In Aaron’s exploration of spiritual practices, he found Ashtanga Yoga to be a deeply physical practice with a concentration element. Ashtanga’s theory of awakening involves purifying the physical and subtle body through intense asana practice, preparing the mind for deep meditation. Aaron experienced Ashtanga as a slow, deep, and integrated practice suitable for lay life. Following a Kundalini awakening, he found Ashtanga to be effective in grounding the heightened energy into the body, aligning habits, and refining ethics.
Despite the benefits of Ashtanga, Aaron felt a stronger resonance with the intensity, rigor, and commitment of Zen practice. Drawn to the ferocity of Zen, he appreciated its straightforward approach and commitment to giving everything to the Dharma. Aaron’s impatience aligned with the Zen philosophy of breaking through and committing fully to the practice. At a Zen center, he resonated with the intensity but received minimal meditation instruction.
Engaging with Zen meditation, particularly concentrating on the breath and specific postures, had a profound impact on Aaron’s mind. The technique quickly induced deep states of concentration, making him less inclined to engage in activities outside of meditation. This shift prompted him to invest all his life energy into the practice, leading to transformative experiences. Despite potential challenges from exerting too much energy, Aaron acknowledges the necessity and inevitability of this phase in his spiritual journey.
Aaron emphasizes the transformative power of Zen meditation, describing it as a force that shook him up and irreversibly changed his mind. He acknowledges the ongoing process of sorting through and learning from this experience. Despite uncertainties, Aaron feels a deep commitment to moving forward and working with his mind, believing there’s no reliable alternative for lasting happiness. From his perspective, there is a sense of inevitability in fully committing to the spiritual path, and he remains dedicated to navigating the challenges and uncertainties that come with it.
Even during his time as a yoga teacher, Michael observed that many people approached yoga primarily as a physical discipline, viewing it as another sport or body-oriented activity. While teaching, he experimented with removing music from his classes, finding that people’s reactions indicated a tendency to engage with yoga on a surface level rather than delving deeper into its spiritual aspects.
Michael shared his personal journey of feeling a deeper calling within yoga, akin to the echo he experienced as a child exploring nature beyond its surface. He highlighted the original intention of yoga, as demonstrated by his master who spent 14 years in silence, attaining a state called “nirvikalpa samadhi” or someone without seed. This level of enlightenment challenges the conventional way of living.
His yoga master emphasized that serious spiritual practice could disrupt traditional life, challenging individuals to move beyond their comfort zones and preconceived notions about reality. Michael noticed that people often struggle to take meditation and spiritual practices beyond a certain point due to the inherent challenges of stretching beyond conceptual limitations.
In the context of Buddhism, Michael mentioned the teaching that the concepts of Buddha cannot be held by the conceptual mind, emphasizing the difficulty of capturing the true nature of the mind and reality through mere ideas. He explained how his experience in the yogic traditions shook his ideas about reality, and when he encountered his Tibetan Buddhist teachers, their framework provided him with a clearer understanding and allowed for more profound realizations.
Clare reflects on her experience at the ashram, appreciating the welcoming community and engaging yoga practices that resonate with her background in dance, gymnastics, and athleticism. Despite enjoying the physical aspects of yoga, she acknowledges a lack of intellectual stimulation during her early years without a teacher.
Having practiced yoga independently for 15 years, Clare longed for a deeper understanding and inspiration. She notes the absence of a sense of “other” in her previous experiences, prompting her curiosity about dedicating practices for the benefit of others. This realization becomes a pivotal point leading her towards Buddhism. The concept of interconnectedness and the idea that one’s actions affect others resonates with her, providing a sense of purpose beyond self-improvement.
While she finds inspiration in the lives of certain individuals, such as Christian Materia and her yoga teacher, Clare expresses that Buddhism uniquely captures her interest by emphasizing the idea that spiritual growth is not solely for personal gain but to positively impact the world. She contrasts this with practices that might lead to self-obsession and neurosis.
Clare recognizes the calming effects of yoga on her busy mind and acknowledges its contribution to physical health. However, she articulates that Buddhism has played a distinct role in challenging her mind, expanding her consciousness, and prompting a continuous quest for understanding. She values the practice of developing both the body and the mind, envisioning a journey that extends beyond physical well-being and into the realm of self-awareness and mindfulness.
Joann sought a spiritual path deeper than the Catholicism she grew up with and initially explored various practices like yoga. During her freshman year at Syracuse University, she attended a talk by Guru Sri Shim NOI. The impactful moment occurred when he proclaimed, “A human life is not a burden,” challenging Joann’s perception of life as a burden and instilling a mantra of embracing the inherent value of human existence.
After facing challenges post-graduation, Joann turned to yoga as a source of solace, completing teacher training at Kripalu Institute. The traditional Indian approach to yoga, focused on spiritual depth rather than physical fitness, resonated with her. Becoming a yoga teacher, Joann prioritized creating a supportive and non-judgmental space for her students, contrasting the prevalent ego-driven culture in the yoga community.
While teaching yoga, Joann discovered the Zen Center of Syracuse and gradually shifted her focus from yoga to Zen practice. She found a deeper and more profound spiritual experience in the Zen community. Reflecting on her journey, Joann recognized that her meditation practice replaced the deep belief in God, providing a more direct and unfiltered experience of the world. The dichotomy of good and evil inherent in Christianity was replaced by an appreciation for the world as it is, bringing a sense of joy and fulfillment to Joann’s life.
Annual update on progress of project.