When it comes to yoga, we often think or talk about asana—or the postures that we practice on the mat. However, yoga is more than just the physical practice and exercise method that we know of today. If you deep dive into its history, you’d find that it is about 5,000 years old and rich with spiritual and philosophical teachings.[Read more…] about What is the Principle of Ahimsa?
Some of the wisest mindfulness teachers are offering guidance and help during these difficult times.
One such master, Rupert Spira, teacher of the “direct path“, the neoadvaita method, spiritual self enquiry and the essence of non-duality, recently took questions from Daily Minders:
For more information, and to follow Rupert, please subscribe to his YouTube channel.
In Japan, Okinawa is known as “The Land of the Immortals” due to its high volume of people who live to be over 100 years old. Most of Okinawa’s population functions independently into their late 90s.
A reason for this feat could be the prefecture’s adherence to ikigai – or a Japanese philosophy that roughly translates to “life’s purpose.” Ikigai (pronounced EE-key-guy) originated in Okinawa, and the centuries-old practice is still widely used there today. Our Ikigai is what gets us out of bed in the morning, or our purpose and motivation for living a full life. [Read more…] about Why Ikigai Can Be the Secret to a Better Life
Starting your own blog where you will write about philosophies of how the world works, about religion, about spiritual travels, and much more, can be extraordinarily rewarding. In this way, you can easily send your message to masses of people, to create communities around you and your ideas, and finally, to get paid for doing a work that you love.[Read more…] about Tips for Creating a Spiritual Blog That Truly Inspires
The next time you’re planning to go on a vacation, why not take a spiritual retreat? Skip the crowd that flock to the beaches and bars and escape from the noise and clutter of your everyday life. Seek a haven where you can reclaim serenity and inner peace surrounded by silence and nature.
Spiritual retreats do not have to be faith-based. Although a lot of them are, secular or non-faith based retreats are also offered in many retreat centers where people from around the world go to. The most popular places for these centers are India, the Himalayas and Thailand. But you can find one nearer to home, in the US and Europe.
What is a spiritual retreat?
The hallmarks of a spiritual retreat are silence, stillness and detachment from the material world. You willingly go off the grid and re-center your thoughts inward to find the right path to fulfillment.
It’s time spent in contemplation in a retreat facility in a quiet setting, away from the babble and chaos that have become an inherent part of modern living. It can be a monastery or a faraway place with nature and a restful environment as your background.
A guru or mentor will guide you through your spiritual journey. You will have meditations and quiet contemplation done in solitude or with a group. Once you detach yourself from the world, you re-connect with your inner self and gain a sense of peace and calmness.
“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” – Albert Camus
When you find a deeper meaning to your life, you’ll have renewed energy to tackle the challenges ahead of you. A spiritual retreat gives you a keen awareness of your surroundings and the people around you. By continuing the meditation, yoga and prayer practices you learned during the retreat, you will, without conscious effort, develop gratitude, compassion, empathy and kindness towards others.
Even without a budget for the facilities of a retreat center, you can do a spiritual retreat in your home. Create a space for it and allot a quiet time to eliminate distractions. There are videos on YouTube that can guide you through breathing, centering and meditating. Stick to a video that’s right for you and copy it to a disc to play offline. It’s easy to do by following the instructions here.
For those who ask, “What’s in it for me?”, a spiritual retreat gives intangible benefits that are essential to your wellbeing. Inner peace, tranquility of the soul, and the kindness and generosity to others you have developed may not be measurable in concrete units but the positive effects they bring are priceless.
You improve your relationships with other people.
A spiritual retreat is a time for introspection. In the process of examining your own thoughts and feelings, you become aware of your own shortcomings. This awareness evokes humility and a nonjudgmental outlook, raising your tolerance and compassion for others. Eventually, your noncritical approach will pave the way for an enhanced interpersonal relationship with coworkers, friends and family.
You find yourself.
Making a living and taking care of family can overwhelm you. It’s a toxic environment that will take its toll on your physical and mental wellbeing. The demands of career and home can make you feel lost and confused about your own goals.
Go on a spiritual journey and reflect on your life’s perspectives. You may be facing challenges of broken relationships, addictions, or grave illnesses. Spiritual retreats include sessions of meditation and yoga, readings, exercise and a simple diet. A combination of these practices will help you in your personal growth and foster forgiveness, the will to overcome difficulties and acceptance of the inevitable.
You develop a positive outlook.
Faced with a materialistic world, tragic happenings and scandalous news, you become cynical and suspicious of people’s motives. You lose your faith in humanity and the goodness in people. This cynicism comes out in your behavior and can destroy you and your relationships. By retreating from your daily life, you replenish your soul with charity and renew your faith in humankind. You are filled with renewed energy and vigor, ready to go back to the real world with a changed outlook.
