I do not see Buddhism as an organized religion but rather a gathering of beliefs and techniques and teachings shared by a great prophet. How I approach them or use them is up to me to decide for myself. Some make sense others do not. Some I find comfortable to life others I do not.
Slowly, as I have learned mindful meditation, as I have picked up Yoga techniques, as I have become more familiar with Buddhist thought, as I have studied and read, I believe I have begun to not only learn about it but to experience "IT." You cannot really just learn about about it, you must directly experience it, and that is a very individual experience. That is what I call "IT."
For me, I can organize the "IT" into three concepts: 1) the essential self, 2) life as suffering, 3) joy as a choice.
Briefly, at all times we are able to be in touch with our essential self, that self which was there before all the "interference" of growing up, school, church, family, friends, relationships, society, life.
At times we can almost reach out and touch that essential self again if only but for a moment. Buddhism has taught me to look at life differently and therefore my belief systems have changed.
Everything is always changing and what causes us to suffer is our desperately try to hold on to life, to truth, to a moment, to make sense out of non-sense. We cannot hold on, we can only be in the moment. This is not easy as the fraction of a second in which we think about being in the moment we have lost that moment.
Being able to embrase this, I have found some relief from suffering through meditation and yoga and my studies of Buddhism, as I once again am able to "quiet the voices my head" and regain contact more often with my essential self, the pure essence of what I am and have always been.
I can choose joy because the suffering is really only me trying to hold onto something that is constantly changing, in a moment I am a different person than I was a moment earlier. In a moment the things I know and believe will be changed, those I love dearly will be gone, and then I will be gone.
If you are able to notice your quiet, inside thinking during the day, you will see that the mind is ALWAYS actively engaged in a dialog with yourself (actually a monologue.)
You are making decisions, making observations, making judgements, arguing, chatting etc with yourself, quietly, internally. You may notice that sometimes you even do this in a whisper and sometimes out loud.
By focusing ones attention on the breath, on the breath with added stretches, on the breath with stretches and added chanting; one can calm the mind and become more in touch with the emptiness or calmness that occurs when most of the "chatter" of the mind is turned off.
I know that to many of you this will sound like a lot of "gobble-do-gook," like "religious fanatism," like "hippi-dippi-do stuff." The true sign of UN-ENLIGHTENMENT is when someone talks about being enlightened.
I believe that for most of us enlightenment is something we are always moving just a little bit closer to, without ever arriving. I am just saying that for me Buddhism has been working.
It has given me peace and joy in my life and made my suffering more tolerable. No other religion I have studied, not Judaism into which I was born and whose traditions and sense of family I love, and no "understanding" of God has given me this much sought after sense of joy and peace.
I share my thoughts here for two reasons, not to boast or to say "I know the way, but rather: 1) I find that by documenting my life I am also processing my experiences, and 2) maybe it will speak to you in what every way you want to comfortably accept it, pursue it, use it.
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Through the last five sessions of Panchamays Kosha Yoga, I have learned many valuable physical ways of clearing my mind so I can come closer in touch with my essential self more often: meditation, stretching, mindful breathing, chanting, and probably a few more techniques that I have either forgotten or internalized have helped me on this path.
The final session in this series of classes and consisted of a "putting together" of all of our experiences from the previous sessions. Probably the most important new part of this final class for me was learning about the Hamsa or Soham Mantra.
In some ways I find the concept MAGICAL! Simply speaking, it is a built in system that every living being is practicing 24/7. The difference is becoming aware of it.
|Hamsa Mantra - a simple breath practice|
|On average, twenty-one thousand, six hundred times a day we chant the mantra Hamsa. "Ha" is the sound of the breath on our exhalations and "sa" is the sound of the inhalations. Some traditions reverse this, and the mantra is called "So'ham" - we hear "hmmm" on the inhalation and a sighing "sa" on the exhalation. Iyengar says they are actually combined; every creature creates so'ham on the inhalation (which means "He am I") and hamsa on the exhalation (which means "I am He"). This is called the "ajapamantra."|
While we chant this barely audible mantra with each breath, we can feel energy moving within us. Close your eyes and notice the way your energy state is altered while you inhale and exhale. Experiment with hearing "ham" on the inhalation and "sa" on the exhalation. Does this feel energizing or calming for you? Next reverse it: hear "sa" on the inhalation and "ham" on the exhalation. Does this change the energetic feelings?
Many teachers will claim that hamsa is energizing and so'ham is relaxing. They teach that when we hear so'ham, prana is descending. On hearing hamsa, shakti (energy) rises. Other teachers claim the exact opposite. Of course, we are all different; half of us are natural belly breathers, half are chest breathers. It is not surprising that everyone doesn't respond the same way. You will need to experiment and find out which form of hamsa breathing energizes you, and which form calms you. Once you know, then you are ready to employ this tool in your practice. Preparing for a Yin Yoga class, you may want to use the calming breath. Preparing for a yang practice, you may want to use an energizing breath.
Of course, hamsa breathing can be used outside of your yoga practice too. We all have times in life when we are too stoked up and need to relax. The hamsa breath can be useful then. At other times, we need a quick boost of energy, and the opposite breath may be ideal. Instead of reaching, automatically, for that cigarette to calm you down, or that third cup of coffee or a cola to give you a pick-me-up, try working with the breath for a minute or two. You may be surprised at how effective it is, and it is a lot healthier.
Thank you Corinne Peterson (http://www.corinnepeterson.com) for helping me on this path. It has been the first time in my life that I have found peace in a spiritual belief system. My "Search for God" series of writing and thinking and processing has brought me to this place where God per say is not the important thing to determine, but rather your relationship to yourself, your environment, your fellow beings, to everything living!