Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book Club: Brahma Viharas, Emptiness and Ethics: Conclusion by Christopher Key Chapple


In a way, this penultimate section, being the most personal, is one I feel less inclined to comment upon. After all, each person’s yoga is ultimately uniquely their own. And after all is said, I am moved by the examples Chapple is willing to share in this section.

Interestingly, the first example he gives as an example of the Brahma Viharas, from the more Classical Yoga approach of categorizing questioners leads to a similar response I would tend toward having from the broader understanding of compassion, empathetic joy, friendliness and equanimity. When I find myself confronted with an aggressive questioner (thankfully, relatively infrequently), I remind myself that perhaps the person is venting anger or criticism because they are suffering, perhaps the teaching is hitting them in a tender spot and they are resistant; I try to connect with my wish that the person be happy; I am happy if they are comfortable with their own understanding and/or practice; and finally, I remind myself that whether they are happy or suffering, that ultimately they alone are the heirs of their karma and only they can make themselves happy or unhappy.

Chapple’s example of “emptiness” practice takes it from the rarified heights of philosophy into a very down-to-earth understanding. I appreciate this, but also think it may overly simplify the radical liberating power of this teaching. Seeing emptiness of oneself is an important step; we must then go on to see all beings as empty of self, for it is this that opens the heart to unconditional compassion.

And finally, the ethical teachings are truly best understood as lived experience. This is why I appreciate Thich Nhat Hanh referring to the Five Precepts as “Mindfulness Trainings.” Through keeping them in mind throughout the daily activities we join in, we grow in mindfulness, understanding and compassion. As mindfulness, understanding and compassion grows, our lives become more exemplary of the trainings.


  1. Hello Frank, I really enjoyed the story of the three types of questioners: 1-to demonstration his or her own knowledge, 2-to confront or belittle, and 3 to seek knowledge. I've seen all 3 and as a teacher reflecting on the questioner being more important then the question is compassionate and feels so right.

    I totally related to Christopher mentioning that he was puzzled at first by the concept of emptiness. it wasn't that long ago that I just didn't get it. The perspective of serving others and seeing others as empty helps. Serving others can be applied in every day life and in all relationships and changes it so easily to win-win. I have applied it to being with my family and being here to serve and support, not to judge. It has been a win-win. So grateful to the teachings and practice.

  2. One who practices Pranayama will have good appetite, cheerfulness, handsome figure, good strength, courage and enthusiasm, a high standard of health, vigor and vitality and good concentration of mind. http://www.facebook.com/yogaforbeginners