You meet like-minded people.
Retreats are one way of getting acquainted with kindred spirits. Having gone through similar spiritual experiences, you can act as each other’s support group and share your experiences, viewpoints and philosophies. Finding people that understand you and vice versa strengthens your newfound resolve and encourages you to become a better person overall.
With the world getting smaller through technology, we are bombarded with upsetting news that challenge our sense of safety and comfort. Spiritual retreats have always been there and now more than ever, they are necessary and relevant in this modern world.
Japan is a universally reverent country, with a deep religious history and a long tradition of respect for gods and men alike. You’ll find a rich tapestry of religious traditions including Shintoism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism alongside smaller folk religious traditions. This rich tapestry of spirituality is expressed through a broad vocabulary of religious symbols found on every island in the nation.
This ancient religion believes in spirits of good and evil which permeate all things, with a rich gallery of good and bad spirits that permeate the life of the religion’s followers. There are a few key Japanese religious symbols which appear in religious documents and Japanese culture.
The maneki-neko, or literally “beckoning cat,” is the always-waving cat you’ll often see in Chinatowns throughout the West. This symbol of Shintoism holds a barrel-shaped object under its paw, which it waves up and down, beckoning the viewer near. The maneki-neko is believed to attract good luck, and its lineage is one of the reasons cats enjoy such a positive relationship with Japanese culture.
The torii gate is a well-recognized symbol of Japan throughout the West. This unique architectural structure is believed to mark the boundary between the finite world of human cares and infinite realm of the spirit world. Shinto shrines can be easily identified by the torii gates at their entrance, but these gates also sometimes mark Japanese Buddhist temples.
Omamori are religious amulets sold at Shinto shrines which are believed to provide the bearer with luck and divine protection. While omamori were once made of wood or paper, modern amulets are usually small items carried inside a brocade bag which might contain a prayer or invocation. Travelers often give them as gifts. Their sale supports the Shinto temples they’re sold at.
Taoism, also known as Daoism, is a religious philosophy based on living in harmony with the desires and patterns of the natural world. Followers strive to adhere to the Tao (or “way” in English) which is understood to be the source and pattern of everything that exists. Taoism does share its philosophical underpinnings with Confucianism. However, it does not share Confucianism’s emphasis a rigid social order and strict religious rituals.
Most notable among Taoist symbols is the yin-yang, which might be the best known religious symbol in the world. The yin-yang represents how apparently contradictory forces like chaos and order, day and night or life and death are truly part of an indivisible whole. This principle underlies many Asian philosophies, medicine and martial arts practices.
The I Ching, or Book of Changes, is a book of divination used in the practice of Taoism. Practitioners seek moral guidance by concentrating on a question, then throwing vegetable stalks or coins and consulting a list of hexagrams to interpret the result of these apparently random throws. The meaning associated with these hexagrams, or kua, is found in the I Ching and can be interpreted as an answer to the practitioner’s question. The circular I Ching coins themselves are a powerful symbol of the religion. They feature a peculiar square hole in the center of each coin.
Buddhist SymbolsJapan is also home to its own unique strain of Buddhism, known as Japanese Buddhism. It shares much of its history and symbology with other varieties of Buddhism. As a result, practitioners of one will be familiar with the other. Like the other religions we covered, Buddhism is replete with symbology, so we can only discuss a few here.
The Wheel of Dharma (Dharmachakra) represents the cyclical nature of death and rebirth (samsara) found in Buddhism. The Wheel is one of the most important symbols in the religion’s lexicon. The eight spokes on the wheel symbolize the Nobel Eightfold Path that the Buddha elucidated in his teachings, as well as Buddha turning the Wheel of Truth and Law. Further symbolism can be drawn from the structure of the wheel. The hub symbolizes moral discipline, the spokes represent wisdom and the rim represents training in concentration. Each of the three must be present to make a functioning wheel.
Buddhism also refers to the Eight Auspicious Symbols frequently. They include the following:
- Parasol (chattra) – spiritual power
- Golden Fishes (suvarnamatsya) – blessings, good fortune and salvation
- Treasure Vase (kalasha) – fecundity, both moral and spiritual
- Lotus (padma) – mental purity
- Conch Shell (sankha) – Buddha’s teaching’s fame and renown
- Endless Knot (shrivasta) -Buddha’s infinite wisdom
- Victory Banner (dhvaja) – the victory of the Buddha’s teaching over ignorance
- Wheel of Dharma (Dharmachakra) – see above
They come from Indian symbology, and are especially popular in Tibetan Buddhism.
The religions of Japan are rich in symbolism. As a result, it’s hopeless to attempt to cover them all in one short article. But hopefully this will provide an intriguing, if brief, introduction into one of the world richest spiritual regions.