Sunday, December 12, 2010

Water Works.....

Today in my neighborhood, there was a tour of homes that have been involved in making 'rain jars.' I LOVE that I live in a community of folk who are this creative and devoted. This is as 'grassroots' as you can get!

I hope you enjoy -- and perhaps are inspired by -- this website.

poep sa frank jude

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

BOOK CLUB: "Mind and Body at Ease" by Sarah Powers

I’ve long been a fan of Sarah Powers’ work, so I was looking forward to reading her contribution to Michael Stone’s anthology, Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind. Sarah’s essay is Chapter 7 of this book, and she begins right out of the gate, so to speak, asserting, “Hatha Yoga is an introspective path.” Of course she’ll have no argument from me on this point, but I wonder still how many practitioners understand it as such?

The next part of her opening sentence strikes me a bit strangely though, when she seems to place the “introspective path of self-transformation” that is Hatha-Yoga purely in terms of using “the body as a vehicle for harmonizing and strengthening one’s energy” that allows one to then – with this ‘balanced energy’ – be in a place of better understanding for freeing our minds with the “meditative awareness practice” that is mindfulness. She goes on to speak of “braiding” Hatha Yoga and mindfulness together as our practice life.

I say this strikes me strangely because I think that in our practice life, these are not at all two ‘things’ we braid together as much as one fully integrated, comprehensive practice. In cultivating a mindfulness of body, for instance, while practicing the postures and movements of Hatha Yoga, the practice jointly balances energy and cultivates understanding and freedom of mind. In my own practice, I cannot sense them as two when we approach Hatha Yoga as an introspective path.

I don’t wish to belabor the point here, but I do want to clarify that what may seem like two practices that complement each other can indeed be approached as one single, comprehensive practice. And honestly, this is how it feels when I’ve taken class with Sarah: seamless!

Her distinction between “active attention” and “receptive attention” is an interesting one. Of course, various mindfulness meditations emphasize these different forms of attention regardless of the posture one is in. For instance, the body scan most often used as either First or Second Foundation practice requires much active attention as one directs one’s attention throughout the body in a systematic way. While doing so, one is encouraged to maintain an ‘equanimous mind’ which is a non-reactive receptive state.

That she sees these two forms of attention as related to yang and yin approaches to yogasana is telling, and again makes sense. Whenever I am offering equanimity practice, I emphasize yin-yoga practice, though of course, again, this kind of receptive, non-manipulating kind of attention is also needed in more vigorous vinyasa as well – as Sarah also mentions. It is always, ultimately, a matter of emphasis. Almost always, distinctions made for didactic purposes over-emphasize the differences and make it sound like they are truly separate, while in practice, we find a more fluid relationship to these approaches.

One thing I really appreciated about Sarah’s contribution is her examples from her own life. It is important for practitioners to understand that this ‘practice’ is, as she writes, a ‘life-practice,’ so her use of her hot flashes as an example of working with mindfulness is very pertinent. One caveat: ‘awareness of sensations’ is more accurately associated with the Second Foundation of Mindfulness, and I suspect her referring to is as the First Foundation on page 92 is a typo or simply a slip of the pen, so to speak, which I think becomes obvious when she refers to the First Foundation of Mindfulness as “mindfulness of the body” on the very next page.

I completely feel at resonance with Sarah, especially when she writes about what I call ‘building a bigger container.’ When we rest in a more receptive mode of attention in the face of discomfort, we are doing so not to become more stoic, but to cultivate the ability and capacity to meet the unavoidable afflictions, disappointments and difficulties of everyday life “without adding suffering to our suffering,” as she puts it. This is a real freedom that is truly available to any of us, if we simply give ourselves the time and permission to stay in that receptive state.

I also appreciate her drawing attention to ‘self-talk’ as part of our mindfulness practice. So much of this self-talk can be so unkind and self-lacerating. Most people would be appalled at the idea of saying such things to others, but their minds lash out at them with such vitriol. And then there is all the under-mining self-talk that she speaks about.

In the chain of causation, there is what she refers to as the first and second ‘beats’ of stimulus and assessment, and the third and fourth beats as reaction and action. Mindfulness is a form of nirodha, or containment. We feel a reaction of grasping or aversion to a sensation that is assessed as pleasant or unpleasant and we consciously inhibit any action based upon the conditioning so that we can choose a more creative way to respond.

Sarah strongly makes the point that mindfulness allows us to see the choices our life experience make available to us. Without mindfulness, we live in an almost automatic mode of conditioned reactivity and end up feeling ‘victimized’ by ‘fate.’

Along with Chip Hartranft’s opening chapter, “Awakening to Prana” and chapter five, “Joining With Naturalness” by Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor, I find Sarah’s contribution to be my favorites so far. All of them offer solid, sound understandings and approaches that I hope are making the relationship between Yoga and Buddhism more clear among readers. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

December Daily Practice (Health Practice): Hydration

Really, it’s not only because I live in a desert that I’ve thought to share this practice! In winter, we tend to spend more time indoors, with windows closed and the heat on (unless we live in the tropics or in the southern hemisphere, where it’s getting on summer now but then you need to hydrate there just as well). If you are finding yourself in such a situation, you know that your sinuses can dry out, and this in turn can lead to sinus infections. Dehydration can also lead to headaches, fatigue, constipation and many other imbalances.

As well, December can be a pretty stressful time, with the holidays and family gatherings, so I thought I’d offer a simple practice, that won’t take much time, but may help you weather the season in better health and spirits.

The Practice: After waking in the morning, before your morning shower, or brushing your teeth, or coffee, or asana or mediation practice --  before just about anything else other than peeing – drink a glass of water (about 6 – 10 ounces). THEN, after showering, or whatever else your morning ‘get-me-up’ routine is, drink another glass of water.

That’s it. Simple.

If you’d like, you can write this gatha in your own handwriting and past it above your sink, or memorize it so that you can say it to yourself as you take that first glass of water:

Water flows from high in the mountains.
Water runs deep in the Earth.
Amazingly, water comes to us,
And sustains all life.

Some folk believe the big wars to come are not going to be over oil as much as water. Already thousands of people throughout the world lack access to fresh water. And yet, our bodies are about two-thirds water. This water is not separate from the water that falls as rain and snow, that runs in our rivers and streams. As our waterways become more and more polluted and overdrawn, what will this mean for our bodies? Are not the waterways of the Earth our external arteries?

