Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Unionizing Yoga

At the start of a yoga class, the teacher often shares a common definition of the word yoga: union. Union of the body and the mind, union of the individual self with a larger consciousness.  But over the past several months, teachers from YogaWorks’ studios in New York have been working to establish a more literal union—with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. 

On September 9, the group of 100 yoga teachers asked management to recognize their union, and shortly after, filed a petition for an election with the National Labor Relations Board. On October 17, YogaWorks teachers will begin voting to form a union, and a winning vote will legally allow the group to begin the process of bargaining.

“Yoga happens on two levels: the individual and collective,” said YogaWorks teacher Nora Heilmann. “Our effort to unionize stemmed from our individual needs as teachers to make the profession more sustainable, and also from our collective belief that yoga needs to stay the complex and beautiful practice that it is.”

It’s no secret that, over the past several decades, yoga has exploded into a multibillion dollar industry. As of 2016, over 36 million people practice yoga in the United States. With students filling up classes, many studios have expanded. But while profits are up for owners and managements, the unionizing teachers say that unclear hiring and business practices are a serious problem within the industry.

“In the yoga community, there is a total lack of transparency, and there are no standards in terms of how yoga teachers are hired, evaluated, or paid,” said Jodie Rufty, a YogaWorks teacher and teacher trainer. “There’s also no way of regulating how a teacher gets a raise. It has long been unclear and frustrating for many teachers. Yoga has grown in popularity, but a lot of integrity has been lost.”

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Songs from the Bardo Guides Us to the Next Rebirth

What happens to us when we die? Where do we go? What do we do? And what does this tell us about who we are right now—and if we’re even really here at all? 

Laurie Anderson, the renowned American visual and performing artist, may just have the answer.

Although Buddha himself was often reluctant to address such grandiose questions, his later disciples took up the challenge. One of history’s most famous explorations of this matter comes from The Bardo Thodol, or The Tibetan Book of the Dead, as it has been known in English since the earliest translation appeared in 1927. This sacred Tibetan Buddhist text lays out detailed descriptions of the forty-nine-day journey of our consciousness from the moment of death to our next rebirth.

Now Anderson has helped recreate much of this journey in the hauntingly beautiful audio odyssey Songs from the Bardo, which pairs key sections of The Bardo Thodol with gongs, flutes, strings, and percussion.

Songs from the Bardo is a collaboration between Anderson and the Tibetan artist and composer Tenzin Choegyal, along with the composer and producer Jesse Paris Smith. Choegyal provides the occasional Tibetan chanting and traditional instruments, while the calm, clear voice of Anderson is heard reciting the English translations throughout. 

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David Nichtern Wants to Make You Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise

David Nichtern is, by most metrics, a very successful person. As a longtime practitioner in the Shambhala lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, he has been empowered as a senior teacher and has served as the director of Karme Choling Meditation Center in Vermont and the Dharmadhatu Meditation Center in Los Angeles. As a musician, he won four Emmy award, has been nominated for a Grammy twice, founded Dharma Moon and 5 Points Records, and has worked with Stevie Wonder, Jerry Garcia, Lana Del Rey, Maria Muldaur, and Paul Simon, to name a few.

In a new book, Creativity, Spirituality, and Making a Buck (Wisdom, October 8, 2019), he offers his advice from both sides of his life on how to figure out what one wants to do and how to get there. Tricycle spoke with Nichtern about the book and his conviction that we do not need to separate our spiritual pursuits and our career goals.

You titled your book Creativity, Spirituality, and Making a Buck, three topics that aren’t often talked about in the same breath. What inspired you to write a book about this?

This book is the culmination of my actual life as a practitioner, a creative, an entrepreneur, and a businessperson, and it challenges the long-accepted divide between spiritual life and the way we operate in the world, in which our livelihood and issues of money are seen as soiled. On the one hand, people will say that a yoga class should be free, and on the other hand, people have the notion that topics like ethics should be reserved for church on Sunday. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” But all of those elements exist together in people’s actual lives. The people in the spiritual communities and the secular communities are the same people.

The third piece, after spirituality and making a living, is creativity, which speaks to our individual life journeys, or what I call the life puzzle. Every person comes to a point where they need to express themselves as a unique individual. Some people might think that goes against Buddhist teachings on non-self or non-ego, but that’s a total misunderstanding of the definition of anatman (Skt., no-self). We do exist individually, but we don’t exist absolutely individually.

