True Refuge Comes From Within

“We’re here in a shelter today…but where can true refuge be found? I asked my group of young male students at Salaam Balaak Trust Aasra Shelter. “Security can crumble all around us at any moment…true refuge can only be found within ourselves. Yoga can help us find this safety, in the depths of our hearts and souls, no matter where we find ourselves in the outer world.” Continue reading

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“Doing Time, Doing Vipassana”…

Is an incredible, award-winning documentary that tells the stories of hardened criminals who transformed their lives through the practice of Vipassana meditation, as taught by Siddhartha Gotama (the Buddha) in ancient India. Today, Vipassana has become a tool for international prison reform. A new film, “Dhamma Brothers: East Meets West in the Deep South,” illustrates the experiences of American prisoners with the same technique.

One March day in Delhi, I decided I would visit Tihar Prison to investigate this international phenomenon. I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting Rajinder Kumar in his home on Jail Road 4. A superintendant of Tihar prison, known for its unbearable living conditions, extortions and widespread violence, Kumar was Kiran Bedi’s catalyst to introduce Vipassana in Tihar, as part of her efforts to transform the prison into an Ashram (a secluded place designed to nurture spiritual growth). Once a very angry man, I found Kumar a soft-spoken, slight man who spoke about his prison inmates with a kind of compassion that made me feel as though they were his children. After asking many thought-provoking questions about my vision, he encouraged me to take additional Vipassana courses as part of my personal preparation and training. “I am a lean and thin man,” he shared, “yet I have a great amount inner strength thanks to the practice of Vipassana.”

Rajinder showed me around his ward, where two Vipassana courses are conducted per month for prisoners, including housing for prisoners who have taken a course and wish to help ensure others have a positive experience with it. Instead of responding to the experience with fear at what could happen to me in such a dangerous place, I felt great inspiration emanating from the prison, the powerful energy of transformation that continues to motivate me to practice Vipassana myself, and share the practice with those most in need of it.

In what other context can you find this scene, of a prisoner weeping in the arms of his jailer?

Ashoka the Great, and What Caused his Greatness…

king-ashokaKing Ashoka, or Ashoka the Great, as he is popularly known, was an Indian leader who unified the Indian subcontinent during the 3rd century BC. During his early days of life, Ashoka was very cruel, having killed his half brothers in order to obtain the throne. He violently invaded neighboring kingdoms as well.

These days, Ashoka is known throughout India as the great leader who not only unified the Indian subcontinent, but also dedicated his life to social welfare and the upliftment of the people. After expanding his empire through war, he renounced armed warfare, preached – and practiced – nonviolence, respectful treatment of and generosity towards all. Ashoka created the world’s first large-scale class of civil servants, who built India’s Grand Trunk Road, established watering sheds, rest houses, hospitals, food-for-work and land settlement programs.

He is renowned as the world’s earliest example of a social reformer and innovator for his creativity, global-mindedness and tolerance. Science fiction novelist H.G. Wells wrote of Ashoka,

“In the history of the world there have been thousands of kings and emperors who called themselves ‘their highness’, their majesties’, and their exalted majesties’ and so on. They shone for a brief moment, and as quickly disappeared. But Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star, even unto this day.”

What was the cause of Ashoka’s greatness? According to “Vipassana in Government: an effective instrument for change and reform” by Ram Singh,

“In the remote past, as far back as the third century B.C., Ashoka, the great emperor of India used Vipassana as an instrument of reform in the governance of his vast empire. His actions in the administration and management of State reflect piety, love, magnanimity, high moral discipline and ethical conduct in his personal as well as public life. He organized a system of government, efficient, humane and responsive to public weal, unparalleled in human history.

The record of his administration chiseled on the rocks in the different parts of his empire, on the highways and hills, caves and public places enshrines the noblest sentiments of a man who loved his people like his own children, respected all sects and religious faiths and instilled confidence in the neighboring countries for peace and concord.

In one of his most renowed edicts – the Delhi Topra Pillar, Ashoka gives a comprehensive review of the measures he took during his reign. The inscription as it unfolds brings Ashoka face to face with people. He says that whereas kings and rulers prior to him cherished the same wish as his for advancement of people failed, he succeeded. He explains in the Edict – he used Nijjhatiya, differently interpreted as inner meditation, reflection, contemplation – Vipassana. He further says that let this fact be engraved on stones and pillars so that his message endures till the Sun and Moon shine on Earth!

 

“The Beauty of Life”

One of the gifts of the yoga practice is how it brings up many of our hidden, subconscious, subtle impressions, called samskaras, which have been stored in the body for many lifetimes, which can cause us to feel stuck. When we are trapped in negative and destructive emotions, relationship patterns, eating habits and other addictive tendencies, it is due to negative samskaras in our psyche. Samskaras comprise all of our past conditioning and are repetitive in nature. Continue reading

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