To be mindful of our water, our need for water, and to celebrate the gift of water is to cultivate awareness and help preserve and conserve this precious source of life for all beings.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Seriously? Some further comments in response to Michael Stone

Michael Stone, yogi, psycho-therapist, activist, writer, and friend, wrote a comment in response to my last post (Why take life so seriously? It’s impermanent.) on FaceBook, prompting me to take this opportunity to delve again into what I was attempting to get at in that post.

Michael wrote: Isn't "peace the path" because our actions matter, not in a future life awaiting us, but in the real social, political, emotional, familial life of ours now? frank the title of your blog makes me uneasy as it comes close to the passivity that a (mis)understanding of non-attachment connotes. yes, the asset of joy means everything. and so does action! mindfulness happens in action, whether joyful or serious or upset and neutral. if we focus too much on not taking life so seriously, we can become indifferent, or worse, we tend not to study our actions and their consequences.

Michael specifically says that it is the title of my blog that made him uneasy. I don’t know (and I should have asked) if he had read the post before commenting. And if he did read the post, I should have asked if the rest of the post left him uneasy as well, or if it indeed were just the title.

After all, the title is simply from a bumper-sticker I found humorous, and yes, a bit provocative. And that was exactly why I chose to use this to title this particular post. As I responded to Michael, it was meant to be both humorous and provocative. I think perhaps the humor may have been lost on Micheal, and it simply 'provoked' his response.

The response I posted to Michael’s comment on Facebook was the following: Michael, I agree that "if we focus too much on not taking life so seriously, we can become indifferent" but my experience with students (and most people I know) is that we don't focus on taking life less seriously at all. The point of this post is that through self-absorbtion, most of us take things too seriously (personally) etc. Thay himself offers the practice of stopping and considering what you (and the person or persons you are caught in drama with) will look like in 100 years.

Our actions DO matter. AND I do believe we'd be better off not taking ourselves so seriously at the same time. Or as Pema Chodron puts it, "Enlighten up!" I've often experienced that when a group of practitioners can feel easeful enough to laugh at themselves and their 'craziness,' a deeper sense of authenticity and intimacy is the result.

I hope by this you’ll see that I am not saying that life is meaningless or that we should adopt a frivolous attitude to it. Everyday, as part of my prostration practice, I chant the following gatha:

Great is the matter of birth and death!
Impermanence surrounds us!
Be awake each moment!
Do not waste your life!

This is a pretty 'serious' verse. But to approach our actions and their consequences seriously is still not necessarily the same as taking ourselves seriously, and it was this that I was particularly addressing in my post. This is why I specifically talked about “drama queens” (and we all harbor an inner drama queen to some extent or another).

Sally’s comment directly addressed this when she wrote: Thank you!... this resonates so much with my current family drama that pulls me into thinking and getting so serious. I'd much rather be light, forgiving, loving, and letting go. I will always remember how easily you said there is nothing to forgive when I was so sorry to have forgotton to show up on a class that I was suppose to sub. That response is still with me as a reminder to extend it foward. so much gratitude.

I wrote that post after I had just returned from a Yoga Teacher Training in Costa Rica, where many of the students were oppressed by the suffering of taking themselves and their ‘little dramas’ so terribly seriously. It was this tendency we all share that I was addressing in my post. This is not to minimize the difficulty of life, of family and relationships in general. But again, as Thay reminds us, impermanence should wake us from this daze of taking every 'insult' to our ego so seriously. Many times when I have found myself getting upset and building a Gone With The Wind narrative around a perceived slight, I have used Thay's practice of imagining myself and my loved on in 100 years and the drama completely deflates, as does my anger and self-defensiveness!

Michael responded to my comment saying: thanks frank. sometimes i get charged with being serious (for those who don't know me) and i only mention this because social change that arises from compassion still requires confrontation. we need to confront, with metta, what's in us, but also what is around us. that's serious business!

And I totally agree with Michael that social change is indeed ‘serious business.’ And that compassion sometimes requires we confront injustice. But I still hold that we should work for social change in the same spirit as we work for personal change (or transformation) and that is by not taking ourselves so seriously! I believe this is part of the message we should take from the Diamond Sutra where the Buddha says that the bodhisattva works for the liberation of countless beings, and when countless beings have been liberated does not for one instant believe that any beings have been liberated. Why? Because if we think "I" have saved "others" we are falling into self-cherishment. 

One of the Buddha’s core teachings is the teaching of anatta or not-self. That we take every thought that goes through our head ‘personally’ is part of the problem of duhkha. As Joseph Goldstein says, "thoughts, feelings and emotions are all conditioned by impersonal forces." As hard as it may be to accept, there is nothing ‘personal’ about any of it! That we take things ‘personally’ is what I mean by taking things too seriously. Perhaps I should have been clearer, and so I thank Michael for his comments, prodding me to re-state my intention here.

As Karen Maezen Miller writes in Momma Zen, “Yes, we all have a load on our hands, but the heavy is in our heads. Set the heavy down and sweep aside the useless mental clutter.” As her teacher, Maezumi Roshi told her, “You make everything work.” Don’t we all do so when we take ourselves overly seriously? Life is more fun that we sometimes make it. When a child asked Thich Nhat Hanh what he did for fun, Thay responded with a smile, “Everything I do is for fun.” As I titled an earlier essay, I think of it (life, practice, commitment) as all of it being  “Important Fun.”

In metta
poep sa frank jude

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why take life so seriously? It's impermanent!

I was driving today, listening to the first cd from a woman I believe to be one of America’s great song-writers and a scarily moving performer – who yes, also happens to be a friend of mine. You’ve most likely never heard of her, though her 80s band, Slow Children, did have some success on college radio and in the dance club scene. Pal Shazar’s first cd, released in 1991, is called Cowbeat Of My Heart, and several of the songs do indeed have a bit of a country twang, but her lyrics are always deeply thoughtful and often of a narrative bent.

Well, today, as I was driving, her song “Mon Cher Violette” was playing, seemingly echoing something I said to the Moksha Yoga teachers in Costa Rica last week; a statement I had read on a bumper-sticker back in Tucson, that perhaps we shouldn’t always take life so seriously, being that it is impermanent! Pal sings:

You’re so dramatic Violette,
You take life so serious
When life’s not serious at all
You’re like a missionary with that weight you haul
It’s a tragedy
So apologetic Violette
I find that curious
When your slate is super clean
Just like a visionary shocked by what she’s seen
It’s a comedy

In the Zen tradition, we are taught that all beings are without blame; that they (we) are perfect, whole, lacking nothing just as we are. So many difficulties and sufferings arise because we fail to see that. Practice isn’t about making it so, but more about leading us to realize that it is so!

