Sunday, May 20, 2018

Why I Chose Yoga Instead of Buddhism

Why I Chose Yoga Instead of Buddhism

For a long time I felt very attracted to Buddhism, which is in many ways connected to yoga. That's why I'd decided to visit a Buddhist monastery in Nepal. One of the best experiences I've ever had, but once I was there I also realized that Buddhism is not really my path.

What inspired me to go to Nepal

I once saw this beautiful movie that opened my eyes to Buddhism. It is one of the most inspiring movies I've ever seen, and in some ways it changed my life.

Many scenes in the movie where shot in the Kathmandu Valley. That's why I wanted to traveled to Nepal, and why I wanted to stay at a Buddhist monastery.

From the very first time that I watched this movie I felt a strong connection with the story of Buddha and his path to enlightenment.

If you have any interest in Buddhism I think you should definitely watch this movie. It is called Little Buddha.

It portrays, in a beautiful and artistic way, the life of prince Siddhartha Gautama, from the moment he was born until he became the Buddha.

This movie was directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and it features Keanu Reeves, Chris Isaak and Bridget Fonda. You will hardly recognize Keanu Reeves though.

Little Buddha Movie


Another dream come true

If you've read my previous blog you know that back in 2005, after eight months doing an internship in a company in Mumbai, I had decided to quit. I wanted to travel around India instead. But this was not just any trip, it was a spiritual trip.

I visited Kolkata, Varanasi and then Bodhgaya. I wrote all about that trip in my previous blog.

I also wanted to fulfill another one of my dreams. That's why the 7th of October 2005, while I was still in Kolkata, I registered for a meditation course in a monastery in Kathmandu.

It was the One Month Meditation Course at Kopan Monastery.

The course was set to start on November 2005, so after the ten days mediation course in Bodhgaya that I mentioned before, I made my way all the way up to Kathmandu, Nepal.

It was an incredible experience. One of the highlights of my whole journey, even till today.

If you ever get the opportunity to do something like this I can totally recommend you to go to Kopan.

When I was at Kopan, in company of so many other spiritual seekers from all around the world, who were also seriously interested in meditation, I felt I was at last with my people.

Every other time, wherever I go, I normally feel as if I am a black sheep. At Kopan I was a normal human being.


One of my favorite moments during the course was skipping some classes to go to the main gompa (temple), where the monks were doing their daily pujas (prayers and rituals).

When I would hear their sutra recitations in overtones, accompanied with traditional drums and conch shells, it felt as if the vibrations went right through my heart. My whole body would tremble with each beat. I could barely hold my tears in.

Kopan Monastery Main Gompa
The main gompa during a special celebration.  So colorful.  One of the charms of the Tibetan tradition. 

To give you an idea of how these sutra recitations sound you can watch this video. I recorded it years later at Tharlam Monastery in Boudhanath, Kathmandu.



It was intense

I think Kopan is a very powerful place. That whole month there was very intense for me, but in a good way.

Not only I was living one of my dreams but I also had many strange experiences during my meditations. I felt a strong energy in me, specially at night, which was not always comfortable.

A couple of times I became conscious during my sleep, clearly listening to the monks chanting as if I was still sitting inside the gompa.

On other occasions I woke up already in meditation. I even had once a lucid dream which I was able to dissolve to enter a state of meditation.

One day I had the opportunity to meet the abbot of the monastery to ask some questions.

I could barely speak when I was in front of him. I was very emotional, a bit overwhelmed and overexcited. Or perhaps it was because of his own presence. I don't know.

Smiling to my tears of joy and excitement he said, "It is a good sign." That was our whole conversation.

Abbot of Kopan Monastery
Geshe Lhundrup Rigsel 1941 - 2011.  The abbot I met in 2005.  He always had a beautiful smile on his face.

I came back to Kopan in 2013 but I didn't feel anything like this anymore.

I have no idea why. Well, if you've read my last few posts you know that this whole trip in India was so intense and transformational for me, so I shouldn't be surprised.

You can read all about the one month course and about Kopan monastery in:

But it was not really my path

As you can see, for a long time I felt very attracted to Buddhism. I also used to read many books about it.

My first book was "The Teaching of Buddha." I think my father gave it to me, or perhaps I just took it from his library. I'm sure he got it from a hotel in Japan. Karma in action! Lol.

Another one of my favorite Buddhist books is The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rimpoche. It's a beautiful book and a must read for anybody who is interested in Buddhist meditation.

Sogyal Rimpoche himself actually appears in the Little Buddha movie.

So yes, I do feel a deep connection with the Buddhist tradition, but when I was in Kopan, even though I was having a wonderful experience, I realized that this was not really my path.

Although they would say Buddhism is not a religion, to me it felt just like that.

During this one moth course I noticed there were a lot of rituals, which are very similar to the rituals in the Catholic church. One of the morning prayers reminded me of the Our Father.

I was not the only one to think like this. I had a roommate from Mexico. After one week he decided to leave the course. He said to me, "I didn't leave that Catholic church to come to this!"

I also didn't like so much the way they express the teachings. I'm not sure how to explain this, it's just a little bit too devotional or ceremonious for me. There is nothing wrong with it, but it is simply not for me.

I still love the practical philosophy but I'm not so fond of the form anymore, at least not from the Tibetan tradition. It became even more clear for me then that my path is yoga.

Even during this one month course, although I read a few Buddhist books, I was as usual naturally drawn to yoga books.

I found in the library a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, with commentaries of Paramahansa Yogananda. I think that was the first time that I came across that version of the Gita. Even today I still read that same book.


There is one teaching of the Buddhist tradition that I really connect with though. I even tried to learn it by heart when I was at Kopan.

