Saturday, March 19, 2011

go with the flow

As I continue to learn more about myself and how to come into balance for me, I have noticed that I need to surrender to life. I like most people have a tendency to want to control life. I don't want to not go with the flow, I just want to be in charge of where the flow is going and when I will get there (hehe). I am learning that this sense of control does not bring me more joy. Instead the need to control and plan has manifested in my imbalances.

On Tuesday I took a really great meditation class from my new teacher Clinton. His view on meditation is different then what I am used to, instead of using various techniques he suggests just open to the divine presence (whatever you want to call it) that already exists inside of us. Although he doesn't discount technique he just recommends surrendering and seeing what happens. Its like the Buddha he sat for a very long time and eventually became enlightened. After he became enlightened many others wanted to as well some were so focused on technique that they tried to lie on their side with there feet stacked in a particular way like Buddha did hoping it would bring them enlightenment. The point is, we can get caught up in technique.

I have taken some meditation classes with Clinton before and had heard his recommendation of doing nothing but wanting to be in control I would use a specific techniques visualization, mantra, and breath. After the meditation I would feel good and like I had been meditating. But on Tuesday I decided to just try it his way. Not sit in my perfect siddhasana but instead relax into the chair I was sitting on and just surrender. Giving up my thoughts, my mood in order to experience the abundant flow of Divine/Universal/God (call it what you want). And I did. I completely surrendered and I got taken into deeper and deeper, finer and finer forms of energy. It was scary it caused a little anxiety but I surrendered to that to.

I am learning it is always hard to let go of our coping mechanisms (in this case incessant thinking, negative self talk, perpetual planning) but once we dare to take that leap we in fact experience peace, joy, and humility. Toward the end of the meditation that Tuesday my body felt like it was moving almost shaking, I felt so much electricity and a soft hmm. I felt like my body was merely a capsule for life energy. I had never felt that way before a few tears ran down my face but not sad tears but tears of a girl who felt totally accepted, loved and content in that moment with so much energy yet so grounded and humble.
That way of meditating was so powerful for me and I have continued to do it every day for at least 20mins working up to 20 mins 2x a day. That type of meditation I think was so powerful for me because it was going with the flow without trying to control, or predict, or worry where that flow is going.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring an oppurtunity to change our perspective

Spring is just around the corner/ week!!

It is normal as spring approaches for people to do spring cleaning. Tidy up the house, closets, and garages with things accumulated over the winter. Boxing up or getting rid of clutter that they don't need anymore. Well that is what I am doing but not only for my apartment but for myself removing false beliefs, habits, negative self talk that are not needed. One of the ways I am trying to do with is with a daily practice of 5 mins in sirsasana (headstand) followed by balasana (childs pose) and a seated meditation. I do this because spring cleaning is about shifting our perspectives. It is no longer cold winter we are moving into sunshine and flowers! So every day as I do my inversion I am physically changing my perspective and then I continue that in my seated meditation and hopefully I take it with me as I go through my day. Maybe I loss it but it doesn't matter because the next day I will do it again, and maybe I can hold onto that new perspective longer.
Happy almost spring to you!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

meditate in a train station

Yesterday I took a class from Jennifer Ellen Mueller at Prana yoga in trolley square slc ut. It was really fun taking a class from JE, she was my first main teacher from whom I learned so much and did my first teacher training with at flow yoga/sonic yoga. Anyways at the end of the class in savasana she mentioned something that I had heard her say many times before (but was something I needed to here in that moment), that she learned to meditate on the subway in NY. In the subway there are people talking, laughing, yelling, alarms going off, phones ringing, trains passing… She compared this to the constant activity that is always going on in the mind, there are always thoughts coming and going, alarms going off…. She also mentioned how it feels to go to the top of a mountain experiencing silence, solitude, and peace. We need have the ability to create that same silence within the hussel and bussel of life.
The idea of being secluded in the mountains, in a cave, in an ashram is very much that of a renunciate like the yogis in ancient traditions who left behind their worldly possessions and the metaphorical train station to live in silence, and solitude to practice pranayama, meditation and asana..

