Thursday, August 28, 2014

Yoga Life Column by Ashok Malhotra

Yoga Life Column (June 2014)
Meditation in Action

Janaka was a famous king of India who had mastered the art of meditation in action. Having perfected a number of meditation skills, a monk boasted that he was as good as King Janaka. To test his special capabilities, the monk approached the king and said, "I have mastered the art of meditation in action and am as good as you. If you want proof of my mastery, put me through a test." After listening to the monk intently, the king replied, "I am delighted that you have mastered the art of meditation in action. There is a simple way to check it out. Here is a task for you. Take this wine goblet filled to its brim. Walk through every nook and corner of the palace and come back to me without spilling a single drop."

As the monk picked up the wine goblet, he told himself that he would fix his attention only on the goblet and would not let anything to distract him. With this determination, he walked through the entire palace, watching very carefully his every step so that not a single drop of wine spilled on the ground. Since he was successful in his concentration, he came back to the king and boasted that no one on this earth was equal to him in meditation.

After listening to the monk, the king said, "I am impressed with your power of concentration. You have proved your skills but there is another part to the test. Now take the goblet of wine and walk through the entire palace, make stops to talk to the guards, watch the dancers, look at the paintings and chandeliers, observe the cooks preparing a delicious meal, watch the royal children learning their lessons in the school, smell the flowers in the garden, talk to the ministers, and hold discussion with the justice of the peace. While you are enjoying the panorama of royal life within the boundaries of the palace, see to it that not a single drop of wine spills. If you can accomplish this simple feat then you have perfected the art of meditation in action."

Moral: Live your daily life as meditation in action!

Yoga Life Column by Ashok Malhotra

Yoga Life Column (July 2014)

What is the real meaning of the Yoga, which is so popular in the West? This question was asked by a student who was taking my course on the Philosophy and Psychology of Yoga. He offered me an opportunity to go beyond the philosophical definition of yoga to present a more general understanding of the concept. I started thinking about how to talk about this very important concept in the most genuine way while still keeping its profundity intact.
The word "yoga" comes from the root "Yuj", which means union, harmony or balance. Yoga can be understood as the union of the ordinary-day-today (socially constructed) self with the real self. It can also be grasped as harmony in the three parts of the human being consisting of the bodily, emotional and mental self. Furthermore, it can also be construed as the balance brought about through the physical postures, harmony in the emotions through the breathing exercises and serenity of the mind through the meditation exercises.

Balance is a simple as well as a complex concept. It is simple because it means bringing together different parts so that once they are joined together, they will not topple. This concept becomes complex when it means harmony, togetherness, fitting into each other diverse parts and much more.
Let's look at it in a simple way first. When yoga uses the term balance, it means the fitting together of diverse parts.

For yoga, a human being is a complex creature. It is made up of three parts of the body, heart, and mind. All of these make up one's day to day ordinary self. But there is also another aspect of a human being, which is one's silent self. This silent self is called variously as one's essence, one's soul, one's mind or one's spirit. The three parts of the body, heart and mind make up the psycho-physical aspect or ordinary self of a human being. However, the silent self is the spirit or conscience part of a human being.

The goal of yoga is to bring harmony in the person by offering physical exercises (asanas) to form good habits of the body, breathing exercises (pranayama) to form good habits of the heart and meditation exercises (dhyana) to form good habits of the mind. Once these superior habits of the body, heart and mind are formed, the entire person will be able to achieve a sense of balance. This harmony in the diverse parts of a human being creates a perfect balance in the physical and psychological organism. In the yogic terminology, this perfection in the psychophysical self makes the body and the mind a perfect mirror to express the silent self, which is our conscience or spiritual self.

However, there is a big difference between expressing the ordinary or psycho-physical or talkative self, which is conditioned by the social norms and the silent self that is full of joy, happiness and contentment. The ordinary-talkative self is the stressed-out one, which is full worries and anxieties and is often confused, whereas the silent self is happy and joyful. It experiences the delight of the very fact of existing. In contrast to the ordinary-talkative stressed out self,  the silent self is content. The ordinary self represents imbalance whereas the silent self is the embodiment of balance. According to Yoga, a person who is balanced is together, is healed, is whole and thus is holy.

Exercise for this month:
Caution: This exercise is offered as a suggestion. If done correctly on a regular basis and for a long time, it might help.
Sit in the easy posture. Put your thumbs on the index fingers and place your hands on the knees. Close both of your eyes. Breathe in and out. Observe the flow of your breathing. It will feel good. As you breathe in, think about the sound SO. When you breathe out, think about the sound HUM. While you are breathing in SO and breathing out HUM become aware of the sounds around you. Notice these sounds but do not linger on them. Go back to breathing in SO and breathing out HUM. Continue with breathing in SO and breathing out HUM for a few minutes and then stop. Take a break for one minute. Then continue with breathing in SO and breathing out HUM for two more minutes. It will feel very good.
Start your day by doing this exercise every morning and end your day by doing this exercise every evening for five-six minutes. Power up the engine of your life with this simple exercise each day!

Yoga Life Column by Ashok Malhotra

Yoga Life Column (August 2014)

Students of yoga are usually curious about how to define or grasp the concept of health. In the West, the notion of health is intertwined with our emphasis on running, jogging and spending time on the tread mill. The goal is to bring the heart rate up by speeding the blood flow to different parts of the body so that they will be cleansed. However, the yoga system does not emphasize running or jogging or going on the jogging belt. Instead it offers very simple stretch exercises as a way to sound health.
The Western view lays stress on running and jogging. This points in the direction of vigorous exercise so that the heart keeps going. Whereas the yoga system emphasizes the slowing down of the entire process so that the inner changes in the body or the entire organism take place.
The two outlooks are based on similar concepts of health but offer different ways to refurbish it. Both in the West as well as in Yoga, the goal is to restore to the human being perfect health so that one could live a long life of contentment and joy.

