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.


  1. Love the idea of "joining with naturalness" and how you explain that mediation and yoga-asana is about both mind and body. I look forward to reading about the foundations of Budhist Yoga.

  2. I also really liked this chapter (thus far). I’m about half way through and find myself stopping and reflecting a lot. I also appreciate when the author expands on the meaning of the words to minimize confusion. Thank you for pointing his mentioning of “involving the mind when working with the body and involving the body when working with the mind”. In thinking and teaching it is so easy to talk about them as separate.

  3. So far this has been my favorite essay in the book. It seems to sum up the discussion of the whole book with "How do we join with naturalness? To join with the naturalness of the outer material world , we must ascertain outer appearances' true nature, and rest within it. To join with the naturalness of mind, we must ascertain minds' true nature, and rest within it. Our bodies are the perfect place to focus on in order to do both of these kinds of Yoga, because as Milarepa taught, the body is the border where mind and matter meet each other."
    Frank, you taught us to do a body scan during meditation. And I find that when I'm having trouble staying focused I will do a body scan and at that point my concentration usually becomes better - but sometimes actually worsens. The way I'm reading this passage seems to support that?
    Looking forward to your thoughts on the Foundations of Buddhist Yoga.

  4. Susan, not clear if you are asking a question here and if so, just what you are asking. It seems you are reading this passage and finding a deep resonance. That sometimes your concentration deepens and at other times it worsens is just part of the 'naturalness!' It's just the way it is.

    Interestingly, in the Satipatthana-Sutta, where the Buddha explains the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, he says that the practitioner is aware when the mind is concentrated, and s/he is aware when the mind is not concentrated! This points to the deeper truth that awareness is always there, clear and unconfused. Our 'problem' is that we tend to overlook that, and identify with the confusion!

    Thanks again, Susan, for your comments! I'll be posting in just a few moments!

  5. Thanks, Frank, It's all a question right now! lol! Yes, that passage did resonate with me and I was delighted that it seemed to "jive" with the body scan...but I wasn't sure that it made sense that it did or if I was a bit off base....Identifying with the why do we tend to do that, I wonder?
    And thanks again for this forum.