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July 7th, 2018

The Swami and the Zen Master

On a visit to Los Angeles, Swami Venketesa, one of my beloved teachers and mentors, asked me to take him to meet Zen master Roshi Sasaki.  I had met the Roshi, who later became Leonard Cohen’s teacher, when he first arrived in Los Angeles in 1966.  Just getting attracted to eastern philosophy, I heard about these Zen gatherings and went to sit with the Roshi.  The dimly lit room was filled with meditators sitting bolt upright, motionless like statues.  Every twenty or thirty minutes we would stand, quietly queue up, and take turns sitting before the sage.  

 On my first turn in front of him, I asked, “What do I do when I sit, Roshi?”

 “Just sit there”, said the Roshi, “Roshi says just sit.”

Swami Venkates always enjoyed meeting other spiritual teachers so I set up an audience.  I drove my Swami down Crenshaw Boulevard excited to witness their encounter.  We walked in and the Roshi, sitting on the floor, motioned us to sit next to him.  With a radiant smile that seemed to cover half his face, Swamiji laughed as he sat down.  Roshi joined him with some kindred belly laughter which quickly accelerated and consumed the small group of us sitting in the room.

Still laughing, the Roshi exclaimed, “Your laugh shows that you are enlightened!” and they both laughed even more hysterically.  After a short while the Swami and the Zen master hugged and we left. 

Roshi Sasaki lived and taught in Los Angeles to the ripe old age of 107.  Venkatesa passed at the early age of 60.  Both their presence and teachings continue to inspire spiritual consciousness.  


April 3rd, 2018


Time, everything, is relative. As Albert Einstein showed us, "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it seems like a minute."

Our 50 years at White Lotus is both a flash and an eternity at the same time. And I've certainly been sitting with a pretty girl for what now seems like a minute. Tracey and I have been blessed to live by the sea and in a sea of Yoga. It has been an honor and inspiration filled with a fair measure of perspiration. Creating the Santa Barbara Ashram--a place where yogis live, work and teach, fulfilled a long vision and goal filled with spirit. Taklushmon, which means the gathering place, is what the Chumash called this land. We live and teach in this gathering place of spirit and flowing water, flowing yoga, and the guests and teachers gracefully flowing in through from every walk of life. This is also the meaning of Satsang, one of the tenets of Yoga, gathering with good, true people.  

As Professor Needleman and J. Krishnamurti said a few decades ago: 

Needleman: [...] I was reading a book the other day which spoke of something called "Satsang".

Krishnamurti: Do you know what it means?

Needleman: Association with the wise.
Krishnamurti: No, with good people.
Needleman: With good people, Ah!
Krishnamurti: Being good you are wise. Not, being wise you are good.
Needleman: I understand that.
Krishnamurti: Because you are good, you are wise.[2]

February 4th, 2018


From the numinous to the singular

From the spectrum to the speck

From the tarnished to the luminous 

The onus is on us

July 10th, 2017

Spirituality is not simply a mechanical process and not something finally obtained or acquired. Important elements contribute to spirituality, such as ethical behavior, right living, right livelihood, caring, and compassion, but the deepest essence lives beyond practices, beliefs, descriptions, and words.  It is not advisable to explain or define spirituality with too much detail, and it cannot be captured, owned, or stored up.  Ironically, the Sanskrit word for illusion, maya, also means to measure and to define.  When we measure and overly structure spirit, we may lose it.   

March 9th, 2017

Advancing in yoga is more related to refining than to attaining.  If you want to know if you are advancing in yoga, ask yourself these questions:  Are you gaining greater understanding of your body?  Are you learning how to heal yourself?  Are you learning subtler and different ways of using the poses and how each asana affects the body to produce different results?  Are you gaining an understanding of the energy fields in the body and how these energies flow?  Are you beginning to get some control of your own autonomic nervous system and some of the unconscious processes of the body?  Are you less rigid in your beliefs and less fixed in particular systems and structures?  Are you alive and awake in your practice, constantly questioning and willing to get off your position—figuratively and actually?  Are you questioning, not only of others but of yourself?  Is your mind becoming more open, compassionate, more peaceful?  Growing in these perceptions and capacities provides the necessary ingredients for the evolutionary process of alchemical transformation into radiant health, higher consciousness and wisdom.

January 28th, 2017

It is easier to see problems in someone other than oneself.  We all know people who knock on our door with bibles.  They’re very certain. They are living in their certainties, but if we look outside our own worldviews, and look at beliefs distant from ours, it can begin to open our minds. The wise person starts asking, “How does this problem apply to me?” Where do I have a similar belief that I am not aware of or that I am stuck in?

I had a wise teacher who said that "not knowing" is one of the highest states of awareness.  We need to free ourselves from the limitations of knowledge. This doesn't mean getting rid of knowledge—knowledge is extremely necessary of course, but rather, we should not be stuck in the known. We need to be open to the unknown. The unknown can be terrifying, but if we don't stay open to the unknown, our terror is still there—it's just hidden.  The demons of fear and certainty stand guard at the door of self-knowledge.