All of us know drama queens (and perhaps have one living within us) who seem not to be happy unless they are embroiled in some complex, confused drama, all facets of which seem to be nothing short than a matter of life and death! I sometimes take a mildly sardonic pleasure in pointing out to such drama fiends that all stories end in death!

In another of her songs from this cd, “Go Jackie,” Pal exhorts a friend to “let it go,” and stop attempting to hold on to what he no longer has:

Oh let it go Jackie, nobody’s born to be
A prisoner of his fate
How long you gonna wait?

Many students misunderstand the teachings of karma in a fatalistic kind of way, yet it was the Buddha’s understanding of karma that points to the only possibility we have for freedom! Whatever hand we may have been dealt, how we choose to play it is what determines the outcome; it is not pre-determined how the game will go. And as Thich Nhat Hanh often emphasizes, if you wait for external conditions to be a certain way before you have peace and joy, then you are waiting for a future that can never come. There is no path to peace; peace is the path! If you do not claim and step into your freedom now, when else do you think you can?

So perhaps next time you’re feeling that the situation you find yourself in is so terribly, pressingly important, take a breath and remind yourself of what you’ll be looking like in 100 years. How will what you are fretting over be seen from that perspective?

And may you enjoy now!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Club: Zen Body by Eido Shimano Roshi

Chapter Six, the entry from Eido Shimano Roshi, is rather short and, in my opinion, rather slight, so my comments will also be short – and most likely slight as well.

In his opening sentence, it’s rather clear that by joining “Yoga” and “sports” as things the Buddha was trained in, along with the presumption that having studied yoga and sport, the Buddha was “very fit,” that Eido is thinking of Yoga as physical training. If I could, I’d tell Eido that everytime he trains a student in zazen, he is teaching Yoga!

Where I have complete agreement with Eido Roshi, is in his assertion that “the body is indispensable as the mind for finding ultimate liberation.” In fact, I often quote Georg Feuerstein, who said that enlightenment is a full-body experience.

As a long-time student of Zen, I appreciate Eido Roshi’s discussion of soji (cleaning). Since the baby’s arrival, I’ve found that I’ve more opportunity to practice while cleaning (laundry, dishes, diapers etc) and it has been truly a very nourishing practice. When fully immersed in this practice of cleaning, mind becomes still, at one with action. Action seems still, even in movement, as mind has ceased to run commentary.

As I teach in Body of Peace, when body, breath and mind are fully and completely aligned and relaxed into action, the true body is seen to be the 10,000 things. As Eido, quoting Dogen puts it:

"The entire world in the ten directions is nothing but the true human body."

For those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving Day, I hope yours is truly a time of reflection on the myriad gifts we receive daily. As the November Daily Practice of Naikan allows us to see, we benefit from countless, innumerable beings constantly.  And to all of you, I wish to take this opportunity to thank you for your practice, for your desire and commitment to awaken for the sake of a more loving and joy-filled world.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Joining With Naturalness Part Three

Picking up with the section entitled “Buddhist Yoga Exercise,” reminding ourselves, as the authors do in their first paragraph, that there are many varied “Buddhist Yogas” and thus many different ‘exercises,’ let’s explore what Goldfield and Taylor have to say regarding the practices taught by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso.

They make the important point, I believe common to all Buddhist Yogas, that movement practices are essential for developing the ‘practice mind’ in and throughout our daily activities. While walking meditation is a common practice (especially in the Theravada tradition) for instance, in Zen ‘work practice’ is strongly emphasized. In fact, it was during my Zen training that I learned to hang sheet-rock, as well as use several different power tools!

Goldfield and Taylor remind us of the three qualities of mind guiding the intention behind practice and specify that while exercise has many physical benefits for the body, our mental attitude must be one of ‘renunciation,’ in that we renounce clinging to body as ‘truly existent.’ I might prefer to phrase it as “renounce clinging to body as self.” This is an important piece often ignored in contemporary yoga (asana) practice. In fact, I find that some approaches to practice actually encourage and strengthen identification with the body as self, which will ultimately prove futile, as the body ages and becomes less able to perform the more challenging asanas. This is not, however, merely a contemporary issue, as texts as old as the hatha-yoga tradition (roughly 1,000 years old) already warn that the practice of asana, outside the context of raja-yoga (here meaning meditation) become ‘obstacles to liberation!’

Remembering the second quality, I encourage students to re-affirm their bodhicitta by reminding themselves that they practice for the benefit of all beings. And finally, that our practice is to cultivate the realization of the true nature of ‘things as it is,’ as Suzuki Roshi would often say.

In the following section, “The Key Points of Yogic Exercise,” the authors say that the most profound way to apply the mind during activity is to focus on the true empty nature of phenomena. Their description of maintaining the ‘nondual awareness, the union of luminosity-emptiness’ recalls the practice I teach of “Big Sky Mind.” 

They suggest focusing attention at the point four fingers width below the navel, which in Zen is the hara. Sometimes I too ask my students to focus here, especially during vinyasa practice, as in going from plank to upward-facing dog to downward-facing dog moving from this point. They all express a distinct difference in the energy and fluidity of movement.

Most of the rest of this section speaks of the body as impermanent, in the fact of its constant changing nature. In “Body of Peace,” I emphasize that in fact, nowhere in the universe is there absolute stillness. There is constant vibration, what Tantra calls spandha. What we call ‘stillness’ in meditation is actually a kind of calm-activity, vibrant, yet easeful, vigorous yet at rest.

I especially like the following phrase: “Experience is much softer than when we are clinging to ourselves, objects, and ideas with heavy conceptuality.” This is the “body of peace,” which is boundless and all-pervasive, not limited to the outline of the ‘skin-bag.’

The section entitled “How To Use Sickness To Enhance The Practice Of Buddhist Yoga” is another aspect of Buddhist Yoga that is both often mis-understood and/or ignored. The second of the Five Remembrances is “I am of the nature to have ill-health; there is no way to avoid having ill-health.” Frequently, when I offer this teaching, it brings up a lot of resistance among many students. They think it is ‘negative thinking’ and would rather ignore such realities. They may even be working under the delusion – encouraged by some ‘new age’ thought – that if they are ill they ‘brought it on themselves’ and that if their practice were ‘good’ they could avoid all illness!

