Buddhism

#36: Radical Dharma with Lama Rod Owens

This week I sit down with Lama Rod Owens to discuss the intersection of Buddhist Dharma and American culture and politics. Lama Rod articulates his vision for Radical Dharma: a call to make the teachings of Buddhism relevant for tending to the suffering in the United States in this day and age, starting with addressing issues of race, gender and sexuality in American Buddhist communities.
Shownotes:Coming soon.

Guest Bio:

Considered one of the leaders of the next generation of Dharma teachers, Lama Rod Owens has a blend of formal Buddhist training and life experience that gives him a unique ability to understand, relate and engage with those around him in a way that’s spacious and sincere. His gentle, laid-back demeanor and willingness to bare his heart and soul makes others want to do the same. Even when seated in front of a room, he’s next to you, sharing his stories and struggles with an openness vulnerability and gentle humor that makes you genuinely feel good about who you are, with all your flaws and foibles, you’re lovable and deserving of happiness and joy. He invites you into the cross sections of his life as a Black, queer male, born and raised in the South, and heavily influenced by the church and its community.

Through his lens you catch glimpses of your own often conflicting identities. Through it all he weaves in time-tested, traditional Buddhist principles and practices that give listeners real tools for healing and evolution.

With grace and humility, he doesn’t claim to have answers, and merely poses questions and encourages conversation so that others may find their own truth.

Lama Rod delivers his knowledge in a way that says, I’m just like you, no better and no worse. He reminds you that he too is human and a work in progress. He asks audiences to call him out if he says anything that is perpetuating misogyny, racism or anything divisive. Lama Rod has done and continues to do his own work, every day, and it’s palpable.

Lama Rod also speaks and leads workshops across the country for organizations such as Summit and Dharma Ocean, check his latest schedule here. He also officiates wedding ceremonies. Contact him to learn more!

Links:

Lama Rod

Radical Dharma

Books:

Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love & Liberation

Tags:

Yoga, Jung and the Journey through the Self — Why Do I Practice Yoga?

“Yoga is the journey of the Self,

Through the Self,

To the Self.”

–The Bhagavad Gita

Why do I practice yoga?

It’s a question to which I regularly return, less out of a sense of doubt than from a desire to clarify my intentions. We’ll never reach our destination if we’re unsure of what we’re aiming at.

Some Western students who come across Eastern philosophy object that the very notion of “searching” or a “destination,” is problematic, as to search or strive for some future goal would imply a state of dissatisfaction with the present moment. Western notions of the good life are usually predicated on an idea of striving towards excellence (notably, this is also true for other belief systems in different Asian cultures, Japan being one prominent example).

Yet to conclude that Buddhism or Taoism sanctions laziness and complacency couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s rather a call to live fully in the present, regardless of what arises. To resist the temptation to dwell in thoughts about the past or the future over reality, preferring, for example, some fantasy about how things might be better under alternative circumstances. We all know that game. “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” or “I’ll be happy when…”

Yoga asks us to shift the way we relate to our actions through having right intentions, which is also part of the eightfold path in Buddhism. In The Bhagavad Gita Krishna teaches the importance of acting without attachment to the outcome of our decisions. The Gita also states that “yoga is the journey of the Self, through the Self, to the Self.”

This famous phrase from The Gita hints at an important way of relating to yoga: as a journey to wholeness.

The Sanskrit word “yoga” derives from the root “yuj,” meaning  to “yoke,” or to “join.” That’s why yoga is often thought of as union: between the breath and movement, the mind and the body, the atman (the Self, consciousness) and the Divine. We can chose to interpret these ideas in numerous ways to suit our own beliefs, theistic or atheistic, but either way a theme of connection clearly underpins the practice of yoga.

The origin of the word “religion” also underscores this idea of connection. The English word “religion” comes from the Latin “religare,” which means “to bind.” At its essence, religion is about connection: to fellow human beings, to other forms of life, to our natural environment.

Carl Jung thought that the purpose of life for each individual was to become whole. The journey from fragmentation to wholeness requires us to face our shadow. “Our shadow is everything inside of us that we have avoided, disowned and kept in the dark. It is energy not integrated with the rest of our being, akin to pieces that have become compartmentalized, pushed aside and treated as an unwanted child” (Temple of the Way of Light).