One think I love about tantric yoga is that it is the yoga of house holders who work, have families, pay bills. This is the yoga I try to practice but lately I have been isolating myself like a renunciate. JE reminded me that when we face challenges, and when life seems so overwhelming. That IS the invitation of yoga.

May I view the challenges and chaos in my life as opportunities and invitations to drop into my heart, into the moment, and find peace, clarity and stillness. May I find the eye of the storm the place of stillness in any tornado I find myself in.

"A true yogi may remain dutifully in the world; there he is like butter on water, and not like the easily-diluted milk of unchurned and undisciplined humanity. To fulfill one's earthly responsibilities is indeed the higher path, provided the yogi, maintaining a mental uninvolvement with egotistical desires, plays his part as a willing instrument of God." (Yogananda, Autobigraphy of a yogi,p. 222)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reverence & the Raw Materials of Infinite Possibility: Rajanaka Yoga with Dr. Douglas Brooks

(I saw this great article/ interview at (

Reverence and Reverence & the Raw Materials of Infinite Possibility: Rajanaka Yoga with Dr. Douglas Brooks

D ouglas Brooks was en route home when I rang in for our scheduled phone chat. It was my first time speaking with Douglas. And while it might be that it was the muddy rumble of the engine humming underneath our conversation that was responsible for his emphatic speech, I'll hazard a guess that Douglas is an animated conversationalist by nature; with an exclamatory voice, forceful and anecdotally rich. Harder to mistake, however, is the quality of reverence with which Douglas speaks about his chosen orbit, the cultivation of his broad base of knowledge in Shrividya Tantra, and his pivotal relationship with his mentor and teacher, Dr. Gopala Aiyer Sundaramoorthy whom he affectionately calls "Appa" - or the equivalent of "Dad"....

Douglas Brooks has been a leading figure in the academic study and the practice of Shrividya Shakta Tantrism for more than twenty-five years. Beginning his formal studies in the Sanskrit and Tamil languages as well as the study of Hinduism and the history of religions in 1977, Douglas lived and worked in the home of his teacher Dr. Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy in south India for more than six years and has spent these many years since evolving the practices and teachings of the Auspicious Wisdom, the goddess-centered Tantric tradition of Shrividya that he learned from his masterful teacher.

Douglas Brooks completed Masters and Doctorate degrees from Harvard University and today is recognized as both an eminent scholar and master practitioner of Shakta Tantrism. He has been invited to teach and offer the vast wealth of his experience in seminars, gatherings, and retreats all over the world. His special relationship with John Friend, founder of Anusara Yoga, has been an important part of Douglas' public offerings. Since 1986, Douglas has held a full time appointment in the Department of Religion and Classics at the University of Rochester where he holds a senior chair as Professor of Religion.

Since I had first come across Douglas' subtle and moving blog entries at Rajanaka Sammelana, I had gathered up a few nagging questions; and I was glad to finally have my moment. The many questions that had rattled around in my mind over a period of a few weeks had created hairline cracks; fissures that I was hoping would eventually crack something open, and teach me something new. And as it turns out, I was speaking to just the right man about such a thing. Douglas knows a thing or two about cultivating the raw materials of "infinite possibility". And in our interview, Douglas Brooks touches on more than a few of these remarkable ideas. Our interview captures Douglas' thoughts on the importance of "conversations with greatness", on why remaining unnoticed is one of the best ways to learn, and how to step into anusara, or the ocean of grace.


"Where do you think I am going?" he asked. "Honestly, I don't know." "What do you think eternity is like?"

"I think it is silent and I will have to live here with that silence. I will miss our conversations."

"Then to be with me," Appa said, "you will have to go to that silence inside yourself. You will have to go more deeply into your own heart. And there you'll find me too, in that place where our conversations will continue."