What the authors here remind us of is that illness can be worked with skillfully to attain deeper realization of our true nature. And indeed, isn’t it true that when things go well for us, it is kind of easy to let practice slip away? Then the shit hits the fan and we rush back to the mat or the meditation cushion! Many people come to my “Body of Peace” retreat with the notion that a body of peace never feels pain. One of the first things I tell them is that in fact, a body of peace is beyond pleasure and pain; that in going beyond circumstances, there is a peace that can contain pain, that is undisturbed, as Patanjali puts it, “by the pairs of opposites.”

No Gaps

I have a tee-shirt from Zen Mountain Monastery that features an enso and brush calligraphy saying, “No Gaps.” That’s how we are expected to practice: with no gaps, seamlessly throughout the varied activities of daily life. My teacher, Samu Sunim would often exhort us that “there is no way of the Buddha outside everyday life.” Thinking that practice is one thing, and our life is another is one of the most pernicious beliefs a practitioner can fall victim to.

In this penultimate section, the authors are telling us that our training is to be engaged, to act without attachment, with compassion and the energy of bodhicitta. There is ultimately nothing separate from the naturalness we seek to join with. Thus, ultimately, we come to see that therefore there is nothing that truly needs to be ‘joined.’ We have never really been separate!

As they conclude, at first all this takes effort. Our conditioning keeps pulling back into delusion. But, over time we experience glimmers of emptiness and the relaxed ease of naturalness and as practice and life become not-two, life – including pain, illness, aging and death – becomes more joyous, spacious, natural.

I enjoyed this chapter quite a bit, and hope to hear from you, dear readers, what you have received from this reading. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Second Week Naikan Part Three

Well, this third question can really create some turbulence, eh? Generally, I'd like to think I don't cause any troubles and difficulties for any being, but the fact of the matter is that just by living I do cause some 'upset.' After all, when I boiled my water for tea, countless organisms were killed!

Anyway, in reviewing my day, I came up with a few specifics below. I wonder if you found this question as difficult as I?

1. I must have shooed away my cats from my seat at least half a dozen times today.
2. While driving, Giovanna began crying in her car seat, and I couldn't do anything to calm her (she wanted to be picked up and held).
3. I inadvertently forwarded an email along to someone who should not have been sent this particular email.

That's it! At least -- and here's the real 'kicker" -- as far as I know! There's always the chance that I caused someone some difficulties or troubles and I don't know that I have! Perhaps someone read something I've written and was upset by it. I may never know. AND perhaps that's one of the purposes of this question?

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Book Club: Joining With Naturalness by Goldfield and Taylor (Part Two)

The ‘heart’ of this chapter is the section entitled “Foundations of Buddhist Yoga.” Goldfield and Taylor say that, at least for their school or lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, these foundations are: renunciation, bodhicitta, and the view of the true nature of reality.

I have found it quite true that the term renunciation can bring up a lot of misunderstanding, confusion and resistance among many practitioners of contemporary yoga. I usually describe it as the letting go or renouncing of our habitual, conditioned ways of finding solace, and instead taking refuge in awakening. Ultimately, I think Goldfield and Taylor are pretty much saying the same thing.

There is one aspect of their teaching that I think can be problematic, but I’d love to hear from others of you as perhaps I am just sensitive to the term, but when I hear (usually it’s from Tibetan Buddhists) talk about phenomena as not ‘truly existing,’ I think the term has too many connotations that can mislead students.

For instance, there are forms of Yoga (and at least one school of Buddhist philosophy) that does assert that all perceivable phenomena are merely illusory – that they in fact simply do not exist; that all things are mental creations. Patanjali refutes this form of idealism, as does the Buddha, from most accounts we have.

And in western philosophy, the distinction is often made between ‘being’ and ‘existence’ with ‘being’ understood as ‘ultimate, true reality, eternal and unchanging’ and existence as the impermanent, ever-changing flux of phenomena.

I attempt to side-track any confusion by speaking of things 'not existing as we think they do,' rather than ‘not truly existing.’ For instance, I might say that a rainbow is a ‘real’ rainbow. What it isn’t, however, is a solid, colored bridge from one part of the horizon to another. It appears solid and self-existent, but it arises upon myriad conditions. But it isn’t an ‘illusion’ or ‘delusion’ in the sense that there is no real phenomana.

I don’t think we have to deny that our body exists. What we have to see clearly is that the body is not-Self. It has no independent, autonomous, persistent nature. So we renounce our mis-perception and clinging.

So, we end up with the same understanding Goldfield and Taylor write about, and perhaps it doesn’t matter what terms we use. Maybe it’s just my ‘hang-up!’

The second foundation, bodhicitta, is an important concept for all Mahayana Buddhist traditions. In my book, I share this concept as one of four practices associated with the second limb of the Noble Eightfold Path of the Buddha: 'right intention' (sometimes also called ‘right thinking’). Simply put, it is the thought and intention to practice and awaken for the sake of all beings. It can be a really strong energy that can keep you practicing when personal tendencies of resistance arise. On the mat, when practicing challenging postures, I sometimes encourage students to think of others in discomfort and practice tonglen, breathing in the discomfort while contemplating all the beings in the world who are feeling similar discomfort, and breathing out relief for all beings.

Compassion is the second of the Four Immeasurables (also called the Four Brahma-Viharas) and the idea is to cultivate the intention to really do something about the suffering in the world. 'The Dedication of Merit' is another practice that all practitioners can take up, at least as a bell of mindfulness that our practice cannot be seen as self-centric. If we are happier, we want others to be happy. If we are happy, our actions do indeed create conditions for others to be happy.

The following is the version of the 'Dedication of Merit' I use to end all my classes and practice sessions:

Whatever merit we may have generated through our practice together,
We now dedicate and offer all of it
To all sentient beings throughout the world, equally.
May our thoughts, our words, and our deeds
Bring benefit to the world.

The third foundation of Buddhist Yoga Goldfield and Taylor share is the ‘view of the profound true nature of reality – nondual awareness.’ Now, as I already wrote about in my post on Victoria Austin not all forms of Buddhist Yoga adhere to a non-dual perspective, so I won’t go into that here again.

However, their teachings on the two stages: “The Selflessness of Body and Mind” and “The Emptiness of Body and Mind” are well written and clear. Of course, while we have this discussion often in sangha, many practitioners still find the Buddha’s teaching on ‘not-Self’ and ‘emptiness’ challenging.  I would like to know if any of you reading along have any particular questions about this topic, rather than just ranting on and on about it here.

What I will say here is something in regard to the passage on page 75, where they write: “whatever  phenomenon appears to our senses or thoughts, it does not truly exist as what it appears to be… and its true nature is beyond duality, beyond concept and expression.” Take the example of a candle flame. We see it as a single phenomenon. Yes it is changing, but behind the idea that ‘the flame is changing’ is this implicit understanding that there is a ‘thing’ that exists called ‘the flame’ and something of its nature persists while changing shape in the currents of the wind.