Some ideas are so powerful that they transcend time and space. Jung believed these ideas, or archetypes, were rooted deep in the human psyche and revealed themselves time and again in myths from religious traditions cross culturally. In this view, “myth” is not a derogatory term implying falsehood but rather a narrative rich in metaphor that points to timeless wisdom.

The mythologist Joseph Campbell did much to expand the popularity of Jung’s ideas. More recently, psychologist Jordan Peterson has caused a revival in interest of a Jungian approach to Christianity with his lectures on The Bible.

Peterson has talked about Jung’s belief that “what you most need to find will be found where you least want to look” (from Peterson’s Biblical Lecture Volume 8: The Phenomenology of The Divine). This appears to be Peterson’s interpretation of a phrase Jung cites in his writings on alchemy “In sterquiliniis invenitur”—”in filth it will be found” (The Collected Works of Carl Jung: Volume 13, page 35).

Perhaps this is one facet of self transformation that The Gita alludes to when it defines yoga as “the journey of the Self, through the Self, to the Self.” It’s yet another hint at that deeply archetypal idea that what we most need to find will be found where we least want to look.

This is the hero’s journey into the underworld (the shadow of our unconscious) that is necessary in order for us to triumph over evil, or simply to prevail over own limitations or vices. It’s the movement from darkness to light, from fragmentation to wholeness. It’s an undertaking that Jung thought was necessary for every individual in order to rise up and meet his or her own destiny.

I’m reminded of the words of the poet TS Eliot: “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know it for the first time.”

While the Buddhist in me resists language about “ceaseless exploration” and the restlessness or discontent that such a state might imply I believe that the essence of Elliot’s statement and Jung’s call to confront the shadow hints at a deeper truth that’s compatible not only with Buddhism but with all of the world’s great religions and myths.

Indeed, the story of The Buddha is yet another telling of the hero’s journey: he heads off into the unknown to confront the difficult aspects of life that he has attempted to avoid at all costs. He is eager to work with all of the great teachers and practices of his time in order to attain a grand notion of liberation, until ultimately his strenuous efforts leave him in a state of exhaustion.

Siddhartha sits down and turns within, vowing not rise until he has found the way through his own inner darkness into light. The journey to his awakening requires him to face down his own demons, personified by Mara.

After moving from teacher to teaching and method to method he discovers that what he most needed to find was in the place that he least wanted to look: inside himself. Through confronting his shadow, he finds not only answers to his most pressing questions, but integration for the fragmented parts of his being.

Of course, it was the arduous nature of the journey itself that shaped Siddhartha along the way, a struggle without which he would not have had such a profound set of insights that changed not only himself but the world. This was how the Buddha walked the path of yoga: through the darkness to the light, through the self to the self. And at the end of all his exploring he was able to come to know the true nature of himself, finally, for the first time.

Upon his death bed, the Buddha gave this parting words to his distraught disciples:

“Be a light unto yourself

Betake yourself to no external refuge

Hold fast to the Truth

Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves.”

–The Mahaparinibbana Sutra

We can invent concepts, stories about the future in which all of our present problems will no longer persist, a place free of pain and suffering. Heaven. Paradise. Nirvana. But the reality remains that it’s simply another story that the mind feels a need to create about the way things might or might not be.

In moments of honesty with ourself, we can admit that our very need to ask the question–is there life after death–is because we suffer. Even for those who spend much of their lives complaining about how terrible it is, when the ego is confronted with its own demise it’s hardwired to hold on for dear life. Very few of us truly wish to go gently in that good night.

But the hard truth is that there is no easy way out. No express lane to salvation. The temptation to engage in self delusion is understandable, particularly considering the unimaginable burdens that some people have to bear in this life.

We can dare to set our sights on a goal that’s brazingly high but potentially attainable: to imagine yourself on your death bed at which you can honestly say to yourself that you’ve lived the life that you were supposed to have lived. That you didn’t run and hide from that which had to be faced. That you weren’t still haunted and devoured by the demons from your past.

That’s why the hero’s journey begins with a descent into the underworld, in order to confront the shadows of the unconscious, before it involves the arduous ascent to the summit of the mountain. This is why we cultivate attention in our practice: to begin to recognize the parts of ourselves at which we’ve avoided looking for too long. This is the Jungian sense in which I’ve come to understand yoga: to undertake the journey of the Self, through the Self, to the Self.

