The Sacred Cow Talks are free educational presentations on the fundamental philosophical teachings of yoga and meditation as shared by Lou and Marilyn Guadagnino in Rochester, New York. These classes are given in a casual and impromptu style but they offer classical teachings on Vedanta and Tantra as presented by authoritative texts and scriptures by renowned and highly respected yogis and scholars.
We are sharing this blog as a way of documenting, organizing, and summarizing what is taught in each class for regular attendees and to expand The Sacred Cow Talks to others who cannot attend in person. These teachings are given free of charge as our way of honoring the altruistic motivation of all authentic meditation and yogic schools. These traditions offer methods and understandings to ease suffering, increase joy, and shed light on how to manage our minds and bodies to reach our highest potential individually and collectively.
We hope you benefit from them and enjoy the experience. Be sure to check out this blog regularly because we will be updating it after every class with new insights, references, sources and suggestions to help you learn how to manage your mind, body, and life. – Lou and Marilyn Guadagnino
Extracting the unique and life changing wisdom from yoga and meditation can feel like you are trying to suck the ocean through a straw: it’s daunting. It would take an entire lifetime of reading just to cover the basic scriptures and texts of Sanātana Dharma (popularly known as Hinduism). Include Buddhism, and you will need at least a second life.
However understanding the philosophies that run like a common thread through the scriptures and texts of Sanātana Dharma and Buddhism is necessary if you want to experience the deep profound insights from your yoga and meditation practices.
Philosophy in meditation and yoga is not speculative thinking. Philosophy explains and describes actual experiences and insights that each student will encounter sooner or later. Practicing meditation and yoga without having at the very least, a basic understanding of what these great spiritual texts teach, is like trying to drive your car in a foreign country without GPS and without knowing the language.
The Sacred Cow Talks were created to help you understand the goals of spirituality according to the ancient meditation and yoga traditions as well as the suggested methods to reach those goals. We invite you to join us on Thursday evenings in Rochester, New York at our office located in the East End area.
Sacred Cow Talks – September 2022
During this talk we were introduced to two fundamental philosophies: Sāṅkhya and Yoga, as they are presented in The Bhagavad Gita (Song of God), an essential text of Sanātana Dharma a.k.a Hinduism. Sāṅkhya distinguishes the real from the unreal by defining the real as that which is eternal and the unreal as that which is transient and temporary. Yoga teaches many methods to attain union with the real.
At the start of the Bhagavad Gita we find Arjuna, a righteous warrior, psychologically paralyzed in an impossible conundrum. As a warrior Arjuna is sworn to defend righteousness (Dharma) and protect the innocent. However, unfortunately for Arjuna, his cousins are the cause of the unrighteousness he must defeat.
Just as the war between these two branches of the same family and their massive armies is about to begin, Arjuna throws down his bow and arrow and says he won’t fight. He turns to his Guru, Krishna, who is acting as his charioteer for advice. Krishna tells Arjuna that since he is a warrior who has sworn a lifelong oath to defend Dharma he has no choice. He must fight and fight to win. Krishna then explains Sāṅkhya to Arjuna: All living beings, human and otherwise, have an eternal soul which was never born and which never dies. Only the body is born and dies as dictated by its past actions (karmas). Therefore Arjuna should realize there is no contradiction between his duty as a warrior and his spiritual destiny.
Krishna goes on to describe Yoga as a variety of techniques and methods to realize unity with one’s eternal soul and achieve non-attachment for the body and all things transitory. Krishna teaches Arjuna the yogic practices of self-inquiry, meditation, selfless service, and devotion to God.
Take aways from this talk: While meditating become aware of the stillness within. Your mind and body may be restless but all of your nervous energy is coming out of a deep stillness. Recognize the stillness within yourself as the reality of Sāṅkhya, and your restlessness as the unreal, the transient. All yogic paths: self-inquiry, meditation, selfless service, devotion to God, and others lead to the same goal: Unity with your own eternal being.
Do not misunderstand the religious connotations of these teachings. Sanātana Dharma does not mandate any doctrine, faith, or belief system. Everyone is free to believe whatever is natural to them. The point of the teachings is to personally experience and validate the real from the unreal and to discover what methods help you the most.