Yet, from one moment to the next, what actually persists? And can we not see that without the candle wax, oxygen and the wick, there would be no flame? The flame arises upon these conditions, thus it is empty of an independent, autonomous self-nature. So, is the flame of this moment the same as, different than, both the same and different, or neither the same nor different than the flame of two minutes ago? Can you see this is the point Goldfield and Taylor are making in the above passage. For the truth is we cannot really say any of these possibilities are accurate and yet there is a candle flame! Words are concepts, and the true reality of what is cannot be captured in concept.

This is not to say we should jettison all concepts and that conceptual thinking is ‘bad.’ It is to say that we would do well to remember this truth about the nature of reality and concepts, so that we can use conceptual thinking without getting ensnared and led away from reality by concepts. What I’ve just said about a candle flame is not dis-similar to what we can say about ourselves. Take a photo of you from five years ago. Are you the same as that person? Different? Both same and different? Neither the same nor different? Where would you look to find any ‘self’ that has persisted unchanged, independently of conditions?

When we see this reality – and not merely intellectually – the clinging quality of attachment dissolves. 

Second Week Naikan Part Two

Well, today's reflection is on "What Have I Given Today?"

I must say, that while I did not and cannot give as much as I receive (after all, there is only one of me and myriads of beings I receive from!) I was pleasantly surprised to find that I gave quite freely -- at least today!

1. I fed the chickens, the cats, and the baby today.
2. I taught a class at Tucson Yoga.
3. I tipped the barista at Epic.
4. I gave $1.00 to a homeless man on 4th Ave.
5. I did my parents' laundry.
6. I bought a pizza for two friends who came over our house for a spontaneous 'hang-out.'
7. I bought Giovanna a little swing-chair.
8. I sent a check to one of my favorite charities.

Remember, in contemplating and reviewing what we give, the motivation is irrelevant. Of  course the barista is expected to be tipped in our society. That doesn't change the fact that I gave it to her, and that's all that's necessary to qualify as "something I gave today."

How'd you all do?

poep sa frank jude

Monday, November 8, 2010

Second Week Naikan

Dear Ones,

I thought I'd post a bit about my own experience of working with this practice, in the hopes that some of you may wish to share your experience.

Tonight I wish to share about just some of the things I have received today. I suspect that while there are many particular things unique to each of us, we may also find that -- due to our shared humanity -- we will find that we all receive many of the same things or at least the same kinds of things throughout the day. Also, in sharing about what we have received, we may remind others that they too received these benefits, but perhaps overlooked them.

For those of you wishing to take part in this 'experiment,' perhaps limiting ourselves to listing between five and ten things would be enough.

1. My wife, Monica made a delicious breakfast for me this morning.
2. My baby daughter, Giovanna, made me laugh today with her facial expressions.
3. Our two dear chickens, Daisy and Violet gifted us with two beautiful eggs this morning.
4. A man at the bank let me ahead of him when he saw me wearing Giovanna in the sling.
5. The barista at Scott's 47 made me a 'perfect' cappuccino this morning.
6. Our friends, Didar and Zirkan, brought over a generous sharing of the birthday cake Didar made for Zirkan.
7. Monica made a wonderful apple crisp and served me a nice heaping portion.
8. The plumber came to our house and fixed the leak in our bathroom tub.
9. I was served a delicious slice of pizza and glass of wine at Time Market this evening.
10. People I don't know have worked to create this technology allowing me to write up and publish this blog.

Tomorrow, I'll share my experience of contemplating the second question: What have I given today?

in metta,
poep sa frank jude

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Book Club: Joining With Naturalness by Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor

I was looking forward to reading this chapter as it deals with Tibetan Buddhist Yoga, which is one Buddhist tradition I know relatively little about, and I was not disappointed at all! I was glad to see how in their opening paragraphs, Goldfield and Taylor acknowledge that there is indeed a wide variety of “Buddhist Yogas,” and so they take some time to define the terms as they will be using them! This is an important step that I also attempt whenever I teach, but one that many others do not take, and which leads to needless confusion and debate among practitioners.

What Does ‘Buddhist Yoga’ Mean?

I was very much taken by their explication of the Tibetan terms for Buddhist and Yoga. I like the idea of the “insider” as someone who looks and explores ‘inside’ one’s experience. This reminds me of Georg Feuerstein’s referring to yogis as being “psychonauts.” I also found it interesting that sang jeh, the Tibetan term for “Buddha” literally means “awaken” and “expand,” pointing to the fact that the qualities we associate with being a buddha are inherent within us, and that awakening is a kind of expansion of that innate nature. The understanding of nal-jor for “Yoga,” meaning “to join with naturalness” adds an interesting take to the oft-said definition as simply “to join.” It reminds us that ultimately, we are not joining two things that have separated but joining with what is always ‘naturally’ present!

In their discussion of what it means to “join with naturalness,” I like their emphasis on the non-separability of mind and body: the importance of involving mind when working with body and involving body when we work with mind. I think this is an important point, which when forgotten, leads to the mistaken notion that meditation is about the mind and hatha-yogasana is about the body. As I often remind students, when you are sitting in meditation, much of the experience is dealing with bodily issues: tickling, aches, numbness, tightness etc. and how to relate to them. And when practicing hatha, often we are taken up with recognizing the constant commentary the mind produces as we move through our sequence of postures: “I can’t stay here another moment!” “Darn, this side is soooo tight! I can’t get as deep into the posture as the guy next to me and this is his first class!” etc.

I don’t want this to go on too long, so I’ll comment on their main points regarding the Foundations of Buddhist Yoga tomorrow or the next day. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from any of you who are following along your thoughts about this piece so far.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Okay, the following is an article I wrote for Yoga Journal a couple of years ago, about the practice of Naikan, which comes out of the Pure Land Buddhist tradition. As you'll see, it's a bit more involved than either the September or October Daily Practices, but I think you'll find it potentially one of the most life-affirming experiences you can have through practice. 

If it seems like too much to do the whole practice every evening, may I suggest that you take just ten (10) minutes each evening to contemplate just one of the three questions, instead of all three. 

SO, for instance, on Monday you can contemplate question one. On Tuesday, question two. On Wednesday, question three. Then repeat, question one on Thursday, question two on Friday and question three on Saturday. Take Sunday off!

