Thursday, September 29, 2011


Ahimsa, satya, asteya,
Brachmacharya, asangraha,
Sharirashram, aswada,
Sarvatra, bhaya varjana,
Sarva dharma samanatva,
Swadeshi, sparsha bhavana,
Vinamra vrata nishtha se,
Ye ekadash sevya hain.

Nonviolence, truth, nonstealing
Sacred sex, non-consumerism,
Physical work, avoidance of bad taste,
Fearlessness, respect for all religions
Local economy and respect for all beings.
These 11 principles
Should be followed with humility, care, and commitment.

-Mahatma Gandhi, morning and evening prayer

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Nine Nights of the Divine Mother Starts Tonight

Spiritual Significance of Navaratri
by Swami Sivananda

During Navaratri, or the Nine Nights, the Divine in the form of the Mother is worshipped with great devotion. On the first three nights, Durga or the destructive aspect of the Mother is worshipped. On the succeeding three nights, it is the creative aspect or Lakshmi that is adored. And on the last three nights, the knowledge aspect or Saraswati is invoked. The tenth day is the Vijaya Dasami day or the Day of Victory. There is a special significance in this arrangement. When the Devi is worshipped by a devotee in this order, as Durga She first destroys the evil propensities that lurk in the mind. Then, as Lakshmi, She implants therein the divine qualities conducive to spiritual unfoldment. Then as Saraswati She bestows true knowledge on the aspirant. The tenth day commemorates the victory of knowledge over ignorance, or goodness over evil. Aspirants are initiated on this day. On this day the carpenter, the tailor, the mason, the artist, the songster, the typist and all technical workers do puja for their instruments and implements. This is Ayudha Puja. They behold and recognise the Sakti or Power behind those instruments and worship the Devi for their success, prosperity and peace.

The celebration at the Chicago Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center runs through Thursday.

Read more about Navaratri here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Om Namah Shivaya by SP Balasubramaniam

To be played loud - first thing in the morning!

Images are of the Siva temple at Arunachala (Tiruvannamalai) in Tamil Nadu.

View the live Arunachala-cam here.

Pranams to g.d. for the link.

Om Namah Shivay!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Not Joanie Loves Chachi

Last night's kirtan with Bhagavan Das went on for over three hours.

It's so heartening to people giving 100 percent to their practice.

(Most people do most things halfway, or hold back.

Many kirtan wallahs get caught up in performance and musicianship.

But not Baba and Kali).

To hear the Divine Name sung with heart and soul, and to do the same, is a transformational experience.

Especially when the names are Kali and Shiva.

(And, in the end, Rama and Krishna).

Jai Ma!

Om Namah Shivay!

Hare Krishna Hare Ram!

Hara hara!

Click here to read more about Jnana (Knowledge) vs. Bhakti (Devotion) marg (path).

Pic is from Bhagavan Das's kirtan at Dharma West in NYC, earlier this month.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


"Enquire: 'Who am I?' and you will find the answer. Look at a tree: from one seed arises a huge tree; from it comes numerous seeds, each one of which in its turn grows into a tree. No two fruits are alike. Yet it is one life that throbs in every particle of the tree. So, it is the same Atman everywhere.

"All creation is that. There is beauty in the birds and in the animals. They too eat and drink like us, mate and multiply; but there is this difference: we can realize our true nature, the Atman. Having been born as human beings, we must not waste this opportunity. At least for a few seconds every day, we must enquire as to who we are. It is no use taking a return ticket over and over again. From birth to death, and death to birth is samsara. But really we have no birth and death. We must realize that."

-Sri Anandamayi Ma

I was intrigued when the couple on last night's episode of Property Brothers insisted that their new home face east and have a meditation room. The interest was piqued further when they made an offer ending in their lucky number: 430.96. They explained that it's the birthday of their guru. I looked it up at the first commercial break; turns out it's the birthday of Sri Anandamayi Ma (and their offer was indeed accepted). Jai Ma!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Roches - "The Train"

The Roches (all sisters, from New Jersey) are one of my all-time favorite bands - even during the Mohawk Days when all I listened to was hardcore punk.

Their voices are so sweet. And their lyrics so quirky. And they are such wonderful musicians. They are the anti-Shaggs....

This is not the best recording of "The Train." It's from their debut album - which is one of the few vinyl albums I've replaced since letting go of my record collection back in 2009. (That album also features a wonderful song about Hammond, Indiana).

The Train song has been in my head ever since I realized that I live eight blocks from the Metra commuter train, and that it can get me downtown in 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes!

The El, on the other hand, takes about 30.

The Metra commuter train travels in a straight line at high speeds and makes gradual stops and starts.

The El, on the other hand, meanders, twists and turns (Brown Line) or makes rapid, nausea-inducing stops and starts (Red Line).

