» 2011 » July Mas-india.com Blog

What is Karma?

July 29, 2011 on 7:00 am

Dear Spiritual Explorer: Could you talk about karma? Joan F., Santa Cruz, CA

Dear Joan: When I walked into the store today, I noticed the many Prayer Flags, particularly Sacred Symbols of the World Flags which pays homage to the great spiritual traditions of the world. Traditionally, it is thought that when one hangs these flags in their garden or home, that good karma attaches.


Sacred Symbols of the World Prayer Flags

So what is karma? Karma is a Sanskrit word meaning action; it’s commonly been considered punishment for bad actions. “Oh, he’s going to get bad karma for his bad deeds.” I must say that I object to people tossing the word “karma” around as if they are think they have a certain moral standard that allows them to assess the recipients of good or bad karma. Another view is that karma is the universal law of cause and effect that says every thought, word and act has an energy that affects our reality. Karma can also refer to the “work” we have ahead of us, which includes lessons from both our past and present lives, assuming that we have past lives, but that’s another presumption when talking about karma.

I must say that I like the idea of karma better than I like the idea of original sin. It appears to me that when Christianity speaks of original sin, it’s that any innocent baby has a presumption of original sin attached to his birth and must atone for it at some point. I prefer the idea of karma in that what you reap, so shall you sow. That certainly feels fairer from my standpoint and implies individual responsibility for one’s actions.

I think we know that not all good actions produce immediate great rewards. I know of some wonderful people who have done great deeds in their lives, but have also been afflicted by illness, unfortunate bad luck, etc. So, not all good actions produce rewards. However, some believe that eventually you might see positive results of positive actions at some time. I don’t think we can count on this as an inevitability in any person’s lifetime.
Some people do good deeds with the hope of receiving eventual benefit, even if it’s praise from somebody else. I like the saying, “The day is sufficient unto itself.” When I do something for somebody else that seems at the moment to come from my heart and feels pretty clear of selfish motive, I just feel good. As to whether it will result in good karma in the future, frankly, I don’t know. There was a great philosopher who once said that he believed in God because if it turned out that there was no God, he would still have had the benefit of trusting in something other than himself through his life.

Even if the idea of benefiting from good karma motivates you, you are still doing something positive for the world and that’s good. When one does well, a wonderful satisfaction is felt and that’s good enough for me. Thanks for writing, Spiritual Explorer

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Devotion of Ramprasad

July 27, 2011 on 7:04 am

Dear Spiritual Explorer: I’m looking for a book that speaks of Bhakti devotion. Ronald C., Milwaukee, WI


Grace and Mercy in her Wild Hair

Dear Ronald: I particularly like the book, Grace and Mercy in her Wild Hair, because it speaks of the non-ordinary and unique and unconventional relationship of the devotee, Ramprasad to his Goddess Kali. Ramprasad’s poetry to her captures the wildness and formidability of Kali. Contained within this book are his bhakti-inspired, devotional poems written in the 18th Century. I appreciate especially that his devotional phrases were a radical departure from the Brahman-dominated Hindu orthodoxy of the time. Ramprasad’s poetry ranges from the despair of an abandoned child to the hilarity of a man intoxicated with the Goddess’s love.

The term bhakti signifies emotional worship and its aim is to achieve a direct relationship with a deity as opposed to using an intercessory such as a priest or a guru. Unlike orthodoxy, bhakti provides a release from the world of rebirth and the chain of cause and effect, otherwise known as karma, not through arid ritual but through the devotion of the heart.

Ram Prasad’s poetry and how he addresses Kali is most unconventional and quite a departure from traditional, devotional poetic stanzas previously written. Ram Prasad almost crosses a line with respect to his devotional entreaties to Kali. Sometimes he challenges her, asking her in one poem, why is she naked again. Has she no shame? But then he ends “Prasad says: Even Shiva fears you When You’re like this.”

Another poem: “All right, you crazy woman, Get down off the Great Lord’s chest!” His love for Kali brings forth a familiarity, but never disrespect. I think that is why we all revere Ramprasad. Ramprasad engages with all his soul his beloved Kali, forcing her to pay attention to him and grant his wishes. Ramprasad does not attempt to win her by flattery or obeisance; Ramprasad’s wishes, devotion and entreaties are out there for all to see. Ramprasad is not ashamed of his desire for this great Goddess Kali nor does he beat around the bush what he spiritually wants this lifetime.

When you finish this book, you wonder why you yourself can be so half-hearted in devotion also. Ramprasad is truly an example of extraordinary bhakti devotion.