I can remember still sitting there beside him, crying as quietly as I could. I couldn't yet imagine how I might bear this silence when it seemed only to be loss. (Douglas Brooks, Rajanaka Sammelana, from On This Day, about "Appa")

Priya Thomas Interview with Douglas Brooks: January 2011

Priya: I'll just start with asking you how you became interested in the practice of Tantra. I know you have a long and broad history with the scholarly study of Tantra, but just in your own words if you could orient us to your own personal story with how you came to study the practice.

Douglas: Well I came to Tantra as a way of exploring the depth of human possibilities, because Tantra begins with the affirmation of the gift of being human. In every possible way; as a physical being, as an emotional and intellectual being and as a spiritual being. Tantra begins with affirmation of everything it means to be human and that was appealing to me. It was appealing to me in a way other kinds of practices were less appealing. Other traditions of yoga were promising me serenity, or transcendence or mystical identification with the self... pick your choice...But tantra was beginning with the idea that embodied life is itself the gift and the point the universe is trying to make as an expression of possibility.

Priya: Would you say your practice was preceded by a scholarly interest in the material? Because obviously you're a scholar, but you are also a practitioner. Some people tend to separate those areas. A scholastic interest in something doesn't necessarily lead to an actual practice.

Douglas: Not in India. There are scholastics in India who are practitioners. First of all everything we know about Tantra comes from scholastics. It took people of intellectual committment and curiosity to create the sources that we have. India never separated scholasticism from practice so neither did I. Actually I'll go further and I'll put myself on the line here. I think any endeavor that takes you seriously through a process of curiosity and committment and learning will by definition require some kind of study...serious study... and that the intellectual endeavour is just a facet of the process.

Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy. Never fancied himself a guru, much less enlightened being. Had no desire for the limelight or even those attentions and honors received that were so richly his due. But I should like to remember him today in these few words, for his was a life truly made of compassion and learning, of generosity and genius. His life has made so many lives the richer. He would never have presumed himself flawless and neither shall I. What I can say is that he was a man and Nature, the Auspicious One Herself, gave him to us as a gift, a life so precious in value, so ferocious in goodness, and so gentle in light that I believe he will never be forgotten but rather always heard clearly, in hearts, in the silence. (Dr. Douglas Brooks, Rajanaka Sammelana, from On This Day)

(Dr. Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy)

Priya: At what point did you meet your teacher Dr. Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy?

Douglas: Oh Appa? I was on the University of Wisconsin's College Year in India program. So I was a nineteen year old, rising junior in college. And I went to India because I wanted to experience the only ancient, continuous civilization in the world. And I wanted to study living religion and I wanted to study the texts, and I wanted to study Sanskrit.

Priya: So when you met your teacher, did you know that you were intending to study with him for as long as you did? You spent sixteen years with him is that right?

Douglas: Yeah. I'm an inveterate skeptic. And I think my teacher was too. And so I wasn't testing him anymore than he was testing me. I will tell you that I did feel right away, from our first meeting, that I was with a man of depth, and integrity and erudition and genius. And he was a very gentle and sweet-hearted and dear man, but he was also someone I was immediately sure had the intellectual and personal experience that I thought was interesting. Every day was like an invitation. And he ended every day the same way. He said, "If you like, we can continue tomorrow".

Priya: (laughing) That's wonderful!

Douglas: (laughing) I mean, even after I was living in his house for many years, at the end of every day, Priya, he would say the same thing!!

Priya: (laughing) yeah that's great... I'm increasingly interested in teachers and their relationships with their students these days...Can you pinpoint in a few words what you think made your relationship special? And what made your teacher special? That's a tall order I'm sure....

Douglas: (long pause) This is a man who had cultivated his gift with great care and temerity and intensity. So I was in the presence of a person who had all of the ability and had made the most of it. As far as the relationship goes, I think I was lucky. I think I showed up at the right time, at the right age. I was young and curious and I realized right away that you weren't every going to accomplish anything worthwhile in life without it being difficult and without it involving an enormous amount of committment and just pure temerity.