The Metra commuter train takes you to a clean, comfortable station filled with shops and restaurants - including RAW restaurant.

The El, on the other hand, ends on a pigeon feces-encrusted platform (Brown Line) or a smelly hole in the ground (Red Line).

The Metra commuter train is quiet.

There is always a free seat.

It has a bathroom.

You can bring your bike on it.

The Brown line is slow and Tamasic.

The Red Line is fast and Rajasic.

And the Metra commuter train is calm and Sattvic!

And it costs less than the El if you buy a ten-ride card.*

Once you step on
you might never get off
of the commuter train
it doesn't go very far away
but just the same
it s a trip and a half

*Although Metra is now asking for a 30 percent rate hike.

Photo by Steven J. Brown

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Guess who's in it....

Thursday, September 15, 2011


"Distracted as we are by various thoughts, if we would continually contemplate the Self, which is Itself God, this single thought would in due course replace all distraction and would itself ultimately vanish;. The pure Consciousness that alone finally remains is God. This is Liberation. To be constantly centered on one's own all-perfect pure Self is the acme of yoga, wisdom, and all other forms of spiritual practice. Even though the mind wanders restlessly, involved in external matters, and so is forgetful of its own Self, one should remain alert and remember: 'The body is not I.'

"'Who am I?' Enquire in this way, turning the mind backward to its primal state. The enquiry 'Who am I?' is the only method of putting an end to all misery and ushering in Supreme Beatitude. Whatever may be said and however phrased, this is the whole truth in a nutshell."

-Sri Ramana Maharshi

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Monday, September 12, 2011

Nick Cave: Hallelujah

Nick Cave says there are basically three themes when it comes to songwriting: love, death and God.

Skip to 1:40 to get to the music.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Two September 11ths

I was doing my favorite thing in the world on On September 11, 2001: practicing yoga with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois at Chelsea Piers in New York City. After class, we sang happy birthday to Guruji's daughter, Saraswati. Then we paid our respects to Guruji. After receiving the usual hug and kiss, he asked me the impossible question: "You come to Mysore?"

"Yes," I said, "In January," and he patted my cheek twice and said, "Good, good."

A few minutes later, we walked outside, rounded a corner, and saw the ball of angry black smoke rising from the first World Trade Center tower.

The next few days were a whirl of stocking up on food, visiting friends, inhaling poisonous white smoke, trying to get out of town, and making my way to practice with Guruji in the orange zone (Read the rest of my 9/11 diary here).

Of course I made good on my promise to come to India in January, staying four months at the old shala. It opened doors that I thought were closed to me forever, and I returned four more times. From Pattabhi Jois, I learned mental and physical discipline that prepared me for my studies with my satguru, Sri Dharma Mittra.

9/11 provides an opportunity to count our blessings, which is a component of the Niyama called santosha or contentment. It's also a time to reflect on the past decade. After 9/11, there was a yogic feeling of community and one-ness in NYC as people from all backgrounds came together to deal with the tragedy they'd experienced firsthand. When I returned to Chicago, the mood was quite different: people seemed far more interested in revenge.

I will teach all day on 9/11, in order to share the practices that have changed the course of my life (and to keep myself away from the television). I also plan to offer prayers to those whose lives have been affected by that tragic event - from those who perished and lost loved ones that day to the countless widows, orphans, homeless, jobless, incarcerated, mentally ill, and disabled people who are the victims of the wars that followed.

The 9/11 anniversary also provides an opportunity to take a hard look at our own actions.

Did you make any promises that day, to yourself or anyone else? Have you kept them?

Is it time to make some new ones?

I will also reflect upon that other 9/11.

September 11, 1893 was the day that yoga came to the west. That's when Swami Vivekananda made his famous speech at the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago. The audience loved him, and soon he was speaking and teaching all over town (and then, eventually, New York City). He received a standing ovation from the 7,000 people in audience, whom he declared his “Sisters and Brothers of America.”

He said:

I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation.

"I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings:

"As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee."

Read my 9/11 article, which was published in the Chicago Reader, here

Hear Swami Vivekananda's beautiful speech here.

The 2003 documentary Ashtanga, NY (at top of page) takes place during Pattabhi Jois's visit to the city in September of 2001. Order a copy here. Or watch it on Netflix.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


and yet....

Nope. Still wrong.

Thanks to Linda Sama for the link

Friday, September 09, 2011

A wonderful time was had by all

I was blessed to spend nine-and-a-half hours studying with Sri Dharma Mittra in his beautiful new center last week at a retreat that ended with a kirtan by Bhagavan Das. It was an irresistible double bill for me (even more alluring than Radiohead, Sigur Ros and Merce Cunningham at BAM back in 2003 - which was a great show by the way).

My cheap flight had me getting into town several hours early, so I took the opportunity to take the #4 train down to Ground Zero (following in the footsteps of Tommy Gavin on Rescue Me).