Certainty may be what we want, but relativity is what we’ve got!  The unknown is the source of joy and adventure.  Do you want to know how the movie ends?  Or “who did it?”  We are told and conditioned, in some philosophies, to believe that we can get to a place of all-knowing.  By acknowledging that there's no such thing, that knowledge always has limits, we gain freedom. Then we are living with perception and insight in the moment.

August 23rd, 2016

"Yoga is practiced and celebrated around the globe because of the positive difference it generates--physically, mentally, psychologically and spiritually.  It continues to evolve as it has moved from East to West and back again.  This is also because there is no one form of yoga but it is rather like the petals of the lotus flower, with its many branches and approaches. With a good teacher, yoga asana and breath work are infinitely adjustable to any age or stage, and from the bed ridden to the athlete.   The essence of yoga is about consciousness, self study, reflection, and the full exploration of living and dying.  It has the goal and intent of opening the mind and heart to insight, love and compassion bringing the perception that your life is your meditation.  Many begin yoga for reasons health, fitness and physical wellness and this often expands to need for service in the world and care for our planet.  Yoga has permeated many levels of our culture and continues to grow as it serves individual and general well being."   --Ganga White

Note: White Lotus, Ganga and Tracey are featured in NewsWeek:   https://tinyurl.com/NEWSWEEK-white-lotus


June 1st, 2016

Seek Nothing


Wishing you lots of nothing

You need nothing to be yourself

Nothing is better than something

All things must pass

But nothing lasts forever.  


Everywhere we look there are things we are told to seek. Many somethings bode from all directions.  What we really are missing in our lives is nothing which is the fullness of emptiness, silence, and the timeless.  Einstein said, “Creativity is the residue of wasted time.”  And it’s easy, you need to do nothing.  But it also can be difficult because anything you do is another thing.  


April 9th, 2016

Fire Ceremony Talk, March, 2016,   16 day Gathering at White Lotus.

We asked for a ceremonial atmosphere because, unfortunately, it’s all too rare in our modern world that we find ourselves sitting with a group of yogis around and ancient, sacred fire, by flowing mountain waters, the wind bath through the trees, the celestial bath above, serenaded by frogs, crickets and cicadas.  Meditating on fire is one of the most potent meditations.  It’s potent in the sense of creating benefit, insight, self-knowledge.  It’s all in the fire.  The yogis called fire a doorway—between the physical and the non-physical, between light and dark, tangible and intangible, life and death.  We’re born through sexual fire, and we live through the fire of digestion, cooking and electricity.  We leave the physical plane through the funeral fire.  Whether you slow the funeral fire down or go directly through it, fire takes back and releases its elements.

One of the things we’ve learned from science is that we are made of earth, water, fire, gas, sound, information, and cosmic energy.  We are the dance of those things watching themselves in the dance and also in the dance of the fire—we are self reflecting, cosmic intelligence.   Our ceremony is an alchemical combination of East Indian, American Indian, Hopi and hippie.  Fire meditation, fire circles, drumming, and music are most probably the most ancient form of ceremony.  So enjoy being bathed in the earth energies as you sit with the huge boulders here, enjoy the waters, the sounds of the flowing water, the bath and sounds of the dancing fire, the sounds of the creatures of the night, the wind, the waters, the voices, and drums. And, we sit enveloped in the celestial light of the stars and galaxies.  

One of the things we point out at these fire circles is looking deeper into things, instead of merely seeing a campfire.  We’re seeing the light of the sun, but really light from combined earth, sun,  air and mystery.  The trees we’re burning built themselves from sunlight, water, air and earth.  We take a mighty tree and reduce it to a small handful of ash. The rest of it was combined water, air, light and information.  When we look across the circle and see others, we are seeing them by dancing light waves and we're hearing by vibrating molecules.  What’s less obvious, even astounding, is that all these waves, vibrations, and energy conduits of information are simultaneously passing through each other in a vast, chaotic quantum soup emerging untouched.   Right here where we sit are numerous layers of sound, light, energies, music, radio and TV shows, all within the space where we sit.  With the right attention or instrument you can tune into any of them.        ... And we’re searching for miracles?

Fire is the doorway into and out of life and the force of living.  It took us, humanity, millennia to see and understand these many frequencies, layers and levels.  It’s wonderful to be able to be here around the fire with all of you and we thank you for making it possible by coming to White Lotus.  

Words from participants: 

Sven: I want to honor, in the Native American tradition, to acknowledge our ancestors—those people who contributed to and enhanced our lives, and got us here.  To all our relations and loved ones: Blessing and thanks. And to the fire, and what it represents--energy and transformation, as you all have shown in your practice and presence.  Energy, sound, light, smoke.  Let us continue the fire in all of us.

2: With gratitude, with reverence and heart opening. Earth, fire and water, return.

3:  At home, preparing for this retreat, I read Yoga Beyond Belief.  It made a lot of sense and I feel I took the right course for the right reasons.  But something in the book didn’t really hit home till this week here.  We can’t learn to fly by following another’s tracks in the sand.  We must find our own wings and soar.  In time we will all soar.

