As this is another fairly long essay, and one I believe to be important for our discussion, I am going to post two or three responses. Today, I’m offering my initial response to Victoria Ausin’s opening and the first few questions she addresses. I look forward to hearing from those of you reading along!
Interestingly enough, the opening of this essay from Victoria Austin sounds similar to something Stephen Cope wrote about several years ago about being on a plane and entering into a similar conversation with someone who asked how he reconciled practicing Yoga and Vipassana. I never seem to have these kind of conversations on planes!
When I read Victoria’s statement: “My seatmate’s very natural questions reflect a common view: that Yoga is practice for the body and Zen, practice for the mind” I was delighted! This is a succinct summary of the common misperception practitioners have in general about Yoga and Buddhism. I was further delighted to see her add: “I see the assumption of a mind-body split, Zen versus Yoga, as a feature of the English language, rather than as any actual separation between the territory of Buddhism and that of Yoga.”
Those of you familiar with my own work know that I think it ludicrous to speak of “Yoga and Buddhism” as two different things. Buddhism is a form of Yoga. However, it is legitimate to speak of “Classical Yoga and Buddhism” or “Classical Yoga and Zen” as two different philosophies of Yoga!
Austin makes a point that I am gladdened to see when she speaks of others’ attempts to “integrate these disciplines” that perpetuates or reinforces this assumption that Yoga is about physical practice (the body) and Buddhism is about meditation (which is thought to be about the mind) and singles out Cyndi Lee’s Yoga Body, Buddha Mind as one example. She also mentions Zen Mind, Yoga Body, a work I am not presently familiar with. While I have gone on record as someone with really respects and enjoys Cyndi’s work, I am not as sure as Austin that “… experiencing the books and workshops would resolve the split” that a mere reading of the titles alone would reify. Ironically, I have a student participating in my Body of Peace program here at Kripalu who has recently taken training with Cyndi, and she said that the split is reinforced by the clear “division of labor” with Cyndi teaching asana and her husband, David Nichtern teaching meditation!
While I agree that “Buddhism” has become a religion, it is not inherently so! The concept of “religion” is one alien to the time of the Buddha. He taught a yogic path of liberation, like many other yogis of his time. And Yoga, while not a religion, is religious in its concerns: the freedom for suffering through awakening from delusion or ignorance of our true nature.
After Austin’s “Introduction,” including a brief biographical overview of her own practice path, she presents several questions she has been asked over the decades about her practice of Zen and Yoga, along with her responses.
Her first question provides a simple, bare response of what beginners might expect when taking up the practice of Zen and/or Yoga.
Her second question responds to what the promise of Zen and Yoga practice is. I like that she basically shows that while the Buddha outlined the Four Noble Truths, Patanjali pretty much works from the same base: ignorance is the primary cause of suffering; and each offers an eight-fold path to the elimination of suffering.
Her response to the third question, “How much of Zen is mind training?” I think could have been a bit more succinct, but she eventually gets around to saying that seeing Zen as simply “mind training” is an impoverished view. Primarily, I would add, this impoverished view is based upon the assumption that mind can be fully separated from body, and engaged action in the world. A huge part of my Zen training was work practice, which over the years included weed-pulling, painting, hanging sheet rock, dusting, cooking and assorted other activities. Can this be called “mind training?” Can it not be called “mind training?!”
I would also add that along with “family practice, diversity, and mass media,” important other contributions America (and the west) have brought to Zen is psychological sophistication and understanding, recovery programs, political activism, feminism and ecological activism.
The fourth question is the parallel to the third: “How much of Yoga is body training?” I think Victoria muddies the issue here by bringing in the eight limbs as having been transmitted in diverse traditions and styles, and then referring to Bhakti, Hatha, and Raja. The famous eight limbs of Patanjali are not the only models of Yoga. There are paths with less and paths with more limbs. Bhakti Yoga is itself made up of many individual traditions, many of which never speak of the eight limbs.
Indeed, some scholars assert that the eight limbs found in Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra are a later interpolation, and that the original Yoga taught by Patanjali is the three-limbed Kriya-Yoga! Iyengar Yoga does indeed offer an integration of the Hatha-Yoga tradition (which famously downplays the yamas and niyamas as evidenced in the Hatha-Yoga Pradipika, its earliest foundational text) and Raja-Yoga as embodied in Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra. Each alignment instruction given in an Iyengar class is seen to be a dharana, or a point of concentration. Austin’s profound example of B.K.S. Iyengar’s exhortation “to learn to take the muscles evenly inward” is further evidence of the fallacy of thinking we can separate the body and the mind.