However, there is a difference. The Western view is based on the idea that a human being is a unique entity that is set apart from the world. Its job is to understand the laws of the universe in order to control and lord over the external world. Using this model, the Western emphasis on running, jogging and walking on the treadmill to speed up the heart rate is understandable. By controlling one's metabolism, one controls one's body and health.

Whereas the idea behind the yoga system is that we are organically connected to this earth as well as to the entire universe. Thus we need to work with the external world by getting recharged with its energy to improve ourselves and others in harmony with nature. In contrast to the Western view, Yoga's emphasis is on the eco-logical balance rather than control of nature.
Yoga follows the view of health as understood by the ancient Indian system of Ayurvedic medicine. It believes in three doshas or humors that control our health and well-being. These three doshas are a combination of air and water; water and fire and a congealed form of air, water and fire. If there is an imbalance between and among any of the three doshas, it leads to disease and ill-health.
The goal of physical postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation exercises (dhyana) is to correct any imbalance among these three doshas so that a person stays healthy and strong and enjoys a long life of contentment and joy.

Note: We might devote some of the future columns on how to achieve physical balance through moderation in eating foods, emotional balance through breathing exercises and mental balance through the meditation exercises.

Exercise for this month:
Caution: This exercise is offered as a suggestion. If done correctly on a regular basis and for a long time, it might help.
Meditation on Sound and Silence: Sit in the easy posture. Keep your back, neck and head straight up. Close your eyes. Breathe in and out. Become aware of the sounds around you. Pay attention to the sounds followed by silence, followed by sounds, followed by silence and so on. Keep your mind on the rhythm of sound, silence, sound, silence and so on. After doing this for two minutes, go back to normal breathing.
When you are trying out this meditation exercise the first time, practice it for two minutes. Go back to your normal breathing for two minutes. During the first week, practice it for a total of ten minutes at each sitting with a break for 1-2 minutes of regular breathing. You can also do this meditation exercise while you lie down on your back or sitting in a chair. This exercise comes in handy when you are taking a long flight.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Will Pakistan Become a Failed State or Change Its Direction?

Will Pakistan Become a Failed State or Change Its Direction?
Laina Farhat-Holzman
August 9, 2014

Did the US go to war with the wrong countries when we took on Iraq and Afghanistan? Perhaps we should have gone after our “good allies” Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, who were really responsible for 9/11. This is, of course, wishful thinking considering the many ways that we need relations with these two countries, so we hold our noses and deal with them as “frenemies,” not friends.

Pakistan grows more troubling by the day, with the Islamists increasingly violent and the secular society under constant threat. The Pakistani Intelligence Service (ISI) has long used Islamists to carry out their agendas in Afghanistan (they created the Taliban) and against India (terror attacks such as the horrific one in Mumbai a few years ago).

It is important to understand why the ISI does this. Their notion of protecting Pakistan is based on a long-standing fear of India, their much larger and ultimately more powerful neighbor. Both countries have developed nuclear capability: Pakistan, out of unreasonable fear of India, and India out of reasonable fear that the Pakistanis are crazy enough to consider using such a weapon. Both countries have spent money on developing nukes to intimidate each other while failing to spend the money educating their young and cleaning up their air, water, and crumbling infrastructure. The paranoid Pakistanis don't realize that India is afraid of China, also a nuclear power, more than they fear Pakistan.

Pakistan began in 1947 as a secular breakaway state where Muslims would be safe. India, also in 1947, became a secular state where all its multi-ethnic, multi-religious population could enjoy the freedoms of the modern world. India's long romance with the Soviet Union hampered its development, but when the Cold War ended and India came out of its fog, it began the long-delayed process of joining the modern secular world. They still have far to go, but they are on the right path.

Pakistan, however, is in a downward trajectory, ever since one military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq, found it politically expedient to promote a most backward form of Islam. During his reign, Sharia law replaced much secular law, with consequences such as the growing floods of “honor killings,” blasphemy executions, and assassinations of journalists, academics, or politicians whose views Islamists didn't like. They also have the honor of being the last repository of polio; cynical  clerics claim that polio vacine is a western plot to make their children sterile.

Their latest horror is the public stoning of a pregnant woman who married a man her family did not like. They beat her right outside the courthouse and then finished her off, stoning her to death with bricks. Her murderous father justified this as an honor killing of a disobedient woman, and said he had no regret. He thinks his religion justifies this. What an embarrassment to Pakistan!

Pakistani immigrants to the British Isles have taken their terrible values with them with dire consequences. The British only now realize that their indulgent immigration policies threaten their very survival as a modern state. Canada has also suffered from Pakistani immigration, as have many European states. In addition, the danger does not come from Pakistan alone, but from a global Islamist movement that lures the young. Every modern state is in danger.

But there is a glimmer of hope. India has just elected a new Prime Minister (Narenda Modi), someone with backbone, who invited the Pakistan's PM, Nawaz Sharif, to attend his inauguration. If these two can develop a relationship, much could change.

When India no longer threatens them, there is no need for the ISI to support Islamists. By stopping anti-India propaganda, these two nations could benefit each other. Secular Pakistanis love India's movies, foods, and TV. If India no longer had to fear Pakistan, India's own Muslim population would just be Indians, not perceived as potential agents of Pakistani terror.

Even Afghanistan might be able to get out from under when Pakistan no longer poisons its survival. This could be a win/win for everybody (other than Islamists). Are Pakistan and India smart enough to do this?

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Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at or