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American Hinduism - celebrating Thoreau Day
He wrote, "'Immemorial custom is transcendent law,' says Manu. That is, it was the custom of the gods before men used it. The fault of our New England custom is that it is memorial. What is morality but immemorial custom? Conscience is the chief of conservatives. 'Perform the settled functions,' says Kreeshna in the Bhagvat Geeta, 'action is preferable to inaction. The journey of thy mortal frame may not succeed from inaction.'—'A man’s own calling with all its faults, ought not to be forsaken. Every undertaking is involved in its faults as the fire in its smoke.'—'The man who is acquainted with the whole, should not drive those from their works who are slow of comprehension, and less experienced than himself.'—'Wherefore, O Arjoon, resolve to fight,'—is the advice of the God to the irresolute soldier who fears to slay his best friends. It is a sublime conservatism; as wide as the world, and as unwearied as time; preserving the universe with Asiatic anxiety, in that state in which it appeared to their minds."
During his Vanaprastha at Walden Pond, he contemplated how New England ice was sold and transported to India. "Thus it appears that the sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, drink at my well. In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat Geeta, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial; and I doubt if that philosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of existence, so remote is its sublimity from our conceptions. I lay down my book and go to my well for water, and lo! there I meet the servant of the Bramin, priest of Brahma and Vishnu and Indra, who still sits in his temple on the Ganges reading the Vedas, or dwells at the root of a tree with his crust and water jug. I meet his servant come to draw water for his master, and our buckets as it were grate together in the same well. The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges."
He saw here, on the far side of the world, theology was new enough that it might be utterly abandoned in Vedasamnyasa. Here, where there were yet no places sacred enough for pilgrimage, all the land was equally sacred, and even common people might easily accomplish Tirtha. Here, where there were no ancestral gods, a person could adopt a personal god, and the gods might take new forms.
American Hinduism by subtle degrees of such absolute freedom was drawn away from Indian nationalism into a pure practice of Yoga.
American Yoga has in its history found a more profound Bhakti Yoga: seeking for Brahma in Brahmacharya, only to discover the shortcomings of gurus and respected authorities - surpassing these gurus and respected authorities. The ancient words here are read in our native language, presented, clearly for the first time, without any lens of culture or spirituality - thanks to Thoreau, and others like him.
Thoreau, in quoting the Buddha, could not have better expressed the hope and purpose of this American Brahmacharya, "What I have said is the supreme truth; may my auditors arrive at complete annihilation; may they follow the excellent way, which conducts to the state of Buddha; may all the auditors, who hear me, become Buddhas."
Thoreau's Krishna has since spoken to each individual American as the Dharma subtly shaped our destiny, presenting itself at every moment of ethical crisis and triumph. Krishna was there at our ethical crisis on the White Sands of New Mexico, urging the Yogi Lt. Colonel J Robert Oppenheimer to not fear his duty (he said “access to the Vedas is the greatest privilege this century may claim over all previous centuries.”) Krishna was there when, in compassion for the animals and nature itself, we conserved our wilderness for its own sake. Krishna urged us against our brothers in our own Civil War. In our songs, in our language, in our very being, Krishna was introduced by Thoreau's seed into all our greater faith traditions until Krishna bears fruit today as an expression of our cultureless culture itself: our desire to be free, not only politically, but free from distress; our selfless defense of the weak and friends; our urgency of living.