It is called The Heart Sutra. It's all about emptiness, my favorite topic, and it reminds me of the Nirvana Shatkam by Swami Shankaracharya.

This is actually one of the main reasons why I love the Little Buddha. It was in this movie where I heard about this sutra for the very first time.

No God and no soul?

Another thing that I didn't like about Buddhism is that they don't believe in a God and in a soul.

The reason is that they don't believe in a supreme being that created the Universe, who is constantly watching us and judging us for our good or bad deeds.

That's totally all right for me, I don't believe in that concept of God either.

The other reason is that Buddhists don't believe that there is anything permanent, without a change and independent from everything else existing in this Universe.

This also makes total sense to me. I totally agree with this view, 100%.

But I do believe there is a reality beyond this material world which is indeed permanent, without a change and independent from everything else.

The Indian yogis called this reality Brahman and Atman, roughly translated as God, in its unmanifested aspect, and the individual soul.

For the yogis, Brahman and Atman are one and the same, and the only true reality. Everything else is just pure illusion.

For me this makes a lot more sense. I feel I really connect with these teachings naturally, and without effort. That's why it is clear to me that my path is yoga.

Of course, all these differences are just semantics.

Different traditions like to use different words, and ways of speaking, to talk about the same things. Nobody is wrong and nobody is right. In my opinion, ultimate everything is all the same. All paths leads to the same goal, but you gotta choose one path.

Well, in a way that's not a correct statement. I didn't really choose my path. It was chosen for me. This is my karma. I will talk more about that on a future blog.

Should I take refuge?

At the end of this One Month Course at Kopan there was the option to participate in a ceremony called Taking Refuge.

In this initiation you take refuge in what is known as the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings of Buddha) and the Sangha (the community of practitioners of Buddhism).

You choose then to commit yourself to follow the teachings of Buddha, and of course, to put them in practice. You even get a Buddhist name. Basically, you become a Buddhist.

For somebody coming from a Catholic background it didn't make much sense to become Buddhist. Although I don't really consider myself a Catholic, I still didn't see the need to become a Buddhist

I did consider it for a moment. Like I said, I do like the Buddhist teachings, but at the same time I knew that this was not my path. So I decided not to participate in this ceremony at the end of the course.

Even before I traveled to India, when I was still living in Ecuador, I attended some lectures by a Buddhist Lama (teacher) in a meditation center.

At the end of the lectures we were also giving the option to take refuge. I didn't do it then either, and I also didn't do it in 2013 when I came back to Kopan.

Although I still have interest in studying Buddhism, and to participate in future retreats, I have no intention to take refuge and become a Buddhist. I'm clear about what my path is.

Yoga and Buddhism

I've heard many times people saying that yoga and Buddhism are a good combination.

When I was at Kopan and I mentioned to others that I am more into yoga, the typical response, even from the monks giving the course was: "You know, yoga and Buddhism combine perfectly with each other."

To be honest I get a bit annoyed by this answer.

What they mean to say is that you can keep a dedicated asana practice, the physical yoga postures, and complement your practice with Buddhist teachings. This is actually what many yoga teachers do.

But just as in Buddhism, in the yoga tradition there is also a vast practical philosophy that is summarized mainly in the Bhagavad Gita and in Patanjali Yoga Sutras.

This is why I wrote before in Yoga Without Mindfulness is not Yoga:

"Yoga is not just body training. Actually yoga is mainly and foremost mental training. Yoga it's all about mastering the mind through meditation. The physical yoga practices are there just as a support for that mental training."

You can spend a lifetime just studying and putting in practice the teachings of these two texts. Not to mention you could also dive into Vedanta philosophy.

Siddharta Krishna mentions in Vedanta, Yoga and Hinduism: Understanding the Differences.

  • "Yoga lies at the very foundation of the Upanishadic wisdom, because the teachings that we find in the Upanishads are the experiences of masters which they acquired through the practice of yoga, and
  • today, to fully experientially understand the teachings of the Upanishads, which is known as Nididhyasana, the practical path of yoga is essential."

Of course there is nothing wrong with practicing yoga and Buddhism together. Yoga practitioners who do both are basically Buddhist complementing their practice with yoga asanas. And that is all good.

I simply prefer to focus only on one path, which for me is yoga.

I continued with my journey

After the one month meditation course at Kopan was over I spend a few days in Kathamandu. Then I made my way back to India. I went straight to Ranchi to visit the children school that Paramahana Yogananda founded in 1917.

To be continued. This story continues in This is Why 2005 Became the Best Year of My Life

I'll tell you more about that experience on my next blog post. This is where my first year in India come to an end, and the moment when I made one of the most impactful decisions in my life. The decision that has brought me to where I am today.

Don't forget to subscribe by mail to make sure you don't miss the next update. Once you subscribe you'll also be able to download my free meditation eBook.

In my few recent blog updates I've been going back in time, connecting the dots that leads to where I am today. To get some context you might like to read my previous blogs related to this story:


I would love to hear what you think. Are you a dedicated yogi? Are you a Buddhist? Do you practice both? Don't hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Thank you!

2 comments:

  1. Thank you very much, Marco, for your great blog. I've been following your blog for several years. Inspired by your posts, I have been to Mysore three years ago. But lacking your courage, I am still living my life in the mode of living to work, and working to live. However, reading your posts from time to time, I feel like I am experiencing another kind of life - living to follow the heart, exploring what is the true meaning of life. I enjoy reading the all the posts. Thank you again!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh thanks to you for your comment and for reading my blog.🙏 I’m really happy to hear that you find it inspiring. Thinks happen at the right time and as you already know, we gotta follow our own path 😊. I hope you’ll be able to find a little time to do something that is meaningful to you, beyond working to live. All the best.

      Delete