Priya: Why and how did you know that at that age?

Douglas: First of all, I'd grown up surrounded by greatness. Great musicians were my neighbours, my friends...My parents were self-made; my dad was self-made, and he was accomplished in his subject. And I realized that he had enough ability but I realized that you didn't have to be a genius, you just had to be smart enough. No matter what it was you were pursuing. You had to have enough ability. I realized pretty early that I wasn't tall enough for the NBA, but I was smart enough to do this. We each have our own gifts. So you have to recognize your abilities. Then the next thing you have to do is you gotta want it. You gotta want it so bad that you'll do anything to have it. You know people talk about how Mozart was a genius. But I'll tell you that he was genius enough, but that he sat at the piano for tens of thousands of hours. or the violin or god knows what else the man could any gifted person that applies himself really really hard. And I think everyone is gifted.

Priya: Do you think the way you learned with your teacher had a specific impact in terms of being able to harness those innate abilities? Was that context more beneficial than say studying in a different learning environment? How much of what you learned had to do with how you learned?

Douglas: Well, I think it was a nurturing and healthy environment. I was never asked to do anything I didn't really want to do. There was no submission there was none of that sort of silly slap-you-on-your-hand guru stuff. It was like living with a really warm, healthy, nurturing family. And I had an immersion experience in language and in education.

It was also the 70's right; there were no distractions. There were no telephones. I would get the radio at night but I had no access to the outside world.

Priya: Wow...yeah that is different.

Douglas: You learn a lot when you don't have anything else to do.

Priya: Yes sure. of course..

Douglas: It's not like you're checking in on your facebook!! It was a different world. No internet and no communication with the outside world meant a lot of communication inside that world you lived in. But, in a certain way, when I went to graduate school it wasn't any different. It was a lot less friendly. And it was a lot less healthy because it was really competitive. But you know there were only a few choices, you could go out with your friends or you could go out to the library.

Priya: So why would you say the environment here at the university was far more competitive and less healthy than the learning environment you experienced with your teacher in India?

Douglas: Well there was no second piece of the puzzle. It's not like my graduate mentors were looking out for my emotional health or what I was eating. You weren't taken care of...

Priya: Right. Whereas that was happening with your teacher in India...

Douglas: Yeah that was happening. And it was uncompetitive because I didn't have any competition. In a certain way, I look back and I think it would have been better if I had...

Priya: Why so?

(Vedic recitation,

Douglas: Well, because you learn to chant veda when the kid sitting next to you is starting to do it better than you. That's a fact. That's in fact how they learn to chant veda in India. They do it in groups not to be warm and fuzzy, but because they push each other. Because two people always know more than one. Competition was either something that was good to you or it was stressful to you. If you think competition is part of the process of rising to the challenge, then you stand a chance for greatness. There's no greatness without a challenge. And challenges happen in great conversation.

Priya: And so would you say you had great conversations with your teacher?

Douglas: Oh yeah. fantastic! Because I was sitting with someone who...well, I had to hold onto every word just to keep up! This was the kindest, sweetest, gentlest man you could have ever met. I mean he was really a great, darling soul. Everybody loved him. He had a soft, wonderful heart and a gentle demeanor. But he was a taskmaster. So if you wanted to learn, it was like well, step up.

Priya: So would you have called him a disciplinarian...gentle as he was?

Douglas: I don't think he was a disciplinarian. He never told me to do anything. He invited me. He'd say if you'd like to read this, this is what we're going to do...This is what it's going to take. He never disciplined.

Priya: So when you say taskmaster??

Douglas: I'm sorry I meant like there are tasks and you have to master them! (laughing)

Priya: (laughing) Right. I see you were being literal!

Douglas: But you know, it was always just an invitation...literally, Priya, every day he said: "If you like, we can do this". But then if you wanted to do it, it was like standing at the bottom of K2 saying, "If you like, we can climb the mountain". And you're not going to climb the mountain being warm and fuzzy.