Thanks for writing, Spiritual Explorer

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Hip Hop Spiritual Music

July 22, 2011 on 7:00 am

Dear Spiritual Explorer: I do my sadhana every day, but need to listen to something a little more worldly to get me going in the morning. Ron J., Littleton, CO


Elephant Power by MC Yogi

Dear Ron: I understand your desire perfectly. Sometimes after meditating, it is difficult for me to put on my worldly persona and go out to make a living. While I usually like soothing music to calm my restless soul, I absolutely adore the hip-hop sound of Elephant Power by MC Yogi. Featuring some of our favorite kirtan singers, Bhagavan Das, Jai Uttal, Krishna Das and MC Yogi, you will renew your love for these guys with their unique and clever re-figuring of traditional kirtan into a modern exciting hip-hop style.

Beginning with the invocation of Om, we are invited by MC Yogi to “go with the gusto of life,” and that’s how you feel with these musical pieces. MC Yogi re-inspires and renews your spirit when you listen to this CD. Continuing in hip-hop mode, Bhagavan Das in Elephant power is accompanied by a group of high spirited musicians that make you just want to get up and dance in joy. After invoking Ganesh in Ganesh in Fresh, Jai Uttal with friends rap their way to a whole new humorous rendering of the tale of Ganesh. Of course, Krishna Das in Rock On Hanuman continues this lively original explosion of spiritual music and re-forms how we sing the Hanuman Chalisa. How best to describe this CD by MC Yogi? I’d say it’s fresh, original and exciting, and at the same time full of reverence and humor.

Who is MC Yogi? Well, he grew up painting graffiti and listening to hip hop. MC Yogi began writing raps and freestyling for friends at house parties. While MC Yogi spent most of high school in a group home for at-risk youth, hip hop culture provided a creative outlet for him. At age 18, MC Yogi discovered yoga. MC Yogi is now a full time yoga teacher and performing artist. I can only say that his sound is exciting and revolutionary and speaks to a current new generation of mystics, truth seekers, and urban yogis.

Thanks for writing. Spiritual Explorer

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The Shamanic Quest

July 20, 2011 on 7:02 am

Dear Spiritual Explorer: What is it about shamanic music that draws me in so deeply? Rodney P., Louisville, KY


Shamanic Dream II by Anugama

Dear Rodney: The short, smart-alecky answer could be why do some people like strawberry and some like chocolate ice cream. Answer: Cause that’s how Spirit made you with specific interests and desires all your own. The longer answer is that when I hear Shamanic Dream II by Anugama, I am again reminded of why I am personally drawn to shamanic music.

Yogic chants, relaxation and meditation music all have the ability to draw you into the Self, where suddenly you become very quiet with accompanying quietude of your mind. The difference with shamanic music, notwithstanding the different instrumentals that usually include prayerful flute melodies, drumming and chants, is that they seem to lead the mind down into a magical journey. It’s almost as if there isn’t the usual ego struggle to quiet the mind or pay attention to it in some way; shamanic music at its inception seems to envelop and take over your whole being without effort, and as you flow into relaxation and magic, the journey begins. Some have described it as being on a peyote trip where you have no control over the drug once you ingest it.

The shamanic journey has traditionally been to lead your back to your core underpinnings, past your own psychological musings and identifications, to a mysterious and magical (that word again) spot. Shamans have long been known to be masters of that interior space where the inner spirit resides. Experienced as lost through some life trauma, you then have the choice to re-cover your spirit and bring back to your ordinary life where it may now be integrated. Some traditional shamans from South American countries adorn themselves in colorful garments complete with feather headdresses. They cut a very imposing figure.  I once said that shamans were sometimes scary enough with their amulets and feathers to scare any unrecovered self back to the surface. More respectfully, these shamans are usually men or women daring enough to confront their deepest fears and some fearsome guardians of inner gates to reach their selves. Some have called Carl Jung a shaman in this regard, a psychologist who did just that. He explored his own madness for the benefit of the world and then brought his insights back to heal his patients.

A shaman’s motive for commencing this journey is to heal and reconnect with what has been lost through trauma in their lives. When a shaman returns from her journey, she is presumably healed and born anew. They can then accompany others psychically on similar journeys, assisting them to re-cover what has been lost. The yogic trip can be described quite differently but just as validly. Through relaxation and stretching of the limbs and body parts, and breathing, one lets go of tension or perhaps karma that constricts a natural way of being in the world. The body, then restored to a natural and peaceful alignment, may embrace and open to its spirit more easily.