Source: The Bhagavad Gita: There are currently many translations of Bhagavad Gita available. We recommend choosing a Bhagavad Gita that is a collaboration between a Sanskrit scholar and a recognized yogi.
Sacred Cow Talks – October 2022
During this talk we were introduced to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. A sutra is a stitch (think suture) which can be translated as a pithy statement. A sutra is a whole bunch of wisdom reduced to a small dot. Patanjali was an author, compiler of classical yogic teachings, and Sanskrit grammarian who is a highly respected authority on yoga and all things Sanskrit. Patanjali didn’t invent anything but instead compiled what he considered to be the indispensable teachings of yoga. His opinions have been embraced by all the major traditions of Hinduism. In Talk Two we started to explore the kernels of Patanjali’s insights into yoga:
Patanjali’s Sutras 1-12
- This is the beginning of the instruction in yoga
- Yoga is control of the thought-waves in the mind
- When the thought-waves are stilled we abide in our real nature
- At other times, when we are not in the state of yoga, we remain identified with the thought waves our minds.
- There are five kinds of thought-waves – some are painful, others are not painful. These are known as sheyas and preyas respectively
- These five kinds of thought-waves are: right knowledge, wrong knowledge, verbal delusion, sleep and memory
- The right kinds of knowledge are: direct perception, inference, scriptural testimony
- Wrong knowledge is knowledge that is false and not based on the true nature of the object being observed
- Verbal delusion arises when words do not correspond to reality
- Sleep is a wave of thought about nothingness.
- Memory is when perceived objects are not forgotten, but come back to consciousness.
- They are controlled by means of practice and non-attachment
Patanjali’s first sutra is telling. He defines everything he is about to share with us as “… the beginning of instruction in yoga.” He doesn’t want us to become bigheaded or mistake his words as a treasure map. Sutras are not shortcuts to enlightenment. Sutras offer us opportunities to gain insights into our existence, self, and being but not without work. Sutras 2-12 outline the work.
Patanjali defines yoga as stilling the thought-waves in our minds and discovering our true nature which he describes as samadhi (Sah-mah-dhee). Samadhi refers to consciousness or awareness that is free of all thought forms. We already know samadhi from our own experience since our minds were once completely free of thoughts, when we were infants and small children, and yet our minds were most certainly aware and awake. Empty the mind of thoughts, memories, sensory impressions, and you are left with samadhi, which is the goal of yoga.
Patanjali categorizes thought-waves into five types: right knowledge, wrong knowledge, verbal delusion, sleep and memory. He warns us that some of these thought-waves cause pain and others do not bring pain because they are easier to transcend and experience samadhi.
He describes examples of right knowledge as direct perception, inference, and scriptural authority. Direct perception is when we perceive something for ourselves. It is something we directly experience. Inference is when we correctly perceive within ourselves something we have learned from accomplished yogis or written texts. For example, we learn about the concept of samadhi and are able to infer it as operating within ourselves. We recognize that thoughtless awareness is the core of our moment by moment conscious awareness. Scriptural authority is a bit trickier to understand because scriptures in yogic traditions are not the same thing as scriptures in Middle Eastern Religions. In yoga, scriptures along with the spoken words of yogis who have attained enlightenment, are not considered mandatory doctrine to be blindly believed and followed. Blind faith is highly discouraged. Instead students are directed to read the scriptures as well as listen to the words of their teachers and accept them only after verifying the truth of them for themselves.
Wrong knowledge is defined as knowledge that is not based on the true nature of the object being observed. For example, if we draw incorrect conclusions about samadhi based on our assumptions rather than our direct experience of samadhi our assumptions are wrong knowledge. The same is true for observing anything. Many people concluded the earth was flat because they couldn’t see past the horizon and they made many bad decisions based on their wrong knowledge.
Verbal delusion is when our words do not accurately describe reality. Thanks to social media verbal delusion is at an all time high. During our recent pandemic people were literally making things up or promoting false statements that harmed or destroyed lives.
