All “Yoged up” and nowhere to go…
I left Norway on a kind of spiritual quest. I had been teaching and practicing yoga for a decade, and although yoga always felt deeply spiritual to me, -as did dancing, my first career,- it felt as if the body was perfectly prepared through practice but had “nowhere to go.”
We Ashtangis all know the feeling of post-practice bliss: the body is light and receptive, the energy is strong but calm and the mind is completely still. Whatever occurs later in the day we can easily face because of this precious moment. “This”, I thought, “is where the real yoga ought to start!” And I thought that with the right instruction I could really make this “enlightenment –thing” work. First I wanted to understand the Philosophical fundations of practice and then how the spiritual path evolved, i.e., what does one do in terms of training? Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describe the process towards enlightenment but offers little practical instruction.
On one of my trips to Mysore I met some American Buddhists who introduced me to Buddhism. I sensed that they had an underlying understanding of how the world worked and based on that, a very beautiful code of life. This seemed to generate a lot of happiness. I was deeply moved by what their teacher taught me and I started looking more seriously into Buddhism as a spiritual path. I decided that this was something I would like to explore furher, and by some strange circumstances I soon found myself in a monastery in South India where I ended up living on and off for three years.
I did my Ashtanga practice there, I studied Tibetan language, I did prayers and engaged in practices. It seemed like a blessed, innocent time and I loved living there. I loved the sweetness of the people, their good hearts and their faith. And sometimes great, even magical things happened there. However, I still didn’t understand much of the fundamentals of Buddhism – and diving right into the complexity of Vajrayana Buddhisme, as I had done, seemd like having started in the wrong end. I therefore decided it was time to engage in more structured study and moved on to Kathmandu and Ranjung Yeshe Institute.
Four years of academic studies within the setting of a monastery was perfect for me. I could understand the outline of the Buddhist Path, I could trust its logic foundation. I could appreciate Buddhism’s place in history and and the development of the various philosophical schools. I could also – not the least – read and write Tibetan and communicate with my Tibetan teachers.
During the last year of my BA degree I completed the circle: as I took a course in indian philosophy I was back on familiar territory -with Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras. I was now able to contextualize the Sutras within a greater field of Indian thought. I could trace the common roots of Buddhist and Indian Philosophy to a certain time and place in history where a shared notion of “Yogic perception” emerged. In contrast to relying on ritual practices, both Patanjali and the Buddha proclaimed that the unmistaken experience of reality is beyond all conceptual thought and is brought about by meditative concentration. Not all Indian schools accepted this, and therefore this is really where a line can be drawn: between Yogis and “non-Yogis.” To re-read the Yoga sutras in this context, and compare it to, how the Buddha outlines the path was a great discovery and joy. I now felt prepared to engage in teaching Yoga Philosophy without “choosing sides” - as it is really for the Individual to decide which path is easier to integrate and which makes the most sense to him or her.