I really hope you'll join me this month in this fascinating practice, and share your insights and experiences throughout the month.

yours in metta,
Poep Sa Frank Jude

Giving Thanks....

Standing in line at the grocery store, a friend was bowled over by the simplest act of kindness: a stranger let her step ahead of him in line with her quart of milk. Such a little thing and yet, as such "little things" sometimes do, it momentarily swelled her heart with joy and overwhelmed her with a rush of gratitude that lasted the whole day. What she experienced, and what she ultimately realized as the source of the gratitude, was more than the chance to checkout faster—it was the affirmation of her connection to a stranger and therefore to everyone.

Gratitude seems, on the surface, to be an emotion that arises from a sense of indebtedness to another person or object for taking care of you in some way, but looking deeper, you'll see that the feeling itself is actually a heightened awareness of your connection to everything. It’s a moment when you break out of the small self-centered point of view—with its ferocious expectations and demands for a romantic partner, a boss who sees all of your talents and none of your weaknesses, a gourmet dinner on the table—and appreciate that through the labors and intentions, and even the simple being of an inconceivably large number of people, weather patterns, chemical reactions and the like, you have been gifted with the miracle of your life, with all the goodness in it today.

Much of the time, you may be inclined, as Roger L’Estrange, the 17th century author and pamphleteer said, “to mistake the gratuitous blessings of heaven for the fruits of our own industry,” while the truth is you are supported in countless ways all day long.  You awaken on schedule when your alarm clock beeps—thanks to the engineers, designers, assembly workers, salespeople and others who brought you the clock; by the power company workers who manage your electricity supply; and many others. Your morning yoga practice is the gift of generations of yogis who observed the truth and shared what they knew, of your local teacher and her teacher and his teacher, of the authors of books or videos you use to practice; of your supervisor who lets you come in a little late; of your body (for which you could thank your parents, your doctor, your friend who helped you through the flu, the food that helps you maintain your good health, and the "you" who cares for that body day after day)—the list goes on.

When we awaken to the truth of this incredible interconnectedness, we are spontaneously filled with joy and appreciation. It is for this reason that one of the most transformative practices in which we can engage is the cultivation of gratitude. Patanjali wrote that samtosha (contentment, or appreciation for what you have) leads to unexcelled joy, while other yogic texts say that this sense of appreciation is the “supreme joy” that naturally leads to the realization of the Absolute. Yet how often do you actually feel and connect with gratitude?

Thankfully, gratitude can be cultivated. It simply takes practice. But if you're like most people, your practice is often focused more on noticing what goes wrong rather than all that's right. And, chances are, you’ve gotten really good at it! Human beings seem hard-wired to notice how reality fails to meet some conceptual ideal they have of how things should be. How many times a day do you sink into disappointment, frustration, and sadness, because others have fallen short of your expectations? If you limit your attention to how life lets you down, you blind yourself to the myriad gifts you are receiving all the time.

You may, for example, have ideas about the “ideal” holiday visit with your family: Where it will take place, who will be there, how everyone will act, what you'll eat, what kinds of presents you'll give and receive. But the actual visit surely won't match your ideas. And that's when you're likely to act like a child who has a certain Birthday gift in mind: As he unwraps one present after another, looking for that one toy his heart is set upon, he grows ever more upset and disappointed. Utterly dejected, the presents he has received lie unattended.

This will likely be your situation until you begin to consciously, mindfully, shift your attention from the mental formations you cling to, and begin paying attention to the reality of what is. For the fact of the matter is, regardless of how dissimilar your holiday gathering (or any other moment in life) might be from what you had imagined, there is much to be grateful for.

A short survey might include recognition and appreciation of the effort it took for our family members to get together in the first place, of the vehicles that brought you together, and all those who have constructed and helped maintain them; the clothes we wear, the utensils we use, the furniture and the house itself. We receive nourishment from what had once lived, whether vegetable or animal. And that food did not just magically appear. Before it was cooked, it required the energy of the sun, the minerals of the earth, the rain, the work of farmers, food processors, truckers and retailers to bring it to our table. It is, as Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, the gift of the whole universe. When we stop and really look, we see that we are supported continuously in literally countless ways. This is the highest wisdom of yoga -- the truth of interbeing, no separation.

To begin to pay attention to how fully and completely we are supported, we must break out of our constricted cage of self. With a more balanced view of reality, we are less preoccupied with what’s not meeting our expectations, and more present to what is given. We grow more appreciative of what we have, and seeing how dependent we are on others, we grow in generosity, wishing in some small way to repay at least a part of our debt. 

Thank Your Mom!
To begin cultivating gratitude, it helps to be aware of some of the most pernicious obstacles to doing so; often it is these very obstacles that provide the opportunities for practice. One of the most obvious obstacles is the failure to notice what you have—a working alarm clock, a roof over your head, a family with which to share the holidays. As the song says, “we never miss what we’ve got till it’s gone.” So, first thing you need to do is to start paying attention to what you have!

And here’s where expectations can prove to be an obstacle. We expect our alarm clock or our car to work, our loved ones to be there for us. Once we come to expect something, we tend not to pay it attention. We take it for granted. So, use expectations as reminders to cultivate gratitude.

Another big obstacle, and therefore another opportunity to cultivate gratitude, is the trap of thinking you are entitled. Gratitude may not spontaneously arise when the garbage man takes away your trash, since he's "just doing his job. " But the fact is regardless of his motivation, you are benefiting from his efforts and can meet them with an expression of gratitude.

So far, I’ve been talking about the formless practice of cultivating gratitude through simple mindfulness. A formal practice, developed in Japan by a practitioner of Pure Land Buddhism, is known as Naikan, which means “looking inside.” It’s a structured method of self-reflection that encourages a more objective survey of ourselves and our relationship to the world. At its most profound, Naikan is practiced on retreat with trained counselors. From dawn to night, every day for a week, retreatants sit and reflect on their mother—what they received from her, what they gave to her, and what troubles they caused her. They generally spend 90 – 120 minutes reflecting on their life, first from birth to age six, and then for each three-year period of their life, meeting with a counselor after each session, until their whole life has been examined in relation to their mother. They then move on to their father, siblings, lovers, friends, etc. Retreatants are free to honestly look, perhaps for the first time, at how they have lived their lives. Despite the emotional and physical difficulties of such retreats, participants typically end retreat feeling deeply loved and supported, experiencing a rich vibrancy of life, and a sense of oneness with the world and others. They also often feel a strong desire to generously give to others as they have received. 

