20 February 2009

books for your Buddhist path

In a comment to this post Kristen asked for book suggestions to start exploring a Buddhist path.

I first read books on Buddhism and the other Eastern wisdom traditions when I was in high school and college over 30 years ago. I put them down and picked them up again when I started back on the yoga path. I was in a different place so they resonated with me in a different way. I can not separate my spirituality from yoga although the yoga teacher trainings that I know of rarely mention Buddhism. I think that's unfortunate, but that's me. Here are my suggestions:

Of course, a good translation of The Dhammapada. I recommend Eknath Easwaran.

Whenever a beginner asks me what book they should start with I always recommend Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. Clear, concise, simple but not simplistic. I've read the book about five times.

What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula. A great book for the traditional teachings.

Buddhism, Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen. Classic.

Any book by Jack Kornfield, especially Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation and A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life (my favorite.)

I've studied both Theravadan and Tibetan Buddhism, so in the Shambhala tradition, books by Chogyam Trungpa: Journey Without a Goal: The Tantric Wisdom of the Buddha and Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. My two favorite phrases that Trungpa uses are "spiritual materialism" and "idiot compassion." You can google those.

Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings by Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield's teacher.

Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg.

Buddha Takes No Prisoners: A Meditator's Survival Guide by Patrick Ophuls. One of my favorites.

Dancing with Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering by Phillip Moffitt (which I have to finish before returning to Spirit Rock at the end of April!)

Good Life, Good Death by my teacher, Gelek Rimpoche. Contemplating my own death made me feel so much more alive and in a way liberated me because I know that what is never born can never die. That realization is freedom.

This a very short list but I believe these books contain the essence, at least for me. Some of these books will not resonate with you because we are all different. Search or any book store and you will find hundreds more books and a hundred more authors. Just as there are different styles of Christianity, there are different styles of Buddhism: Zen, Theravadan, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Pure Land, etc. Walking my own path I've found that it all boils down to the same thing, the essence of Buddha's teachings: The Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, nothing more, nothing less.

The picture above is Prajna Paramita, the Mother of All Buddhas. Here is the most well-known quote from the Heart Sutra, an essential discourse on Prajna Paramita:

“Form is emptiness,
Emptiness is form,
Form is not other than emptiness,
Emptiness is not other than form.”



18 February 2009

my yoga room is a very very very fine room

yoga art by sweetmango. sweetmango was surrounded by the fires in Australia. buy her art!

a place to teach, a place for props

a place to sit

Buddhist altar with Buddha statue given to me when I first took the Five Precepts; giclee of the Dalai Lama bought in Santa Fe, New Mexico; framed picture of my teacher Gelek Rimpoche; antique bronze Buddha bought in Chennai, India

close-up of antique Buddha -- it's heavy!

Hindu altar with bronze statue of Kali standing on Shiva, bought in Chennai, India. It is rare to find a statue of Kali in Tamil Nadu. Front row left to right: bronze statue of Parvati, bought in Pondicherry antique store; wooden statue of Kali bought in Varanasi, sent to me by a friend; picture of Shiva and Parvati; clay statue of Ganesha; mala on Kali bronze is over 30 years old, given to me by a dear friend.

These words from the Taittiriya Brahmana are painted on the walls:

"Let my life force be linked to my heart,
and my heart be linked to the Truth that lies deep within me.
Let that Truth be linked to the Eternal
which is unending joy."



When we came to look at the house I saw this room and said "this is my yoga room." I also immediately "saw" those colors -- I wanted a deep orange (since I'm a second chakra gal) and grass green. You can't see it very well, but on some of the walls there's a "plastic bag technique" with the paint. The only down side to the room is how the roof slants -- I can only fit so many people for a vinyasa class, not good for raising the arms overhead!

But I love the space, it has good energy, all the time.

books to start your yoga journey

Sandra, a new reader, wrote:

"I want to thank you for a great blog. It is truly an inspiration. I hope you are rid of your trolls. They are a pain.

I am wondering if you could recommend two books as I stand here in the beginning of my yoga journey. I would have liked to email you but couldn't find any email address on your blog (which is understandable considering your troll visits)."

Sandra, thanks so much for your wonderful compliment, I am blessed to receive such kind words from global readers. Yes, trolls are a pain; I've had to make my other blog by invitation only and I now see the same troll is skulking around this blog. This blog may also go the way of invited readers only.

Sandra, I will give you more than two books to help get you going on your yoga journey. Remember that these books may not resonate with you at this time -- the operative words are "at this time." When I got back on the yoga path I bought a ton of books some of which I put down after reading a few chapters. I picked them up again a few years later and I devoured them because I was at a different stage in my yoga development. You will find this true for you, too.

In no particular order, these are books I find invaluable. Remember that these are the books that shaped my teaching; someone on a different yoga path such as Iyengar or astanga will have their own favorite yoga books....

The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga -- Srivatsa Ramaswami
Yoga Beneath the Surface -- Srivatsa Ramaswami
Yoga For the Three Stages of Life -- Srivatsa Ramawami
Bringing Yoga To Life -- Donna Farhi
Enlighten Your Body: Yoga for Mind-Body Awareness -- Linda Christy Weiler
Mindfulness Yoga -- Frank Jude Boccio
Yoga of Heart -- Mark Whitwell
Yoga for Transformation -- Gary Kraftsow
Yoga for Wellness -- Gary Kraftsow
Yoga and the Quest for the True Self -- Stephen Cope
Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness -- Erich Schiffmann
Aligned, Relaxed, Resilient: The Physical Foundations of Mindfulness -- Will Johnson
The Heart of Yoga -- TKV Desikachar

Of course you must get a good translation of the Yoga Sutra-s and the ones I like are The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali by Chip Hartranft and Reflections on Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali by Desikachar, however, I don't think this is available in the United States. Hartranft's book blends Buddhist thought with the Sutras, writing from the perspective that it was impossible for Patanjali not to be influenced by Buddhism when he wrote the Sutra-s.

The ancient yoga texts are also not to be forgotten:

Hatha Yoga Pradipika -- Swami Muktibodhananda
Pure Yoga (a translation of The Gherandasamhita) -- Yogi Pranavanadna
Nathamuni's Yoga Rahasya
Yogayajnavalkya Samhita: The Yoga Treatise of Yajnavalkya

The last book will most likely be the most difficult to find. It is one of the oldest texts on Yoga and it is a dialogue between the sage Yajnavalkya and his wife Gargi, who was considered one of the most learned women of all times. The book is dedicated to "all great women."

Last but not least, The Bhagavad Gita, translation by Easwaran.

If you were in my teacher training, I would ask you to start off by reading these three books: Yoga Beneath the Surface; The Heart of Yoga; Yoga and the Quest for the True Self.

Happy reading!

14 February 2009

Valentine's Day 2009: practice loving-kindness -- for yourself

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror,
Sit. Feast on your life.

-- Derek Walcott, Sea Grapes

04 February 2009


Finally, I got it: a heart that is open to the world must be willing to be broken at any time. This brokenness produces the kind of grief that expands the heart so that it can love more and more.
--Stephen Cope

I had the great fortune of spending 10 days with Stephen Cope at my training retreat at Spirit Rock in 2007. I think he's brilliant.

And this is a quote that rings so true for me.