Om mani padme hum
The jewel is in the lotus. All that needs to be known dwells inside your own heart.
Viśokā vā jyotiṣmatῑ PYS I.36
Or by concentrating on the supreme, sorrowless Light within.
The first chant is from the Buddhist tradition, the second, from the Yoga tradition. This is one of many instances where they overlap (although there are also plenty of places where they don’t quite see eye to eye either).
Michael Stone, whose dharma talk podcasts I listen to often, and quote in my classes nearly as often, ties these traditions together well. Finding not only overlaps, but moments that inform each other in the traditions of each.
One of his recent talks on the Lotus Sutra was one of such moments, and called to mind for me the above chants.
He spoke of how in Buddhism, in order to be a Buddha, the requirement is not to get enlightened, but rather to be able to see another person as a Buddha. During my teacher training Davidji and Sharonji would often tell us our most important job as a yoga teacher is to see our students as holy beings. Just as important as our sadhana – our yoga practice, our meditation, our off-the-mat practices, is the way in which we see other people. And granted, to see another person as a Buddha can be as challenging a practice as sitting for an hour. However, we are gifted with an amazing imagination, and should call upon it in this case.
I’ve been reading The Brain That Changes Itself– a great book on brain plasticity (which I feel is in some ways the modern science of yoga), and had just read a section on imagination. There were two experiments discussed where two groups were asked to undertake an activity – learn a piece on the piano, and perform a strength exercise. One group was able to practice physically, the other was asked to practice only mentally. They practiced the same amount of time, the same repetitions, over the same period. The only difference was that one was physical, and the other purely in the imagination. The results for both experiments were the same, but the results of the strength exercise are more clearly statistically understood, so I will give those. The group that did the physical exercise improved its strength (and the brain area associated) by 30%, the group that did the mental exercise improved its strength (and the brain area) by 22%. To the body and mind the difference between thought and action is not that different.
So take advantage of this. Imagine someone who you can easily conceive of as a hair’s breadth from being a Buddha – a teacher, a child you know, the Dalai Llama, your local grocer. Spend time imaging her/him in front of you, in detail. Note the qualities you associate with that state. Then imagine yourself as that Buddha, infused with those qualities. Then try practicing your next asana class from that place, and see what happens.
Perhaps you are able to see others as buddhas better. But anything undertaken once or twice runs the risk of becoming new agey or trite. Imagination is not just a flight of fancy in this case – it’s a practice. So like all yoga practices, you must repeat, in all earnestness, for a prolonged period of time. And then the magic will arise.