Different folks, different strokes. Thanks for writing, Spiritual Explorer

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Myths Behind Asanas

July 15, 2011 on 7:04 am

Dear Spiritual Explorer: I practice yoga and enjoy the postures but would like to know the meaning and purpose behind them. Raleigh M., Davenport, IA


Myths of the Asanas

Dear Raleigh: Sometimes books on yoga can be very ponderous,with great explanatory treatises on the benefits and purposes of yoga, but I have found one truly delightful and exceptional: Myths of the Asanas by Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij. What makes this book unique are the piquant myths attached to the asanas. Behind each asana is an ancient story about a god, sage or sacred animal similar to Aesop’s fables and told almost as if a child would enjoy the stories.  I have heard many renditions of the myths behind asanas, but find this retelling of myths in Myths of Asanas to be most entertaining, interesting and provocative. Following the story of how the asanas derived from the myths, we are also treated to a more relevant and contemporary meaning of each asana.

Myths of the Asanas provide backgrounds for about thirty asanas. These myths behind the asanas serve as inspirational guides to enhance our yogic practice, fueling it with a deeper meditative quality. All of the stories in this book illustrate a mystical, hidden potential within us that tends to lie dormant until it becomes cloaked with our awareness.

In Myths of the Asanas, the gods and goddesses in the myths displayed human flaws, making them easy to relate to. However, there was always a redemptive quality within them that eventually enabled them to forge qualities of forgiveness, strength, courage and brilliance. Similar to what we love in contemporary stories of redemption, from our rock stars and politicos undergoing moral change and deliverance, we too love a story of traveling from poverty, illness and bad behavior to states of moral recovery, compassion and awareness.

Particularly today as many more people do yoga, they are compelled by different reasons for expertise in yoga. Some are more interested in the health and beauty aspects, some see it as an extraordinary way to gain control and power over their bodies and some use it as just another way to be competitive with others as to who can stretch the furthest or do the more intricate postures. Myths of Asanas bring the meaning of the asanas back to the real purpose of yoga: as a sacred purpose enabling us to nourish and prolong the health of the body so that we may in our lifetimes realize the true nature of our spirits.

As MC Yogi, hip-hop artist and yoga instructor said, “Myths of the Asanas transport us to a world where gods and goddesses, saints and enlightened souls served as our teachers. Each story reminds us that underneath the main layers of difference, essentially we are one.”

Thanks for writing, Spiritual Explorer

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Codependence and the Practice of Detachment

July 13, 2011 on 7:00 am

Dear Spiritual Explorer: I am beginning a spiritual journey, but feel my husband is threatened by this.  He and I used to have similar religious views, but I feel I am drifting away.  Could you suggest a book that will assist me with this issue? Maria F., Portland, OR

Codependence and the Power of Detachment

Dear Maria: I hope I am not presumptuous in suggesting a great book called Codependence and the Power of Detachment by Karen Casey. In it she speaks of setting boundaries and making your life your own. Until I read the first page, I hadn’t realized that this book on codependence is one of 17 books Ms. Casey has written, all about addictions in our lives and the way in which to surrender to our higher self to overcome them.

“When we’re caught in the pain of enmeshment, we don’t know who we are, what we think or want, or what direction is right for us to move in. We have traded in our own identity for the identity we think another person prefers.”

That statement, commonly identified as codependence, is how Ms. Casey states that she lived her life for the first 36 years.
I had never thought of myself as codependent until I read Ms. Casey’s definition of allowing others to set your mood in matters. I had always thought of myself as assertive and thought that I never allowed anybody to control my actions. Well, after reading her book on codependence, I realized how this didn’t mean that during my day I didn’t allow myself to be upset by somebody else’s behavior or dragged into another’s emotions at any moment. Because some of us lead very independent lives, we don’t realize how in any moment, we still allow ourselves to either be hurt by somebody’s ill-intentioned or unconscious comments or influenced by their views.

While we may not be participating in Ms. Casey’s extreme form of codependent behavior consisting of remaining in a very abusive and drug-filled or alcoholic relationship, what about our codependence that ensues when we judge how others live, or similarly, caretaking to such a degree that we often forget who we are and what we prefer? Or, humorously, how about those of us who are just nosy or gossiping about everybody else’s lives? That’s also codependence in another form.

In Codependence and the Power of Detachment we are treated to the stories of many recovering addicts who share their stories and how, through their participation in groups focused on codependence, gradually regain lives free of enmeshment and control. Ms.Casey also shares insights and tools to practice detachment on a daily basis with tools she’s discovered in her own decades of sobriety. Needless to say, she of course relies on the Twelve Step Program, but makes it more understandable, at least for me, when she talks about surrendering to a higher power. What I began to understand is that it does not need to be a higher power outside of one self, but surrender to the self that already exists within us, allowing that awareness and consciousness to predominate in our lives.