4:  It’s an honor and privilege to be here with all of you.  Every person I met here is warm and genuine—an experience I don’t have every day.  I didn’t know what I was getting into when I came here.  I’m not a flow or vinyasa person but I am learning so much more about yoga than I ever could have imagined and in such a supportive caring environment.  I feel deeply grateful just to be here.

5:  I am so happy to be here.  Yesterday was the hardest day yet here for me.  This morning was one of the best four hours of my life.  I spend the last 20 years looking for the spiritual release that I received. Thank you.

6:  I feel the beauty all around me everyday in this place but especially now, around the fire, on your faces.  Everyone is glowing and happy.  Fire ceremony is amazing and I’m going to hold one at my house when I get home.  Thank you for opening this land to us and teaching us everything you know.  It’s been incredible to learn from you all instead of just from some guy where I live.  You all have taught me so much about myself.  Every night I ‘ve had amazing dreams, with spirit in my dreams and things from my past where I’ve been bogged down. And I feel like I’m moving and opening to new possibilities.  





February 11th, 2016

From interview with Retreat Guru:   http://blog.retreat.guru/yoga-past-present-and-future/

Note:  On Yoga vs yoga. There is an ongoing debate, for years, as to whether or not Yoga should be yoga.  The print media for the most part stopped capitalizing it.  This actually limits the use of the word yoga to asana or physical practices.  We follow the convention of not capitalizing when it refers to yoga asana and capitalizing Yoga when refering to the broader philosophical, spiritual practice and philosophy. 

Origins of Yoga

There isn’t just one Yoga: the different branches of Yoga have their beginnings in different time periods. Most people used to say that yoga asana practice is 5000 years old, but it turns out to be “only” about 1000 years old. And it was strongly influenced by the West. Some of the most influential yoga teachers in India in recent centuries drew very explicitly on European influences, particularly from British colonial culture in India. They picked up different techniques and philosophies and incorporated them into their teachings. So, although a lot of a people in India are crying foul at the Westernization and appropriation  of “ India’s yoga,” it turns out that a lot of these yoga practices in India were actually derived from Western  systems, such as Swedish gymnastics. It’s a long conversation.

Swami Vivekananda wrote an influential book called Raja Yoga, which was his translation and interpretation of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. When Vivekananda came to America, he was blown away by Western sciences and philosophy, and particularly with Theosophy, which was really popular at that time. It turns out that Vivekananda incorporated these teachings into his loose translation of the Yoga Sutra, interpreting Patanjali’s text from a contemporary or even Theosophical perspective. Not only asana practice, but also many philosophical systems of Yoga have both Indian and Western influences. That said, the Upanishads and the Vedas are among the oldest texts in the world. They represent a spiritual and philosophical tradition of human beings studying themselves and studying life, which dates back thousands of years. 

We don't truly know the exact history of Yoga. It may be more useful to inquire into the application and practicality of practices and beliefs.  I see the teachings of Yoga, and our teachings, as evolutionary—growing, expanding and evolving into better more useful forms.  There are generally two schools of philosophy or approaches in Yoga, and perhaps you can find this dichotomy in many fields of knowledge. 

One perspective teaches that the spiritual path and practices of Yoga were mapped out in the past.  We must get that map and follow it to the goal!  Those following this perspective often spend a lot of time struggling over the meaning of one word so they properly follow that intent.   

The other perspective teaches that there are certainly some timeless truths, but they too are evolutionary because, as human beings, we are growing and changing. The ancient philosophers who composed the Vedas didn’t have iPhones, space travel, computers, or the internet. The world changes, and the human brain evolves and changes along with it. Our understanding and practices must do the same.  

There is truth to both perspectives, ancient and modern. There are new insights and teachings and discoveries being made all the time.

Where is Yoga Going?

The caterpillar doesn’t know that he’s going to become a butterfly. He just lives his caterpillar life and then goes to sleep, and slowly metamorphosizes into a butterfly. I would say that in the 50 or so years that I’ve been practicing yoga, the discipline has grown enormously in technique and understanding. There has been an evolution of the ancient teachings—new things were discovered when the yogis met science, medicine, feminism, environmentalism and more.  Some may say these things were always there in the teachings because that is their hope and belief.  But they weren’t there, or at least they certainly weren’t clear. A lot of the ancient texts are very short, verbless sentences, and therefore open to much interpretation and extrapolation. In contemporary times I’ve seen a lot of dogma and superstition stripped away from the teachings, especially in regard to asana practice. I believe that yoga is going to get better and better. Some poses or practices may never change much, because they have already been refined, but I think that the discipline is going to grow to new levels of blossoming and unfolding. And so are we. 

What is Needed?

Love, connection, and awakening, seeing beneath the surface. Everyone is so heavily bombarded by consumerism, like seeing 5000 advertisements a day, that some kind of personal practice is very much needed. It might mean practicing breathwork, asana, or meditation for even five minutes. 

Connection with nature might be the most needed quality because we’re fast destroying our planet’s life force—it’s quite literally insane. I like to believe that when people start an asana practice, they find themselves becoming conscious of their own ecology, and that expands out into consciousness of planetary ecology, which is at a crisis point. Yoga is helping a lot by teaching one to live harmoniously with the environment, whether it’s your body’s environment or the planet's environment.