Tag Archives: Guru Singh

Find the Lesson


On action alone be thy interest… Never on its fruits. Let not the fruits of action be thy motive, nor be thy attachment to inaction. ~Bhagavad Gita

After being told that “memoirs are a hard sell,” I am still writing. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel discouraged for a few days, but I rallied. My turnaround was so complete, I felt liberated by the new perspectives that the supposed bad news afforded.

The most important of these was the way I came to see the event and the role it played in bringing me back to the whole point of writing, which is…the writing. And this realization brought me back into sync with one of the main tenets of the Gita—the spirit of service. If I continue to write, for the sake of the writing, and from the need to share my wisdom and experience with whomever shall benefit, rather than for the promise of publication, then I am truly serving. This realization made me ever more grateful for the experience.

Another perspective that shone forth came in the form of one of my teacher’s words—words I had heard many times, but which beamed brightly now, as if from a burned-out lamp whose bulb had just been replaced:

If you can be deflected from your path, you will be. ~ Guru Singh

It is inevitable that we will meet with opposition, of some sort and at some point—will you hold to your commitment? Will you be like the water in the Tao, able to find your way around all the stones and rocks so gracefully?

Finally, in any situation that seems, at first, to be displeasing, can you find the good? In this case, it was the lesson it delivered. I never saw this project as a memoir, but that wasn’t really the point. The lesson strengthened my commitment, not only to the writing, but to the art of living in grace, generally—and that requires trust. Trust that my offering will find the right home when it’s ready. After all…it is the only story I can tell, and it is a story only I can tell!

I share this story, as well, with the hope that someone may take encouragement from its lessons. What is your commitment?

One Year Ago: The First Teacher-Training Diary

It was this time last year that I made the decision to deepen my practice as a Yoga teacher. It was a long time coming–I heeded the calling of my heart to study directly under my beloved masters of Kundalini Yoga at Yogi Bhajan’s first and only studio, Yoga West.

It had taken six years, and at least two weeks of waffling, to finally commit. I remember the night I called to say Yes; I took my walk as usual, only the pink-stained evening sky was pinker than usual, the drooping golden sun was twice as gold as usual, and the crisp autumn breeze that chilled my just-washed face was the most delightful breeze there ever was.

I knew I would want to chronicle this life-changing journey, and I did. Here is the first of several teacher-training diaries I wrote, that were originally published on Spirit Voyage.

I walked briskly down the street in the rain, carrying an open plate of assorted curries and rice. Zigzagging around two Jewish families, out for Saturday services, I sought a moment of refuge in my car, to absorb the somewhat magical events that had transpired that day.

Still flush from the long group chant, I watched as the raindrops coalesced on my windshield. My voice had melted away into the warm sea of long “Ek Ong Kars.” I had lost the sense of where my own voice ended and the others began. The vibrational frequencies of 58 voices fused into a lush whole and time itself evaporated like dew. It was as if we all dissolved into some invisible swell that had gently washed over us. I took a bite of the creamy raita on the side of my plate and watched one single raindrop trickle down the window, leaving behind a long, clear squiggle for peeking through to the glassy, rain soaked street.

As all the genuine spiritual traditions remind us, it is through the dignity of letting go that wisdom is attained. In subtle paradox, it is by losing that we gain. In chanting, it was not merely our voices that we offered up to the infinite, but our very sense of self. In exalting the sacred mantra through chant, the tangible and the intangible disappeared into unison. At another moment, a white head wrap and an outstretched leg extended in front of my own, while mine lay, in turn, behind another. Together, we all carried on, and for the duration of the kriya, our bellies pumped air as one rhythmic body, like some multifaceted breathing apparatus. We were a woven cloth. For a time, personal space melted away, along with the intangible sense of separateness that keeps us from our own divinity.

In the shadowy world of separateness and duality, bad habits loom. Fear looms. The hum of adversity is often dispatched from the depths of the psyche, still on automatic, like a broken old alarm that sounds for no reason. There was a moment when mine hollered out – victim to the old triggers. But one of the Yogis inspirited my heart and knocked all sense out of me. I thanked him. And with a gentle word he sent me off to sharpen my tools. We are empowering ourselves to glide above those old patterns, to fly, wholly powered by spirit.