In the realm of spirituality, Maria, there is an old maxim that says, “No one goes to God holding hands; it is an individual trip.”  I hope you will find your way. Thank you for writing.  Spiritual Explorer

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Learning to Chant

July 8, 2011 on 7:40 am

Dear Spiritual Explorer: I’d like to start chanting but don’t know how to start. Can you suggest something for me? Raul E., Mexico City, Mexico


Sacred Art of Chant

Dear Raul: One of the best books written on how to start chanting is The Sacred Art of Chant by Ana Hernandez. Ms. Hernandez approaches chanting from a very different viewpoint. For one thing, she is an accomplished musician who loves to chant. She authoritatively speaks on the value and mystery of how sound permeates our lives and our practices, giving us great examples of chants complete with their pronunciations. Some of them are even set to music. We are not limited to Buddhist and Tibetan chants, but include Christian, Native American and Zuni chants.

Ms.Hernandez also lovingly and realistically speaks of the value of chanting in her life and how it transforms many of the myriad moods that afflict us by day and night. The Sacred Art of Chant- preparing to practice- is written in a down to earth manner, but also invites us into the sacred art of chanting. Sprinkled with wonderful, captivating anecdotes, the Sacred Art of Chant is both formidable and inviting to the person who wishes to incorporate chanting into their everyday life.

Ms.Hernandez tells us that anybody can chant. She opines that nothing can take her deeper. As she chants her whole body becomes engaged and vibrations permeate her to the core, moving and transforming energy from one end of the spectrum to another. Chanting is another way to pray, addressing the main deities without actually clamoring or begging for their attention. I like that. Sometimes in days that are endless, I feel that all I am doing is complaining. But as Ms. Hernandez reminds me, chanting is like praying all day without complaining. That’s a good sell in itself for the practice of chanting.

Enjoy this book and thanks for your question. Spiritual Explorer

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What Happened to the Inner Child? Thich Nat Hanh Responds.

July 6, 2011 on 7:09 am

Dear Spiritual Explorer: Do you remember the concept of the “inner child” anymore? Is that still around? Claude M., Paris, France


Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child by Thich Nhat Hahn

Dear Claude: That’s a good question. Whatever happened to the inner child who was so popular in the 60’s and the 70’s where people clutched their baby bottles and huggie bears in an attempt to contact their “inner child”? Good news! The inner child has been resurrected and re-formatted (Thank god for computer terms) and now reappears in the book Reconciliation –Healing the Inner Child by Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Nhat Hanh has not only refurbished the concept of “inner child,” but has given the problem an updated and more spiritual perspective

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of our suffering and the attempt to acknowledge it. He brings it way back to the beginning and says that the suffering that our parents weren’t able to transform was transmitted to us. In order for us to then transform our suffering and not pass it along to our own children, relatives or friends in the moment, Thich Nhat Hanh says we must know the nature of it. Our not going deeply into the cause of our suffering and not knowing of its nature makes us blame others for the cause of our unhappiness. Thich Nhat Hanh refers to Chinese medicine which believes that bitterness is good for your health. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests we must eat our own “bitter melon” even though it is untasty at first, trusting that it will eventually do us good. This means of course acknowledging how we perpetuate our “bitter melon” by seeing ourselves not only as victims but blaming  others.

The missing element in dealing with the inner child in the 60’s and 70’s was an approach that was more childish. There was an attempt to contact it, but it seemed there was an absence of responsibility that didn’t diminish the core issue. I remember those days when there were confrontations between people, hoping to resolve issues, but those were steps that were not necessarily and ultimately healing. I would go so far as to say it was a superficial approach.

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that the one of the first steps to joy and happiness is letting go; the second source is mindfulness. If mindfulness is lacking and that includes a meditative practice, we cannot free ourselves from the past. Thich Nhat Hanh says: “If we go home to our in-breath and out-breath and practice breathing deeply, we can bring our mind entirely to the present moment.” I particularly liked one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s prescriptions to deal with the afflictions that have been with us since childhood and that is to invite them into our mind consciousness. However before we do that, Thich Nhat Hanh says we must be prepared to deal with them and make sure that the lamp of our mindfulness is strong and steady. There are so many concepts in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book that are seeds of wisdom, ready to be opened and explored. Thank you for your question. Buy this book, a first step to freedom within.