Patanjali described sleep as a thought about nothingness. In yoga there are typically four states of consciousness: waking state, dreaming state, sleep or dreamless sleep state, and the turiya state which is related to samadhi. Turiya is unbroken, continuous, without beginning or end and runs through all the other states of consciousness. It is also known as the Witness because it observes all the other states but can never be observed itself. We typically think of the dreamless sleep state as being a sort of void but according to Patanjali dreamless sleep is actually a thought about nothingness.
Memory is when we perceive an object, draw our attention away from the object, and a mental impression of the object remains.
Patanjali tells us that all thought-waves can be controlled and even subdued through practice and non-attachment. Non-attachment is not repression, subjugation, or cold indifference. Non-attachment is simply allowing all thought-waves to come and go.
Sacred Cow Talks – November 2022
After our introduction to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1-12 which defined the goal of yoga as samadhi (“When the thought-waves are stilled”) we reviewed Patanjali’s advise on how to prepare ourselves to learn yoga. In India, yoga is serious stuff. It is one of the oldest spiritual traditions in the world. The goal of yoga is liberation (moksha), the end of suffering. According to Hinduism and Buddhism all sentient beings are caught is an infinite loop of pain they call Samsara.
Samsara is the law of karma in operation on an individual, global, and universal level. All of our thoughts, words, and actions naturally produce reactions and these reactions collectively interact to create the circumstances of our lives and the life of our planet.
Reincarnation is the natural process of the law of karma. Cause and effect continue until they are neutralized which is the goal of yoga. Our births including our physical bodies, parents, siblings, family members, the circumstances we are born into, and all matter of all things that make up our lives, are reactions from our past actions (karmas).
Our reactions to the circumstances of our lives now, caused by our past karmas, create the conditions of our future lives. Yoga’s goal and purpose is to end all our karmas, good and bad, positive and negative, so we can once again rest in our original nature which is samadhi.
However a student’s readiness to receive instruction is as important as the instructions themselves. An old Indian story states that a lioness’s milk can only be stored in a gold cup because the milk is so powerful it will corrode every other substance. In the same way only a student with gold-like qualities is capable of holding and fully benefitting from the teachings of yoga.
Patanjali’s Sutras – Skills to Practice for the Preparation of Learning Yoga
- Selfless Service (Karma Yoga)
- Correct Discipline
- Ritual in Everyday Life
- The Importance of Starting Where We Are
- Understanding Non-Attachment
Tapas often translated as “heat,” or “friction,” more precisely refers to the challenging and sometimes irritating experiences we encounter while developing a worthy discipline such as meditation or yoga. Most of us begin our practice with a hope of gaining something. We imagine ourselves in better conditions or we hope to become an upgraded version of ourselves.
But our actual daily practice turns out to be very different from what we imagined. Rather than feeling calmer we find ourselves feeling more agitated. Rather than feeling peaceful we feel restless. Rather than feeling inspired we find ourselves resisting. If we push ourselves to practice we feel like fakes and if we don’t follow through on practice we feel like failures. This friction, this back and forth, this ambivalence is tapas. Tapa’s internal friction eventually burns out our inferior motives, desires, hopes, and our need to prove ourselves to ourselves and others. Tapas burns out anything that obscures our experience and knowledge of samadhi.
Patanjali has a fascinating definition of Study. According to Patanjali and other yogis the practice of study refers to either reading and contemplating the words of enlightened yoga masters or yogic texts. But it also refers to the practice of repeating a mantra silently over and over again which is called Japa. We might understandably wonder how learning about the practices of yoga and meditation and concepts describing and explaining their common goal of attaining samadhi relates to something as simple as repeating the same sound over and over again.
The answer is simpler than you might think. They both reach the same goal. Samadhi, the goal of meditation and yoga, is our natural state. Samadhi is not a unique state of consciousness. Samadhi is consciousness in its most simplest form. Samadhi is conscious awareness. Samadhi is what observes everything that we become aware of in our minds and bodies. Therefore both knowledge i.e. understanding samadhi, and repeating a mantra which eventually transcends our thoughts, leads to the experience and knowledge of samadhi.
Selfless Service which is traditionally known as Karma Yoga is performing actions (karmas) without being attached to the outcomes. Karma Yoga was one of the teachings Krishna taught Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. Stated simply: Fulfill your responsibilities with love, dedication, gratitude, and skill but let go of how things turn out.