Priya: You coined the use of the word asusara (from the Kularnava Tantra) which is translated as "stepping into the ocean of grace". In fact, you suggested the word to John Friend who picked it up when he was looking for a name for what we now call Anusara Yoga. I grew up hearing that word from my parents, but it was used in the vernacular sense of "you need more anusara.." or "you need to pay be aligned with how things need to listen". I guess if you extrapolate a bit, you can see how staying aligned could mean the same thing as being graceful. I wondered what "stepping into the ocean of grace" means to you?

Douglas: Well I think that grace means different things in different traditions. And as a concept it works differently depending on who you ask, and what they expect. For a true theist, grace are those gifts you can't give yourself because only God can give them to you. So grace is always an extrinsic factor because you ask for it and you receive it. And it is dispensed. There is an agent or dispenser of grace whether it's god or a guru. And if grace is extrinsic, then it's something that you think that someone else gives to you. So grace is that capacity to receive what the world is really offering. So grace is that powerful, receptive affirmation of saying "yes" to the opportunities and the circumstances you've been given. And, when you do, you find out that there's always more. Grace is like a gift Priya. You can't earn it, you can't deserve it and you can't pay it back. What you can learn to do is understand that when you are receptive to greater possibility, grace allows those possibilities to serve and empower you. We're not captives of a world that's holding us back any more than we are dependent upon a God or an entity to give us what we don't need. Grace is the idea that everything you could need or want, is in some sense, a process of opening to possibility. It doesn't mean you're going to get those things; but, grace is receiving the wonder that the universe is offering.

Priya: I was reading an entry on your blog about enlightenment. And one of the quotes in it was, "the idea of a singular or unique state just hands us back a duality which we're trying to get rid of". So from that it's clear that enlightenment is not the ultimate goal. And in it you say, as you just did, that with Tantra you're invited to "more", to "comparison" and to "entanglement".

So would you say that there is a goal at all with Rajanaka Tantra?

Douglas: I think Rajanaka tells you that the goal of life is to love life. But I think that that's a process. I think that every accomplishment offers the opportunity for more accomplishment. So no matter how you define success, I think that there's more. So I don't think of enlightenment as a state achieved or a finality. That would also suggest that when you got it you would be certain. And I think that the greatest certainty is only the most certain possibility, so I think of enlightenment as an open process rather than as a final attainment.

Priya: But you don't have an actual problem with the word "enlightenment" as such...

Douglas: Well, I'm happy to argue with those who use the word enlightenment as if it meant a final, or finished or realized state. Like if they go, "Oh he was a realized being"

Well my thought is I hope he just keeps realizing. I think that anything that comes to finality strikes me as problematic. But if people want to think that there's enlightenment and that makes them aspire, then I'm willing to talk about that even though I don't actually believe in it. If that helps people figure out their lives, and it makes them happy, and it gets them through their day, then I'm ok with that you know?

Priya: So you're ok with using the goal of enlightenment for its psychological benefits...

Douglas: Totally!

Priya: You have talked about how Tantrikas find it problematic to relate to Sruti (sacred texts comprising the central canon) as revelation....preferring instead "conversations with greatness" or a dialogue with the text. So I'm wondering how your teacher would have encouraged that kind of relationship with the text? How did he orient you towards direct experience?

Douglas: He did it all the time. He never let me quote the text to prove something. It was all about making it real for you. It was all about drawing that into an experience and into an example. It was always an experiment. You know I think the sruti idea really comes from the ethos of certainty. That there are things about the world that are absolutely true. And absolutes are dangerous things to think. Nothing is more dangerous than a person who is certain.

Priya: So are we talking about not having any fixed points of view?

Douglas: Well I think I'm pretty fixed in the idea that compassion is a good idea and a wonderful expression of human possibility. I think I'm pretty fixed that there are things in the world that are evil. I'm pretty sure of those things but I think there's always room for growth and experimentation.