Naikan can also be done as a daily practice -- the rewards will become immediately evident in the blossoming of a natural, deeply felt sense of gratitude and appreciation for your life, and for all the gifts you receive daily. Gifts that we realize were always there, but went unnoticed and therefore unappreciated. The practice of Naikan can lead you to the realization that you are rich indeed, and that not only are you not alone, you are truly supported by the universe! You may even come to see the truth in the exhortation of the 13th century mystic Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
A Question of Gratitude
By becoming aware of all that we've received, we find gratitude for all that happens in our days. Make Naikan your evening practice for this month and see what happens!

Question One: Sitting comfortably, with eyes closed, take a few moments to bring attention to your breath, mantra or any technique that you normally use to center yourself. When you feel settled, ask yourself: What have I received today?

Be specific and reflect on as many things as you can remember. It can be something as simple as the smile your partner gifted you with as you awoke, the cup of coffee s/he brought you, or the sound of birdsong at dawn; the driver who let you merge into the crowded freeway; your car that you used to run your errands. Remember, the motivation or attitude of those who gave you something is not the issue. Maybe you were offered lunch because you showed up at lunchtime rather than because your friend made some personal effort to make you lunch. The fact is, you were fed, and you can cultivate gratitude for that. The mere fact that you benefited from something or someone’s actions is all that is required to cultivate a heart of gratitude.

Notice how many of these things you didn’t appreciate as they happened. Can you recall what was taking your attention when one of these acts of grace occurred? Were you stuck in problem-solving mode, thinking of your “to do” list, or in making judgments? Reflecting like this, we may be surprised at just how many things we receive throughout any given day.

Question Two: After you’ve replayed the whole day in your mind, contemplate the question: What have I given today?

Go through the day’s events in the same way, but this time noticing what you have given to others during the day. Be as specific and concrete as possible. As above, your motivation is irrelevant. What did you actually do? It may be something as simple as feeding your cats, washing the breakfast dishes, or sending a friend a birthday card.  We often live as if the world owes us. As you reflect on what you have given today, you will likely see that, if anything, each of us owes the world an insurmountable debt. This insight is more than merely humbling; you may find yourself not only feeling a deeper sense of gratitude, but a natural desire to be as generous as you can in serving others.

Question Three: For the final ten minutes, contemplate the question: What troubles and difficulties did I cause today?

Again, be specific. Don’t overlook the seemingly “insignificant.” Your list may include things like, “I backed-up traffic while looking for a place to park,” or “I chased the cats off the lounge chair so I could sit there.” This question is often the hardest, but its importance cannot be overstated. It may bring up feelings of remorse, but its primary purpose is to provide a more realistic view of our life. Mostly, we are all too aware of how others cause us inconvenience or difficulty, but rarely do we notice when we are the source of inconvenience. And if we do, we usually brush it aside as “an accident,” “not that big a deal,” or “I didn’t mean it.” We cut ourselves a huge length of slack! But seeing how we cause others difficulty can deflate our ego, while reminding us again of the grace by which we live.                   

These questions provide the framework for reflecting on all relationships, including with family, friends, work associates, partners, pets and even objects. You can reflect on a specific person over the course of your relationship, on the events of one day, or a holiday visit to your family.

The practice of Daily Naikan is best done toward the end of the day, allowing about 30 minutes, though you could take less time if necessary. Remember, what makes this a meditative practice is that we are not analyzing our underlying motivations or intentions; we are not interpreting or judging. We are simply shifting our attention from self-centered thinking to seeing things as they are, and as all Yoga traditions point out, in seeing, there is wisdom and liberation.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Book Club: Zen or Yoga? by Victoria Austin (Part Three)

Taking up where I left off in the last post, Austin answers the question, “What is an ongoing student’s experience like in Zen? And in Yoga?” I think she captures the truth of such students’ experiences – especially in the context of contemporary practice where hatha practices of asana and to a lesser extent, pranayama are just about all that is practiced!

Her response to the following question could have benefited from more depth, I think. First, as phrased, the question “Is there a problem particular to an ongoing student of both Zen and Yoga” reifies the very distinction Victoria argues against in her opening introduction! Zen is a form of Yoga! However, if it is phrased, “Is there a problem particular to an ongoing student of both Zen and Hatha-Yoga (or Zen and Classical-Yoga)” then I do agree that such a student can become confused, but such confusion would arise more from the language and ‘metaphysical’ differences between the two.

For instance, let me offer an example from my own experience. In the mid-90s, I was invited to begin offering Mindfulness Yoga sessions during Ango at Zen Mountain Monastery, as well as weekend retreats there twice a year as part of their ‘body practice’ training. I was told at the time that they had tried bringing in a hatha-yoga teacher several years earlier, but the students became confused and sometimes put-off by the teacher’s use of terms such as “True Self” and “devotion to the divine,” which are terms that can cause cognitive dissonance with students learning about the Buddha’s teachings on “not-Self” and “emptiness.” As someone who has practiced and trained in Zen, they felt that my instruction was in harmony with the Zen Dharma teachings offered and in fact were a helpful adjunct to their other practices.

So as for Victoria’s suggestion that students take up one discipline as a main practice and any other disciplines as support for at least five years, I would say I agree if we’re talking about textual study of philosophies. As shown by the experience at Zen Mountain, a Zen student would be confused by the Yoga-Sutra if she studied it before having cultivated a deep understanding of Zen. I think Victoria would agree that if one were to take up serious Zen study and practice, asana and pranayama could be a wonderful support right from the start. Once grounded in experiential understanding, studying the Yoga-Sutra would not be confusing and could indeed shed light on one’s Zen practice. I believe similar things could be said of the serious Yoga student.

Again, from my experience teaching long-term, seriously devoted students of Integral Yoga at Yogaville, the Buddhist teachings and approach to meditation initially cause many of them confusion, and even doubt, before they find that the teachings can support and deepen their own awareness of the Classical Yoga and Vedanta they are steeped in. In fact, for many of them, many forms of Buddhist meditation do not fall into their understanding of what meditation is!

As to the question of how to integrate the two practices, I think the choice falls into either the ‘complementary’ approach or the fully integrated approach. For years, I practiced a ‘complementary’ approach, treating asana practice as a way of preparing my bodymind for sitting. With such an approach, obviously all I was doing was taking the physical practice from hatha-yoga and adding it to my practice of zazen. Zen was the ‘core’ practice and study.

Now, I fully integrate many teachings from Patanjali that I believe support my Zen pratice. Concepts such as abhyasa and vairagya, to mention just two, for instance, while not absent from Zen teaching, are not as fully explicated as in the Classical Yoga tradition. In my teaching, I quote from both Patanjali and the Buddha fairly freely.