We have been gifted with invaluable tools of Kundalini Yoga, and we are learning how to use them. Through the timeless wisdom and functionality of these kriyas, we are learning how to scrap the unconscious negative reflexes and oust the heavy blocks that prevent the wholeness of mind and radiance we seek. Yogi Bhajan was forthright about the efficacy of what he called “the Yoga of awareness,” revealing that by practicing its techniques correctly, “we fry this subconscious mind; we make toast out of it and eat it.” Seeing us falter during a particularly intense kriya, Gurudhan reminded us to “become the nervous system.” “Keep going,” the yogi called out, as we disappeared into the kriya, as we became the kriya. We were mastering our energy rather than the other way around.

In some ways, this process reminds me a bit like getting thrown into the washing machine and then spat out again. And I’m hopeful it’ll be a cleaner, softer, more appealing me than what originally went in. I knew the intense, nine month period wasn’t an arbitrary figure. It’s as Guru Singh explained that first night: Like a birthing, after nine months, we’ll come out of the birth canal pure and new. “First you’re like eager babes,” he mused, as he surveyed the room full of the novice’s enthusiasm. “Then, as you begin to feel comfortable and more at home, you’ll start to relax and you’ll be draping your bodies all over, like you own the place.” But he continued on, explaining that by the end of the training period, we will have come full circle, only not exactly in the same starting place. When we get ready to emerge, as Aquarian teachers of 2011, we will be like eager young babes again. But in a different way.

I still have the teacher training pamphlet from 2005 in my Yoga files. Although it was because of Guru Singh, that I took that flyer five years ago, and because of him, that I finally committed this year, the boon is that through this intense training program, I will also have the benefit of learning from other masters, that I am quickly growing to love. Soon I will look upon them all as my teachers. And I will officially count myself among the third-generation disciples of Yogi Bhajan, himself.

It is a blessing for which I am eternally grateful, but also a tremendous responsibility, for these timeless teachings will be reflected in my own conduct and in the way I bring them forth to others as a teacher. But, it was a calling of the heart. And this is a brave heart that can only become more brave through practice.

Are Zen and Kundalini Yoga Compatible?


I shared some of my favorite Kundalini mantra music with a Buddhist friend the other day. He loved it, but then gingerly asked whether I “consider it to be compatible with Buddhism.” He asked about the music, but he was really asking about the paths, in general. “Maybe I should just forget about all that and just enjoy it for what it is,” he then mused. And did I have any thoughts?

Of course, I did! And he already knew the answer—”you said it,” I told him. “You should absolutely enjoy it because only the dualistic mind sees a difference. “All paths are one and truth is truth.”

I have another Buddhist friend—a musician—who grew up with gospel. To my best knowledge, he would never consider shunning this inspirational music that he loves so much, just because it’s Christian. What an idea! So, why wouldn’t it be fine to listen to Kundalini mantra music, as a Buddhist?

One thing is certain; gospel is Americana. It’s part of our cultural heritage and we look upon it with nostalgia. On a wider note, Buddhists, like any one else, listen to a variety of music, much of which has no spiritual association at all. So, I would propose that if music with no spiritual connotation is fine, that music with some spiritual connotation would be even better—even when that tradition differs from one’s own—because uplifting vibes are, well…nice.

The question of compatibility between two spiritual traditions smacks of the guilt many people still carry around from their childhoods, when their intimidating family religions forbade even a cursory glance at some other religion’s holy book.

But, both Buddhism and the Yogas are “inclusive,” rather than “exclusive,” which means one may practice alongside any other religious practice without conflict. And many do. Consider the many Buddhist meditation teachers who still consider themselves Jews (there is even a name for them: “Jubus”)—Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield and Sharon Salzberg are but a few. And everyone knows about Leonard Cohen, Steven Seagal, Robert Downy Jr., Richard Gere and Goldie Hawn. And with regard to Yoga, a better question would be: Who hasn’t tried at least some form of it?