(Charles Darwin)

Priya: But I came across this idea on your blog that there is a consonance between Darwin's views and those of the Tantric yogin...Didn't you quote Darwin as having said there was a "blind pitiless indifference" in the way the world operates? And that this view is very much in keeping with the Tantric view?

Douglas: Oh yes, why would we expect the world to be any other way than it is? blind, pitiless and indifferent?? Oh yeah I think that's brilliant! Because it invites you to the idea that if there really is something like sweet goodness in the world, you can make it.

Priya: But then, if there's no purpose or design in how the world functions, how do you reconcile that with the fact that you feel some things in the world are evil?

Douglas: Well, because good and evil are qualities of relationships and their value to the world.

But there is, as I see it, a real consonance between Darwin’s views and those of the Tantric yogin committed to the concept of a truly free and powerful universe. Darwin once wrote, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” I confess, I find the strident clarity of this observation not only intellectually compelling but deeply moving. And rather than feel at an existential loss for meaning because the universe has none, I am reminded of the day my teacher so casually, in that calm, gentle voice that could disarm the most adamant in argument, said to me, “Your life has no purpose, no meaning, and no goal. And that is all very, very good news. The rest is up to you.” (Dr. Douglas Brooks, Rajanaka Sammelana, from Because Anything Can Happen)

Priya: I design we are neither good nor evil, but by relationship...

Douglas: We don't need a design to tell us the world is good, to be good.

In fact, it's way more impressive that people are good because they can be. You know, there's something interesting about humans. They can act against their own interests. If you think about other beings, at least the ones we know, like the things we see in nature, almost no other being acts contrary to its interests. And what's interesting about acting contrary to your interests is that you can act contrary to your interests and do awful things, and you can act contrary to your interests and do the most magnificent, magnanimous, altruistic things. So human beings aren't confined by their nature.

Priya: Right. That's interesting...

Douglas: They are free. And they are free to create as much goodness as there is in the world. The world is power. It is not morally designed.

Priya: Right...Sakti (feminine principle of creative force/power)

(Ravana with Sita, Raja Ravi Varma)

Douglas: The world is Sakti. And even if you look at the mythology of the Hindus and the Buddhists, you find out that the demons get powers. They don't get powerful by being good or evil, they get powerful because they do tapas...because they have discipline. They're successful. So nature rewards success; it doesn't reward goodness.

Priya: And so what's the value of goodness then?

Douglas: The value of goodness is that, in an interesting way, it transcends success. You get to have it whether or not you succeed. It's a magnificent accomplishment of human possibility. It's not that we're walking into a good universe. Nothing in its design tells me that that's true. Not one thing.

(the walking stick insect, "the phasmid")

But the creature Appa most admired was a rare phasmid, a kind of walking stick sometimes called the ghost insect. The phasmid hides itself in plain sight--- it looks more like a stick than most sticks and can wave gently back and form, perhaps for crypsis, that's its power to avoid observation, and perhaps because it just does. The phasmid is itself the crypsis-- it doesn't adopt a camouflage, it is its camouflage--- and uses this advantage both actively as a predator and receptively to avoid its predators. "Something like the Tantrika," Appa quipped. It's not uncommon that Tantrics create their own crypsis, sometimes to mask secrets, at other times to procure some other advantage. Every creature seeks its own advantage. Why should yogins be different? But the Tantrika needn't adopt a camouflage or put on a cloak to conceal what is underneath. Rather, we can wear our true nature and that provides the crypsis...So it is, Appa said, for all yogins and seekers truly, not just for Tantrikas. The powers of awareness continue to reveal our search on the inside even as our outer form creates its natural crypsis.

So we go unnoticed. Well, with any luck. Like the phasmid.

