Mindfulness Yoga by Boccio

Frank Jude Boccio. Mindfulness Yoga: The Awakened Union of Breath, Body, and Mind. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2004. Large Paperback, xxi + 341 pages.

The following review is based on my foreword to this book.

I like to keep informed about my various fields of interest, especially the Yoga tradition, but few of hundreds of publications that cross my desk each year succeed in holding my attention for long. Now and then, however, the weekly influx of books and manuscripts includes a work that is truly worthwhile and captivates me. Frank Jude Boccio’s Mindfulness Yoga is such a work.

I am happy about this for two reasons. First, this book addresses a subject matter that is important and timely, and second, I have had the pleasure of Frank Jude’s recent participation in the first [and last] seven-hundred-hour teacher-training program offered by Yoga Research and Education Center. His quiet presence, unobtrusive serve, and thoughtful observations contributed significantly to the quality of that program, and I have since come to value him as a heartfelt Dharma brother. When he asked me to write this foreword, I happily agreed to do so.

It makes sense in a foreword to a book such as this to begin with some personal remarks. When, at the age of fourteen, I discovered the incredibly rich world of Yoga, I knew I had found my spiritual home. Three or four years late, it became obvious to me that I should and indeed would dedicate my personal and professional life to exploring Yoga’s ancient heritage. I wrote my first book—on Yoga, of course—at the age of nineteen, and since then have authored many more on this and related subjects. At that time, I also encountered Buddhism for the first time and was impressed with the formidable clarity and perceptiveness of the Buddha’s Dharma and came to hold Buddha and his teaching in the highest esteem. Yet I turned to Hindu Yoga for my practice and study, because I felt that it would be more accessible for a budding scholar/writer/practitioner like myself.

In the early 1970s, after having worked intensively with Hindu Yoga, I translated a couple of books on Buddhism from English into German and vice versa. It was not until 1994, however, that I encountered more incisively the world of Buddhist Yoga—in theory and practice—in the form of Tibetan Vajrayana. From that moment on, I have thought deeply about the relationship between Hindu and Buddhist spirituality, which also is one of the focal points of Frank Jude’s work.

In my view, Hinduism and Buddhism are not so much religions as great cultural complexes born on the Indian subcontinent that have yogic (spiritual) practice at their core. Hence it is appropriate to speak of a Hindu Yoga and a Buddhist Yoga. In fact, Vajrayana Buddhism present itself openly as a form of Yoga and, like Hinduism, occasionally even calls its male adepts yogins (or, in Tibetan, naljor). Thus the contemporary distinction between Yoga (generally narrowly understood to be posture practice) and Buddhism is a false and unconstructive dichotomy. Without blurring the differences between Hindu and Buddhist spirituality, it makes sense to apply the label “Yoga” to both of them. This has the advantage of emphasizing important common ground between them, not least in the dimension of moral practice but also in the higher stages of the path. I was happy to notice that Frank Jude, a Buddhist Yoga practitioner like myself, has adopted a similar viewpoint.

For over thirty-five years, my focus has been on building bridges between India and the West—bridges across which fellow Westerners could travel to gain greater access to India’s marvelous wisdom teachings. Few people know that Yoga began arriving at our Western shores since the time of the ancient Greeks; and since the epochal presentations by Swami Vivekananda at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago, the migration of Indian wisdom into Europe, America, and also Australia and New Zealand has been steadily accelerating. Today we have the curious phenomenon of highly skilled Western teachers returning the gift of Yoga (at least in the form of the postures of Hatha-Yoga) to India’s middle class—one of the signs of a growing coalescence between the global hemispheres.

Buddhist Yoga was also represent at the Parliament of Religions, in the noble figures of the fiery Ceylonese Anagarika Dharmapala and Japanese Zen master Soyen Shaku among others. The latter, incidentally, had for his translator the young D. T. Suzuki, who was destined to become one of the spiritual heroes of the mid-twentieth century. Both masters subsequently succeeded in attracting a sizable American following and in doing so prepared the ground for the open-armed reception in America and other Western countries of Tibetan Buddhism in the aftermath of the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950. Today there are said to be some two to three million Buddhist practitioners and as many as fifteen to twenty million Yoga practitioners in the United States alone. As for the latter group, most if its members understand and practice Yoga as a health and fitness regimen rather than for inner growth and spiritual upliftment.

