, I cannot see them any more. I have to confront what has become "me". Some things serve me and some do not. Some allow me to grow as a person and some cause stagnation. Halasana is usually translated as plough pose. However hala can also be poison. Halasana can be called poison releasing pose. For the yogi the poison is stagnation. Just as the plough removes the stagnation from the soil so that new growth can come, the yogi focuses on removing the stagnation from their ways of being. This can be tricky, even the practices of yoga can reinforce the same tendencies we are trying to move past. There are a few things that can help with this removal of stagnation that we will get into over the next few months such as integration of practices into daily life, being with a teacher, veganism, being a spiritual activist and more.

Peace Love and Vegetables...