On September 11, 2001, I was in NYC practicing yoga with Pattabhi Jois at Chelsea Piers. After class, I promised him I'd come to Mysore in January. Then we walked outside and saw the cloud of black smoke, and everything changed (read my riveting 9/11 diary, published in the Chicago Reader, here).

On Friday, I ended up taking a guided audio tour of Ground Zero. The place had a surreal quality, and I felt strangely disconnected from the massive construction site.

At some point my watch (purchased in Mysore) fell off the wrist, and I never found it. A short time later a pounding headache started. I ended the tour early, went back north, had the usual lunch at Angelica Kitchen, checked into the hotel, and took a two hour nap. Apparently I was affected by the massive graveyard after all.

The head was still pounding when I walked to the center for the opening night of the retreat. Dharma was compassionate and humorous as always. He began the Friday session with a series of Oms and other chants, and then led us through a Level II class. During the savasana that followed, the headache completely disappeared.

Dharma then led us through pranayama and a powerful meditation followed by satsang, during which he spoke about the concept of time and encouraged us to contemplate its origin – which made me think about losing my watch at Ground Zero earlier that day. Dharma patiently answered questions from students, and led us through some chanting and aarti (light ceremony). Then, some devotees of Swami Kailashananda led us in a beautiful kirtan.

Saturday’s program began at 8:30am with a long, relaxed pranayama and meditation session, where Dharma led us through several different breathing practices and an intense concentration exercises. Even more students joined us for the Maha Shakti class, which concluded with partner yoga exercises - including assisted handstand. It was followed by Dharma’s amazing Relaxation Meditation Method – during which I could literally feel the energy moving through the body.

For lunch, Dharma's wife, Eva, and some students put out a sumptuous home-made vegan buffet. I spent the break talking to Eva and another a devotee of Swami Kailashananda, doing karma yoga, wandering around the center looking at the deities and images of Swami Kailashananda, and doing the Sleeping Baby pose (which is good for digestion).

Dharma began the afternoon program with a Self-Realization lecture, where he shared the highest knowledge with us. Then he led us through 27 sun salutations and another deep savasana. Afterwards we sat up and spent a long time chanting rounds of “Om” that stimulated the pituitary gland and filled us with bliss. He suggested that we observe mauna (silence) afterwards.

Eva and the students put out another wonderful meal for dinner, and before eating Dharma led us through a prayer and a chant.

During these sessions, we did many of the asana, breathing, and purification and chanting practices I normally do at home, on my own. But there’s nothing more powerful than doing it with likeminded souls, in the presence of the Guru, at his prana-infused shala.

As usual, Bhagavan Das and Kali put on an amazing, nonstop, high-energy kirtan. At one point, Baba took a few moments to deliver a brief speech on the nature of time – warning us that it is running out. Again I thought about my missing watch.

I left the retreat feeling spiritually recharged and filled with gratitude.

And with the sense that I shouldn't waste any more time....

* * *


I bought a new watch at the airport. On the way home from the airport (via rapid transit and bus), the watch broke. The next day, I took out all of my old watches. Not one of them worked. On Wednesday, I planned to use the smart phone as a watch while teaching. Then I lost the smart phone (Dharma and I had also discussed non-attachment when I was in NYC, and it was interesting to watch the mind react to its loss; not as bad as one would have thought, probably due to the bliss from the retreat). Fortunately, the smart phone eventually turned up, and I was able to take the train downtown for the midday class.

We were halfway downtown when the power on the elevated train went out. The train glided to a halt. Its engine quieted down and became silent. The AC stopped working. And we all sat there on the train on the elevated rails between stations as the sun streamed in through the windows and it got hotter and hotter. It reminded me of when the monsoon comes in India, and everything just grinds to a standstill. Everything on the train was perfectly still - until it became apparent that we'd be there for awhile, and people got on their smart phones to tell others they were running late. But I just sat there, enjoying the stillness (and the fact that I had a seat, a book, a mantra, some water and some food). It was as if time stood still.

For a little while anyway.

Thursday, September 08, 2011


"Garlic and onions are worse than meat."

-Swami Sivananda

Monday, September 05, 2011

Klaus Wies: Tibetan Singing Bowls #2


Sunday, September 04, 2011

Dharma Immersion

What can I say about this weekend's city retreat w/ Dharma? Spending that much undiluted time with the Guru & the spiritual family is such a special experience. Words cannot do it justice. The heart is bursting.

- Posted using BlogPress from an iPhone

Thursday, September 01, 2011


"Throughout the entire creation every religion has what? The Ethical Rules; thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal, thou shall not lie, you understand? The rules have to be kept in order to build harmony between each other and then the love starts expanding beyond your relatives. And then after human love comes Divine Love."

-Sri Dharma Mittra