Spiritual Explorer

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Harmony in Diversity with Female Vocalists

July 5, 2011 on 7:00 am

Dear Spiritual Explorer: Could you recommend a CD primarily sung by female vocalists that has a message of peace? Louise P., Seattle, WA


Beyond by Tina Turner and Dechen Shak-Dagsay

Dear Louise: A great synthesis of spirituality and sound is to be found in Beyond: Buddhist and Christian prayers, which was originally recorded in Switzerland in 2009 by hold your hats, Tina Turner, Dechen Shak Dagsay and Regula Curti. While Dechen and Regula do most of the vocals, profound chanting and inspirational spoken word segments are heard from Tina Turner. You will also remember that in a biographical movie of Tina Turner, featuring her relationship with Ike Turner,(What’s Love Got To Do With It?) she turned for help to a particular Buddhist chant which we hear not only in this CD but her movie: Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. This chant is beautifully set to wonderful instrumental orchestration.

Dechen Shak-Dagsay is a contemporary singer of traditional Tibetan Buddhist mantras. She is the daughter of the Dagsay Tulku. All of us know that a tulku is an advanced spiritual master. Born in India in 1959 Dechen and her family moved to Switzerland in 1963 where she has resided ever since. Strongly committed to “preserving Tibetan culture in the West,” Dechen studied and performed traditional Tibetan music and dance throughout her child and adolescent years.

Regular Curti is a brilliant Christian vocalist and her prayers reach far above our ears to the heavens above. She seems to have an “other-worldly” quality in her voice which interestingly, dovetails quite nicely with the other singers in this group.

So what happens when you combine a rocker, Tibetan Buddhist and Christina vocalist? The result is the hoped for harmony to be found in diversity of religion,similar to what conscious people seek everywhere.

Released on Universal Music in Switzerland, Austria and Germany in 2009, “Beyond” finally became available in the US. The album reached platinum in Switzerland which is very special for a release of this kind. Obviously the involvement of Tina Turner increased the media attention this release got.

All songs really compliment each other in a very nice way. This is not only a must for Tina fans but also for people who enjoy spiritual music. Profits of this release go to several charities. The package also contains an explanation of some of the chants, together with some words from the Dalai Lama.This CD is a treat on many levels, combining familiarity with diverse, magical and harmonic resonances. Give yourself a gift with this wonderful CD Beyond.

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The Simplicity and Complexity of the Breath

July 1, 2011 on 12:06 pm

Dear Spiritual Explorer: I’m a simple person looking for simple explanations about things. I would like to know about breathing and pranayama. Joely R., Dallas, TX


The Little Book of Yoga Breathing

Dear Joely: I sometimes call myself a simple person and yet I wonder how I get involved in complex situations. That seems to put the lie to it. However, keeping your request in mind, you might enjoy as a start, The Little book of Yoga Breathing, Pranayama Made Simple. This book reminds us that the breath is truly a simple matter. We all have to breathe; some might do it better than others, some might do it focusing on the belly; some focusing on the chest, nose or mouth. Hopefully, the breath is expelled at some point in the best manner possible for the practitioner.

There’s a wonderful phrase, Joely, and that is God is in the simple. I really believe that. We try to complicate so many matters that are best approached in a simpler fashion, especially when dealing with commonsensical items such as breathing, notwithstanding of course, that many of us have been known to deviate from the course of breathing that began as babies from the belly rather than the chest. We have all for one reason or another walked away from the simplest of breaths. As most of us get older, we seem to breathe from the chest mainly, trying in some benighted way to relieve stress mightily. We then have to be reminded of the simplest way of breathing.

The author provides simple, straightforward instructions on various yogic breathing styles, including Ujiya and Alternate Nostril Breathing. He also talks about how to incorporate breathing into both your yoga practice and your daily life.

While breath work can sound simplistic, in all fairness, we must also point out that as one proceeds on to a more complex practice with pranayama, it would be wise to consult a teacher experienced in the nuances of pranayama. Breathing and pranayama will cause effects in your body. Regulation of the breath is tied to both the nervous system and heart rate variability. I remember once undertaking pranayama quite regularly and found myself unable to sleep because of the intensity of feelings and excitability it awoke in me. I obviously was doing it from an immature and unknowledgeable place.
So while this starts out to be a great book on breathing with many wonderful and easy practices, it is recommended that as one proceeds to more extensive exercises, it might be a wise course to consult other books and teachers. One that is a classic text with a lot of details would be Light on Pranayama by Iyengar who is both renowned and respected. It is well known by any expert yoga practitioner, that as you practice pranayama exercises, they can cause effects in your physiology. Regulation of the breath is very tied to the nervous system and to heart rate variability which correlates with resilience. If you buy this book and subsequently get serious about a practice, please attend to my recommendation to choose additional material to augment it and perhaps put yourself under the guidance of a well respected and known breath master.

Well, there you are, my dear, we are taking care of you in the best spiritual way we know how.

Good luck to you in your practice. Spiritual Explorer.

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