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.