You will notice, Appa said, that the phasmid follows its nature and pursues its interests without enmity, without anger, without pride. Yet it flourishes because it has adapted and its success speaks clearly for itself. So too the Tantric seeker...crafts arguments to hone insights, and never eschews the company of those who possess contrary views. You must become, as it were, natural in all company. Without enmity there is no adversary, without anger there is no place for pride to take root, and then no need to persuade, to prove, or offer reproof. (Dr. Douglas Brooks, Rajanaka Sammelana, from A Rare Phasmid)

Priya: I really liked the entry on "A Rare Phasmid" on your blog...It was really quite interesting...stayed with me for weeks after I read it.

(gabriel moreno

Douglas: Aw thanks....that's really nice actually.

Priya: Why do you think for the Tantrika, for the yogi, being hidden is of spiritual value? Why would we "with any luck go unnoticed?"

Douglas: Sometimes not drawing attention to yourself is an opportunity to learn more, to experience more...When appa and I went out and met other scholars who were Tantrikas and practitioners, and we met dozens of these people. Some were probably the great living beings of that period. But you always had the experience when you were with appa, that he pretty much knew more than anybody in the room all the time. He was really that good. He was just amazing in his understanding of the canon, of history and of the tradition, of practice. But he often was the rare phasmid. He would sit there quietly because he knew that he could learn something from somebody if he just didn't make himself the centre of attention. So taking the attention away from yourself is the way to learn something.


Priya: Do you think that runs contrary to the ideals of a media-driven, celebrity culture? Do you have any tips on how to remain hidden? That almost seems like a challenge given the impact of social networking sites or google ...

Douglas: You know, if you stay in the authenticity and integrity of who you are, then you're usually quite happy to say "I know and I don't know". What I think is that everyone in the room likely has an "I don't know" that they would love to learn.

Priya: What do you make of the postural side of yoga practice. By that I'm referring to asana...

Douglas: You mean what we call asana today?

Priya: Exactly the thing I mean...

Douglas: It's sure done a lot of people an awful lot of good. When you look at it historically, there are three reasons for asana. Do you want me to talk about that?

Priya: Sure!

Douglas: Alright. Asana came about for three reasons. So that you could sit well enough to do the rituals - the outward reasons. It came about so that you could sit long enough to meditate - the inward reasons. And the third was so that you could impress your friends and scare your enemies. That is tapas. So what we do today in asana, is not really any of those things. What we really see more commonly in asana is an expression of celebration.

Priya: hmm...that's interesting. so you don't think we do it to impress our friends and scare our enemies! Number three must be more common than that! (laughing)

Douglas: I think as a means to an end, it's pretty mundane. I'm not impressed.

I think a lot of people are impressed. You know, like if you can put your feet behind your ears, people are impressed!

Priya: (laughing) Yes, that is a big deal for people!

(Spock, the ideal yogi)

Douglas: And you know, a lot of people can do a lot of weird things.

Priya: In an old issue of Yoga Journal you had said your half-ideal yogi would be Star Trek's Dr. Spock. Have I got that right?

Douglas: Yeah...

Priya: Are you still standing behind that?

Douglas: Sure, Why not! I probably wrote it because there's an ethos of anti-intellectualism and anti-logic in the yoga community. And I think not only is that not true in the history of yoga, I also think it doesn't do anybody any good. I think being a thoughtful, reflective, rational being is a really important thing to be. It's also really important to raise emotional and intuitive qualities and abilities and raise your spiritual IQ in every possible way. What I'm saying is go with the whole of yourself. Go with the whole package! I don't think I see yogis doing irrational things. I see them doing non-rational things...and that can be great! You can do a lot of good things where reason doesn't apply. But you can also do a lot of good things by applying your reason.

Priya: You describe yourself as a spiritual seeker. Now, why would you describe yourself that way? And have you always described yourself in those terms?

Douglas: If I had had that vocabulary at seven or eight I probably would have said the same thing.

Priya: So seven or eight huh? Do you know why?