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Knowns and Unknowns Regarding Sogyal Rinpoche’s Biography

By Bernd Zander

A review of “Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche” by Mary Finnigan and Rob Hogendoorn

One main concern for Sogyal Rinpoche’s (SR) former students is – or at least should be – that we had to realise that our spiritual teacher isn’t the man we thought he was. That leads almost unavoidably to the question of who he really is.

Of course, we have quite a lot of publicly available material: On the one hand there are SR’s own accounts, as well as those of other lamas and Rigpa, mainly portraying him as a great master. This in many ways tends to remind us of the Tibetan literary genre of an idealized devotional biography, called namtar[1]. Otherwise, there is plenty of evidence of his abusive, shadow side, culminating in a letter by 8 of his closest students[2] in 2017 and an official report subsequently commissioned by Rigpa (Lewis Silken Report, 2018)[3]. However, the great challenge remains to make sense of these two very oppositional and conflicting sides without remaining stuck in cognitive dissonance.

“Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche” by von Mary Finnigan and Rob Hogendoorn (Jorvik Press, 2019 – 204 pages)

Here the need for scientifically-proven, historical and biographical research comes into play. In this regard particularly it’s worth noticing the recent publication of Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism.(SVTB) Its approach is a combination of:

a) Historical, biographical research stretching back to the 1940’s, beginning with a fascinating account of the complicated power struggles within and between ancient Tibet/China and how they directly affected SR’s ancestors, the Lakar family. As stated on page 187, reference 3, this part of the book (chapters 2 and 3) is the result of Dutch journalist Rob Hogendoorn’s (RH) research, based on his paper entitled “The Making of a Lama: Interrogating Sogyal Rinpoche’s Pose as a (Re)incarnate Master (2018)”. This paper is currently unavailable, however. The author claimed six weeks ago that he was revising it and it would be published soon on his website, Open Buddhism. However, that has yet not happened and at present, there is no access to resources from that paper.

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Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, Anchor of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, Dies

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, a leading figure of Tibetan Buddhism in the US, died early in the morning on Sunday, October 6, at the age of 95. Karthar Rinpoche was the abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD), a monastery in the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism near Woodstock, New York, since its founding in 1978. The influential teacher died at his home in Delaware County, NY.

Karthar Rinpoche’s passing came after he spent the weekend at two hospitals receiving treatment for blocked blood vessels, according to a statement released Sunday by KTD board member Sandy Hu on behalf of Lama Karma Drodhul, KTD’s president and Karthar Rinpoche’s nephew. “For the next three days, Rinpoche will remain in meditative absorption without disturbance,” Karma Drodhul’s message continued, referring to a traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice for entering the bardo, the intermediate state between death and rebirth.

Born in 1924 in Kham, a region in east Tibet, Karthar Rinpoche completed rigorous monastic study and training in his teenage and early adult years at Thrangu Monastery, where he became acquainted with the tulku [a reincarnate teacher] Thrangu Rinpoche, among other high lamas. In 1958, he fled his increasingly dangerous, Chinese-occupied homeland for safety elsewhere. A year later, he and thousands of other refugees arrived in northeastern India, where he helped to preserve his lineage’s tradition at a time of substantial transition.

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche at the Karma Thegsum Chöling center in Ann Arbor in 2012. Photo by Tanya Schroeder | https://tricy.cl/2VrAXbt

When the 16th Karmapa Rigpe Dorje made his first world tour in 1974 and decided that he would establish a North American headquarters for his lineage, he tapped Karthar Rinpoche, with the support of administrator Tenzin Chonyi and teacher Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, to be its head figure. Four years later, KTD found its home in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Offering both extensive programming for weekend retreatants as well as deep immersion in a traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice community, KTD has since become an anchor of Tibetan Buddhist activity in the West. In addition, dozens of smaller practice centers in urban communities nationwide that were founded after visits by KTD’s high lamas, each called Karma Thegsum Chöling (KTC), offer meditation guidance and Buddhist teachings for practitioners of all experience levels.

Thrangu Media, Khenchen Thangru Rinpoche’s primary PR page on Facebook, shared Thrangu Rinpoche’s request that his monasteries in Nepal and India conduct a special puja [prayer] ceremony in light of Karthar Rinpoche’s death.

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