There is, however, an encouraging trend to engage Yoga more seriously, that is to say, as a lifestyle that embraces the high spiritual ideal of self-transcendence and spiritual awakening. Yoga is a potent transformative discipline and, if practiced authentically and with the requisite dedication, it can bring about inner change even at the entry level of posture practice that is the focus of the majority of its Western practitioners. By activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the Hatha-Yoga postures ( asanas) can—and have traditionally been intended to—serve as portals to the spiritual aspects of the yogic process. They introduce practitioners to the experience of deep relaxation, especially when combined with conscious breathing, and from there is but a small step to meditation. The meditative mind, in turn, can effect deep-level changes in a person’s self-image, understanding of the world, and relationship to life. Hence meditation is at the heart of almost all yogic paths.

The great yogic traditions of India can be considered as the precious distillate of millennia of meditation and spiritual work. They clearly have much to teach us, and therefore a careful study ( svadhyaya) of the teachings of Yoga in whatever form has always been an integral component of yogic practice. It is of course possible to teaching oneself through trial and error over a long period of time, but why run the risk of frustration and ultimate failure when we can benefit from the knowledge and wisdom of earlier practitioners whose efforts bore fruit? We can spare ourselves a great deal of disappointment by appreciating the superlative importance of “right view” from the outset of our spiritual journey. When visiting a new town, it surely helps to have a good road map at hand. At the beginning, we might not even have a clear notion of our destination, as sometimes our deepest feelings and motivations are hidden from us. Conscientious study of the traditional teachings of Yoga not only can awaken the spiritual impulse in us but also can point us in the right direction.

Frank Jude’s Mindfulness Yoga is a valuable road map, a study guide, for those wanting to tap into Yoga’s full potential and discover all the inner resources necessary to live a meaningful and happy life. Mindfulness Yogaalso is an admirable bridge-building effort, which will help bring together the now artificially separated camps of Hindu Yoga and Buddhist Yoga practitioners East and West. This eminently practical work clearly demonstrates the large area of overlap between these two traditions, though without brushing aside the significant theoretical and practical differences that undoubtedly exist. As such, this book belongs to the most sensitive “interfaith<’ “ interreligious” or, as I would put it, “ intertraditional” dialogue and contributes to mutual understanding and tolerance between Hinduism and Buddhism. What makes it so valuable is that its author’s perspective is solidly informed by his sincere personal practice of both Buddhist Yoga (notably mindfulness practice) and Hindu Yoga (notably posture practice and breath control). Whatever conflict people imagine exists between these two great yogic approaches, Frank Jude’s life and his writings show that it is possible to integrate them and benefit from their combined strength.

Mindfulness Yoga dispels a number of misconceptions about both Buddhist and Hindu Yoga and contains down-to-earth advice for practitioners of either tradition. By showing that mindfulness can (and should) be applied to all yogic practices, including Hatha-Yoga postures, Frank Jude has succeeded in building a bridge between “heady” meditation practice and “body-driven” Hatha-Yoga. He appreciates that we are neither disembodied spirits hovering above the physical body nor soulless material vehicles, but rather a wondrous dynamic between both levels of reality. Refreshingly he also includes in his consideration the widely misunderstood but vital dimension of feeling. Neither Buddhist Yoga nor Hindu Yoga seeks, as often mistakenly thought, to eliminate feelings and turn practitioners into hollow robots. Rather both approaches aim at mastery over the mind, including feelings, by awakening the witnessing faculty within us. In his pioneering work on Yoga, Mricea Eliade, the great twentieth-century historian of religion, remarked that the notion of the witness was India’s greatest discovery. I agree but would add the yogic teaching of compassion toward all beings as an equally important and essential correlate. The call for compassion is present in both Buddhism and Hinduism.

Throughout Frank Jude’s book, the creative interplay between witnessing (articulated in the practice of mindfulness) and compassion is emphasized or present as a background theme. The witnessing consciousness and the compassionate heart are fundamental features of all integrative forms of genuine Yoga. Together they make us whole.

In conclusion, Frank Jude Boccio’s book should be carefully read both by Hatha-Yoga practitioners, especially those overly fond of physical fitness, strength, and beauty, and by Buddhist Yoga practitioners, particularly those who are ill at ease in their bodies and in the material universe. In fact, Mindfulness Yoga should be read by every aspiring Yoga practitioner.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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