The following is a keynote address I gave at the Dandelion Seed Herb Conference in Olympia, WA on Oct 11-13, 2013.
The Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths are the bedrock of Buddhism, what everything else builds upon and refers back to. They are simple yet profound.
In the Nibbedhika Sutta it’s laid out, ‘Stress should be known. The cause by which stress comes into play should be known. The diversity in stress should be known. The result of stress should be known. The cessation of stress should be known. The path of practice for the cessation of stress should be known.’ Or, as James Baldwin says, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
I think this is interesting, and challenging, as it’s not my natural inclination, necessarily, to move toward stress, my instinct is simply to end it. One piece of knowledge that I have gained from yoga, however, is that our issues live in our tissues, so even if I just put an end to a specific stress or stressor in my life, the imprint of that dukkha lives on in my heart and body. So then what the Buddha prescribes is a holistic program to free ourselves from dukkha-over and over again. This work doesn’t end, as a yoga student reminded me this week: it’s not about getting enlightened once and for all, it’s about coming back to the moment again and again.
Yoga and service is a big topic in the western yoga world right now. It comes out of a lineage of karma yoga, of seva, that has roots in India. What is implied but less explored within this is that ‘service’ within yoga almost always involves a teacher offering yoga to a group of people that they are not a part of, and that the yoga teacher is in a privileged position in society. Usually these service projects are designed to be taught by a volunteer teacher; the teacher does not receive monetary payment. What the teacher does receive is the profound cultural exchange and awareness of what a community of people very unlike them (in socio-economic factors) goes through in the world, and how that shows up in their mental, emotional, and physical health. Now, just sharing these profound teachings is a gift, and we exist in a capitalist world where yoga teachers need to be paid; thus service projects are largely available to people who rely on other sources of income.
For the past 14 years, I have been an activist in the anti-globalization movement. This has meant different things at different moments. In 2000, it meant showing up with thousands of others in the streets of Washington D.C. to protest the International Monetary Fund. In 2003, this meant traveling to Guatemala to study the effect of globalization on the indigenous Mam people of the valley beneath Volcan Tajamulco. In 2004, it meant going to Washington D.C. with a close friend to attend the March for Reproductive Justice, one of the largest mobilizations in Washington D.C. history. From 2000-2005, this meant annually protesting the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, one of the training centers for the military that enforce globalization in the U.S. and all over Latin America. In 2008, this meant founding a community health center with a focus on the local: medicine, food, people. For the past 5 years, this has meant being a member of a CSA, in which I meet my neighbors who care about local, quality food, and I get to meet the farmer (depending on which CSA in my neighborhood in Brooklyn) and in which we are less reliant on the unjust and unsustainable global food system, and are eating in accordance with our climate, which makes our bodies healthier.
And, in 2012, I started offering a yoga retreat in Tulum, Mexico. Yes, there are contradictions, and yes it is complicated.