In Victoria’s response to this question, I was a bit taken aback when she seems to equate “Self (the Yoga term) or Mind (the Zen term)” as I think this confusing and inaccurate.

Again, the question about structuring a practice that includes asana and seated meditation falls into the reductionist model of equating Yoga with the physical practices of hatha-yoga. As far as that goes, I think it’s good to experiment and see for oneself. I personally find that sitting meditation after asana practice (and perhaps some pranayama) tends to be deeper and stiller. But I know others who prefer to meditate before practicing hatha-yogasana.

As to ‘confusing’ the two practices, for me, whether I am practicing asana or walking or sitting meditation, there is no real differnce, so there’s nothing to ‘confuse.’ Of course, I do not wear my Zen robes while practicing hatha-yogasana, and would not wear my Yoga pants and tee-shirt to offer a Zen Dharma Talk.

As you can see from my response to the question of ‘integration,’ I totally disagree with Victoria that one ‘risks losing what makes each lineage a teaching’ if one uses concepts from both traditions. Does either tradition need the other as if either were ‘incomplete?’ No, of course not. But I do find that integrating concepts from both make for an even more comprehensive, coherent practice.

In fact, the response to her next question seems to fly in the face of her own response here as when she says that by obeying her Zen teacher and stopping attending Yoga classes she ‘unintentionally ignored yogic self-study.’ This whole notion of svadhyaya is of course not absent from Zen; after all, Dogen explains zazen as ‘the study of the self.’ But I do think that articulating it as clearly and forcefully as the Classical Yoga tradition does is indeed a support to one’s over-all inclusive Yoga practice of Zen!

The next question I think is yet another variation of others already responded to, so I will skip adding to that and finish with my response to the last question:

“Which philosophy best describes reality?”

Well, isn’t that the $60,000 question?! And another important question is “Can we know for sure?” Victoria jumps right into the breech by pointing out the dualism that is fundamental to Patanjali’s Classical Yoga. Prakriti is the ‘essence’ of nature she speaks of, thought to be ontologically real. It is the ‘first maker’ of all the manifest universe including your body and mind! Whereas Purusha is the “Self” which is simply and only the ‘witness.’ It is stressed by Patanjali that Purusha is completely uninvolved in the workings of Prakriti.

The Buddha’s core teaching of anatta says that there is no transcendent, independent, autonomous, ‘essence’ behind, above, within, or without the ever-changing flux of experience. He did not deny that there is a ‘self,’ but this is a phenomenological and empirical self that is always changing because it is completely part of the causal flow of conditions.

Now, Victoria may be accurate in saying that “Buddhism is not usually thought of as dualistic,” but this is an incorrect perception! Her statement that “Ultimate reality and relative reality are not considered to be separate” is taken to be absolute nonsense, for instance, by the Theravada Buddhist tradition. I think it may come as a shock to many Mahayana/Zen and Vajrayana Buddhists to read the following essay by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Dhamma and Non-Duality 

I will only quote a few pertinent passages here:

The Mahayana schools, despite their great differences, concur in upholding a thesis that, from the Theravada point of view, borders on the outrageous. This is the claim that there is no ultimate difference between samsara and Nirvana, defilement and purity, ignorance and enlightenment. For the Mahayana, the enlightenment which the Buddhist path is designed to awaken consists precisely in the realization of this non-dualistic perspective….
The teaching of the Buddha as found in the Pali canon does not endorse a philosophy of non-dualism of any variety, nor, I would add, can a non-dualistic perspective be found lying implicit within the Buddha's discourses….
At the peak of the pairs of opposites stands the duality of the conditioned and the Unconditioned: samsara as the round of repeated birth and death wherein all is impermanent, subject to change, and liable to suffering, and Nibbana as the state of final deliverance, the unborn, ageless, and deathless. Although Nibbana, even in the early texts, is definitely cast as an ultimate reality and not merely as an ethical or psychological state, there is not the least insinuation that this reality is metaphysically indistinguishable at some profound level from its manifest opposite, samsara. To the contrary, the Buddha's repeated lesson is that samsara is the realm of suffering governed by greed, hatred, and delusion, wherein we have shed tears greater than the waters of the ocean, while Nibbana is irreversible release from samsara, to be attained by demolishing greed, hatred, and delusion, and by relinquishing all conditioned existence.
Thus the Theravada makes the antithesis of samsara and Nibbana the starting point of the entire quest for deliverance. Even more, it treats this antithesis as determinative of the final goal, which is precisely the transcendence of samsara and the attainment of liberation in Nibbana. Where Theravada differs significantly from the Mahayana schools, which also start with the duality of samsara and Nirvana, is in its refusal to regard this polarity as a mere preparatory lesson tailored for those with blunt faculties, to be eventually superseded by some higher realization of non-duality. From the standpoint of the Pali Suttas, even for the Buddha and the arahants suffering and its cessation, samsara and Nibbana, remain distinct.”
Wow! There couldn’t be a stronger refutation of Victoria’s assertion that “Ultimate reality and relative reality are not considered to be separate.” Pali Buddhism has much in common with Patanjali’s dualism, especially if you replace Prakriti with samsara and Purusha with nirvana. Now of course, if one understands Purusha as the “True Self,” then the Buddha would part company with Patanjali over this, as he sees even nirvana empty of Self.
She offers that from her experience, these differences are merely “apparent conflicts” that arise “when we attempt to describe experiences beyond words.” That may be so, but the Buddha spoke many words about his experience and understanding, and refuted those who taught Samkhya. He most likely would have refuted the later Mahayana non-dual teachings in a way similar to how Patanjali criticizes some Mahayana teachings in his Yoga-Sutra.
So, does this all matter. I don’t know. I know people who are compassionate, wise-acting, full of joy and peace who practice and believe all sorts of things! I know such practitioners in the Theravada as well as the Mahayana and Vajrayana, not to mention practitioners of Vedanta and Tantra! (Here I am sticking to traditions within the larger Yoga Tradition; obviously there are such folk who are Humanists, Christians, Muslims, Jewish etc.)
Victoria is perhaps wiser than I am, as I notice she really avoids responding directly to the straight-forward question. From my side, I believe the Buddhist teaching on anatta and co-origination make sense and seem to describe reality more accurately – from what we apparently know through empirical science – than the other philosophies. 
This ends my comments on this thought-provoking essay on Zen and Yoga. I look forward to hearing from you as to your thoughts!