We’re Always In Yoga School

Caligraphy by Hisamatsu Shin'ichi
Caligraphy by Hisamatsu Shin’ichi

by Jeff McMahon

I realized this weekend that it’s time for me to go back to school. I’m hungry for the rapid growth we can find in rigorous schoolwork, so returning to school is a delicious thought.

When I think of returning to school, I think of studying what interests me most, which is yoga philosophy.

But this revelation had scarcely aged a day before two teachings came my way, yesterday, that shed light on the study of yoga philosophy:

FIRST, as I rode north from Hyde Park on the Cottage Grove bus, I read a blog post by Ram Dass about the simple teaching he received from Neem Karoli Baba, known to his students as Maharaj-ji:

I kept hoping to get esoteric teachings from Maharaj-ji, but when I asked, “How can I become enlightened?” he said things like, “Love everybody, serve everybody, and remember God,” or “Feed people.” When I asked, “How can I know God?” Maharaj-ji said, “The best form to worship God is in all forms. God is in everything.” These simple teachings, to love, serve, and remember, became the guideposts for my life.

Maharaj-ji’s method of teaching was simple: unconditional love. Is there a more important teaching than unconditional love?

Does one find that teaching in school?

Ram Dass and Neem Karoli Baba. Photo from RamDass.org
Ram Dass and Neem Karoli Baba. Photo from RamDass.org

THEN, later that evening, I had 13 minutes to enjoy the warmth of the Powell’s bookstore on Roosevelt before the Halsted bus would arrive to carry me home. At Powell’s I found a book of lectures by Hisamatsu Shin’ichi, a Zen Buddhist scholar who taught at Kyoto University and the Harvard Divinity School in the mid-20th century.

I opened the book at random and found Hisamatsu discussing the necessity of seeking true insight when studying the Buddha Dharma.

People are apt to view “true insight,” he says, as a particular interpretation or understanding of the Buddha Dharma. But true insight is not about having a specific intellectual insight into the Buddha Dharma, however correct and objective that insight might be.

“The true insight isn’t an objective and exact understanding of the Buddha-Dharma, or a grasp of its theoretical and philosophic principles,” writes Hisamatsu. “Rather, true insight must be the living Buddha Dharma. That is to say, it is the Buddha Dharma which is true insight.”

Yoga philosophy is useful when it reminds us what we already know. And I was reminded in this moment that we don’t need yoga philosophy. We just need yoga.

And to study yoga, we don’t need to return to school. We’re always in school.

Teachers and Teachings:

Simple Truth by Ram Dass

Hisamatsu Shin’ichi

Critical Sermons of the Zen Tradition by Hisamatsu Shin’ichi

Remembering What We Already Know by Whitney Roberts Logan


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