Buddhism, and Zen in particular, is not predicated on any beliefs and if there’s no belief, there’s nothing to contradict. Thus, Zen complements any practice, spiritual or otherwise, like basketball—which is why Phil Jackson used Zen-style meditation as part of his training methods with The Lakers. Zen is, in the most basic sense, just meditation. It is the practice of waking up to the present moment; it is to “eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired.” So, it’s not surprising that training in such a discipline would improve performance in anything.

Perhaps my friend’s concern had more to do with the power of Kundalini mantra music. Known as Naad Yoga, it is spiritually potent. It is held that the human body is designed for transformation through its proper practice, but even if you don’t happen to believe that, it certainly won’t hurt you if you go ahead and chant anyway! (And less so, if you’re just listening.) It is understood, in all forms of Yoga, that we have a central energy channel, known as the sushmuna, by which prana flows. This energy is our life force, it is consciousness itself, and to awaken its flow is to awaken to our own infinite potential as humans. In Kundalini parlance, it is to awaken to the divine within. At the heart of this practice is mantra meditation, in which we vibrate that central channel as well as every cell in our body, as long as we are chanting from the heart and with the belly. It is understood that everything is vibration—even our state of mind, so we can either choose sounds that elevate, or not. Naad Yoga is the technology of doing just that.

And so, if it’s potent: all the better! 

Even though Zen is not oriented around vibrational technology, it does have another point in common with Kundalini Yoga Practice: mindful meditation. One of my teachers, Guru Singh, talks endlessly about the importance of staying in the “what is,” rather than in the “should be,” which is his way of reminding us to keep our heads out of the “picking and choosing mind.”

Sounds a lot like Zen talk to me!

Our outlook toward spiritual practice doesn’t have to be polemic. It’s not Zen versus Kundalini Yoga, any more than it’s Zen versus Judaism; they’re only separate in the divisive mind! One of the things I always liked about the Zendo was that there were Christians practicing next to Jews—at this level, none of that matters anymore. While one path is not necessarily better than another, one may be more appropriate for an individual, at a certain time, than another—that’s the idea behind the various Yogas, or spiritual paths, in India. The great sages recognized that no one path is “one size fits all.” We each have different temperaments and innumerable karmic circumstances that make up our lives. And it’s all in flux. Funny enough, if we weren’t allowed to grow and evolve, there’d be no Buddhism at all! Buddha himself, born a Hindu, wouldn’t be pigeonholed. He embraced his truth, and left the rest behind, settling himself somewhere in the middle of it all.

If acclimation and adaptation are necessary for a religion’s survival as a whole, how much more so for an individual in his own evolving, personal practice? Sometimes that means strands of different traditions get intermingled, the way Taoism and Buddhism did, in the hearts of the mystics in old China, creating the birth of Ch’an (Zen).

In this light, the whole idea of a “forever home” is questionable. But even so, only the seeker gets to choose. And with the right to proceed along the sequence that is right for her. The well-known American spiritual teachers, Ram Dass and Bhagavan Dass, both traveled along paths that were ever-expanding, each having received initiation from Buddhist and Yogic teachers—and the former started off Jewish. In Zen, as well, it’s not uncommon to venture into different forms of meditation, as found in the various schools of Zen, as well as in other Buddhist traditions, such as vipassana.

As a fun and hopefully useful analogy, look upon Zen as a wonderful broth—the foundation of every soup that ever was. Like broth, Zen is simple (which doesn’t mean easy) and unembellished. But, when you add potatoes, celery, spices and salt, you’ve got something different. Some will dig it, some won’t. To play with analogies further, Zen may be seen as an essential strand in the fabric of a rich spiritual life, as a concomitant part of a whole. And further still, think of it as a no-frills wooden boat, which, like any other boat, will carry you just fine to the other shore. Some boats are fancy, some are not, some go fast, some don’t and some rock more than others. How wonderful the differences are!

Through these analogies and commentary on my friend’s innocent question, I hope to have shown the beauty of each tradition, but most of all, that there’s no conflict between them—or with any other path.