Perhaps along the way we learn to forge those deeper connections: between the various parts of our fragmented Self, our body and our mind, between each other. This is the promise of yoga: to make us whole.

Be a light unto yourself. Perhaps through more conscious attention to each present moment, you can start being a light for others. Then, at the end of all your exploring, perhaps you’ll arrive where you started and finally know the place for the first time, just in time, to offer it all away, one last time.

#028: Buddhism and Psychedelics in America with Dr. Douglas Osto

Scholar of of Indian Buddhism Dr. Douglas Osto talks about the intersection between Buddhism & Psychedelics in his most recent book Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America. 
Guest bio:
Doug Osto grew up in the woods of Redding, Connecticut. He has studied and practiced Buddhism for over thirty years, and has advanced degrees in theological studies, Asian languages, and the study of religion from Harvard University, the University of Washington, and the University of London. 
He is the author of Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America (Columbia UP, 2016), Modern Samkhya: Ancient Spirituality for the Contemporary Atheist (2016), and Power, Wealth and Women in Indian Mahayana Buddhism: The Gandavyuha-sutra (Routledge, 2008). 
Currently, he teaches Asian philosophies at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Links:

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#024: Integrating Buddhism & Ayahuasca with Spring Washam

If you’re interested in Buddhism and Ayahuasca you’re going to love my conversation this week with Spring Washam.

Guest Bio:

Spring Washam is a well-known meditation teacher, author and visionary leader based in Oakland, California. She is the author of A Fierce Heart: Finding Strength, Courage and Wisdom in Any Moment. Spring is considered a pioneer in bringing mindfulness-based healing practices to diverse communities. She is one of the founders and core teachers at the East Bay Meditation Center, located in downtown Oakland, CA.

Spring is also the co-founder of a new organization called Communities Rizing, which is dedicated to providing yoga and meditation teacher training programs for communities of color. She received extensive training by Jack Kornfield, is a member of the teacher’s council at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in northern California, and has practiced and studied Buddhist philosophy in both the Theravada and Tibetan schools of Buddhism for the last 20 years.

In addition to being a teacher, Spring Washam is also a shamanic practitioner and has studied indigenous healing practices for over a decade. She is the founder of Lotus Vine Journeys, an organization that blends indigenous healing practices with Buddhist  wisdom. Her writing and teachings have appeared in many online journals and publications such as Lions Roar, Tricycle, and Belief.net. She has been a guest on many popular podcasts and radio shows. She currently travels and teaches meditation retreats, workshops and classes worldwide.

Links:

Lotus Vine Journeys

Lotus Vine Journeys Facebook Group

Personal Website of Spring Washam

Spring’s Book: A Fierce Heart: Finding Strength, Courage and Wisdom in Any Moment

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#018: Ajna Light Technology founder Guy Harriman

Guest Bio:
Guy Harriman is an engineer, Buddhist meditator and inventor of consciousness hacking technologies. Guy worked for many years in Silicon Valley, including for Steve Jobs at NEXT.
In 2008 Guy moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand and built lannayoga.com Healing Center.
Guy is the inventor of the spiritual tool called the Ajna Light. It is a unique device which
helps people on their own inner journey, no matter what their path is. Since Guy
designed the first prototype in 2014, as of 2017 it is estimated that over 10,000 people have
been on the Ajna Light.
Shownotes:

0:00-7:40: Opening Remarks

7:40-:11:00: Guy’s move from the UK to Silicon Valley

11:00-14:58: Working with Steve Jobs

14:58-21:21: The genesis of Guy’s interests in contemplative practices

21:21-24:55: What Steve Jobs taught Guy about living life passionately

24:55-28:10: Shifting from Silicon Valley to Thailand

28:10-31:23: Right View & Body-Mind Practices

31:23-36:55: How to integrate Yogic and Taoist Systems and Practices

36:55-40:00: Reconciling Different Schools of Buddhist Thought

40:00-43:40: Developing the Pyra Light

43:40-48:04: Healing the Body-Mind Right in the West

48:04-52:00: The Promises and Perils of Virtual Reality for the Humanity

52:00-56:05: Becoming a Buddhist Monk

56:05-1:12:33: Inventing Consciousness Exploration Technologies

1:12:33-1:14:15: Closing Remarks. How to follow Guy and his technologies

Links:
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