Douglas: Lucky? But also because I was lucky to be reared in a relatively healthy, relatively safe family environment. My parents weren't religious in any way. But they were quite content to let me figure out the world for myself without imposing much upon me. They were pretty good at showing me the difference between right and wrong which I don't think is all that much of a challenge. Do you remember that New Yorker cartoon where two monks are sitting on the floor? One monk is looking at the other and the caption reads: "Nothing happens. This is it." But I always wanted to know what more there was...I was just as interested in physics and math and art as I am in Tantra.

Priya: Now over the years, Tantra has developed a bad reputation on this side of the pond, and continues to be misunderstood or derided. Why do you think that is?

Douglas: Well, it's got a worse reputation in India! And the vast majority of Tantra that has a bad reputation in India, just like the vast majority of Tantra, deserves its bad reputation. It's promising things that can't be delivered. It's magical, manipulative, charlatanistic nonsense.

Priya: And so how do you go about discerning what is nonsense?

Douglas: We have to learn all of it to know that there is still so much to love. Let's just say 99% of it is nonsense and is not worth your time...So what? If ten percent of it is amazing, interesting, valuable, life-changing, enriching, compelling, filled with serious curiosity and opportunity, then how good is that? If you can love even 1% of anything then it's worth your time and you've found a goldmine.



S o it appears we have to run the gamut of what's out there before we can discern the 1% that's good as gold. And perhaps it's the extensive searching that leads to a reverence for what treasures we find. An expression of free choice, this kind of reverence is not one that humans are built for; at least not according to Rajanaka Tantra. The manifest world is indifferent to moral purpose. We find reverence simply because we so choose. And, if I had not previously read Douglas' blog entry "Dust Into Gold" which closes this post, I would have said, "You know Douglas, I don't know...10% sounds like the odds are dodge... I don't know if I'd take a long trek out to the Klondike and call it a gold rush". But I had read it; and there was no mistaking the lucid and discerning reverence for infinite possibility, for endless learning, and for his teacher. So I'll leave you with his words:

Appa would not have liked any fuss if it were over him. He might not even have liked me talking about him half as much as I do: he always said that the teachings of Rajanaka were never about him or anyone who might teach them but rather about the ways others’ receive their value and make them their own. I’m sure he’s right about that. A great teaching of yoga will change lives because it goes far past the person who teaches it, even if it has come through that person. Truths are never tied to individuals; everyone knows that or needs to. But nothing that I have ever learned from yoga will ever matter as much to me as Appa did. Things that matter are also like that. And I don’t think I’m contradicting my teacher or his teachings here. Loving him doesn’t create a conflict in me. Instead it compels the embrace of another paradox. I know that the most valuable things I have ever learned are not only about him, even if it’s also true that those things have entered my life because of him. And still there’s something far more than that going on.

It’s hard not to think of Appa’s passing so young even on this day I celebrate his birth--- he was only about fifty-seven when he succumbed to cancer. What I really wanted to say about him here has already been said countless times before, far better than I can hope to express. Here’s one, a verse by another guy from Jersey who has a way of saying things. It captures everything I’d like you who’ve read this far to know about how I feel this day about my teacher, my Appa, Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy.

"Now the world is filled with many wonders under the passing sun. And sometimes something comes along and you know it's for sure the only one.

The Mona Lisa, the David, the Sistine Chapel, Jesus, Mary, and Joe. And when they built you, brother, they broke the mold. 

When they built you, brother, they turned dust into gold. When they built you, brother, they broke the mold.

 They say you can't take it with you, but I think that they're wrong.

'Cause all I know is I woke up this morning, and something big was gone… But love is a power greater than death, just like the songs and stories told 
And when she built you, brother, she broke the mold." ---Bruce Springsteen, Terry’s Song.

(again i got this great interview from Bernadette Birney  at

Intention and Testimonials

Testimonials & My Intention

My Intention It is my intention as a yoga teacher to help you bring more health and vibrancy to your body, ease and alertness to your mind...